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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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!