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Uncontrolled Intersections and You

18 Comments

UPDATED (9/25/14) - Uncontrolled intersections are not solely a Portland or even an Oregon traffic condition. They exist all over the country and are an accepted traffic engineering practice. SAFETY is PBOT's top priority. If you are aware of an uncontrolled intersection or other road condition that you feel is unsafe, please report to our traffic safety hotline at 503-823-SAFE or safe@portlandoregon.gov. Thank you.

If you live or work within the city limits of Portland, chances are you have encountered our neighborhood anarchist.  The rules of the road are tossed aside at these crossroads of danger!  Its a free-for-all for the right-of-way and the police are afraid of even uttering the name of this menace to society!  Yes, my friends, I am talking about that scourge of our roadways, the uncontrolled intersection.

Egad! Another uncontrolled intersection terrorizing our streets

These lawless crossroads are missing a key element of our transportation nomenclature, the trusty stop sign.  Everyone knows what to do at a stop sign - stop.  And we all know what to do when that rosy octagon is absent - go.

 

The trusty

stop sign

Unfortunately, uncontrolled intersections (16.90.415 - Any intersection with no official traffic control device to designate vehicular right-of-way) don't work that way.  But how do they work?  Who's supposed to stop?  And why do they exist?

Theoretically, uncontrolled intersections do a better job slowing traffic in neighborhoods because they create unpredictability.  When we can't rely on signs to tell us what to do, we have to actually use our senses and our brains to navigate a situation.  Think of it this way: If you were biking or driving down a low-traffic neighborhood street and you hit a stop sign every 100 feet with no cross traffic in sight, by the sixth stop sign you might be tempted to ignore it and keep on rolling.  Uncontrolled intersections mixed with stop signs keep people who are driving and bicycling alert.

Of course theory doesn't always play out exactly as planned on the roadways.  People (myself included when I moved here) often apply the "main street" theory to uncontrolled intersections.  The main street theory says that since one vehicle is traveling on the main thoroughfare, it has the right-of-way.  Sorry folks - that's not how it works. 

The Oregon Driver's Manual states,

At an intersection where there are no signs or signals, you must look and yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching from your right at the same time. (pg.41)

In other words: 1) Slow down. 2) Look for other vehicles (and, like always, pedestrians). 3) Yield to vehicles in the intersection or approaching from the right. 4) Go!

Don't let the uncontrolled intersection get you!

 

18 Comments

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1

Susan Marie

February 9, 2010 at 12:13 PM

HELP. The intersection at Burnside/Sandy at 12th East is DANGEROUS. Following the crosswalks and pedestrian signals puts me on a tiny triangle in the middle of the intersection with cars and trucks zooming inches from my bum and face. There is not room for a walker or even a cane on this tiny triangle. It is safer to risk running across the street not at the intersection. HELP! I can't imagine someone elderly or larger being safe at all!

2

Scott Cohen

February 9, 2010 at 12:18 PM

Good news Susan! The Burnside/Sandy/12th Ave intersection will be reconfigured as part of the E Burnside/Couch Couplet project.

You can learn about the project on the website: http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=46449

Basically, the diagonal positioning of Sandy will be removed. Vehicles continuing on Sandy will be required to use Burnside or Couch and a numbered north/south street before continuing on Sandy.

The project map probably makes more sense than my description!

3

Katie

February 9, 2010 at 4:04 PM

Thank you so much for posting this. There are many of these intersections and as transplants to Portland my husband and I have never really been sure what to do.

4

Steve B

April 8, 2010 at 3:42 PM

Aha! Nice post.

Yes, education would go a long way for many, many things -- but it seems our licensing system is not set up well for education. I've wracked my brain about this. In theory, you could better educate all road users, and then we wouldn't need separated infrastructure for driving/biking/walking.

To me, if there is a series of uncontrolled intersections, a sign or some paint could go a long way. I know that sort of defeats the purpose, but if I get a heads up "Caution: Uncontrolled Intersections Ahead" or even better, a gold star or something fun in the middle of the intersection, that would help signal there is no traffic control coming from the other direction. I guess for me, the question is, how does one know they are approaching an unsigned intersection in the first place?

5

Frank

May 16, 2010 at 10:04 PM

The above does not apply at "T" intersections. See ORS 811.277.

The vehicles on the street that is ending yield to vehicles on the street at the top of the "T".

6

James

June 30, 2010 at 12:19 PM

In the case where a vehicle is to yield the right of way to any vehicle in the intersection. How far into the intersection would the vehicle already in the intersection have to be to be considered to have the right of way? Greater than fifty percent?

7

Scott Cohen

July 1, 2010 at 4:00 PM

James - Good question. The law doesn't specify. However, if two vehicles approached the intersection simultaneously then the one on the right would precede first (vehicles include bicycles).

8

Chuck

July 28, 2010 at 11:42 PM

Unfortunately, when you're a new area or a new driver to Portland, these intersections create serious dangers. The existence of these intersections is completely irresponsible of the city of Portland. If you want to slow traffic, there are plenty of other safer means. Don't create life threatening unpredictability to try and control behavior. I was appalled to hear from my neighbors that they tried to have a stop sign installed nearby to only hear from the city that it would not happen unless a fatality occurred. Does our city really price a human life less than that of a stop sign?

Also, if we really want to pride ourselves on being a green city, why don't we focus on making traffic flow more efficient rather than purposely creating skiddish drivers.

9

steven

April 15, 2012 at 3:44 PM

I understand the unmarked intersection law. I understand the theory as well. I can't agree with either one. I imagine that it's been pointed out to the traffic department, that a visiting driver would not realize that they are driving into an unmarked intersection. I know that I did not realize this when I first arrived. In most of the cities I've been to in 49 states, (Seattle and Spokane not included), when a driver approaches an intersection of two similar streets, without a traffic control sign, they can proceed and have the right of way. This is true because the driver approaching on the right or left, DOES have a sign instructing them to yield or stop. In the many cases, where street classes are equal, there is no clear, immediate way for a driver to determine whether or not they are approaching a residential intersection with no signage. P.S. - Our visitors from the U.K and Ireland, et al, are habitually accustomed to yielding to drivers on the left.
Signs which inform all (local, new, visiting, and foreign) drivers, do exist and work in many, and maybe most, U.S. cities.

10

Laura

March 8, 2013 at 10:58 AM

I can't believe we still have these in Portland. It's insane. Has the theory really been proven? If you are unfamiliar with a road and are not used to seeing unmarked intersections, why on earth would you assume that you DON'T have right of way when you approach an intersection and don't have a stop sign? After 3 years of watching near-misses at my unmarked intersection on the corner, I finally witnessed an accident last week. The car that was hit was driving a child to elementary school, only one block away. Thankfully everyone was OK but it could've been a lot worse than it was. How hard would it be to just INSTALL STOP SIGNS?! C'mon.

11

Scott Cohen

March 8, 2013 at 11:23 AM

Thanks for your comment Laura. Many of these intersections are being evaluated for traffic safety and traffic control device applicability.

Please let me know the intersection in question or better yet report this and any traffic safety issue you are concerned about to safe@portlandoregon.gov or call 503-823-SAFE. That will provide us information and allow a traffic engineer to investigate the issue further.

Thanks again for your comments and concerns.

12

Michael Flynn

September 16, 2013 at 9:21 AM

There are too many distractions available to drivers. Why would the driver approaching from the other side assume I don't have a stop sign either? I live 4 blocks from one of these and never knew the other drivers didn't stop. There is a flaw in the City of Portland's logic here.

13

Michael Flynn

September 16, 2013 at 9:23 AM

I'm referring to N Wall Ave and N Depauw St. I know the city likes to ignore North Portland, but it would be a nice gesture to have a stop sign there.

14

Scott Cohen

September 16, 2013 at 9:25 AM

Thanks for your comments, Michael. This is not a City of Portland rule, but an Oregon law. With that said, the City is in the process of evaluating intersections to increase safety and, where appropriate, install stop signs. Please see my comments just above your comment for how to report a safety concern you have.

15

Michael Flynn

September 16, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Thanks for the quick response Scott.

I'm not sure if there have been crashes there. I think the fault in the logic of evaluating intersection based on the # of crashes, is that this interstection is next to a park. One crash involving a pedestrian or cyclist will be fatal to one of these road users whereas to a car it's only another crash to tally, with monetary damage alone.

I think this intersection being on a park should garner it special consideration.

Thanks for listening

16

Ryan Young

August 21, 2014 at 10:57 AM

This traffic strategy needs to change. It's as though the city thinks Portland is a small farm town. I live in Sellwood Westmoreland and have seen two near accidents in the last few weeks at uncontrolled intersections.

It's an okay strategy in theory but in practice people are generally completely unaware that they are approaching an uncontrolled intersection. It's normal to assume that you only have to yield or stop if you come upon a sign. In my opinion, these intersections are far more dangerous to bicyclists. Why put drivers and cyclists in danger unnecessarily?

17

Eric

September 22, 2014 at 10:31 AM

The part of this policy that is ridiculous is this:

  • How does the driver know the other street has no signage?

Am I supposed to squint at the oncoming traffic lane to see if there is a stop sign? That stop sign will be positioned at an angle that makes it basically invisible to me, if it does exist?

That, and the fact that most intersections have stop signs means that this is an incredibly unsafe and unintuitive decision.

18

Scott Cohen

September 25, 2014 at 11:36 AM

Thanks for your comment Eric. Please report any safety concerns you have to 503-823-SAFE or safe@portlandoregon.gov.

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