Joe Bike

New Sauvie Island bridge will give bikes more breathing room

Posted by on November 28th, 2007 at 9:33 am

Sauvie Island Strawberry Ride

Bikes won’t have to share
the lane with cars on
new Sauvie Island bridge.
(File photo ©)

With all the recent talk about the Sellwood and Columbia River bridge projects, I haven’t heard a peep about the Sauvie Island bridge.

Last time I looked (this weekend), construction on the new bridge is moving right along. According to a press release from Multnomah County, the new arch span will be installed on Friday, December 7th.

Sauvie Island is becoming an increasingly popular destination for Portland cyclists. At just about 10 flat miles north of downtown, the scenic roads are a magnet for all types of cyclists; from triathletes in training, to biking berry pickers and cyclocross racers.

Unfortunately, many of the islands two-wheeled visitors actually show up on four. On any given summer weekend, you’ll find the main parking lot near the general store packed with people unloading bikes from their car trunks, pickup-truck beds and roof-racks.

Many people choose to drive out to the island likely because of the combination of two sketchy bridge crossings (the Sauvie and the dreaded St. Johns) and a bike lane on Highway 30 that is often filled with debris and mere feet from high speed cars and trucks.

That’s why any opportunity — such as a new bridge — to improve bike access to Sauvie Island is important to keep tabs on.

On that note, I asked Multnomah County’s new bike and pedestrian planner Mike Lynch if the new bridge would be friendlier to bike traffic than the current one — which is narrow and has no shoulder. Along with an engineering sketch of the new cross section (below), he sent me this response:

“Thank you for your interest in the Sauvie Island Bridge. As you know, the old bridge has two 13’ vehicle lanes to be shared with bikes, and two three and a half foot sidewalks.

The new bridge will have two 12’ vehicle lanes, two 6’ shoulders for bikes, and two 6’ sidewalks on it. This should greatly improve access to the island for Bikes / Pedestrians.”

And here’s the drawing:

Engineering sketch of new bridge cross-section. Click to enlarge.

If you’ve never ridden out to Sauvie Island, hopefully this new, safer bridge will encourage you to do so.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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    a.O November 28, 2007 at 9:45 am

    That\’s fantastic. Now if only we could do something about Dirty 30.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 28, 2007 at 9:53 am

    \”Now if only we could do something about Dirty 30.\”

    I\’ve been thinking about the potential to designate Sauvie Island as some sort of special bike safety destination.

    As such, the main routes to get there (St. Johns Bridge, Hwy 30) would be improved and perhaps a pilot project — in partnership with ODOT, PDOT, Travel Oregon and the Portland Oregon Visitors Association — would be started.

    This project would focus on marketing the island to bicyclists and on engineering/infrastructure improvements.

    Those improvements might be stuff like a temporary closure of one lane on the St. Johns Bridge on Sundays and maybe some sort of innovative, cheap, cycle-track treatment to the bike lane on Hwy 30 (like special reflectors, cones, or even a mountable curb) to \”separate\” it from car traffic.

    just thoughts at this point, but I really love Sauvie Island and I think, given it\’s proximity to Portland, has much more potential for bike recreation and access than is being realized.

    It\’s ridiculous and sad to me that a city like Portland can\’t make it more attractive and safe for cyclists.

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    a.O November 28, 2007 at 10:22 am

    I totally agree. Some sort of physical barrier separating the Hwy 30 lanes from the bike lane could potentially fix both the perceived safety problem and the debris problem. That could be a relatively inexpensive fix.

    As for the St John\’s Bridge, it is really sad that they did the re-engineering without any dedicated bike access. I think people should find a riding partner and ride side-by-side, as we have the legal right to do, and take the right-hand lane. Other than that, temporary closure would be great too.

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    Curt Dewees November 28, 2007 at 10:23 am

    The shoulder alongside \”Dirty 30\” is plenty wide for safety; the problem is that US 30 is a high-volume truck route between Portland & Astoria, and lots of partially worn-out steel-belted truck tires routinely spew out short, broken-off bits of steel wire, which mostly seem to end up on the shoulder.

    With all these short bits of steel wire littering the shoulder(s) of US 30, any bike ride to and from Sauvie\’s Island is like \”running the guantlet,\” where your odds of rolling over a tiny piece of wire and getting a flat tire are inordinately high, compared to conditions on most other local roads.

    We need to figure out a way to keep the shoulders of US 30 (between Portland & Sauvies Island, at least) clean of truck-tire debris & worn-out tire wire fragments in order to make this road a more attractive riding option for local cyclists.

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    Klixi November 28, 2007 at 11:01 am


    I\’ve always wanted to ride out to Sauvie as I always hear good things about it and was intending on making the ride this weekend. However, reading these comments so far – if I have to constantly scour the ground in front of me for road debris then I\’ll gladly pass and change my weekend plans. I want a nice long ride where that I can enjoy without having to weave through a minefield of metal and glass.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 28, 2007 at 11:07 am

    \”I\’ve always wanted to ride out to Sauvie as I always hear good things about it and was intending on making the ride this weekend. However, reading these comments so far …I’ll gladly pass and change my weekend plans.\”

    That\’s a bummer Klixi. You\’ll be missing a great ride and you should really try it yourself instead of letting these comments dissuade you.

    I hope you\’ll understand that while conditions on the ride to Sauvie could be improved, it remains an awesome ride. It\’s just really not something that absolute newbies, kids, or my grandma would probably enjoy.

    ..but for regular cyclists it is usually tolerable and the scenery and the ride itself more than make up for the conditions.

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    Klixi November 28, 2007 at 11:13 am

    I may give it a go anyway. I guess I\’ll have to see the highway and traffic volume to know what it\’d be like. Right now I\’m under the impression I\’d be on the shoulder of a highway with traffic blasting by to my left while I dodge glass in the shoulder. It just sounds bad – but everyone says it\’s a good ride. I\’ll put trust in my fellow cyclists and give it a whirl!

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    Spencer November 28, 2007 at 11:17 am

    A couple of points.

    The current NoPo greenway plan as a couple of ideas that help out with the issues raised of Highway 30 and the St. Johns Bridge.

    Envisioned is a green way on both sides of the river extending up and a little beyond Linton. The East bank route should certainly be realized, where as the west side version has many more obstacles. Part of the plan is for a bike route across the railroad bridge similar to the steel bridge. This would get bikers off of 30 all together.

    In regards to the St. Johns bridge issue. I live in St. Johns and in the summer ride the bridge, both on the side walk and street, 2 to 3 times a week. I just don\’t see the seriousness of the issue to require shutting down a lane of traffic. One bike can easily ride the sidewalk and pedestrian traffic is minimal. The hard part would be for people with kids and trailers. I would suggest saving the political capitol to realize the rail road bridge crossing and green way, over closures on the St. Johns. I have a feeling this will only alienate a lot of people within the community and poison our message.

    Finally, we should be looking at this area of the city as the future bike playground of Portland. Consider great mountain biking and cycle cross in Forest Park (north of Germantown) and road biking from Cornelius to Savie’s, all accessible via Trimet or without having to driving. With the increase in recreation, the supporting stores and restaurants will follow. Access issues on both the road ways and the park are the key to realizing this vision.

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    meteorite November 28, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Wide shoulders on the new bridge are good but why not clearly designate them as intended for bikes? If for no other reason, this clearly alerts motorists to expect the presence of bikes. At a minimum, I would hope that there will be signs at both ends of the bridge indicating bikes on roadway!

    As for promoting the island as a cycling destination, let\’s not overlook that many Sauvie Island residents have a history of resentment toward bicyclists. (Perhaps their influence is partially responsible for the absence of dedicated bike lanes…) Any effort to increase bike traffic on the island should acknowledge and address the resistance of the locals.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 28, 2007 at 11:28 am


    thanks for bringing up the NoPo greenway plan and for sharing your other points.

    I agree with you that a better, safer river crossing either on or near the St. Johns Bridge is absolutely crucial to transforming bike opportunities in St. Johns, Forest Park, and in points north like Sauvie Island.

    but just for the record, riding on the sidewalk should not be considered a viable option. It is technically not wide enough and I am opposed to it partly out of principle. I operate a road vehicle and my safety should and comfort be ensured on roads where there is no other viable option available.

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    Stripes November 28, 2007 at 11:47 am

    The problem with the \”bike lane\” along Highway 30 is that, although it\’s wide, it\’s also –

    * debris-strewn
    * full of parked cars who use it as a parking lane (particularly around the Linnton area)
    * lacking bicycle symbols greatly (hence why many folks do not know it\’s a bike lane, and park in it)

    Also, with regards to the St John\’s Bridge, I have observed something strange.

    My understanding is that bike lanes were not installed on the bridge, because there was apparently too much freight traffic to allow for them.

    On my rides over the bridge every few weeks, I have yet to see even ONE truck cross the bridge. Lots of cars. Lots of SUVs. Lots of pickup trucks.

    But not ONE freight truck.

    What\’s up with that?

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    Murray November 28, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Curt is right, the Dirty 30 is horrible with road detritus. It seems like the only time it\’s ever cleaned is for STP.

    The road refuse is really bad right now and the giant semis rumbling by don\’t add to the sense of safety either.

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    bikieboy November 28, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    I\’m a little suprised no one has mentioned the traffic on the island itself, combined with the narrow roadways. I generally avoid it during the summer beach season (drunken party animals driving fast, oh yeah some fun!) and the insane October pumpkin quest. OK the rest of the year.

    I know the county looked at constructing a separate bike/ped path along the Multnomah Channel road years ago, don\’t know what ever became of it..? Not much you could do to add shoulder space to the channel road, up on a berm as it is.

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    Spencer November 28, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Stripes #11,

    To put in a bike lane with/out extension of the road deck would require the reduction of one lane. I suspect the freight traffic was a mitigating factor, but the decision was one of overall traffic volume.

    As per the existance of freight and commercial trucks, they do exsist. I see the highest number in the mornings, although not very many on the weekends. I think, Marine drive is the main cooridor.

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    Mike_Khad1 November 28, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    I\’ve pedaled out to Sauvie Island twice. Once on the island, I was yelled at several times. There is little or no shoulder and the car drivers get impatient to pass. I was buzzed once at an estimated 40 mph when there was no car coming in the opposite direction. The buzzer could have moved over the yellow line but chose not to. It doesn\’t take a whole lot of guts to play chicken when you have 4000 pounds of car wrapped around you vs poor old me riding as far right as I can but apparently not far enough.

    My current position is that Sauvie Island is a beautiful place to ride but I\’ll never bring my kids out there to ride.

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    Qwendolyn November 28, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    I always thought it would be really great if they put a bike only bridge from kelly point to sauvie island.

    That way the whole island would be accesible from the bike path along Marine drive.

    You can literally see the island like 200 yards out from Kelly Point park.

    I don\’t think it would work because of boats, but hey, why not think big.

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    Stripes November 28, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Let\’s get sharrows on the St John\’s Bridge!!

    And Spencer, my understanding was the main consideration *was* freight…. apologies if I am wrong…

    \”At issue is whether or not accommodating bicycle traffic would hurt the freight capacity of the bridge. This issue was explored in a comprehensive study that showed putting 4 lanes on the bridge would not increase freight capacity. However, despite the findings of the study, it seems ODOT has made a decision that shows a complete disregard for cyclists and will make crossing the St. Johns Bridge by bike much more dangerous\”.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 28, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    \”I’m a little suprised no one has mentioned the traffic on the island itself, combined with the narrow roadways.\”


    I didn\’t mention that issue because the article was mainly about the bridge. I have covered the issue of narrow, rural roads (like the ones on Sauvie) in the past. See this story, Solving the Sauvie Island problem.

    Much more should be done to accommodate bikes on rural roads but unfortunately there are some major barriers that I see:

    • rural landowners tend to not be big fans of bicyclists (on Sauvie the County has worked with them to remove private signs that say, Cyclists Ride Single File).
    • most rural riders are recreational cyclists and many of them ride inconsiderately.
    • advocacy groups tend to focus resources on metro/transportation cycling issues and not on what is perceived to be a recreational cycling issue.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 28, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    \”my understanding was the main consideration was…

    Folks, let\’s all be honest here RE: the St. Johns Bridge…. ODOT made a largely political/philosophical decision to accommodate the freight lobby at the expense of making a bridge that was safe for humans (note: it\’s also unsafe/unenjoyable for pedestrians).

    unfortunately all this happened before I was really involved with the scene. Oh how I wish I could turn back time and be able to be in the middle of this as it was happening…

    I feel ODOT, given this egregiously poor decision, should be open to some sort of compromise in the future.

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    pushkin November 28, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    A word of advice on riding Sauvie. Take Sauvie Island Road that runs parallel to the river and heads north to a dead end about an hour out. It\’s an out-and-back but there is hardly any traffic there and you can avoid the yahoos who take the circular road and the one out to Reeder Beach. Sure it might not be as fun but on high volume days you have to weigh the good with the bad.

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    Steven B November 28, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    I ride Hwy 30 from Sauvies into town and back every day and have done so for about seven years. I think I could fill a book on my adventures on Hwy 30. The things I have run over…the things that have run over me. But still, I wouldn’t hesitate, Klixi, to ride out 30 to get to Sauvies, or to get up Newberry to Skyline. It’s not going to be your favorite stretch of road but it is an express ride to roads farther out (Newberry, Logie Trail, Sauvie Island,. Dike Rd in Scappoose) that will be worth it. And if you’re ever on 30 during the week day, I do OWN the shoulder from 7 to 8am and from 6 to 7pm. My one anonymous pleasure in life is chasing down other riders whenever I spot them (especially team riders).

    Over the years Hwy 30 has been like the folk tale where the couple in a small house complains to the rabbi who tells them to put the chickens in and then put the cow in and finally they take them all out and their house is big. Yes, I would love to join any effort to bring about bike safety on Hwy 30, but if we can just suffer through the traffic control barrels leading up to the Sauvie Island Bridge for a few more months…if we can handle the recurring steel plates in Linnton…if we can continue to get around Bus No 17 blocking the shoulder in Linnton, and if the State would sweep the shoulder from Mile 9 to Sauvies just one other time besides the STP weekend, Hwy 30 would seam like a safe quite country lane.

    Regarding riding on the island, I’m always surprised at how detested we are. When I talk to my neighbors out here, they never fail to mention some recent offence when they were flipped off by a bunch of cyclists. They know I ride so I imagine they hold back a little. Yet I think things are slowly changing. Farmers like Don Kruger are emerging who welcome cyclists. I think Don has realized that we’re his people. Now is my favorite time of the year to ride on the island. Traffic is way down, and most of the honking is just the millions of geese.

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    Matthew November 28, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    I guess I\’m weird, but I like 30, (kind of like how I like Greeley.) Yes, a little street sweeping would help it, and the steel plates aren\’t very much fun either, but the road is flat and the intersections are rare, and so you peddle for a while, and then you are there…

    That said, a green way trail would be a lot nicer.

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    true November 28, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    Don\’t forget the #17 bus if you don\’t like the ride out 30, although I have never had any serious problems – but I\’ve only done it about twenty times or so. I\’ve been caught out in the rain while the sun was setting so I took the bus back. Wimpy? Perhaps, but enjoyable. I was the only one on the bus all the way back to Montgomery Park, chatted with the driver, relaxed…

    Like Pushkin said – once you\’re on the island take the north bound road. Way less traffic. Most of it is high, clear and straight, so you are quite visible, and if you have adventuresome tires, it dead ends into one of the nicer nature spots in the area. I forget the name of it, but there are privately owned cows and pasture as well as nature preserve areas. Great for birding.

    Anywho, I agree that a semi-regular sweep along the highway would make it just fine, and focusing on the greenway would be more productive in the long run.

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    Lenny Anderson November 29, 2007 at 10:45 am

    re the new Sauvie Island bridge…its center span has been assembled at Terminal 2 in NW Portland and will be loaded on a barge beginning as soon as today for transport to the bridge site. The North Portland Greenway Trail on Swan Island offers a great vantage point for this tricky operation. Bike access to Swan Island is via Interstate, Greeley and the Going Street sidewalk…not great, but its all we have, at least officially.

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    Steven B November 30, 2007 at 8:55 am

    That will be great to watch. It\’s supposed to be placed on the abutments on Friday Dec 7. The signs posted on the island say to expect 1 hr delays on the existing Bridge. I\’m thinking of taking a day off since I live out there, and watching and getting in a good ride on the island with the reduced (hopefully)traffic.

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    john November 30, 2007 at 10:54 am

    The St Johns bridge is not too bad. I just take a lane. I stopped using the sidewalks… there seems to be a lot more pedestrians on the bridge now.

    However, one pet peeve: All the car drivers seem to think that when they get on the bridge, its license to race or something. Most do not drive at or under the speed limit when on that bridge, even though they are racing to stoplight!? (going into st johns I am almost always meet up with any cars that passed me on the bridge)

    But anyway this speeding is dangerous, (had a big fiery accident a couple weeks ago ? ) and hard on the bridge too (the dynamic loading) = expensive repairs!.

    Need to start writing tickets or put up a radar with speed display or something … Who can we complain too about this. Ie not asking for anything special, just that the laws be enforced !

    Like i have said so many times before, a nice shoulder, would work on that bridge if at least 3 auto lanes were retained. Absolutely need two exit lanes off the bridge, both ends in order to keep traffic from backing up.

    #11 Yes lots of truck use that bridge, your observations were just not at the right times…

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    Lazlo December 1, 2007 at 10:50 am

    I would never take the lane on the St. Johns bridge; it\’s too long and traffic moves to fast. The sidewalk is not ideal, but it\’s rideable. It can get a little freaky in high winds, I been fearful of getting blown off balance into traffic. Good to hear that the new Sauvie bridge will be more accessible to bikes. I rode from St Johns and did a loop on the island last Monday when it was 36 degrees. It\’s really beautiful this time of year. The stark open fields with thousand of geese, the oak trees, the views of St Helens. Very few cars and all gave me plenty of space.

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