PORTLAND, Ore. - Portland police officers were busy Thursday morning writing dozens of citations near a corner that has become a focal point in the sometimes contentious relationship between bicyclists and drivers.
Officers staked out the corner of North Broadway and Flint Avenue and pursued cyclists they said ran a stop sign at the corner of Flint where it meets busy Broadway, which has a bike lane.
The location is a popular - and problematic - corridor for both bike commuters and drivers.
One rider, who gave her name only as Kathleen, said she thought she stopped at the intersection, but said the officer that pulled her over disagreed and wrote her a $260 citation. “I thought I stopped,” she said. “But you know, he didn't think I did.”
The ticket compounded some other misfortune for the cyclist; she said she was late for work and her bike’s chain also broke.
Kathleen was not alone in getting a ticket. Even the city's transportation director, Catherine Ciarlo, was among those caught in the sting.
She sent KATU News a statement Thursday afternoon that said in part, "I am particularly regretful about this given my firm belief that all vehicles - including bikes - have a duty to obey traffic signals. The purpose of traffic enforcement missions is to remind Portlanders to be safe on the road - and, unfortunately, even someone like myself who supports responsible riding needs to be reminded to pay closer attention."
Police said they wrote a total of 53 citations in just 90 minutes Thursday morning. Fifty cyclists got tickets and four drivers got tickets. Police said they issued three warnings.
Despite barriers that put drivers into oncoming traffic, more than one driver turned right onto North Wheeler, a street the city closed to right-hand turns from Broadway due to a high incidence of “right hook” crashes between bikes and cars.
Police were using North Wheeler Avenue to stage motorcycle officers so those drivers also received citations. The operation is the latest effort to make an awkward intersection safer for drivers and cyclists.
“We dealt with one component of it, which was the closure [of the right turn to Wheeler] here a few weeks back, and now we have to help educate the cyclists to make sure they're stopping and doing their part,” Sgt. Bret Barnum said.
One cyclist went through the stop sign so fast he went far outside the bike lane and into automobile traffic lanes.
He was pulled over and given a ticket. Police said that kind of riding is part of the reason the intersection is so dangerous and they are trying to keep people from getting hurt.
“I understand what they're trying to do here, I know it's dangerous,” Kathleen said as she tried to resume her commute.
Kathleen and the dozens of other riders who got tickets for running the stop sign will have the chance to avoid paying the fine by attending a traffic safety class.
In a 2009 training video, police took a nuanced approach to ticketing cyclist who ran stop signs.
The video also talked about when an officer should enforce stop sign violations. For example, if a cyclist rolls through a stop sign at a walking pace and is attentive, “enforcement resources may best be used elsewhere,” the video says.
“Given Portland’s desire to have motor vehicles become accustomed to having bikes in the travel lane, we feel that impeding should be a low enforcement priority, unless a biker intends to inconvenience drivers,” one officer says in the training video.