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Vancouver Ave bridge project: How’s it treating you?

Posted by on June 29th, 2010 at 9:51 am

“Since the Vancouver Ave bridge has been out I have been unable to find a safe route to work.”
— Brian Tang in a posting to SeeClickFix

A construction project that has completely closed the Vancouver Avenue bridge over the Columbia Slough in North Portland is causing headaches and is highlighting the poor north/south biking options in the surrounding area.

As I reported back in April, the project began in May and the bridge closure is expected to last through the end of December. In the comments to that story several people expressed concerns about the poor bikeway quality on the proposed detours* and there were questions about why PBOT would do this project during the summer months.

To give you an idea of the problem, here’s an issue posted too SeeClickFix 12 days ago by Brian Tang (emphasis mine):

“I commute from Vancouver to east Portland by bicycle. Since the Vancouver Ave bridge has been out I have been unable to find a safe route to work…. now that the bridge is completely out, I am forced to try to bicycle across the Columbia Slough on MLK (HWY 99E), which is three lanes in each direction with no shoulder and no sidewalk and cars traveling at 55 mph. When I tried following the auto detour on Columbia Boulevard, I hit a storm drain that was about 2 inches lower than the roadway and almost went down right in front of the right front tire of a big rig that was passing by at that moment. How am I supposed to get to work without risking my life? I don’t have a car or even a license and the number 8 bus only goes halfway across the industrial area.

Please close a lane on MLK and use Jersey barriers to create a bicycle and pedestrian construction detour.”

And earlier this month, Gary Kercheck wrote in to tell us he has been taking the MLK/Columbia detour southbound and “will echo the laments of pretty much every other bike commuter here. It’s not at all ideal and the city has really dropped the ball on this.”

Another commenter, Eric Smith, wrote, “The city needs to make that Interstate route suck much less. Or is there any way to carve out a decent lane along MLK until you can cut down to Schmeer?”

Detail of detour map provided by PBOT. Full map here (PDF).

Unfortunately, PBOT does not have jurisdiction over MLK. Because it’s a state highway, any changes must go through ODOT.

I talked to PBOT Capital Projects Manager Paul Gornick about these issues this morning. He said he’ll set up another meeting with PBOT bike coordinator Roger Geller and he’ll consider taking another trip to the work site and observe the detours to see what, if anything, can be done to improve them.

As of right now, Gornick confirmed that PBOT has not added any additional signage to warn road users of increased bike traffic to either of the two proposed north/south detours.

As for the scheduling, Gornick says they have no choice but to do the project now because of the “in-water work window” specified by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. Because the bridge goes over a natural area (the slough), certain aspects of the project can only occur between June 15th and September 15th. (This ‘in-water work window’ affects many projects in our region.)

I expect to hear back from Gornick in a few days and will keep you posted on any developments. In the meantime, I would love to hear feedback from people who have been impacted by this closure and who have tried the proposed detours.

*The other proposed detour, Bryant/Interstate/Denver, is not only out of the way, but the bikeway on Denver north of Columbia leaves a lot to be desired as well.

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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Ayleen
Guest

Reminds me of when they were redoing the 33rd Ave bridge. No good re-route, total hassle.

The Night Ride on July 10th, a benefit for the BTA, has to endure a less-than-ideal re-route because of the bridge being out. The Dance Party at MLK Fashion Plaza will still go on (and with an EVEN BIGGER sound system this year!).

Steve Hoyt-McBeth
Guest

“The other proposed detour, Bryant/Interstate/Denver, is not only out of the way, but the bikeway on Denver north of Columbia leaves a lot to be desired as well.”

Jonathan, did you mean to have this in italics at the end of the story? It looks like it’s intended as one of the comments that you quote earlier.

John Kangas
Guest
John Kangas

Marine Drive to 33rd makes for a decent shortcut to east Portland. It’s not as good as the Vancouver Avenue route (especially after the bridge was closed to motor traffic!) but it’s quicker, so I’d head that way when I was in a hurry or running late.

The Columbia blvd crossing is a little odd the first time, over the ramps. But it’s no worse than some of the I-84 crossings.

Travis A. Wittwer
Guest
Travis A. Wittwer

I am not impressed with the detour. Perhaps it is because I found the Vancouver Ave bridge a great route that everything else is less than desirable.

I do not like the traffic flow on Interstate or Denver as an alternative to Vancouver. However, I will live through it and hope for a speedy return of the bridge.

Paul Cone
Guest
Paul Cone

MLK is only two lanes in each direction this area — not three.

Allan
Guest
Allan

The bridge needs to be finished ASAP which I hope the city is working on. I have ridden through the area like 8 times since it was closed and have been unhappy with the results. the Interstate detour has a really weird curving crossing of the train tracks that isn’t very good for a tandem and seemed like I might not have been happy on any bike. I look forward to the completion of this project. The lack of a bridge caused me to increase my use of a car to get to delta park…

jim
Guest
jim

Too much traffic on the detours.
Bridge should have been repaired when it was first damaged.
New logo “The city with mixed up priorities”

bikesalot
Guest
bikesalot

This closure took out our preferred access to Delta Park and points beyond. After trying various alternatives, we have settled on Denver/Interstate as the least evil. My runs on MLK were uniformly uncomfortable, and even getting to/from MLK was less than desirable.

Awaiting the return of the Vancouver Ave route. Using 33rd does not suit me – I would rather go out to St Johns.

pdxebiker
Guest

It’s not on my regular route, but this bridge being out does make it a lot harder to get to Delta Park, the Expo Center, and Vancouver. I’ve been riding MLK instead, and really don’t like it. I’m sure Lowe’s and Petco miss me.

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith

The bridge being out impedes the Portland/Vancouver commuters as well.

Looks like cyclists are not spared the hardships of bridge closures either.

Nick
Guest
Nick

That whole area is a mess. I-5, Columbia, Lombard, and MLK are all huge obstacles.

matthew vilhauer
Guest
matthew vilhauer

if you choose the mlk route you are putting your life in danger-taking the sidewalk (something i loath) is hardly better than the lane. interstate/denver was for years my prefered route into portland and isn’t bad aside from the delta park to the paul bunyon statue section. watch out for the rumble strip though. john’s suggested 33rd st route for eastside destinations is decent (if you’re resigned to the inherent flaws like me) too.

Elena
Guest
Elena

I’ve been taking the Interstate/Denver detour, and although it’s not as bad as I was anticipating, it definitely makes my trip to work in Vancouver more of a hassle. The section between the Paul Bunyan statue and Delta Park is really sketchy, and even where there’s a marked bike lane – before it peters out altogether – it’s always filled with gravel and the road’s in bad shape, and trucks occasionally turn across it without looking.
The other frustrating thing about Interstate is that the lights are timed for cars, not bikes, so if you are there at the wrong time you hit every single red light..and some of them are a long wait.
It’s pretty shocking that there’s no good way for a bike to cross the tiny little Columbia Slough between Interstate Ave. and 33rd. I hope the Vancouver Ave. bridge gets rebuilt quickly.

resopmok
Guest
resopmok

Maybe I just haven’t found the right way myself, yet, but the short section which connects Denver to Delta Park via Victory is pretty dangerous if you’re not careful. Last time I road through there, three bicyclists used three different ways to cross Victory into the park, two of whom almost got hit as I watched. If the Vancouver route is going to be closed, the least the city could do is put up some temporary signage instructing cyclists how to navigate the detour, and signs alerting drivers to their presence. I’m sure the city can find a solution to make this link safe instead of pretending it’s not a problem and shrugging it off.

MLK is not bad on the weekends, but during the week there is lots of heavy, fast truck traffic. Also the road is not in very good conditions due to all the trucks, it is loud, filled with debris, and stinks of pollution. The MLK and Columbia intersection is about as dangerous and unwieldy as any in the city. Do not ride Columbia between Vancouver and MLK – Russet or even Lombard are much better options. I’ve ridden it a few times in the past two weeks and it’s just horrible. Prime candidate for an off-street path to connect MLK to Delta Park, soon as they come up with some of that money for the whole Bike Plan thing they patted themselves on the back for.

JDL
Guest
JDL

I had been using the Vancouver Ave bridge southbound on my ride home from work in Vancouver. MLK, where it crosses Columbia Slough, is extremely dangerous for bicycles for all of the reasons that Brian lists. So I haven’t tried that route.

Instead, I cross Delta Park to Victory Blvd., go west to Denver Ave., and take Denver south from there. There is no bike lane on Victory, but visibility is good and speeds are low, so with reasonable care, you can safely make the short traverse under I-5 to Denver. The bike lane on Denver from Victory to Argyle is narrower than I’d like, but it works – and it has the benefit of carrying you over Columbia Blvd.

My new route isn’t as good as the old one. But I can put up with it for a few months.

Anna
Guest
Anna

Best way to cross Victory Blvd, ie if you are going northbound into Delta Park, is to get into the left lane, as soon as you make the right off the Denver Ave ramp,(its marked as a bus lane). Proceed thru the light, use the 2nd gap in the concrete median to make a left into Delta Park. I’ve found this to be much safer than negotiating the crosswalks, hope this helps

kitten
Guest
kitten

the detour over the slough via MLK is horrible. I did this late at night and almost got killed. There are no detour signs anywhere. Northbound on the slough bridge where am I supposed to go? There is absolutely no shoulder. Sorry I am not “taking the lane” from 55 MPH traffic. ODOT should be ashamed.

mark
Guest
mark

I agree with all the comments concerning the lack of signage about the bridge closure. As north bound bike commuter I am fortunate to live at Bryant and Vancouver so have been utilizing the Bryant to Interstate detour. If PBOT is serious about bikers using the “safe” detours they need better/more visible signage at the Bryant and Vancouver turn off for north bound traffic and the Delta Park split from MLK for south bound traffic. I have seen too many confused bikers at Vancouver and Columbia.

Anna
Guest
Anna

Someone please tell me why we have noisy, gas powered scooters on the off road I-5 bike path ? are they allowed, and what ever happened to the citizens patrol for that area…..?

Mike
Guest
Mike

It appears the city has widened the bike lanes on Denver from Victory Blvd to Argyle.

Nancy
Guest
Nancy

I almost got killed on Columbia Blvd. today. I use this route daily on my 16 mile work commute from SE Portland to Bonneville Power (off of HW 99).

Jonathan Maus – what is the status on your statement, “I talked to PBOT Capital Projects Manager Paul Gornick about these issues this morning. He said he’ll set up another meeting with PBOT bike coordinator Roger Geller and he’ll consider taking another trip to the work site and observe the detours to see what, if anything, can be done to improve them. “

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

Nancy,

I am very frustrated to read about your experience.

ODOT has striped new bike lanes on Denver as part of a regularly scheduled project, but other than that, I will check up again with Paul Gornick and PBOT to see if they’ve given any more attention/thought/action to this.

thanks for the reminder. i’ll post again if I hear anything substantive (or perhaps even if I don’t). Keep me posted on what you see out there.

Ian
Guest
Ian

I detour To Marine… It’s deadly in the dark… Any clue when this bridge will ever open? Anyone?