Study Questions Effectiveness of Portland’s Bike Boxes

One of the things that distinguishes Portland from less bicycle-friendly metropolises is our bike boxes. These large green-painted areas at key intersections give riders a designated place to wait for the light to change, and serve as a constant remainder to drivers of their obligation to share the road. According to an article published this week in the Portland Mercury, however, newly released data indicates that in some parts of the city the bike boxes may not be helping – and might actually be making matters worse at some intersections.

The Mercury’s article focuses specifically on so-called “right hook” crashes – Portland bike and car accidents in which a cyclist crossing an intersection is struck by a car or truck making a right turn. The paper notes that the boxes have been painted onto the street “at 11 problem intersections” since 2008, and that they are widely believed to “make cyclists and drivers feel safer at the intersections.”
A study of accident data at those intersections, however, found that “in the four years since their installation, the intersections had 32 right hook crashes involving bikes.” This is double the number of such Oregon car accidents at those same intersections in the four years since the boxes were added to the roadway.

A significant portion of the growth can be attributed to the growth in Portland’s population and the rising popularity of cycling. There are more people riding more bikes in Portland in 2012 than there were in 2008 or 2004. Even adjusting for growth, however, the numbers indicate a trend that is both puzzling and worrisome. “What appears to be leading to the new crashes (is) that people are biking through the intersection faster, overtaking cars that are turning right,” the paper notes. The boxes, in other words, may be providing both drivers and riders with a false sense of security, leading people, in turn, to lower their guard.

As a Portland bike accident lawyer one also finds it interesting that a significant number of the accidents in recent years are taking place at just a handful of intersections. Notably, the Mercury reports 81 percent of the new crashes “occurred at just four of the eleven intersections” where the box boxes are in use. This would seem to imply that the problem is not the boxes, or the bikers, but rather overall traffic movement in these particular places. All of us need to exercise caution on our streets and roads, but drivers especially need to remember how great a threat they can pose to cyclists when they fail to drive safely and give bikes the space they are entitled to on our roads.

Portland Mercury: City finds bike boxes may actually increase crashes