Like many of you, I’m still trying to figure out what exactly is going on with the Sellwood Bridge project. I have not followed it very closely since the celebratory groundbreaking back in December. My sense was that the project came out great for bicycling with ample riding room and connectivity.
Then, on Tuesday night at a PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, I heard the first murmur that changes were afoot. By Wednesday, the news was public that, due to a variety of factors (including under-estimated project costs and rising steel and fuel costs), the County needed to shave $3.2 million off the project’s cost. I’m still not clear on how the cost-cutting decisions were made; but the fact remains that of the $3.2 million in cuts, about $2.1 million directly impacts bicycling.
With the final vote for the project plans due this Thursday (7/19), the timeline to evaluate exactly how these proposed changes impact bicycling — and what might possibly be done to lessen that impact — is very tight. Today, an influential committee of local leaders (that includes Mayor Sam Adams, Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, TriMet GM Neil McFarlane, ODOT Regional Director Jason Tell, and others) will make their recommendation on the project. Given this timeline, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) is asking Multnomah County to delay the vote and I’ve read many emails and comments from Portlanders who are upset by how the proposed changes will impact bicycling
The design approved after a six year public process included a multi-use path on the west end and south side of the bridge to take people down to the Willamette Greenway Trail. In the newly proposed “asymmetric” design, that 700 foot multi-use path (MUP, a.k.a. shared-use path) bridge would be completely eliminated. The first graphic below shows the LPA design, and the second is taken from a presentation by Multnomah County made to the Citizens Advisory Committee one week ago:
Another area where the County is proposing to save money ($81,000) is a line item named “Minimized Bike/Ped Surface Treatments”. Those treatments consisted of green colored bike lanes and a different pavement texture on the raised, shared bikeway/walkway in order to encourage people to maintain their lane. Here’s how the County described those treatments in an open house back in November:
And here’s another view of how they looked in the old, symmetrical cross-section.
And as you can see below, these treatments are completely gone in the new cross-section:
(UPDATE: At the Project Stakeholders Committee meeting going on right now, project manager Ian Cannon said that the green-colored bike lanes are still in the plans. He said they proposed taking it out (for the $80,000 savings) but the Citizen’s Advisory Committee urged them to keep the coloring in.)
And of course the big change is the new cross-section. The newly proposed design shifts a bikeway and the sidewalk/walkway to the north side. With less access on the south side (elimination of the MUP bridge) the County figured they could save money by not having a sidwalk on both sides.
Here’s the originally agreed to, symmetrical cross-section…
And here’s the newly proposed, asymmetrical cross-section…
These are just the line item changes in the newly proposed design. There are also major concerns being shared among advocates of both bicycling and walking about connectivity for non-motorized users of the bridge in both directions. To learn more, follow (and join in) the discussion taking place on our post from Friday.
Keep in mind that there are some benefits to the new asymmetric cross section. The new design would add a separated, bi-directional bikeway on the north side. It would also do more to separate biking and walking. The concerns I’ve heard so far have more to do with how the bikeway connects (or doesn’t) to the bikeways on either end.
I’m anxious to hear what Mayor Sam Adams has to say about this new proposal. Stay tuned for more coverage from today’s committee meeting.