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Real Time Signs Being Tested

Real Time Signs Being Tested

Drum roll…. it’s coming this summer.  Oregon motorcycle riders will be bossed around by technology.

I’m talking about how the state has money to burn on solar arrays, sensors, LED signs, and computers at the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).

You’ve likely noticed the construction of those seven full-color, LED, 30-foot wide traveler information signs on OR 217, four in the southbound lanes and three in the northbound lanes.  In addition, there will be five smaller signs on roads leading to OR 217, including OR 99W, Barnes Road and Kruse Way.  The system will  include subterranean sensors, moisture tracking all communicating via advanced computer algorithms that we’re told will fix the congestion-plagued OR 217.

Real Time Signs - WDOT

Real Time Signs – WDOT

What?  Congestion on Oregon 217 with all the light rail, WES and bike paths, how is that possible?

If you’re like me… texting, day dreaming, adjusting the navigation system, eating a bran muffin and chugging down an extra hot vanilla latte while shaving during the work commute… we missed all the lane expansions during the last 30+ years on Oregon 217!   Of course there was no expansion and all the transit geeks in Portland (who hate all things automobile) celebrate weekly that it’s still only 4 lanes.  To be fair, there have been small widening of the shoulders on three sections of OR 217.  Of course there have been several signage changes and who can forget that rutted out mess last year that was re-paved?!

Variable Message Signs

Variable Message Signs

But, what ever happened to the studies for widening 217 or how about that Newberg-Dundee Bypass?   ODOT’s stated goal is to improve transportation operations by first addressing management techniques prior to building additional capacity to a highway.

But I’ve strayed off topic.

There are approximately 200 crashes a year along OR 217, which equates to a crash occurring four out of every five weekdays.  So, ODOT is following the likes of Seattle (clearly they are traffic leaders to emulate!) by powering up strategically placed signs displaying variable speeds and real-time traffic reports based on the weather and road conditions.

When ODOT flips the power switch on that $6.5 million artificial traffic-intelligence project, motorcyclists will no longer have to endure recurring bottlenecks, high crash rates, and unreliable travel times.  We won’t witness panic braking during peak travel times and can ignore those short weaving areas that create erratic changes to traffic speeds due to interchange spacing.  The new flash advisories will tell us if it’s raining (duh!), if a crash has occurred if it’s being cleared and which lane will glide you along with faster commute times to your destination.  At least that’s ODOT’s hope.

Color me skeptical about this “intelligent” system.

UPDATE: July 11, 2014 — ODOT turned-on the first of the RealTime travel signs yesterday on OR 217.  An email message went out highlighting the accomplishment and evangelizing that National studies show that advisory speed signs have reduced overall crashes by 20 percent, reduced rear-end collisions by 30 percent and reduced secondary crashes by 40 percent.

Full Disclosure:  I’ve been disappointed in ODOT for 4+ years now about a proposal to use the Variable Message Signs (VMS) to help make the driving public more aware of motorcycles.  It’s been rejected multiple times.  The absurd viewpoint, especially given the 12 new signs on OR 217 going off /on multiple times a day has ‘artificially’ influenced this writer.

Photos courtesy of WDOT and CalTran.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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With the prospect of thousands of motorcyclists visiting Oregon roads this coming weekend could it be one of the deadliest?

I hope not, but on July 15 – 18th two major motorcycle rallies take place in Oregon.  The first is the BWM International Rally in Redmond, OR.  It’s been 9 years since the BMW National Rally has been held in the state and area businesses are rolling out the welcome mat.  There is the Redmond 1000 long distance ride (1000 miles in 24 hours) for motorcyclists along with more than 100 vendors who have set up shop on the rally grounds.  In addition, Redmond is the starting point of the 2010 Rally Coast-to-Coast.

BMW National Rally -- Redmond, OR

On the same dates is the Good Vibrations Rally in Salem/Keizer.   Rally activities are happening at Salem Harley-Davidson, Oregon State Fairgrounds, Spirit Mountain Casino, and the cities of Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, and McMinnville.  The Good Vibration event is produced by Randy Burke, President of Road Shows Inc., and is modeled after his very popular Street Vibrations Rally held every year in Reno, NV.  The Oregon rally has the added value of wine tastings at Willamette Valley Vineyards and Orchard Heights Winery.

Northwest Motorcycle Rides

Both rallies bring desperately needed tourist dollars into the state, while providing riders with some fantastic summer weather, Northwest scenery, winding roads and top tier entertainment.  But why has Oregon State Police (OSP) yet to acknowledge the existent of the rallies in their media press release process?  And is ODOT so heads down on pothole repair to plan a state-wide advisory to “WATCH FOR MOTORCYCLES ON THE ROAD” campaign using the variable message signs around the state?

In the last 4 weeks we’ve seen 4 motorcycle related deaths and 2 riders seriously injured on Oregon roads:

1.    On July 10, 2010, a Harley Davidson motorcycle operated by WILLIAM ROY ANDERSON, age 60, from Aloha, was northbound on Highway 97 near milepost 17 when it failed to negotiate a curve and struck a guardrail.  ANDERSON was ejected from the motorcycle onto the highway and then run over by two commercial trucks traveling in opposite directions whose drivers were unable to avoid him.  ANDERSON was pronounced deceased at the scene.

2.    On July 8, 2010, a Harley Davidson motorcycle operated by JAMES C. HEADRICK, age 56, from Dallas, Oregon was northbound on Interstate 205 near milepost 10 when it came upon slowing traffic.  The motorcycle crashed into the back of a stopped 1998 Honda Civic driven by WALID M. SALLOUT, age 28, from southeast Portland, in the left northbound lane.  The motorcycle’s passenger, MELVA HEADRICK, age 61, from Dallas, was ejected off the motorcycle, over the concrete center barrier and landed in the left southbound lane.  No reported deaths from this accident.

3.    On June 26, 2010, a 2003 Harley Davidson operated by RAYMOND SCOTT McMAHON, age 49, from Bandon, was westbound on Highway 42 near milepost 26 followed by his brother on another motorcycle.  McMAHON entered a curve too fast, traveled off the highway into a ditch and then was ejected from the motorcycle as it went airborne.  McMAHON came to rest on the highway and was pronounced deceased at the scene.

4.    On June 17, 2010, JEFFERY DEAN RANDALL, age 39, from Klamath Falls, was operating a 1990 Kawasaki motorcycle eastbound on Highway 140E near milepost 29.  As RANDALL was negotiating a left curve the motorcycle travelled on to the gravel shoulder where he lost control.  The motorcycle crashed into a rock, ejecting RANDALL.  RANDALL was pronounced deceased at the scene.

5.    On June 11, 2010, a 2007 Honda Goldwing three-wheel converted motorcycle operated by DYRL ARNOLD SPENCER, age 64, was southbound on a straight stretch of Highway 395 near milepost 129 when it traveled partially off onto the right gravel shoulder.  SPENCER tried to bring the motorcycle back onto the highway but lost control, crossing both lanes and going off the opposite shoulder where it crashed into a tree about 30 feet off the highway.  SPENCER was pronounced deceased at the scene.

The state generated these stats in one of the wettest early summer riding seasons in 10+ years.  It’s only 3 days until we see a major influx of riders…

Please be careful out there!

UPDATE: July 12, 2010 — I received a response from the Governor’s Advisory Committee on motorcycle safety (Michele O’Leary) which stated there are no plans for the State Traffic Engineer to change the “NO” response on variable message sign use.  Good grief!  I’m starting to wonder if a rally the size of Sturgis would even convince the Oregon State Traffic Engineer to use the signs?!  However, there is more being done about safety awareness:

  1. Billboards are out on Hwy 97 and I-5 at Keizer for motorist awareness.  Radio spots are currently running, bus transits have ads and print ads are running.
  2. They just printed a new motorcycle map that is being made available at both rallies. The map is full of safety messages along with some awesome riding routes,. They also have some other safety information from the advisory committee.
  3. The Chair of the Governor’s Committee (David Peterson) will be at the BMW rally evangelizing safety.
  4. There is work in process on a communication/press release for the motoring public to be aware of what’s going on.

Michele notes: “We’ve been losing a lot of motorcyclists involved in group rides this year so please spread the word and encourage everyone to ride sober. Our concern with the Good Vibrations Rally in Salem/Keizer is the wine-tasting activity they’re doing and what safeguards they will have in place.”

Update: July 19, 2010 — A early scan of the motor vehicle accident reports suggest that this past rally filled weekend was relatively safe for motorcyclists.  The exception being where OSP was dispatched to an accident involving two motorcycles on Highway 20 near milepost 14. The incident was the result of a bucket which blew out from the back of a pickup onto the roadway.  A 2001 BMW K1200LT motorcycle, operated by BENJAMIN JONSSON, and passenger CARA JONSSON, both age 54, from Spruce Grove, Alberta Canada was westbound on Highway 20 near milepost 14 when they came upon the bucket. BENJAMIN JONSSON was able to successfully swerve and miss the bucket.
However, a 2003 BMW R1150T motorcycle, operated by FREDERICK HERZOFF, age 61, and passenger  as ANNETTE HERZOFF both from Paradise City, California were also westbound traveling some distance behind JONSSON’S motorcycle.  FREDERICK HERZOFF attempted to swerve around the bucket and in doing so crashed into the back of JONSSON’S motorcycle. JONSSON and HERZOFF were not traveling together.
All four riders were transported by ambulance to Saint Charles Hospital in Bend. BENJAMIN and CARA JONSSON sustained minor injuries. FREDERICK HERZOFF sustained serious injuries and ANNETTE HERZOFF critical injuries. All four riders were wearing helmets.

Accident information/photo courtesy of OSP.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Reminiscent of the sly wizard in Frank Baum’s classic The Wizard of Oz, chances are most people have probably never heard of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) program manager of motorcycle safety and safety standards, Michele O’Leary.

Who is Michele O’Leary?   A person who wants you to wear a helmet and protective clothing.  The person who manages the motorcycle endorsement funds and determines how it gets allocated.  But wait there’s even more…

The Statesman Journal has an interesting interview with O’Leary and it provides insight on the person behind the curtain.

First off, O’Leary came to the job with a motorcycle endorsement and owns a motorcycle!  It’s good to be able to relate to rider issues and in my book this was a step ahead of the Harley-Davidson CEO (Keith Wandell) when he was hired last year with neither.   As a member of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on motorcycle safety, O’Leary has the inside track and has been successful in getting legislation changed to increase fines/penalties on certain types of infractions deemed safety oriented.  Is that good?

I became acquainted with O’Leary as part of my safety rants back in April to do anything and everything to encourage the use of the States variable message signs (VMS) for motorcycle awareness. Those neon signs are peppered across the metro area roadways and provide information about traffic congestion and accident reports and in my little world I thought they would make an excellent public safety reminder for drivers to watch out for motorcycles.  My request was promptly denied and I got “schooled” on the ‘correct’ usage of variable message signs by the ODOT traffic engineers. Previous posts related to this subject matter at: Motorcycle Safety TacticsSpotlight On ODOTWanna Be Policy Makers.

Many might debate that we need to ‘just say no’ to the ever increasing attempts by the government to manage every aspect of our lives through increased regulation.  Others will say it’s a noble cause to help make Oregon motorcycle riders safer.  Read the interview, learn who is looking out for you and judge for yourself…

And finally, if the above wasn’t enough to digest… from the edges of the internet come information about a tornado strikes festival celebrating The Wizard of Oz.

Photo courtesy of Picasa.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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May is Motorcycle Awareness Month.

There are so many interests groups out there these days. Sometimes the noise level and the drum beat volume gets so loud that you can’t determine if they’re about discrimination or empowerment.

As a “wanna-be” policy maker I planned to get more involved in this year’s safety efforts and do more than just sit back and pontificate via this blog that May is the celebratory occasion.   But, sometimes making a difference is harder than you think.  You might recall back in February I blogged about reaching out to the various city and state government entities to advocate the usage of the “Amber Alert signs” during Motorcycle Awareness Month.  My ask was they display the words: LOOK TWICE. SHARE THE ROAD WITH MOTORCYCLES or something to that effect.  I wrote the “Gov”, but I suspect he read one of my previous “Lazy Ted” enough with the higher taxes for the working folk posts and…I got a non response, response?!  I even sent a number of emails to Oregon State Police and ODOT in hopes of getting a positive response, but was shot down in a blaze of blogging glory.  Don’t these people know who I am?  Interestingly OSP has time for a cell phone campaign, but has no enforcement effort tied to Motorcycle Awareness Month.

It’s my view that as these type of issues become more complex, these representatives are not empowered or entrusted to make on-the-fly changes and this becomes problematic whenever public servants are ask to make modifications contrary to the initial intent or it is in question with the letter of the law on sign usage.  Oh well…what seems clear cut and logical to me isn’t to them.  So be it.

But, there is good news!   There will be more visibility this year for motorcyclists because the Motorcycle Safety Program and Vehicle Safety Equipment Program Manager was successful in obtaining billboard placements around the state (see above photo). This is a FIRST in Oregon and the messages will be specifically targeted to make drivers aware of motorcycles.

The billboard placements will be on I-84 @238th, Hwy-97 (somewhere – not sure just yet) and I-5 at Keizer. Unfortunately these billboards won’t go up until June due to advertising timing. It doesn’t sync up with Motorcycle Awareness Month, but June works and is better than nothing.

The are other placements too.  They include: Transit in Portland, Salem, Albany, Corvallis, Eugene and Medford. There will be print and radio ads available to all markets and Water Closet media placements will be at “motorcycle friendly establishments” in Portland and Eugene. There is also web banner logo’s available for groups, organizations, bloggers and motorcycle dealerships to use on their website or blog. All of the placements will be up throughout the summer months, starting in May (except billboard).

All this is coming exclusively from the hard working folks in the ODOT Transportation Safety Division!  A major shout-out to Michele O’Leary for the efforts on this front and helping make Oregon a little safer for motorcycles.

Important to note is the motorcycle rally on the State Capitol that is being sponsored by BikePac this Saturday, May 1st. ODOT’s role is to read the Governor’s Proclamation that May is declared to be Motorcycle Safety Awareness month. The rest of the event is coordinated by BikePac and ODOT is not affiliated with any other part of the event.

Lastly, there is a Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety and if you have the opportunity I am sure they would appreciate hearing from motorcyclists.  Their next meeting is July 16th and you’ll find logistics and email information HERE.  They always have an open spot on the agenda for any motorcycle group, organization or individual to come and speak.

Photo courtesy of ODOT and used with permission.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Previously I posted an article about motorcycle safety and the idea of leveraging the States variable message signs (VMS) for motorcycle awareness.

These neon signs are peppered across the metro area roadways and provide information about traffic congestion and accident reports.  In addition they’ve been used as public safety reminders for drivers to buckle up, DUI driving and about the new cell phone law enacted earlier this year.

I submitted a request to ODOT, OSP and sent a letter to Governor Kulongoski’s office asking for their support and consideration in use of the message signs during Motorcycle Awareness Month (May).  I’ve received no response from OSP or the Governor’s office.  I’m sure they are busy.  My request to ODOT did receive a quick response (thank you Janice!) as well as the request by an ODOT employee (Motorcycle Safety Program Manager – Michele).  We were both promptly DENIED by the State Traffic Engineer.

The reason?  They don’t want drivers to “tune out” the signs and stop paying attention to them.  Huh?  I get that message signs have a fundamental requirement to assist drivers in finding their anticipated destination in the most economical, reliable and safe way.  And having a marketing background I totally understand the “tune out” factor, but a concern about message saturation is clearly “fuzzy logic!”

The exact response was:

“We have decided not to post safety messages on our traffic variable message signs unless they correspond with a targeted enforcement and media campaign.  Educational safety messages don’t fit well into our Variable Message Sign Guidelines of something that requires an immediate decision (what – where – when).  It might be a good approach for something like a massive motorcycle rally, along with some basic info on the rally, but not for general shotgun purposes.

If just general purpose safety messages become common, the impact of the signs is reduced – meaning people tune them out more.  We really want to keep the messages on these sign to issues with immediate impact on travelers.”

Let’s see.  If I’m following all this signage logic correctly then it would be valid for drivers to assume that when the VMS sign is blank it is disabled or broken too, correct?!

Not understanding the inner workings of ODOT, OSP and the Governor’s office, I ask via email if there was something the motorcycle community could do for ODOT to reconsider this decision and was informed the State Traffic Engineer decision is final.

It would’ve been so easy and convenient at this point to slide into a rant about “Why Government Doesn’t Work”, and use this ODOT example as the poster child.  Then I could drone on about the overt power that one individual – a traffic engineer – wields over the state.  I won’t.  I’d like too, but I won’t.  They undoubtedly have spent millions of tax $$ on studies about driver attitudes and through advanced mathematics know the optimum number of messages per driver that can be displayed in a precise timeframe which can be remembered by the ‘average’ human brain.

I’m aware of the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) and I’d like to see this memory analysis and how ODOT’s “intelligent transportation” signage system has been optimized across the entire range of safety initiatives and driver demographics.  I researched the U.S. Dept. of Transportation – Federal Highway Administration, Traffic Control Systems Handbook: Chapter 10, Traveler Information Systems — and a quick scan clearly indicates there are a number of appropriate applications for use of electronic signage around public service messages such as motorcycle safety, DUI or reminders to buckle up.

I haven’t given up on this, yet.  Anyone interested to join me in emailing ODOT or the Governor to “Watch Out For Motorcycles?”  Maybe I’d get more attention if I propose renting these electronic signs out to advertisers as a way to raise money for the state?!  I can see a “Commuter Special Happy Hour” message now.

Photo courtesy of FHWA.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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