Being that I work in the vicinity of S.W. 4th Avenue and Harrison in downtown Portland I am amazed that the amount of traffic that passes through this and the nearby intersections.
Today, I saw a rather disturbing incident: An inbound 17 bus was making the left turn from 4th onto Harrison to get to the Mall. A pedestrian in a wheelchair was trying to cross the street...however with the construction cones he had to slow down and navigate around them. Meanwhile, a 43 bus was eastbound on Harrison on its outbound trip to Washington Square.
The 17 bus did not stop for the pedestrian and went through, as the pedestrian's signal had just changed from walk to flashing don't walk. The 43 operator beeped her horn, fortunately alerting the pedestrian so he could stop. But being he was in a wheelchair he couldn't easily get back onto the sidewalk.
Further, the 17 bus was then bogged down in a backup of traffic on Harrison, because a left-turning car onto 5th couldn't turn because of excessive pedestrian traffic. So now the 17 was blocking the eastbound lane (and the 43 bus). And as I looked back, the Operator of the 43 was shaking her head in disbelief.
This is not a one-time occurance; there's just too much traffic going on here, and too often there are turns that are next to impossible to make. The right turn from Harrison onto 6th is a "no turn on red", but it's impossible due to the amount of pedestrian traffic to make a legal turn on green. I've seen buses turn on red - because they have no choice not to. Buses can't see around the corner if there's a stopped bus on Harrison and 4th, causing the issue of buses turning but then realizing when it's too late that they can't complete the turn. And they can't back up, either.
What's truly, truly amazing...is that this is almost 100% avoidable. And TriMet was supposed to have done its "turn by turn, stop by stop" analysis of each and every TriMet route and stop. Clearly, that was A LIE. Buses didn't used to use Harrison, and it's avoidable. But they do now. And they shouldn't. Nor should the inbound 12/44 use Mill which has some of the same problems (they used to use Harrison, until it was realized that it's a bit illegal to make two lane changes in 200 feet.)
The solution should be that all buses coming from the south should travel on Barbur north to Caruthers, make the protected left turn there (where a left turn is prohibited if a pedestrian activates the crosswalk; further there is much less pedestrian traffic south of I-405), continue west on Broadway to 6th, and then have a straight-shot onto the Mall. Buses coming off the Ross Island Bridge would simply follow Corbett, Kelly, Arthur, and Caruthers.
The problem: TriMet created a design flaw with the transit mall. Where the current MAX stop is between Harrison and Montgomery used to be a bus stop. One where many bus routes stopped. And the brilliance of TriMet eliminated that bus stop that worked very well, and moved buses all over the place. TriMet also decided to re-route buses off of Clay and Market...I'm not quite sure why they did that either.
So, thanks to TriMet's insistence of light rail above all...TriMet in their predictable manner decided to short-change the bus system, create bus routes and bus stops that are blatantly dangerous...and then claimed it has reviewed it all. Then explain why TriMet was almost on the front page of the news tomorrow, with the 17 bus nearly hitting a wheelchair at 11:50 AM today. Yes, it would have been the Operator's fault...but TriMet could have helped eliminate the problem. Instead, TriMet "plans" for light rail...and bus service is a haphazard after-thought.