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Photos of the week: When a bridge crossing is closed to bikes

Posted by on August 5th, 2009 at 11:19 am

Steel Bridge Closed while Stabbing Investigated

Doing a double take at the closure of the entrance to a major bike route. (Photo by Scott Mizée / npGreenway in the BikePortland Photographers pool on Flickr)

Yesterday morning we reported on the temporary closure of the Steel Bridge lower deck, a major walk and bike commute route, from early morning to around 2pm. Reader Scott Mizée (you may recognize his name from his advocacy work with npGreenway) sent us this shot of the closure on the east side.

Mizée said in his email:

I took this photo this morning on the way in to work and it demonstrates the conundrum cyclists were in as they made it from the scramble signal at Oregon Ave all the way down to the entrance to the top ramp before they realized they needed to turn around.

The picture shows the northernmost entrance to the Eastbank Esplanade, which is a major cycling commute route.

While the lower deck was still closed, Jonathan went out and took some shots of the Steel Bridge upper deck, including this one:

Upper deck of Steel Bridge-20

Jockeying for elbow room on the upper deck of the Steel Bridge.
(Photo © J. Maus)

He says he saw many confused folks on bikes dangerously trying to navigate their way across the car lanes on the upper deck, including this guy who decided to ride against traffic to get to the other side of the bridge:

With the lower deck closed, this guy took to the upper deck…in, umm, not such a safe way.

And what’s up with the local news crews? Several news vans were parked smack dab in the middle of the bikeway. They stayed there even after it was re-opened (to make the evening newscasts). The photo below shows how one group of riders had to weave their way around the vans to get onto the Esplanade:

Does your morning commute take you through that area? What did you do to get around the closure yesterday?

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

29 Comments
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    bean August 5, 2009 at 11:28 am

    I ride the upper deck sidewalk everyday x2. It is faster than the bottom deck. No problems yesterday morning.

    On another note. The width of bottom deck of the Steel Bridge is perfect. It controls everybody’s speed just enough. Nobody tries to haul ass through there like on the Hawthorne. I think they should make the Hawthorne narrower to make the bike speeds slower.

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    Steve Hoyt-McBeth August 5, 2009 at 11:34 am

    I have two thoughts.

    Most importantly, the area was closed off because someone was killed, and I think the small inconvenience that we experienced pales in comparison to the loss of life.

    Secondly, the lower Steel and/or connecting bridge seem to be closed for more prosaic reasons every couple of months. I think there is room for improvement on communicating to cyclists when it is closed.

    Things have improved, but for me it would be great if there was a temporary sign at the N Interstate/N Oregon stoplight so one would see the closure before you rode down the hill. Perhaps even a detour sign?

    I’ve been meaning to follow up with the folks at the City and County about this.

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    Jordan August 5, 2009 at 11:38 am

    @2
    I was going to ask if there was a detour route planned or a simple single detour arrow sign?
    Jonathan, do the police create detour routes when they have to shutdown roads?

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    ME 2 August 5, 2009 at 11:40 am

    I came upon the scene at around 7:45 AM. I saw several cop cars on the street and grass just off the sidewalk. There was also a Fox news van on the scene.

    When I was there, the POPO didn’t even have the access to the ramp closed off. There was a cyclist who went down there, was informed by a cop the bridge was closed and pedaled back up the ramp.

    I took the upperdeck across and it was slow going with a cyclist in front of me, a few oncoming cyclists, and joggers. It wasn’t an ideal scene, but the path of least resistance and everyone proceeded cautiously across the upper deck.

    The afternoon commute had me a little more worried. All the TV crews were crowded around the spot by the scramble signal. I usually head south, but it seemed like a mix of 20 or so TV personal mulling about waiting to film and all the bike traffic made for a crowded and confusing spot to maneuver past.

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  • TTse
    TTse August 5, 2009 at 11:49 am

    If memory serves, when the PoPo shot Kendra James on the Skidmore overpass years ago, they closed it for a good 12 hours or so.

    Is it still closed?

    Bean, two differences between the Steel and the Hawthorne. The Steel span is much shorter so getting stuck behind someone is not that big of a deal, and there is MUCH less bike traffic.

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    Jessica Roberts August 5, 2009 at 11:51 am

    I understand completely that crimes need to be investigated. But I have a REALLY hard time believing that if the same crime scene happened on the upper deck of the Steel Bridge, it would have been closed to cars, buses and MAX for 14+ hours.

    In 2008 PDOT counted over 3000 daily bicycle trips across the the Steel Bridge (and imagine how that would go up if peds were included). Closing it for so long is a pretty major inconvenience.

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    KruckyBoy August 5, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Yes Jessica- the upper deck of the Steel Bridge would have been closed for 14 hours. I absolutely assure you that the police investigate a crime scene until they have all of the evidence. That is their job. It is not their job to make sure you have a comfy and convenient and happy ride to work. Suck it up. Someone was killed.

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    Rich August 5, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Caught the news of the closer on Channel 8 and departed a few minutes earlier than my usual 6:25 a.m. Extended my commute from Garden Home/Multnomah Blvd to the Lloyd District a few extra miles and went up Naito to the Broadway Bridge. It was actually pretty enjoyable and I did it again this morning. I had been wanting to add on a few extra exercise miles in the morning.

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    Rich August 5, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Oh yeah…. It was a little freaky riding thru the area on the way home yesterday with the police markings still lying around – I gave a mental nod to the poor victim

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    Kt August 5, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Wow, aren’t we compassionate human beings!

    (sarcasm)

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    Schrauf August 5, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Are we trying extra hard to perpetuate the impression that cyclists tend to bitch and whine a lot?

    Roads get closed all the time when crimes or accidents occur, and clearly signed detours take hours to set up, if they ever happen.

    Detours often take longer on a bike, but that goes with the vehicle choice. Deal with it. We don’t have a right to never being inconvenienced, just like we don’t have a right to never being offended.

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    GLV August 5, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    The Steel span is much shorter so getting stuck behind someone is not that big of a deal, and there is MUCH less bike traffic.

    It’s not that big of a deal to get behind someone slow on the Hawthorne either. It might add 30 seconds or a minute to your trip time, and if you can’t deal with that, you shouldn’t be living in a city.

    And I’m with #7 – the notion the the police deliberately kept the bridge closed to somehow inconvenience cyclists is beyond ridiculous.

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  • TTse
    TTse August 5, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    The police have closed interstate HIGHWAYS for longer than 14 hoursto investigate fatal crashes.

    It happens. A better detour sign might have been in order, but really, flex and flow people. It’s why bikes are better.

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    jeff August 5, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Police closure is fine by me, but I’d have been a lot happier if the local news vultures weren’t completely blocking the sidewalk (as in parked on) yesterday evening.

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    Huggybear August 5, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    So sorry that people were put out for 14 hrs. because a life was taken. They will get to ride another day so grow up.

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    Elly Blue August 5, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Folks, I’m happy to see that most of these comments are focused on discussing how people dealt with the detour rather than complaints about it. I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to accuse this story or most of the commenters of prioritizing commuting convenience above a crime scene investigation.

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    Brad August 5, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Jessica Roberts served up that dish with a side of snark. Don’t blame others for sitting down to eat.

    Brad, we ask everyone to stick to the high road in their own commentary regardless of what they think of what others have said or how they say it. We work hard to provide a forum for respectful discussion. Thanks.

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    ME 2 August 5, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    OK folks look at Scott’s picture and email. The debate here should not be about whether cyclists were inconvienenced by a death, but why did the PoPo not take steps to direct cyclists to avoid the crime scene.

    As post 13 correctly pointed out, that if a roadway is the scene of a crime, the cops will close it down until they have sufficiently completed their investigation. They would also have an officer or some means for directing traffic around the crime scene.

    This is a major transportation artery so the question is not about how a murder impact cyclists commutes, but rather why didn’t the PoPo have an officer stationed at the scramble corner to direct cyclists before the happened right on the crime scene?

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) August 5, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    I just updated the story with a photo of how one guy tried to cross the upper deck of the Steel.

    also, just want to add that this isn’t about being inconvenienced. We understand there was a death and the police has a job to do… however, I think it’s important to look at the issue of respecting a bikeway (especially a very important one) to the same extent a motor vehicle lane would be respected.

    especially the news crews. they almost completely blocked the path.. even for several hours after it was opened. not cool.

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    Lenny Anderson August 5, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    It would have been easy for the PPB to direct bicyclist to the motor vehicle lane across the Steel Bridge with one PPB car on the ramp to insure that motor vehicles and bike all proceeded in a safe manner…sharing the road.

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    Babygorilla August 5, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    The police did take steps to warn bicyclists that the path was closed. They put up tape! I saw it and turned around and rode over the Broadway Bridge. Didn’t think twice.

    As for equitable treatment with “motor vehicle lanes” (which are bikelanes), In my experience, detours and advance warnings only come with planned obstructions, like construction, parades, etc. Saturday, I was driving down broadway to get to I-5 to get my dog out to the River on Sauvies Island and just beyond the onramp, the police had all of broadway cordoned off, funnelling everyone onto I-5. No detour signs, no police directing people on how to get around the blockade. Nothing. Sometimes, accidents / crimes happen and a section of the public right of way needs to be cordoned off.

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    are August 5, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    in one photo you show how tight the passing is on the sidepath, and in the next you say someone taking the traffic lane is “not safe”? all you have to do is take the outer lane, and let any motorist who wants to do the full posted 35 take the inner lane. the segregated section is only a few hundred feet long.

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    Elly Blue August 5, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Are, the problem in the bottom photo is that the person is taking the lane riding the wrong way in it, *against* traffic. Eek.

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    are August 5, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    oh yeah, that

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    me no stoopid August 5, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    who is that cretin biking the wrong direction? oh, s*!t, that was me!

    ok, time to set the record straight before the PDX cycling community thinks I am missing half my brain. Riding west across the bridge on the eastbound sidewalk wasn’t working because of the “jockeying for elbow room” that you see in the second photo. Thus, I decided to complete the ride on the opposite sidewalk. Noticing the concrete barrier that separated the east and westbound car lanes, I waited until the cost was clear before riding the 10 yards until the barrier ended so I could enter the proper side of the road. So, everyone please take a close look at the third picture. See me riding right next to a concrete barrier? Check! Does it end in 10 yards? Check! Is there a car that I anticipated and that I safely avoided? Check! Is the road clear of any other incoming traffic? Check!

    As a matter of fact, I talked to Jonathan for a few minutes on the sidewalk before I made this safe maneuver out of courtesy towards the pedestrians walking eastbound on the bridge. BikePortland knew full well that I was not going the whole bridge against traffic. Moreover, a few cyclists went ahead of me and also followed me. I wish the facts were reported instead of a photo, that taken out of context is sensationalist and makes me appear like a kamikaze cyclist.

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    GLV August 6, 2009 at 8:49 am

    It’s also illegal to use the center lane, unless you are a MAX train.

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    swpdxbikecommuter August 6, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    I was one of the handful of people trying to cross the Steel eastbound, in the south lane, which would normally be the lane for eastbound cyclists/peds not using the Esplanade. I met dozens of bikes coming at me and a few pedestrians. I ended up getting off my bike and walking because there really wasn’t room for two-way traffic on that narrow sidewalk. I would’ve had to crawl over a barricade with my bike to get into the car lane, and that didn’t seem like a really safe idea given that vehicle traffic comes around a corner, uphill and merges on the bridge deck (and I’m a klutz). Most cyclists coming at me noticed me, however one cyclist (sans helmet) was too busy rubbernecking at the scene below to see me so I had to shout at him. All of the media vehicles at the end of the bridge was a bit annoying because they blocked passage along the pathway. I don’t watch TV in the morning before work and I don’t listen to radio while riding so it was a bit of a surprise to me at 7:50 a.m. to have to reroute from the Esplanade to the upper deck of the Steel. Like I said in my comment about the original post, it would’ve been nice to have an actual detour with signs well in advance, so that I could’ve taken a less crowded detour to work on the east side.

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    Craig August 6, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    @#25 me no stupid:

    I like what you did. And police should have been there directing all others to do the same. Safely crossing all lanes of traffic to resume travel on the right side is safer for everyone.

    At 5:45am that morning I crossed eastbound, opposite most traffic, using the upper deck bike/ped path on the south/eastbound side, and encountered about six cyclers traveling in the wrong direction on that side (or traveling in the right direction on the wrong side–whatever), and in each case either I or they politely stopped–of necessity–to let the other pass without smacking elbows or handlebars.

    This was at 5-freaking-45 in the morning. I’m glad I wasn’t there two hours later with 10 or 20 times the volume. I’ll be amazed if there weren’t at least a few bike/bike or bike/ped collisions and unhappy words exchanged that morning for that very reason.

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    swpdxbikecommuter August 6, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Craig–your thoughts about two hours after 5:45 are correct! No collisions that I saw, but serious congestion. I (a klutz) did not want to get in a wreck or trash my bike by whapping into the fence, so I walked (probably taking up even more precious room). Not pretty for me going eastbound, and probably not for those coming west, either. Ack!

    Maybe next time I’ll get off and do traffic control myself…

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