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Broadway Bridge detour: Can we do better?

Posted by on September 26th, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Broadway Bridge detour-1
People heading west split into two groups. Some use the left turn lane (on the left) and some opt for the left turn box.


A closure of the biking and walking path on the Broadway Bridge, and the suggested detour that comes with it, is creating a chaotic situation that’s causing confusion and leading to dangerous situations. And it’s not necessary. There are two lanes in each direction on the bridge’s main deck. Why not set up some cones and have flaggers direct bike traffic onto one of them — especially during the AM and PM peak hours?

The closure started on Monday (9/24) and is due to a Portland Bureau of Transportation project to replace the non-slip coating on the paths (it’s peeling up). The north sidewalk is closed now and then they’ll switch to the south sidewalk with both of them re-opening by October 8th.

With the path closed, the nearly 5,000 or so people who cross the bridge by bike each day (according to most recent PBOT bike counts), and the significant amount of foot traffic, are all expected to share one narrow (about 10.5 feet wide) pathway across the river and negotiate some tricky connections on both ends.

I’ve been experiencing this detour both to and from downtown for the past few days. This morning I took a closer look at the east end of the bridge and it really disturbed me.

Large groups of people riding bikes head down Broadway toward the bridge each morning. Usually most of them continue west onto the pathway. But with the path closed, they must figure out a way to get onto the path on the south side (which is usually only for eastbound traffic). About half the people cross N. Larrabee and wait in the green bike box prior to turning left (this would be the “two-stage left turn” the “Copenhagen Left” or the “Portland Pivot” depending on your style). But the other half make a more direct, yet more risky move. They merge (on the downhill), across parallel streetcar tracks and get into the left turn lane at Broadway and Larrabee.

Broadway Bridge detour-3
Looking east, back uphill on Broadway.

Broadway Bridge detour-2

Yesterday I got an email from a reader who said she watched a woman crash doing this maneuver. Another victim of the streetcar tracks, perhaps pushed into the situation because of the approaching detour? This morning it was a chaotic scene as people on bikes scattered across Broadway, trying to make their decision of using the two-stage turn method or using the left turn lane.

Those who opted for the two-stage left turn by using the bike box in the northwest corner of Larrabee and Broadway found themselves in a big crowd. Paul Cone said via Twitter, “A dozen of us crowding into the bike box were tripping over each other, where to turn into westbound lane not clear.”

And then there’s the mix of people walking and people biking. This is problematic at both the bridge entrances and on the deck itself. Bryn Dearborn shared with us via Twitter that, “Two pedestrians were almost nailed by two bikes at the east end.” And he added, “It is a crazy confluence there.” He’s right. Whenever you direct people on bicycles up onto, and then off of a sidewalk, you create a bad situation. Especially when it happens on a side of the street where other road users are not expecting oncoming traffic to be.

Broadway Bridge detour-4
Westbound bike riders wait for the walk signal to cross via crosswalk over Broadway
(this path is also used for all eastbound traffic).

What will happen when the south pathway is closed and all foot and bike traffic is routed onto the north side?

Isn’t there a better way to handle this?

The Broadway Bridge paths have been closed several times over the years and I assume they’ll be closed again in the future. What if, instead of herding all the biking and walking traffic up onto one narrow path (which feels quite disrespectful), we simply use one of the existing lanes on the bridge? Some people take the lane anyways, but it’s a pretty gutsy move for most people. All it would take are some cones, signs, and flaggers. If not that, does anyone have a better idea on how to avoid this in the future? Or, like many other minor annoyances in the daily life of bicycling in Portland… should we just ‘Shut up and deal with it’?

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Comments
  • peejay September 26, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    TAKE THE LANE! And encourage other riders to join you, and take a nice leisurely pace all the way across the bridge.

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    • Erinne September 26, 2012 at 3:00 pm

      That’s what I was going to suggest! It was great this morning.

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    • q`Tzal September 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm

      Get a group of at least 4 cyclists and take the lane as a phalanx.

      Groups sized to an SUV’s footprint, carrying the same amount of people, moving the same slow speed and manuvering as one single organism will be the least objectionable to the motoring herd.

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      • peejay September 27, 2012 at 10:17 am

        Same amount of people? If I see more than one person in an SUV, I do a double-take.

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    • Allan Folz September 26, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      That’s what I did! It was doubly fun overtaking the Streetcar in the center lane.

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  • 9watts September 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    5,000 is a big number.
    Seems like we’re no longer the children in the kitchen, but should be sitting at the table.

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  • boneshaker September 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    I’ve been riding morning/evening over that same stretch. I think peejay’s suggestion of taking the lane is probably the safest way to get across the river, but the signage directs bikes to all use the south path. Taking the lane during rush-hour is going to mean less of the bike/walker mess we have now and more dealing with frustrated motorists. Pick your poison.

    Maybe we should just use the Steel bridge for a while instead?

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  • pattipdx September 26, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Please yes….horrible trying to get on the sidewalk on the eastside. Got stuck in the road waiting for a break

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  • Ted Buehler September 26, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Didn’t the Bicycle Transportation Alliance just get featured in a Portland Streetcar, Inc. video about bicycling and streetcar tracks?

    I’d feel more confident about the BTA representing the interests of bicyclists if they made some proactive forays into PBOT to keep injury-causing detours/designs like this from happening, rather than appear to be a pawn of streetcar interests placating bicyclists to accept poor roadway conditions.

    (No offense to Gerik or Rob, but I’m just sayin…)

    Ted Buehler

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    • Ted Buehler September 26, 2012 at 2:49 pm

      I’d also feel more confident about PBOT’s commitment to increasing bicycle mode share (and getting cars off the road) if they didn’t keep pitching these kinds of hazardous, unpleasant, delaying conditions to bicyclists…

      Jonathan wrote
      “What if… we simply use one of the existing lanes on the bridge?”

      Ding ding!

      Temporary sharrows? Permanent sharrows? It’s not like it’s going to slow cars down much, and I’m sure giving bikes a welcome invitation to the right lane on the bridge conforms to PBOT and regional transportation policies and objectives just fine.

      Ted Buehler

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  • (Not so) Rich Bastard September 26, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Use Steel Bridge! No wait, that’s my quiet place. Take the lane!

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  • Ted Buehler September 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    & remember ODOT’s directive to bicyclists in the Oregon Bicycle Manual —

    “To make riding safer for you and other bicyclists, report unsafe road conditions to local authorities as soon as possible.”
    (http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/hwy/bikeped/docs/bike_manual.pdf, p. 4)

    If you find the Broadway Bridge sidewalk condition to be unsafe, then a quick email is in order. The local authorities in questions are

    * Portland Bureau of Transportation, safe@portlandoregon.gov
    * Portland Transportation Commissioner Mayor Adams, mayorsam@portlandoregon.gov and
    * Multnomah County Bridge Department, DCS.Bridges@multco.us
    * Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogan at mult.chair@multco.us

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease, folks!

    Ted Buehler

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    • metropoliscycles September 27, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      Ted,
      Thanks for posting these addresses and reminding us that we need to do more than complain to a bunch of other bike nerds with the same opinion on the topic. My letter has been sent.

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  • John Lascurettes September 26, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Going to try the lane tomorrow. I’ve been doing the left turn lane and hopping the front wheel over the tracks – but getting back over at the opposite end is a PITA.

    Didn’t PBOT close the paths only just a couple of months ago to resurface these? I swore when the first put these in that this would happen – they should have used an inherently textured surface rather than coating a smooth surface with traction coating. It’s silly and I fail to see how it could have possibly been more cost-effective in the long run.

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    • John Lascurettes September 27, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Took the lane this morning. Went just fine, however, at the west end of the bridge, one does end out crossing the tracks again at a narrower angle than if coming of the usual bike path. But those that will take the lane tend to be the more assertive riders that will hop the tracks too. Just throwing it out there as an FYI.

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  • LDA September 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Thanks for writing about this. I can’t think of anything more dangerous than when they close the south-bound sidewalk and direct bike traffic going east to the north side walk. This shoots bikers out, heading the wrong way into traffic on Broadway!!!

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  • SJ September 26, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    I take the B’way bridge every weekday morning. What I saw this morning, probably at around 7:00: most on bikes either at or waiting to get to the NW corner of that intersection, going west. At the red light, one guy on a bike decides he just doesn’t want to wait, so he heads out into the intersection, as though he’s also going to the NW corner, then he kind of looks around and heads to the SW corner and continues across the bridge on the south side, blowing red the whole time. I and the other riders are just there, waiting, and this guy makes us look like idiots because this is the behavior that drivers see and attribute to all riders. On the other end of the bridge, on the west side, bikers scatter all over the place, some breaking laws, some just not caring, etc. Same result: we all look bad in drivers’ eyes. A few more blocks, at the new stop sign on B’way, just before Burnside, a few bikers blow through the stop, one almost hit another going across the intersection. Wonderful. Just another morning of watching many bike riders make my ride all the more unsafe because of their unchanging behavior. And we’re worried about a temporary detour? Not so much.

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  • Fred Lifton September 26, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Yes, the Eastside of the bridge is a complete cluster-coitus when the north lane is closed, but heading back west when the south side lane is closed is just as bad. A hugh clump of peds and cyclists forms that spills out onto Broadway and obstructs traffic that has the green light as they turn left onto Broadway from the bridge or try to right onto Broadway from Lovejoy.

    I totally agree that taking the lane is the safest way to go here in either direction. Traffic at rush hour barely moves at bike speed anyway. Remember, if they’re honking, they see you!

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  • jen September 26, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    I’m with you on the idea to take the lane. While the video by Portland Streetcar Inc and the BTA definitely recommends using the bike box, that just isn’t feasible in construction scenarios like this one. When large groups of cyclists are all forced to use the box during roughly the same time period, it becomes hazardous for everyone involved. Of course, trying to turn left runs another set of risks (like losing control on the tracks, or being involved in a run-in with vehicular traffic heading the same direction). I think it’s a great idea to have PBOT close one of the lanes, at least during peak commute times, during construction like this. The BTA could even have their members volunteer to be flaggers, if PBOT can’t or won’t supply their own.

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  • Joseph E September 26, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    “What if, instead of herding all the biking and walking traffic up onto one narrow path (which feels quite disrespectful), we simply use one of the existing lanes on the bridge?”

    This should be the proper way to manage this bridge EVERY day. But it’s absolutely essential now, when one sidewalk is closed. It’s just not wide enough for both direction of bikes and pedestrians to share.

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  • Spiffy September 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    They merge (on the downhill), across parallel streetcar tracks and get into the left turn lane at Broadway and Larrabee.

    pretty sure that’s illegal if they’re trying to get to the southern path… when making a left turn you are required to turn into the left-most lane, which in this case is an automobile lane… you then need to signal for 100′ before getting into the required sidepath bike lane… so there’s no way to get to the SW corner of that intersection legally going that route…

    of course, I’ve turned left into a bike lane plenty of times, and I’ve never heard of anybody getting a ticket for it… but it technically seems illegal and I’d hate for some disgruntled driver to ask for an enforcement action there during this detour…

    where’s Mark J. Ginsberg at with this?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • John Lascurettes September 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm

      I’ll emotionally allow a cyclist to get a ticket for that the first time I ever see a driver get cited for not turning into the nearest lane when making a turn. It simply doesn’t happen. Also, I don’t know if the law is different with a dedicated turning light or not (as such is in this case). Also note that there are also cones preventing a right turn from opposing motor traffic right now which would keep them from turning into the other lane on red.

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  • Chris September 26, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    Take the lane, take the lane, take the lane! Really, during rush-hour most bicyclists keep up with traffic anyhow.

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  • mark kenseth September 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    I appreciate the pictures, but I would love a map.

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    • John Lascurettes September 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      Do you really not know where the Broadway Bridge is? Look at the map. All other “north”, “south”, “westbound” references can be inferred by it.

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  • q`Tzal September 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    The problem is that this is being treated as a sidewalk detour: it is not.

    This is a VEHICLE detour and as such the DOT in charge has certain requirements that they must provide a safe and adequate route for the cyclists.
    Even without the cross lane and inadvisable rail crossing maneuver the doubling of traffic combined with the mingling opposing flows more quadrupled the hazards.

    I agree that the non-slip surface needs to be replaced but automotive Level Of Service is not worth our lives. PBOT knows better.

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  • Paul Manson September 26, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    I’ve switched over to going through the Rose Quarter to the waterfront.

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  • Zaphod September 26, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    It’s really dangerous and confusing. I roll slowly with cargo bikes full of kids and I could see problems arising no matter how careful I am. I expect more from PDX

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  • Kevin Wagoner September 26, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    I ran through here the other day. I saw two cyclist go past the detour, get confused and they cross diagonally across the street. They both almost got nailed by a car. Several other bikes circled back to the detour and looked rather confused, but they did figure it out in short order.

    I ride through the cycle track by OHSU often. Lately in the morning there have been two to three people directing car, bike and pedestrian traffic. It has worked rather well I’ve gone through. Maybe this is a better model to follow.

    I agree we should be doing better.

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  • Scott S September 26, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    They have added much better signage than was previously used for the bridge closures earlier this summer, where the closed/detour sign was located once you already got onto the bridge. It makes for some “unique” intersections and possibly a little additional signage or cones directing traffic flow at the beginning and end would be useful. On my ride this morning the most hazardous thing during this detour was the photographer of these images (Jonathan Maus perhaps?) utilizing his iphone while bicycling across the bridge not paying enough attention to the two way traffic and those in front/behind him. If you need to use your phone then stop and pull off to the side (using the center of the 10.5′ two lane pathway on your phone is not appropriate).

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    • Nate September 27, 2012 at 12:42 pm

      I come from the north and nearly plowed into the “Path Closed” signs on the bridge yesterday. There is zero signage from that direction. Glad it’s better from Broadway.

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  • Steve B. September 26, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    What a mess! PBOT must come up with a rock-solid detour plan for what is to be ongoing maintenance work of the bridge pathways.

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  • Jolly Dodger September 27, 2012 at 2:33 am

    ODOT wouldn’t push auto drivers into ‘against the flow’ in a ‘one side is closed’ scenario of any street without re-directing opposite traffic around with detours somehow. To allow cyclists to creatively endeavor at their own risk with no flaggers seems perilous. Dedicated bike use lane on bridge deck during peak hours, each direction…or convoyed through…yeah, it would be a nightmare…and that’s really the point. Showing through concerned efforts and actions to the drivers around that sometimes compromises need to be made in order to keep EVERYONE on the roads safe.

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  • David September 27, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Taking the lane report:

    I rode in the lane for the first time today over the Broadway Bridge and it went great! Every car that passed me did so in a courteous way, and this was pre-rush hour (around 7:50am) so the cars weren’t backed up and were going pretty fast. I was going between 22 and 25mph over the bridge though, so I wasn’t lollygagging.

    While I think it’s less likely that something will go wrong over the bridge (eg. getting hit by somebody who is confused or not paying attention), if it did happen I’d be in a lot more trouble due to the speeds involved.

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  • toddistic September 27, 2012 at 8:59 am

    take the lane.

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  • Zaphod September 27, 2012 at 9:13 am

    A very simple solution would be to have signage that very clearly indicates that cyclists should indeed take the lane and motorists should expect it unambiguously. I *really* do not want to read about an injury or worse on these pages in the coming days/weeks. PBOT should heed this dialog as warning that an accident extremely likely and do something about it NOW.

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  • Fred Lifton September 27, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I wrote to all the various DoT, etc. parties voicing my concern and recommending the use of a traffic lane as a detour. Here is the lame and tepid response I got from Mike Pullen at Multco:

    Thank you for contacting us about the bicycle detour for the Broadway Bridge sidewalk repairs. The repairs are related to the Portland Streetcar construction on the bridge, so I am cc’ing staff at PBOT and the Streetcar. I believe the detour that is in place is the one that has been used in the past. It is a short term project, but perhaps the detour can be improved. I think most cyclists prefer to use the sidewalks compared to the traffic lanes. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    No one else bothered to write back.

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    • metropoliscycles September 27, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      Here’s the reply I received. At least they have rationales.

      Thank you for taking the time to submit feedback on the detour. We had evaluated the suggested alternative of closing the west bound travel lane for cyclists but ran into serious conflicts on the west side of the Bridge with both the right turn movement onto Lovejoy as well as the alignment of the rails. As there is only one day left of work on the north sidewalk, we have focused on possible alternatives for next week’s work on the south sidewalk of the bridge.

      There is a significant right-hook conflict at Larrabee that would be created if the right lane on the Bridge was given to the bikes. There wouldn’t be enough distance for drivers to safely move across the temporary bike lane into the existing right turn lane. Therefore, all of the bikes would have to be on the right side of the right turn vehicles. Therefore, It was determined that the right turn car/bike conflicts at Larrabee were far more significant than the narrow two-way bike/ped conditions, and were thus unacceptable.

      Currently the only other alternative to the current detour is to close the Broadway Bridge to cyclists. We understand that this detour is less than perfect and hope that you will be patient with us through the one week that remains of this work to repair the sidewalks. The City is also looking at traffic signal adjustments to make the bike/ped movements as efficient as possible.

      Julie

      Julie Gustafson | Shiels Obletz Johnsen, Inc.

      1140 SW 11th Avenue, Suite 500 | Portland, OR 97205
      Phone 503-242-0084 | Fax 503-299-6769

      julie@sojpdx.com

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      • John Lascurettes September 29, 2012 at 12:32 pm

        I do agree that the track alignment might cause problems for some after having taken the lane for the last two mornings. One does cross the tracks at less than 45°on the west end of the westbound direction, at that point and a tiny wheel hop is recommended.

        Regarding the right-hook conflict – I’m still seeing that happen as drivers are turning right across the cones that they’ve set up going eastbound. I’ve seen a few near misses.

        And saying, “the only other alternative” would be to close the bridge to bicycles is like saying, “take it and shut up or you won’t like the consequences”. So, I guess we couldn’t say, close or prohibit the right turns they deem as the conflict from motor vehicles? Of course not. All bow to the mighty car. It is the only cardinal mode of transport.

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  • Nate September 27, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Definitely take the lane. If you are alone, roll dead center so motorists aren’t inclined to squeeze by. In most cases though, there will be a crew of bikers waiting for the light at N Larrabee. Whoever gets there first, take the middle of the lane in the crosswalk and the rest fill in around. As someone above said, a good number of bikers can fit in an SUV-sized space and can proceed at slow biker’s pace up and over. All we need from PBOT is a temporary sign stating “Bikes on Roadway” as they have (permanent) at the end of the Steel Bridge.

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  • Travis Fulton September 28, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Took the lane solo this morning, nobody else was interested. No hassles from people in cars though.

    It’d be great if people did it en mass as suggested multiple times above, but it takes a certain mindset to do it and it’s difficult to talk people into it in the few seconds before the light turns.

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    • John Lascurettes September 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm

      I’ve taken the lane twice now. I don’t feel I need an escort of others.

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  • Marshall September 29, 2012 at 9:16 am

    The detour is not working. There’s no clear system on either side of the bridge to direct bike traffic in or out of the detour. On the bridge itself, I’ve already seen one nervous cyclist nearly cause a huge steel and meat pileup because he wasn’t paying attention. At any peak time on the bridge, it’s a huge cyclist+pedestrian accident waiting to happen, and I don’t want to be there when it does.

    I’m taking the lane from now on.

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