Posted by Wade Nkrumah, The Oregonian March 25, 2008 17:58PM

Categories: Breaking News, Cycling, Portland

An unmarked Portland Police car prepares to pull over a motorist stopped inside the green bike box at Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and Seventh Avenue. During a two-week grace period, police will be alerting bicyclists and motorists of violations by issuing warnings and distributing information explaining the intent and use of the boxes.

Bicyclists and motorists were on their best behavior during today’s evening commute at the intersection of Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and Seventh Avenue.

It was all about respect for the bike box, a 14-foot-long green box painted across traffic lanes.

Of course, it helps that Lt. Bryan Parman was among about a half dozen Portland Police officers monitoring the intersection.

Parman, of the traffic division, said educating motorists will be the initial focus, with police distributing brochures explaining the changes.

Motorists who enter the boxes at a red light, or who turn right on red, could face a fine of $242. Also, subject to fines will be bicyclists who don’t go back into the bike lane on the far side of the intersection.

“Those types of yielding violations,” he said.

When traffic signals are red, only bicyclists are allowed in the green boxes. Cars and trucks must line up behind the boxes. Motorists at the intersections no longer can turn right on red, even if bicyclists aren’t in the boxes or in green-painted bike lanes leading to and from the boxes. Traditionally, Oregon law has allowed right turns on red after motorists come to a complete stop.

The goal is to reduce the chances of motorists turning into the path of bicyclists, so-called “right-hook” crashes.

Still, Lorn Hildreth, an avid recreational cyclist, wasn’t impressed while surveying the scene from the sidewalk at the intersection.

“I think it’s something that’s impeding traffic,” he said.

“As an outside sales rep, I do a lot of driving,” he said. “You have cyclists – and bike messengers are probably the worst in this city – that don’t adhere to the rules of the road. So, when I see something like this that’s trying to increase awareness .¤.¤. I don’t think it’s going to work that well. I think it’s going to create more animosity between drivers and cyclists. And I’m going to see cyclists probably take advantage of the situation.”

Parman disagrees. He believes the boxes are a good device in helping to try and prevent collisions like those that killed two bicyclists in October.

“The green paints really calls motorists attention and bicyclists attention,” he said. “This is an area where mixed modes of traffic come together. And we need everybody to have their head up and be paying attention to other vehicles.”

There will be about a two-week grace period for cyclists and motorists to adjust.

“For right now, it’s just warnings and education,” Parman said of police oversight. “We want everybody who travels this way day in, day out to get used to this and understand the rules before we start handing tickets out to people.”

The boxes are experimental, and the city will team with Portland State University to evaluate how well they work. The research, expected to last at least six months, will include videotaping motorists and bicyclists using the intersections. The city will install about a dozen of the boxes around the city during the test period.

This month, 22 billboards and signs on 40 TriMet buses have debuted with the slogan “Get Behind It” as part of an education campaign, says Rich Newlands, bike box project manager.

In addition, traffic signs installed as part of the $200,000 project will show motorists where to stop and where to yield to bicyclists, he says.

— Wade Nkrumah;

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