Would you take the lane on I-5 to cross the Columbia?

Posted by on December 12th, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Tour of Tomorrow

Pretty tight, but it’s better than riding
on the highway — isn’t it?
(Photo © J. Maus)

Anyone who has attempted to ride across the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington knows that it’s not for the faint of heart.

The bikeway/sidewalk is barely wider than a cargo trailer and there’s an incline and descent to deal with while big rigs rumble past on one side and the river looms large on the other.

I’ve made the crossing several times and I personally find it manageable. That being said, it has never crossed my mind to consider riding on the bridge roadway instead; but that’s what BikePortland reader Bob M. says he saw the other day. Here’s his story (taken from an email):

“We were traveling west on SR 14 looping onto I-5 when my partner said “I think I see some cyclists on the road.” Well as we looped onto I-5 and entered the flow of traffic to cross the bridge we counted 5 folks riding right next to the barriers on I-5.

I didn’t know what do do. Stop and advise the cyclists to carry their bikes over the barriers to the bike/pedesterian walkway on the west side of the bridge or slow down behind them and do interference.

Wow. While I am a pretty hard core commuter (25+ years) riding with the traffic on I-5 over the bridge is something I would not do willingly. Anyone know these folks and if they made it over the bridge safely?

Have any of you ever tried to do this? Or even though of doing it? Seems like a pretty scary proposition to me, but then again, maybe it feels safer for some folks (by the way, the motor vehicle speeds on the bridge are 45-55 mph).

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Kathleen McDade
Guest

Yikes. I don’t have any reason to go that way anyway — but definitely don’t see myself taking the lane.

tbird
Guest
tbird

Seriously…?
No.

Roger
Guest
Roger

I believe that it is illegal to ride on I5 in Washington, (with the exception of the SR-14 offramp to the Mill Plain exit going North) until you are north of the 134th street exit. I am not sure of the legallity of riding on the bridge. I cross that bridge every morning & evening. Although it is very narrow it is managable. I tend to go slower in the dark than I do in the summer as the northbound side tends to bottleneck where the bridge lift gates are.

Fritz
Guest

Are bikes allowed on the road portion of that bridge?

peejay
Guest
peejay

Fritz:

Although typically bikes are banned from the interstate system when there is an alternative parallel route, one might argue that the bike deck does not qualify as an acceptable alternative route. Either way, I wouldn’t ride it.

Before this is used as more justification for the CRC, I’ll say that it is not. It is justification for some kind of improvement to the existing bridge that addresses this shortcoming, or, possibly, a replacement bridge that does not look anything like the CRC and does not support an increase in auto lanes.

Don’t get bought off cheap, people! The CRC is trying to co-opt cyclist support for their own purposes.

Dennis
Guest
Dennis

I’ve seen too many accidents on that bridge caused by speed differential. People traveling faster than their vision is not only common, it’s almost required, as the bridge ascent goes beyond your eyesight, due to the trusses above. Combined with a narrower lane, and lack of shoulder, there simply isn’t a place to escape a collision.

That being said, the bicycle facilities on the bridge appear to be a very sad afterthought. Much like “Lee press-on” pedestrian causeways, even trailer-less cyclists must duck inside the bridge trusswork, just to pass eachother. Riding a bicycle on the actual roadway, is specifically prohibited, as the signage indicates at each end of the bridge. Any attempt to use the roadway for this, even as a form of protest, is taking one’s life, and placing it at the mercy of the SUV-driving-blackberry-using-public.

BikerinNE
Guest
BikerinNE

That just seems stupid. There is room allowed for passing under the arms of the bridge, and there is North and South paths. The I-5 bridge is much less of a pain then the Glenn Jackson Bridge (I-205). That bridge is much louder, longer, more windy, with a longer steeper climb. Plus on heavy east wind days, you actually have to pedal down hill!

Joe
Guest
Joe

I would ride on most any road if found to be safe,when i was in Vegas i jumped on 215 down a 6% grade, today is nuts on that HWY, but I would ride I-5 to Portland from Wilsonville! if i could!

But the merge lanes and speeding cars stop me.. Doh! yes i love to ride.. yes some that drive think cyclist don’t belong on some roads, for a reason they are un-safe since cars overwhem the roads.

G.A.R.
Guest
G.A.R.

The feature of the sidewalks I like least is that a ped could be behind any of the truss elements, and they are large. The clear path of the sidewalk is narrow (as noted), but the whole sidewalk is actually quite wide. A ped might step out of line to trade some stock, eat a pickle, or what have you. When he steps back into the clear path … Wham! For the safety of pedestrians I think it is thoughtful to take the lane, even if it is “against the rules”. When the cars are stopped on the bridge (fairly common occurrence) I think cautiously splitting lanes is probably safer than the sidewalk.

Joe
Guest
Joe

I cant wait for the white stuff. yeeee haw
bring it on!

Dennis
Guest
Dennis

Also, as ironic as this is:

If you have a motorized vehicle, that is unable to attain freeway speed (moped, scooter etc.) your only legal option is to “Dismount” and Walk your vehicle across, on the pedestrian causeway. Motorized vehicles are prohibited on the causeway, even coasting. By walking it, it is considered “Apparel”

Joe
Guest
Joe

doh sorry.. wrong posting area.. yikes
snow white and the 7 dwarfs.

mmann
Guest

You wouldn’t find me doing it. But maybe it was someone trying to start a Portland branch of Crimanimalz?

Like this:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NLmiuyLa98

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

The bridge has limited visibility, lanes narrower than recommended, no shoulders, it is (according to a friend of mine who worked with ODOT) the single biggest problem spot on the roads in Oregon. You’re taking your lives in your hands crossing that bridge by bike, I would never risk it.

conquistador
Guest
conquistador

That particular stretch is illegal to ride on, according to the signs.

I’ve just about done that myself, though. After a 75 mile bike ride out the gorge, on returning I planned to cross at I-5. However, after much circling, I couldn’t find any bike path or sidewalk to get across, so I concluded that there was no way to cross. I ended up riding back to the 205 bridge instead.

So perhaps those riders did not know that there was bicycle facilities.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

I have seen and heard of several bicyclists taking the bridge lane vs. the sidewalk. (Most would choose to avoid this if they could.) I once flagged down a Portland rider who had gotten all turned around and she thought the ramp northward to Vancouver was the path back to Portland.

Much of this is due to the poor trail wayfinding and also most folks only know the ‘car way’ across the river (it is afterall the logical and direct path between A to B). The recent efforts at bridge specific maps and new wayfinding signs will minimize these errors – I expect.

Sadly, the original Interstate Bridge operated more like a modern arterial with two travel lanes, street car and pedestrian sidewalks. Bikes rode generally in the much wider lane. But more recent designs have been much less accomodating to transit, bicyclists and pedestrians.

If you ever get the chance…walk bike out to the bridge ends and read the inscriptions on the gateway oblisks. (They sure did not ‘say’ the same things about the Glen Jackson Bridge. 😉

G.A.R.
Guest
G.A.R.

When riding north, remember to don helmets at the high point of the bridge.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

For those readers interested in what is going on about the design for the new Interstate bike and pedestrian (and transit) bridge and connections to it, log on here:
http://www.columbiarivercrossing.org/ProjectPartners/PedAndBike.aspx

And for those who need a digital copy of the I-5 Bridge map go here (paper copies are also avaiable at ‘Metro Vancouver’ area bike shops:
http://www.cityofvancouver.us/upload/contents/738/InterstateBridgeMap.pdf

And Bycycle.org is working on adding Vancouver to their web mapper.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

For those readers interested in what is going on about the design for the new Interstate bike and pedestrian (and transit) bridge and connections to it, log on here:
http://www.columbiarivercrossing.org/ProjectPartners/PedAndBike.aspx

And for those who need a digital copy of the I-5 Bridge map go here (paper copies are also available at ‘Metro Vancouver’ area bike shops:
http://www.cityofvancouver.us/upload/contents/738/InterstateBridgeMap.pdf

And Bycycle.org is working on adding Vancouver to their web mapper.

Dave
Guest

hm… no thanks for me 🙂

Allan
Guest
Allan

W. T. F.?

Faux Porteur
Guest
Faux Porteur

On the topic of the bike/ped facilities on the I5 bridge: when riding across at night there is a gnarly strobe light effect caused by the bridge lighting and car headlights passing though the girders as you ride by. If I get up to appx 10-15mph it srtarts to mess with my depth perception and I have to slow down. Don’t know what the solution could be (curtains, better/direct lighting on the sidewalk?)

Chris Snethen
Guest

I’ve lived in Vancouver for going on four years now. I’ve seen it once. It was probably the same group Bob saw as it just happened a few weeks ago. I only saw them coming down the approach from SR-14. I figured they’d have enough sense to stay off the bridge proper. Evidently not.

Even in a car, the Interstate is not for the faint of heart. I couldn’t imagine trying it on a bike.

PdxMark
Guest
PdxMark

St. Johns bridge – yes. I-5 Interstate bridge – never.

a.O
Guest
a.O

I’ve nearly been killed taking the lane on the Sellwood Bridge, where it is perfectly legal and the speed limit is 30, so … in a word, No.

joe
Guest
joe

no holy no crap, no I no can’t no believe no that no someone no would no take no the no lane no on no that no bridge no.

no.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Here’s a good one on Saturday December 6th I was crossing the bridge from Portland to Jantzen beach, northbound in the bike lane.

I couldn’t figure out what the large white vehicle heading southbound was.

It turned out to be a Portland Police cruiser.

Talk about being lost.

Richard S
Guest
Richard S

Not a chance. I’d swim the river with bike in tow first.
I ride on the I5 sidewalk reasonably often. It’s hard to find out how to get there, so I’m not surprised that some folks give up, and dice with death in the traffic.
The thing to do, if you’re driving, and you see that, is to drive interference. Not sure if that is legal, but it’d be safer for the cyclists.

Zaphod
Guest
Zaphod

Unambiguously insane.

D. :Jason Penney
Guest

I’m not sure I would have the cojones to do that. Now, considering how low the railing is and the limited clearance for cyclists, I might be tempted if the weather was foul enough; I might prefer to take my chances with the motorists instead of a cross gust throwing me into the Columbia.

But, no, in general, this doesn’t sound like a very smart thing to do 🙁

Peter
Guest

i say we start taking the bridges. seriously. let’s start crossing them together in 5 minute increments until we overtake one lane – we deserve at least one lane.

i’m in the Bay Area – i want the bridges. right now we’re shut off from east bay access completely. that needs to end.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

To Faux Porteur,

You are correct on the lighting issue – too many high intensity headlights and not enough consistant path lighting. (We are discussing the lighting issue for the future bridge design. Perhaps the MAX headlight will be the only ‘blinding’ problem?)

But for now it is best to ride on the sidewalk in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic (and have a bright light yourself that does not get washed out by other lighting). And basically do not outride your lights and reaction time (you know).

bikieboy
Guest
bikieboy

No. I’m really just not in that much of a hurry.

PJ #5 – “Don’t get bought off cheap, people! The CRC is trying to co-opt cyclist support for their own purposes.”

amen to that.

Ashley
Guest

Wowzers, no I wouldn’t try to cross on the lane. I’ve taken the walkway plenty of times, and that’s enough hazard for me.

This reminds me of the occasional cyclist I see heading east on the Ross Island bridge in the far righthand lane. The side walk is way safer…cars are going 45-50 miles per hour and they’re no shoulder. Eeek.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Well, duh. It’s a freeway. Bikes aren’t allowed on freeways except where specifically posted to the contrary.

And legal issues aside, duh. Riding on the interstate bridge deck should automatically qualify someone for an “honorable mention” in the Darwin awards.

Yeah, the sidewalk sucks, but if you have to cross the river along that corridor the choice is pretty obvious.

hemp22
Guest
hemp22

In a group of 5, it might not be that bad.
You don’t have to be fast enough to keep up with traffic – just fast enough to stay ahead of the 5th guy….

Refunk
Guest
Refunk

Huh. Never seen anyone do that.

I ride across the Interstate Bridge all the time, always using the west side walkway when towing a trailer – it’s wider than the east side. In regard to the line-of-sight issue (relative to the rise to the high point north of midway), I always yield to uphill riders and pedestrians who haven’t already dived behind a girder.

Late one night, a fellow on a go-fast bike rocketed down toward me as I pulled a heavily loaded trailer back from Last Thursday up toward the apex. I was barely able to squeeze into a girder alcove in time but he stopped and proceeded to chew me out for “heading north in the southbound lane.”

I heard him out (he ranted a bit) and then gave him a copy of the PDOT bike map and bid him good night. I was too tired to argue with him ( – a new arrival to the area displeased with his own life working in Vancouver and living in Portland).

There is no specification for direction on sidewalks in Portland or on the walkways of the Interstate Bridge. Thinking of him one night, I rode northbound on the east walkway even though I knew better and wham!, one o’ my trailers has the bridge-green paint scars to show for it.

I use a good headlight (every so often, I pass homeless sleeping in the lee of inner railing and girder, halfway across the bridge, and much more frequently blocking half the unlit underpass on the Union bikeway above Delta Park with shopping carts while snoozing there. Good glasses deal well with glaring car headlights everywhere.

One of my favorite views is climbing the west walkway north from Hayden Island facing the Red Lion on the Vancouver side very late on a quiet night when the dark water of the Columbia sparkles with a giant field of scarlet glass reflecting the hotel’s sign.

No way in Hell would I mix it up with the cars traveling over the bridge. That would require spherical dependencies which would overhang a normal bike saddle wa-a-ay too much.

Faux Porteur
Guest
Faux Porteur

@Refunk

For quite a long time (at least several years I believe) the west-side walkway was the ONLY way across, the other side was closed down. I only ride across a couple times a year, but I think I’m remembering correctly.

I remember coming back from Vancouver one time and getting stuck behind a guy pushing a shopping cart full of cans. He was walking appx 2 miles an hour and his cart/traffic/wind was so loud he couldn’t hear me ring my bell so I could attempt to pass, longest bridge crossing ever……

bahueh
Guest
bahueh

No freaking way.

N. bound traffic is accelerating as they enter the span area since there are no more onramps and the lanes expand as you enter Vancouver….
taking the lane there is complete suicide.

I don’t use that bridge. I will never ride on that bridge until serious changes are made.

Michael R
Guest

Take the lane on the I5 bridge?
No freaking way.

I’ll take the sidewalk there

Chilly Willy
Guest
Chilly Willy

There are better, if not more meaningful, meaningful reasons to die other than getting yourself nominated for a Darwin Award.

Aneurin
Guest

@Refunk – interesting story and kind of interesting to hear how we deal with etiquette issues on the bridge.

Typically, if I’m going Northbound on the west side, I’ll pull over for those going downhill. I like using the west side for three reasons: width of the path, less automobile fumes to inhale, and the path exits right on to Columbia.

Lately though, I’ve been taken the east side for Northbound trips, in order as there seems to be a lot less contention with south bound bike and ped traffic. The width is pretty dangerous in a couple of spots, especially those gated door areas, and the fumes can get pretty overwhelming some times.

It would be sweet if they would just cantilever the current span ala the Hawthorne Bridge, but there’s not currently the same level of traffic to justify it, although there is definitely a “build it and they will come” element.

Clark County just elected a commissioner hell bent on building a third bridge, so you anti-CRC’ers may get your wish. In other words, be careful what you wish for.

I wonder if I could tie the ocean to your knees...
Guest
I wonder if I could tie the ocean to your knees...

It does not sound at all like someone was riding on the I-5 bridge, it sounds like someone was riding on I-5 near the bridge…….. From what you posted.

No one is going to ride across the I-5 bridge, not even me.

I often abandon the bike route at Jantzen Beach, and ride the I-5freeway to Delta Park, also doing the same north bound.

And I have no problem riding the Fremont or Marquam Bridges in Portland.

Certainly not for the faint of heart, but a great way to win a Alleycat race.

One time in the 90’s Colin Breckon (May his soul rest in peace) and I raced around the 405-I-5 freeway loop downtown……. Was very interesting..

But I am sorry, but no one is going to hop onto the I-5 bridge and ride it, I don’t care what a reader wrote in….

mark
Guest
mark

this reminds me of that video on youtube of cyclists riding down the middle of l.a.freeways clogged with traffic jams. I laughed so much watching it .probably because of the outragousness of it. But seriously, i witness this every day on going street by swan island. semi trucks barreling down the road at freeway speeds with a cyclist right on the shoulder with no clearance, cyclists with no helmets or lights, cyclists with no bright clothes, and the occasional bike with a motor on it all oblivious to the cars and trucks in a hurry to get somewhere. i speak from experience because i do it also but only with extreme caution as i time my descent and wait for the maelstorm of traffic to get held up by the traffic light. then i go. also it is 5:30 am, a little quieter than the afternoon rush. stay safe out there.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Refunk…the CRC PBAC staff measured the narrowest points on the bridge pathways and they are the same if not similar (not counting the loopy wires, etc.).

What throws many off on the actual widths are the different visual nature of each side: the open steel weave of the old railing vs. the newer concrete bollard with railings. The older section seems to create more vertigo in some cyclists.

Icarus Falling
Guest
Icarus Falling

i consider the sidewalks on the I-5 bridge directional, as everyone should.

It is the only way to ride it safely, especially at night.

Riding it the wrong way, especially with a trailer, is just rude, IMO.

jim
Guest
jim

sounds like either critical mass or zoo bombers
Thats what cars have horns for

Vance
Guest

You know, I’ve been lambasted for pointing this out before, but what’s wrong with 205? Back when it was built there was a similar energy crisis and every effort was made. Including the bike-lane on west-bound SR14.

It’s an extra 10 minutes, I understand that. Even though there are numerous pedestrians the 205 bike trail provides access too. I’ve really never understood using I-5. Plus it’s a mess from the river into town.

SR500 is set up well too, no need to ride 14 into the core, and the major east-west byways in the ‘Couve are ample.

Scratchin’ my head.

buglas
Guest
buglas

It takes me back. In the 70’s when I was in high school we lived just south of Roseburg. There were two main routes into town, the old highway and I5. The I5 route has a river crossing – a high concrete bridge, no sidewalk, no superstructure. It was striped for about a bike lane’s worth of shoulder, though bike lanes were hardly spoken of then.

I was a kid, I was bulletproof, and the cycling world wasn’t social enough for there to be anybody to tell me what an idiot I was. I rode those bridges a few times, cranking along between the white line and the little bit of curb next to a railing that looked way too low for the sort of drop that was on the other side.

I’m pleased to say that I figured it out. My route of choice became the old highway. Even when I was visiting a good friend whose home was accessible only by I5, I would go into town and come from the other direction, avoiding those bridges.

Now that friend’s house is served by a bike path. We no longer weave our tires out of strips of bark and stuff them with moss. We wear helmets now, because I, for one, am no longer bulletproof. We talk about the risks and we coach each other.

I sincerely hope that little pod of cyclists ended up in the lane as a result of confusion and frustration rather than having something to prove. We’re trying to make the world a better place and there aren’t enough of us to spare for suicide runs like that.

Refunk
Guest
Refunk

Todd @ 45: Don’t make me get out the tape measure…

Icarus, see #38, above. Some of us have been riding that bridge longer than others, who are of course entitled to their opinions.

Vance @ 48: The Interstate Bridge crosses the Columbia; it should have accommodation for bicyclists. And if the Glen Jackson (I-205) is just an “extra 10 minutes” to someone who lives west of I-5, then 7 miles out, traverse the length of the 205 bridge, 7 miles back to Delta Park = @16+ miles/10 minutes = one fast cyclist).