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Photos show Sellwood Bridge hazards

Posted by on March 14th, 2006 at 8:29 am

sellwoodbridge3

[Accident waiting to
happen. Photo Cindie Olson]

In the coming months, you’ll be hearing a lot about the Sellwood Bridge. This bridge, which is slated for renovation or reconstruction is a major arterial that connects SE Portland to the downtown core, yet it is very dangerous and inadequate for non-motorized users.

As you can see in this photo when bikes and pedestrians share the sidewalk, it creates a very unsafe situation. The only available path is even too narrow for a bike trailer to squeeze by (see photos below).

I know that no one needs convincing that the Sellwood Bridge is a major safety hazard, but I’m publishing these photos because they convey the problem instantly to everyone that isn’t familiar with the bridge first-hand.

sellwoodbridge2

[Photo Cindie Olson]
sellwoodbridge1

[Photo Cindie Olson]

Also, everyone involved with the advocacy efforts can feel free to use links to these photos in emails to county commissioners and other decision makers that might not be grasping the severity and urgency of the problem.

Stay tuned for ways you can get involved with making sure the new Sellwood Bridge is safe for all road users.

[These photos were taken by Cindie Olson and are used with permission of Greg Olson from the Multnomah Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen’s Advisory Committee.]


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19 Comments
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    Russell March 14, 2006 at 10:17 am

    That bridge is one of the biggest horrors for bicyclists as far as Portland infrastructure goes. The only thing that infuriates me more than the bridge are the bicyclists who nearly run me down when they insist on riding the bridge rather than walking their bikes across. If the cops want to spend time handing bicyclists tickets, the Sellwood bridge would be a good next target.

    The ‘accident waiting to happen’ picture you have up there shows the problem well. Add some cross traffic including some fast moving bikes, with cars rushing by in the lanes, and it’d be closer to how it is.

    I hear a lot of talk about how drivers act like they can’t be bothered with the “rules” because where they need to be is so much more important than the safety of those around them. I’d say from my experience that’s not confined to people in shiny metal boxes.

    I hope the BTA, the County, the State, and Feds can find the money to replace the bridge. It’s sad that something so esthetically pleasing is so lacking in function. I feel for anyone who tries to get a trailer across that thing.

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    mr.macadam March 14, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    Duh, you’re supposed to walk your bikes across anyways. There’s a sign on the bridge that clearly states this. Aren’t bikes illegal on the sidewalk anyways?!

    Until they fix this bridge, it is perfectly acceptable to RIDE YOUR BIKE on the road. I feel for the person on the trailer. Scary!

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    Spokane March 14, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    Before the Eastside trail the bridge used to get a lot of bike traffic. It still does but now that commuters and other cyclists can travel from Sellwood to downtown without having to cross the Sellwood Bridge, pedestrian traffic on the bridge has declined.
    I grew up in Sellwood and remember there being signs at each end of he bridges that stated “Please walk you bike” We used to ride anyways but would inevitably have to dismount when we needed to pass other cyclists trying to ride across the bridge as well.

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    organic brian March 14, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    With such a narrow path, how do you propose someone walk their bike? There would be two people and a bike across the path, rather than just a person and a person on top of a bike.

    It is NOT illegal to ride on sidewalks in Oregon, except in certain areas for example a core area of downtown Portland and around the capitol in Salem, as specified by local laws. One must observe certain rules when riding on sidewalks not in these restricted areas, such as yielding to pedestrians and riding at a “walking” speed through driveways / crosswalks where traffic might be present. Here is the law for Portland, which still uses “Front Avenue” rather than “Naito Parkway.” It is in section E below. Also, I had read in a velonews.com article that the citation for riding on a sidewalk in this area is $299! Yeeks.

    16.70.320 Operating Rules

    No person may:

    A. leave a bicycle so that it obstructs vehicle or pedestrian traffic on a roadway, sidewalk, driveway, handicap access ramp, building entrance, or so that it prevents operation of a parking meter or newspaper rack;

    B. leave a bicycle secured to a fire hydrant or to a police or fire call box;

    C. leave a bicycle on private property without consent of the owner or legal tenant. Consent is implied on private commercial property;

    D. leave a bicycle on a street or other public property for more than 72 hours; or

    E. ride a bicycle on a sidewalk, unless avoiding a traffic hazard in the immediate area, within the area bounded by and including SW Jefferson, Front Avenue, NW Hoyt and 13th Avenue, except:

    1. on sidewalks designated as bike lanes or paths;

    2. on the ramps or approaches to any Willamette River Bridge; or

    3. in the area from the west property line of SW Ninth Avenue, to the east property line of SW Park Avenue; from the property line of SW Jefferson to the south property line of SW Salmon Street; commonly known as the South Park Blocks.

    4. for police or special officers operating a bicycle in the course and scope of their duties; or

    5. for employees of the Association for Portland Progress and companies providing security services operating a bicycle in the course and scope of their duties. These employees must have in possession an identification card issued by the Chief of Police certifying the rider has completed a training course in the use of a bicycle for security patrol.

    http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?&a=hbjeh&c=deibe

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    nuovorecord March 14, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    I always ride my bike on the sidewalk across the Sellwood. When I see pedestrians, I stop and let them pass. When I’m going downhill, I stop and let cyclists going up maintain their momentum. Gives me a chance to gaze at the Portland skyline. 99% of the time, Others have done the same for me.

    Obviously, wider, multi-use sidewalks are needed on this bridge, but as a stop-gap measure, I’d like to see some “yield” signs strategically placed or a treatment similar to what happened recently on the Hawthorne. It would make the point more effectively that a new bridge is desperately needed.

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    elljay March 14, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    A bit of history on the bridge…it was designed and built at a time that was, rightly or wrongly, believed to be the beginning of the golden age of automobiles. It was the first of the Willamette River bridges to be designed soley for automobile use. The sidewalk was put there only to help motorists whose vehicle broke down. It was never intended to be for ped or bike through travel.

    While it is not illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalk, motor vehicle code states that any traffic sign that is white with black lettering is a “law” sign, those that are yellow with black are “warning” or “guidance.” I forget which they are (I tend to do what Nuovorecord does…), but if the “walk your bike” signs on the Sellwood are white with black, they should be interpreted that walking a bike is “law.”

    Finally, the street is not a “Major Arterial” under City and Metro classifications. While it appears to function as such, it is a District Collector as a functional class and a Community Main Street/Community Corridor from a design standpoint. These design classes are typically more restrictive in their capacity for autos, and typically more supportive of bike/ped. Hence the debate of whether the new or improved bridge should have 1 lane each way per the Collector standard and Metro’s plans, or whether it should have 2 lanes each way per an arterial standard and anticipated future demand.

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    Dave March 14, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    In 2005 the county posted “Bikes on Roadway” or something similar signs at both approaches to the Sellwood. This at least cleared up the question of whether the “Walk Bikes on Sidewalk” sign meant you couldn’t ride as a vehicle on the street.

    I see cyclists riding on the sidewalk all the time; it is very unsafe for them and the pedestrians trying to use the NARROW sidewalk, especially given the 12″ or larger drop.

    Yes, you will irriate some drivers if you take the lane and ride over, but the bridge speed limit is only 30 anyway. So, either ride in the lane as you are legally entitled to do, or WALK your bike on the sidewalk as the sign directs.

    And yes, this continues to illustrate the need for a bridge that better supports all modes.

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    Jonathan Maus March 15, 2006 at 8:39 am

    If you are interested in being on the Community Task Force for the Sellwood Bridge, let me know and I’ll send you a copy of the application.

    Applications are due by April 17th.

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    LaValle March 15, 2006 at 9:28 am

    My question about the Sellwood Bridge is who enforces the weight rule? I see some mighty large trucks using it the two times a week I go to Sellwood. These are not the tractor/trailer variety, but somewhere between them and the huge SUV’s that are at or slightly above the limit. Do you have suggestions to whom I might send a letter of inquiry?
    Thank you for any help you can provide.

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    Jonathan Maus March 15, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    LavValle, I emailed the Bicycle Coordinator for the City of Portland and he contacted a Transportation Specialist with Multnomah County (since they oversee this bridge). Here is his answer:

    “the restrictions are enforced like any other traffic laws-by local police or sheriffs.”

    So my advice would be to call the police and complain as loud and as often as you see fit.

    Hope that helps.

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    Dan W March 15, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    Could someone post a photo of the alleged signs that say to walk bikes across the bridge? I’ve ridden the bridge a number of times and don’t remember seeing them.

    In any event, to suggest someone walk their bike all the way across a 1/2+ mile bridge is absurd. If I wanted to go 3-4 mph for that distance I wouldn’t have brought my bike in the first place.

    It’s equally absurd to suggest that it’s somehow difficult to dismount to pass a pedestrian on “such a narrow path.” On a path that narrow, it’s even worse to try to squeeze by a pedestrian. Even if you think you’ve got the bike-handling skills it’s unnerving and disrespectful to the people you’re passing.

    The commonsense solution is what most cyclists do — ride as much of the bridge as you reasonably can, but dismount and pass safely when you approach pedestrians or other cyclists. It’s what I always do, and it’s what I see most other cyclists doing. Russell, I’m sorry some riders aren’t doing that, and they deserve tickets, but to suggest we should all walk the entire bridge even where there’s no one else present is taking it a bit far.

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    Jonathan Maus March 15, 2006 at 10:40 pm

    Glad to see some of you inquire about the Community Task Force. I’ve just posted more about it, including a PDF of the application if you’re interested.

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    Neil March 16, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    I’ve riden that sidewalk a couple of times and have had uncomfortable encounters with pedestrians. Now, on the rare occasion I go over the bridge, I’ll ride on the road and take the lane. The bridge definitely needs fixing.

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    Dave March 17, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    I ride across the bridge 5 days a week, twice a day. I’d have to say that I used to have an attitude about crossing over using the road – “it’s my right”. Unfortunately, the drivers of vehicles don’t care and really don’t want to wait for you. As a biker, I always take what I would consider the safest route even if it’s considered illegal.

    My last attempt to cross the bridge almost killed me and I will not try again. Some guy in a black older model pickup actually swerved to hit me, he didn’t have to swerve much, just nicking my left arm with his mirror. Not only did he speed up to do it, he also honked just as he was passing. It freaked me out and I wish I reacted quick enough to get his license plate. I’m sure he’s a regular and keep an eye out for him. If I got his license, I would have filed an attempted manslaughter lawsuit.

    I’d have to say that the only issue I’ve had crossing over on the sidewalk was with another woman walking her bike over. She had a total attitude about how right she was in walking across. I came up behind her and she would not let me pass. She was going to make me stay behind her the whole way. I had to get in the road and run around her with my bike – it sucked. Other than that, everyone crossing seems to be aware of the issue and typically polite and yield to others.

    I’d like to apologize to any pedestrians that feel threatened by the bikes crossing, I just don’t think some of the people on bikes feel like it’s a big issue to pass by you while on their bikes.

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    Alan Mela April 13, 2006 at 7:04 am

    My ideal for the existing bridge would be a single lane of traffic – with a wide walkway on one side, and a wide bikepath on the other, both curb/low-fence separated from the traffic lane. The traffic lane would have to be oneway alternating in direction. The only question – which perhaps some ingenious person might have some ideas on is: how to control/alternate the traffic direction? Lights at either end wouldn’t be visible from the other, and I’m not sure that a ‘timing’ algorithm would truly suffice… Ideas?

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    Dave April 13, 2006 at 8:46 am

    One lane each way is the way to go, but since it gets a lot of traffic, I don’t think you could limit it to one way or use a traffic light. I think they are limited in the width of the bridge, but they can sure make it taller. There are a lot of double-decker bridges out there, even ones that have been retro-fitted. The Steel Bridge is a double-decker one with trains on the lower deck.

    So my suggestion would be to turn the current bottom section into an east only traffic lane and pedestrian walkway zone as you suggest. But then add a second layer to the top of that to carry west bound traffic. Add some ramps to it and you’re good to go.

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  • […] I have not yet confirmed these plans with anyone from the engineering firm and this is obviously a very preliminary design, but given the current condition of the bike and ped lane, it’s an encouraging and hopeful sign nonetheless. […]

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    Terry Nobbe September 6, 2006 at 9:37 am

    I ride the bridge road surface and rarely get static from other road users. I also have ridden the sidewalk there when the motorized traffic was voluminous.

    “To achieve respect from motorists and other road users, a cyclist need only ride in a lawful, consistent, predictable fashion.”

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    DK February 23, 2007 at 11:16 am

    What is wrong with stopping, say 20 feet or so in front of the peds., letting them go by, then continuing on. How hard is that? And if you get stuck behind some peds, hit your bell/horn approx. the same distance behind, and at a slow rate of speed, and I’m sure they would be attentive and move to the side. If they’re running, take a deep breath and enjoy the view.

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