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Safety concerns spur new signage and markings for Morrison Bridge

Posted by on May 26th, 2010 at 9:38 am

Morrison Bridge bike-walk path dedication event-12
New signage and markings are
coming to the Morrison Bridge.
(Photos © J. Maus)

On March 30th, Multnomah County finally cut the ribbon on a new pathway for biking and walking across the Morrison Bridge that was 12 years in the making. Unfortunately, when I rode it on opening day it left quite a lot to be desired; and it turns out I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

The day the bridge opened, former transportation planner and policy analyst at Metro, Daniel Lerch, fired off an email to the county with detailed explanations of several aspects of the bridge’s design he felt were not safe. Here’s a snip from that email:

“While I was glad to see the well-designed safety barrier and some other excellent features, I was at first concerned and later disturbed at finding no less than five design issues that, in my opinion, pose serious safety hazards to novice and less-than-fully-alert cyclists.”

Morrison Bridge bike-walk path dedication event-18
New signage and path markings will
be installed near Water Ave.

In addition to those design issues, Lerch said he felt some of the signage and markings felt like they were designed by “road and highway engineers used to thinking about how to direct cars, and not by bicycle specialists who the specific safety needs of cyclists.”

After hearing from Mr. Lerch, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, and others, Multnomah County met with City of Portland staff to discuss the issues and they have released a list of changes they plan to implement. I’ve posted that list below in its entirety:

Location: Alder Street ramp
Movement: Westbound wrong-way bicycle traffic
Concern: Some might assume that the concrete sidewalk continues on a level surface onto the asphalt and will continue straight, especially if the crosswalk sign is on.
Solution: Railings are currently being installed to prevent bicyclists from traveling straight through crosswalk.

Location: Bridge Deck
Movement: East/westbound bicycle and pedestrian traffic
Concern: Potential for bike/ped conflicts
Solution: County staff and Bicycle and Pedestrian CAC members will be monitoring usage of the path in late May/early June. Monitoring strategy to be determined at May 12th CAC meeting.

Location: Naito Parkway
Movement: Southbound and northbound bikes/peds
Concern: Lack of directional signage makes path entrance hard to find
Solution: Additional way finding signage will be installed by the City of Portland.

Location: Naito ramp
Movement: Westbound bicycle traffic
Concern: Visual separation hard to distinguish between path and on-ramp
Solution: The County will install reflective tape/striping to distinguish edge of path from ramp.

Morrison Bridge bike-walk path dedication event-27
The Alder St. ramp as
it crosses Naito.

Location: Alder Street ramp crossing
Movement: Eastbound vehicle traffic
Concern: Eastbound motor-vehicle traffic on entering the bridge via the Naito ramp must be better prepared for crossing bikes and pedestrians.
Solution: The City will mount temporary orange flags to the two (2) bike/ped crossing sign to better draw attention.

Location: Alder Street ramp crossing
Movement: Downhill bicycle traffic
Concern: Bicycles traveling at a high-rate of speed
Solution: The County will provide a “Look->” marking similar to those found on Hawthorne Bridge. We also recommend using a shark’s teeth yield line marking at either end of the potential conflict zone area. These markings would inform bicyclists where they are required to yield if a pedestrian or bicyclist is entering on to the path at the Alder crossing.

Location: Water Ave ramp
Movement: Eastbound bicycle traffic
Concern: Visual separation hard to distinguish between path and on-ramp
Solution: The County will install reflective tape/striping to distinguish edge of path from ramp..

Location: Water Ave ramp start / terminus
Movement: All
Concern: Lack of directional signage makes path entrance hard to find. Potholes, I-5 traffic exasperate situation.
Solution: Additional way finding signage will be installed by the City of Portland. Improvement of pavement conditions by the City will be completed once funding becomes available.

Location: Spiral Ramp from Path to Eastbank Esplanade
Concern: Potential conflicts where bicyclists and pedestrians using the spiral ramp merge with sidewalk users on the bridge path and Esplanade.
Solution: Install yield signs at either end of the spiral ramp.

Mike Pullen from the Multnomah County Public Affairs Office says the County will also work to monitor traffic on the new path in the coming months and the results of those counts will be used to “determine whether additional measures should be implemented.” At this time, Pullen says they’re still working out the implementation schedule.

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Comments
  • Lance P. May 26, 2010 at 9:52 am

    I’m glad to see some progress with new facility. Now I just wish they would change the eastbound bike stop sign to be similar to Hawthorne where bike traffic has the write of way and auto traffic must stop.

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  • Nick V May 26, 2010 at 9:53 am

    I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and I haven’t ridden the new path yet. I still take the Hawthorne or the Steel. Nevertheless, two comments:

    1. Portland seems to like spending money to do A LOT of planning and researching. One would think that if this was really a 12-year process, then they could have predicted some of the problems that are arising.

    2. No matter how many precautions are taken and signs are made, some cyclists will still go too fast, go the wrong way, etc. My spider sense is at level orange when I cross over ANY bridge. Be careful, folks!

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  • poncho May 26, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Maybe less a bike issue but related…

    Regarding TriMet routing the #6 bus off the slip lane at SE Grand & Hawthorne (coming off the bridge), why not remove the slip lane altogether and the one at SE Grand & Madison by filling it in with sidewalk and adding crosswalks? This would allow a sidewalk to exist on both sides of SE Grand and make it safer for bikes and pedestrians in this area.

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  • J.R. May 26, 2010 at 10:12 am

    What about the red “wrong way” sign in the photo on this story? It is intended for motorists but is planted in the bike entrance to the bridge crossing which gives one the impression that you should not ride that way.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 26, 2010 at 10:32 am

      J.R.,

      i agree that that sign is poorly situated (that’s why i took that photo). I forwarded your comment to Mike Pullen with the County and he responded:

      “Thanks for sharing the update with your readers and for sending in the comment. I will share that with City and County staff working on this project.”

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  • KRhea May 26, 2010 at 10:39 am

    I wonder how a city that prides itself on being a cycling utopia continually spends money on designing bike “friendly” infrastructure only to find out after the fact that it wasn’t so “bike friendly” after all.
    This is the second major construction project specifically targeted at cyclist/cyclist’s safety that has not been thought thru, discussed, studied and then initiated properly.
    Are there actual cyclists/commuters setting on any of these planning committees in the “idea phase” of these projects? The city has limited funds for these projects so to go through the entire process from planning to completion and then find out something doesn’t work costs even more money for the proverbial “do over”.

    Just sayin’

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  • david May 26, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I can’t speak to the implementation, but there was most certainly a wayfinding signage plan – in addition to and as a replacement for the initial “Bike Route” signs – for each of the signage deficiencies mentioned in the post, and then some. I believe the goal was to have the signs installed by the path opening, but it sounds like the installation was delayed.

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  • kitten May 26, 2010 at 11:16 am

    i think this is pathectic.
    we have every right to expect more from our city officials. An excess of signage (here forthcoming) such as on Hawthorne Bridge and other places is merely symptomatic of seriously flawed design.

    More than ignorance, it shows that planners are more concerned with maintaining the status quo with regard to drivers, bending over backward to accommodate them at the expense of safety for others.

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  • Jesse May 26, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I cross the Morrison Bridge regularly and it’s really not that bad. It’s confusing the first time you do it, but after that it’s no problem and cars usually stop for cyclists on the Alder St. ramp. I think the real problem for novice cyclists isn’t the signage/design but the grade–which is steeper than the Hawthorne.

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  • Cargo May 26, 2010 at 11:30 am

    What about the “Nonmotorized Vehicles Prohibited” sign at the base of the bridge heading east at 2nd avenue? I ride this bridge multiple times a day, and have seen many people confused and turned around by this signage at the west side of the bridge.

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  • Martha R May 26, 2010 at 11:59 am

    One more suggestion: the curb cut at the corner of SW Naito Parkway and Morrison is exactly where pedestrians stand while waiting to cross the street. When I turned left from Naito to the bridge onramp, I felt incredibly rude ringing my bell and riding through the flock of people waiting at the light, but that’s the entrance to the bridge (yes, I was going slowly, established eye contact, smiled, etc. but it still felt awkward since that’s where they needed to be to cross the street and they were all surprised that I was taking a left from the street to the sidewalk).

    Solution? Build (and sign) another curb cut a bit further southwest, in a spot away from the crosswalks. Plus add sidewalk markings to guide bikes and warn pedestrians that the sidewalk is also a bike route.

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  • matt picio May 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Nick V (#2), KRhea (#6), kitten (#8) – Except that this wasn’t Portland, this was Multnomah County. Portland was involved in the process, but it wasn’t their baby. This isn’t a city project, it’s a county project.

    Not to say the city is perfect, just saying blame the city for the CITY’s mistakes, and not those of the county.

    Part of the problem with this project was that it was originally planned years ago, and when the county bike/ped committee was briefed before construction, it was a totally different committee than the one present during the initial design. (I was one of the committee members when construction began) We were presented with one design drawing, and not with most of the details. A number of committee members expressed concerns about some of the design features – I don’t know which ones were and were not addressed.

    Hopefully these issues will all be addressed now. I’ve ridden the new facility, and frankly I think that the reality doesn’t match the impression I was given by the planners and the county staff at the time.

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  • MeghanH May 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    The thing that keeps me from using this bridge when I’m biking (I seem to alternate between the Morrison and the Hawthorne) is the terrible pavement and high traffic on SE Water Ave. & SE Taylor St. I’m just about rattled to death every time I ride those streets.

    It didn’t make me very glad to read “Improvement of pavement conditions by the City will be completed once funding becomes available.” That means it will be YEARS before anything is improved.

    The single lane, short stoplights, and heavy car traffic on Taylor don’t encourage cars to share the road. I would like to see street parking removed on Taylor (especially between SE Water and Grand) for a bike lane.

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  • BURR May 26, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I’ve ridden and walked this several times now. Here are my comments:

    1. I really don’t see any reason why westbound cyclists shouldn’t be able to use the cross walk and the very wide sidewalk on the south side of SW Alder between the Naito on ramp and SW 2nd Avenue. Installation of additional railings and barriers here is just uncalled for.

    2. What’s really wrong with the SW Alder ramp crosswalk is that there is no stop sign here for motor vehicles on the ramp headed eastbound from southbound Naito to the eastbound bridge lanes.

    3. I agree with the need for visual separation of the path from the street on the Water Avenue ramp, a yellow stripe at the curb edge of the sidewalk should do it.

    4. Getting on to the eastbound path from northbound Water Avenue is confusing and dangerous.

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  • BURR May 26, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Re. #4 above, it should read:

    4. Getting on the westbound path from northbound Water Avenue is confusing and dangerous.

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  • Andrew Holtz May 26, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    I’m a member of the Multnomah County Bicycle & Pedestrian Citizens Advisory Committee (Note: the county is responsible for the bridge and then coordinates with the city on the approaches).

    As the article notes, our committee will be going out to collect data and observe how people are using the Morrison Bridge in order to help propose the most effective improvements. I would also encourage everyone to ride and walk the bridge, take notes, think of good suggestions and add them to the suggestions being posted here. We’ll be reading all the comments.

    But I would also note that the design includes input from cyclists and other gathered over years of open houses and public meetings. I’ve lost track of how many of our committee meetings involved how to figure out the best way to improve the Morrison Bridge. Those who complain about a lack of opportunities for public input simply have their facts wrong.

    This bridge was designed for motor vehicles half a century ago. What we have now is a substantial improvement… but the original design stuck us with awful constraints… so the result is less than ideal. Nevertheless, we still have opportunities to boost the performance of the new facility. Please add your input.

    Also… if you are indeed interested in providing input on this and other county projects and facilities, the Bike/Ped committee meetings are always open. We are currently meeting every other month on the second Wednesday at 6:30p at the Multnomah Building, 501 SE Hawthorne, Room 112 (in the back of the Boardroom).

    The next meeting is scheduled for July 14. Here’s a link to the page where agendas are posted: http://is.gd/cqnp0 (Note: the county web site is undergoing so work. If the link doesn’t work, try searching for “Multnomah County Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee”) The July agenda should be up shortly before the meeting date.

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  • Joe May 26, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I rode this path for the first time last week. Even I, simpleton, non-planner, non-engineer, was blown away at how easy it would be to not be able to differentiate the path from the road. On a rainy darkish evening it would be easy to just fall off. At least that will be corrected with some reflective tape.

    But seriously, where is the thought process in this whole design?

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  • Andrew Holtz May 26, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I’m a member of the Multnomah County Bicycle & Pedestrian Citizens Advisory Committee (Note: the county is responsible for the bridge and then coordinates with the city on the approaches).

    As the article notes, our committee will be going out to collect data on the Morrison Bridge in order to help propose the most effective improvements. I would also encourage everyone to ride the bridge, take notes, think of good suggestions and add them to the comments posted here. We’ll be reading all the comments.

    But I would also note that the design includes input from cyclists and other gathered over years of open houses and public meetings. I’ve lost track of how many of our committee meetings involved trying to figure out the best way to improve the Morrison Bridge. Those who complain about a lack of opportunities for public input simply have their facts wrong.

    This bridge was designed for motor vehicles half a century ago. What we have now is a substantial improvement… but the original design stuck us with awful constraints… so the result is less than ideal. Nevertheless, we still have opportunities to boost the performance of the new facility. Please add your input.

    Also… if you are indeed interested in providing input on this and other county projects and facilities, the Bike/Ped committee meetings are always open. We are currently meeting every other month on the second Wednesday at 6:30p at the Multnomah Building, 501 SE Hawthorne, Room 112 (in the back of the Boardroom).

    The next meeting is scheduled for July 14. Here’s a link to the page where agendas are posted: http://is.gd/cqnp0 (Note: the county web site is undergoing so work. If the link doesn’t work, try searching for “Multnomah County Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee”) The July agenda should be up shortly before the meeting date.

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  • Paul Johnson May 26, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Putting sharks-teeth on the through route at the Alder Street ramp crossing would violate MUTCD guidelines and thus reasonable cyclist expectation at that intersection. Putting the shark’s teeth on the top of the ramp to remind traffic entering the bridge to yield to existing traffic would make more sense. As would moving pedestrians off the cycleway to the other side of the bridge.

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  • Elliot May 26, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Re: #17 – “As would moving pedestrians off the cycleway to the other side of the bridge.”

    You can’t do this, as the sidewalk on the north side of the bridge isn’t ADA compliant. And it’s not a “cycleway”, it’s a shared facility. I haven’t ridden the new path yet, but it seems like 15′ is plenty of room to share between bikes and peds.

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  • Elliot May 26, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Er, that’s re: #18. Comments move around on this site…

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  • Vance Longwell May 26, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    There are no drawbacks, or negatives of any sort, with bicycle-specific infrastructure. Clearly you are all hallucinating. Put as much down, as fast as possible, or nobody will ever ride a bike again in the entire state, forever. Wouldn’t wanna miss an opportunity to stick it to the ‘cagers’ either now, c’mon. Blasphemers.

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  • cyclist May 26, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I’m with Jesse #9, I take this bridge daily on my way home (eastbound over the bridge, then down the corkscrew to the Esplanade, then south), it was a little weird the first time, after that it’s pretty easy. I could definitely see the elevation gain putting off some riders, it’s not nearly as easy to cross as the Hawthorne is.

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  • Jim Lee May 26, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Anybody here following Multco”s planning for the new bridge at Sellwood?

    Does not look good!

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  • Andrew Holtz May 26, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Jim (#23)… Regarding the Sellwood Bridge… what are your specific concerns?

    This project has also been the topic of many, many public meetings and every bike-related group in the region has weighed in. Heck, the county even sends out Tweets before the meetings.

    The project documents and meeting schedules are available at http://www.sellwoodbridge.org/

    A lot of major decisions have been made… and the interests of people who want to walk or bicycle have made a difference (though there have been compromises of course.)

    But there are still details to work out, so add your voice now.

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  • david....no! the other one May 26, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Years and years of meetings and planning, only to result in signs with steel posts in shared bike/ped pathway. I don’t know, isnt everyone overthinking this a little. How about some paint, let me see. Freddies=twenty dollars a gallon. Or, better yet METRO, five gallons for ?. Looks like a job for midnight repair to me. Just sayin, good grief!

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  • BURR May 26, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    @ Andrew #17 – just because the county holds open houses and public hearings and collects feedback from the public, doesn’t mean the planners and engineers actually listen to what the public says, or that the end result is a better design because of this ‘process’.

    In fact, it seems that a common factor in all the design flaws in the new bike infrastructure the city and county have built recently appears to be that the design engineers are not cyclists and thus have no idea how to design safe, user-friendly bicycle infrastructure.

    The Morrison Bridge and the Burnside-Couch couplet are just the most recent examples of this.

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  • KRhea May 26, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    “BURR”

    My point exactly, well said.

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  • Andrew Holtz May 26, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    @BURR #25… the county bike/ped committee and the city bicycle committees both reviewed the designs for the Morrison Bridge path on multiple occasions. At our county meetings we came to accept the reality that the design of the original bridge left few good options. What we got is far from perfect, but I never saw or heard any proposed solutions that were dramatically better than what was built.

    Jim (#23)… Regarding the Sellwood Bridge… what are your specific concerns?

    This project has also been the topic of many, many public meetings and every bike-related group in the region has weighed in. Heck, the county even sends out Tweets before the meetings.

    The project documents and meeting schedules are available at http://www.sellwoodbridge.org/

    A lot of major decisions have been made… and the interests of people who want to walk or bicycle have made a difference (though there have been compromises of course.)

    But there are still details to work out, so add your voice now.

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  • jrdpdx May 27, 2010 at 6:28 am

    I’m also with Jesse #9 and Cyclist#22. Just get on it and ride it, it’s easy to figure out and the dozen times I have taken there have been 3-5 people walking and hardly any bikes so negotiating traffic on this section is easy. How about a little self reliance here. Isn’t that part of why we bike? Take it into your own hands and figure it out.

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  • Barbara May 27, 2010 at 7:26 am

    I had finally ridden the route last month to try it out as an alternate coming from eastside to go to downtown. Never again & what a waste of money was my thought afterwards. 1st it was a struggle to just get to the entrance. Then nearly hit as legally tried to get onto the ramp path from the road.
    Then at the other end rather than continuing west it forces one to circle around the wrong way on the sidewalk. Then cross traffic truning onto Naito & then try to get across 2nd street just to go west. The time along was much longer than if I had just taken the Hawthorne Bridge.

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  • Scott Mizée May 27, 2010 at 8:11 am

    glad to see the planned improvements. I’m still not clear if a westbound bike traffic is being allowed to the Alder and 2nd Ave intersection. I hate having to get off my bike as I head down this route to Kinkos or the ODS Tower. There is plenty of room for people walking and riding bikes in both directions to share this segment.

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  • spare_wheel May 27, 2010 at 9:01 am

    I like it. And frankly, its a lot safer than the narrow Hawthorne bridge. Its only a matter of time before someone gets thrown into the car lane and killed.

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  • matt picio May 27, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    BURR (#14) – Drivers aren’t expecting traffic on the sidewalk from their right, and they’re looking left in order to merge with traffic. It was a safety concern, and that along with the confusion that would result from cyclists trying to continue WB were major factors in allowing only EB traffic on Alder from 2nd to Naito.

    Andrew (#17) – There were plenty of opportunities for input but they were poorly advertised and communicated. All polities are guilty of this to some extent, but the counties are the worst offenders. At the very least, this information needs to be communicated to the BTA and Bike Portland. Between the two of them, the majority of the bike community can be easily reached. I certainly don’t blame the advisory committees for this (full disclosure: I previously sat on the committee that Andrew is a member of), but I do blame the transportation departments. They are the only organizations that are fully aware of the projects.

    Jim Lee (#23) – How so? Do you have links?

    spare_wheel (#30) – The “narrow” Hawthorne bridge? It’s 14′ wide, plenty of room. Hawthorne’s problem isn’t width, it’s that many cyclists insist on crossing it at 15+ mph. Slow down and pay attention, and 80% of the issues magically disappear. (that guidance isn’t meant for you specifically, I have no idea how you ride)

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  • BURR May 27, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    one more spot that’s bad but isn’t mentioned in the original article is getting on the eastbound ramp path at SW Morrison and Naito.

    Not only do you have to ride illegally on the sidewalk to get to this location from any direction but north, you also are faced with crossing two types of right turning traffic (onto both SW Morrison and the bridge ramp) and I’m pretty sure there is no signal for the traffic turning right onto the bridge ramp.

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  • BURR May 27, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Drivers aren’t expecting traffic on the sidewalk from their right, and they’re looking left in order to merge with traffic. It was a safety concern, and that along with the confusion that would result from cyclists trying to continue WB were major factors in allowing only EB traffic on Alder from 2nd to Naito.

    Matt – I call BS on this. They could have put in a stop sign for the motorists on the ramp, and they could have put in signs for the motorists that said ‘yield to bikes’ and ‘two way bicycle traffic’, and done a lot more to prioritize non-motorized traffic at these conflict points (just like on the Hawthorne Bridge); but they didn’t, instead they designed every conflict point to prioritize motor vehicle traffic.

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  • Paul Johnson May 27, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    @matt: It gets narrow because pedestrians often walk back-to-traffic, a gazillion abreast. It really could use dedicated sidewalks for pedestrians and a second bike lane each way; I suspect it’s only a matter of time until a lane each way is closed to cars and resurfaced for bicycle use.

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  • matt picio May 27, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    BURR (#35) – Not illegal. City code 16.70.320 provides an exemption for the approaches to any Willamette River bridge.

    and (#36) – They could have, but they did not. We (the committee) were told that bike/ped traffic was going to have to stop, we raised the same points you did, the county said no, and under those circumstances killing 2 way bike/ped traffic is the proper thing to do, in order to keep people safe. Think what you want about the county’s decision, but keeping that in mind, the rest of it makes sense. Is it consistent with Hawthorne? No. Am I happy about it? No. If people don’t like it, get off your collective ass and come to the meetings – the public is welcome and NO ONE EVER ATTENDS. These are where the decisions are being made, if you want to influence them, show up – or shut up. (BURR, that is not aimed at you personally)

    You and I should have an offline discussion on some of this next time we see each other.

    Paul (#37) – What the city and county should do in my opinion is close the middle lanes to cars and convert to bikes. Use the Water Ave ramp to get on and off on the east side, and use eminant domain to grab the parcel on the west side and build the infrastructure necessary to get the bikes to and from the street grid. Ideally move the Hawthorne and Madison bike lanes to the left side of those one-way streets and re-stripe accordingly.

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  • Steve B. June 11, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Thanks, MultCo, for being responsive to these issues.

    My recommendation is to continue the bike/ped separation you have in the middle of the bridge for the entire duration of the bridge. While this was a great improvement for people biking over the bridge, it makes walking across this bridge more difficult. Please take a trip to Vancouver, BC, to see mode-separated pathways done well along the sea wall. Thank you!

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  • Steve B. June 11, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Just to be a bit more detailed, I’m proposing a thermoplastic stripe and bike/ped indicators, similar to the Hawthorne bridge but with more definition.

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  • Donna C. June 21, 2010 at 11:58 am

    A friend and I walked the bridge initially just to determine how it is for pedestrians. I agree with Steve B. “… to continue the bike/ped separation you have in the middle of the bridge for the entire duration of the bridge”. I assume this means adding a separator line between bikes/peds [ideally, on future paths, a physical separator]. Please put up some signs that instruct bicyclists to not ride ON the line.
    I cannot tell you how many times on shared paths I have had cyclists speed by me with no warning not more than a few inches away. If I had unknowingly made a movement a few inches to the side I would have been hit. As a senior, this can be deadly. Please, bicyclists, respect the law: leave room between yourself and pedestrians, slow down when passing, and, especially when coming up from behind, don’t assume an audible signal is heard – some people are hard of hearing.

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