Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 10th, 2013 at 3:36 pm
For three full days next week, the paths on each side of the Broadway Bridge will be closed so the Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) can do maintenance on the non-slip surface that covers the lift-span. The closure means that the thousands of people who ride and walk on the paths each day will be re-routed about one-half mile south to the Steel Bridge.
Closing both sides of the bridge paths is a new move for PBOT and one that has already rankled some feathers. When this same maintenance project was performed last fall, the City's detour plans kept one side of the bridge open to bicycling and walking traffic at all times. Then, when the detour was clearly too confusing and not as safe as it could be, some smart advocacy and a bit of public pressure convinced them to dedicate a lane on the bridge roadway for bicycling.
"We think we found the least unpleasant option among many bad options."
— Dylan Rivera, City of Portland Bureau of Transportation
Why did PBOT choose a full closure this time around without creating the dedicated bike lane on the bridge roadway like last fall? City spokesman Dylan Rivera says it wasn't an easy decision. "Staff across several PBOT divisions and the Portland Streetcar agonized over how to handle this closure to minimize the disruption to all bridge users," he shared with us via email yesterday, "We think we found the least unpleasant option among many bad options."
Rivera said they considered keeping one eastbound traffic lane open for bicycling, but that last year it "created massive gridlock that stranded buses, streetcars, trucks and cars for more than 90 minutes in many cases." He also said PBOT heard accounts from witnesses who saw people in cars turning around on the sidewalks and going the wrong way on one-way streets to avoid the backups. "It was a mess."
For context, the City's latest traffic counts show about 4,432 daily trips by bicycle over the Broadway Bridge compared to 25,359 daily auto trips.
The City also considered closing one path at a time, but Rivera said that would have meant a longer overall closure period and he pointed to complaints from bridge users last year about that plan's confusing and unsafe detours. "We’re trying to learn from our past experience."
Seemingly unhappy with the detour plans, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) published a blog post today urging people to "take the lane" on the Broadway Bridge during the closure:
We would like to clarify that it is legal to bike on the deck of the bridge. People crossing the bridge on bikes should feel confident taking the lane. Extra care should be taken around the streetcar tracks particularly on the west end for those travelling westbound... Those who are not comfortable biking across the deck of the Broadway Bridge should use PBOT’s recommended alternative: the Steel Bridge.
The BTA also added they hope PBOT plans for people on bikes to be on the bridge roadway by installing "Bicycles On Roadway" caution signs and perhaps a temporary speed limit reduction zone.
Asked for his thoughts on the BTA's "Take the lane" recommendation, Rivera at PBOT said the City remains "neutral" on the issue. "Cyclists need to decide for themselves if they are comfortable doing so because of the traffic volumes and speed. For those who choose to take the lane, we would urge caution around the streetcar tracks on the west side of the bridge."
Specifically, Rivera says westbound riders who take the lane will have to cross streetcar tracks at a much more shallow angle than the path creates and will be at greater risk of "slipping a wheel in the tracks."
As for signage, the City is still evaluating their plans for this closure, but Rivera told us they are paying, "paying special attention to signage for all road users."
One important issue at play here is how the increase in bicycle use has outpaced the City's expertise in developing traffic mitigation plans during construction projects. It will be interesting to see how this issue evolves over time. For now, use caution around work sites and let us know what you see out there. You can also contact the City at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 823-SAFE if you come across unsafe bicycling conditions.
UPDATE, 7:54: At the Multnomah County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee tonight, there was a discussion that a potential solution for walking traffic would be to have Portland Streetcar offer free rides on those days. We'll update you if anything comes of that idea.