Support BikePortland

ODOT to close St. Johns Bridge at night: No bicycle access for three weeks – UPDATED

Posted by on July 25th, 2013 at 9:48 am

(NOTE: ODOT now says biking and walking will be permitted over the bridge, through the construction zone during the closure. Read our full update at the end of this post.)

family riding on St Johns bridge

Traffic on the St. Johns Bridge.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) announced a three week closure of the St. Johns Bridge yesterday. The closure will be in effect every night (seven days a week) from 8:00 pm to 5:00 am starting this Monday (7/29) through August 18th while ODOT crews re-tension the cables that suspend the bridge over the Willamette River. During those times, the bridge will be closed to all users — including bicycle riders and walkers.

In their official announcement, ODOT noted in their headline that “motorists can use the Fremont Bridge” as an alternate route during the closure. ODOT also gave detailed detour instructions to “vehicles” (by which they mean “motorists”). What about people who bike? The only mention was the final sentence in the statement: “Bicyclists and pedestrians may use the Broadway Bridge.”

A quick look at Google Maps confirms that it would take well over one hour for someone on a bike who approaches the St. Johns Bridge only to find out they must about 14 miles south to the Broadway Bridge and then back north to the St. Johns via Highway 30 to cross the river. By contrast, the detour would take someone in a car just over 20 minutes, thanks to the convenient and direct access offered to drivers via N. Lombard, the I-5 Freeway, the I-405 bridge, and Highway 30.

ODOT Region 1 Transit and Active Transportation Liaison Jessica Horning emailed us yesterday asking for help to spread the word about the closure “since the bike/ped detour is a major one.”

Horning also wrote that ODOT is working with their bridge crew to explore options on how to “minimize bike/ped impacts” and that in the meantime they’d appreciate creative solutions for lessening the impact of this work on the bicycle riding public.

In their statement, ODOT says the cable maintenance is necessary because they stretch over time and need to be re-tensioned. “To ensure all cables are tightened equally, travel cannot occur on the bridge during the work.” That sounds reasonable; but we wonder whether bridge crews have kept in mind the weight difference between a person driving a large semi-truck or car versus someone riding a bicycle. It’s worth noting that they are keeping the bridge open to emergency service vehicles during the closures.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) is in touch with ODOT trying to find a solution. We certainly hope something can be done and we’ll keep you posted.

A few things about this concern me. First, ODOT shows their auto-centric colors when they issue a press statement about a major detour and assume that it only affects “motorists” (I say that given the placement of “motorist” instructions in the headline and detailed detour instructions versus the dismissive treatment evident in the sentence, “bicyclists may use Broadway Bridge”). Also, the fact that ODOT feels a one-plus hour, 14-mile detour for bicycle riders is acceptable makes it appear that the agency doesn’t fully respect bicycling as a mode of transportation on the same level as driving.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE, 9:59 am: Here’s a statement from BTA Advocate Carl Larson:

“When ODOT puts out notice about a detour, they’re getting better and better at answering the question, “where do people walking and biking go?” Unfortunately, the answer provided for this project (“Bicyclists and pedestrians may use the Broadway Bridge) needed a reality check. Thankfully, ODOT has been receptive to our request for a more realistic detour and, hopefully, a real solution will be offered soon. We hope that our intervention won’t be necessary for future detours. In fact, we have an intern researching work zone policies in other municipalities in an effort to get some better standards in place for our region.”

UPDATE II, 3:47 pm:
Just off the phone with ODOT’s Jessica Horning. They have figured out a plan to allow biking and walking across the bridge during the closure. Horning said this is the first time they’ve done the cable maintenance since the bridge was renovated about 10 years ago. “We had a learning of how much space the boom and scaffolding would take up,” she said. ODOT had to meet a deadline for the traffic advisory, so Horning said their initial statement reflected a “worst case scenario” to meet that deadline. After meeting with bridge project managers this afternoon, they have figured out a path for biking and walking that will remain open. Flaggers will be positioned at either end of the bridge and a path through the construction area will be marked off with traffic cones. “We’ll make every effort to make sure the wait isn’t more than 10 minutes,” Horning added.

People driving cars may use the Fremont Bridge during the closure.

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

53
Leave a Reply

avatar
24 Comment threads
29 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
28 Comment authors
Paul AtkinsonTodd BoulangerJonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)SpiffyAndyC of Linnton Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Gabriel Amadeus Tiller
Guest
Gabriel Amadeus Tiller

8pm to 5AM right?

Yes. Mistake fixed. Thanks Gabe.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

I am guessing that ODOT does not want anyone below the cables while they are tightening them. It could be a liability issue.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

OH MY GAWD!
While we do not like, almost absolutely deplore travelling this bridge by bicycle, (and for that matter, not too much of a fan by automobile either-the lanes are too narrow), it’s the only (crappy) game in town. This is ridiculous!
Bike lane the right side, make the center lanes wider for automobile/freight, and let’s be done with it already. It freaking bottlenecks at both ends for cripes-sake!
Obviously ODOT just thinks of this as a highway, it’s all too apparent.

BTA, I’m looking at the contribution envelope you mailed me, and watching this VERY closely.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Not too get off of the accessibility issue of this bridge in the first place. I probably scream about this almost daily, so there you go.

As far as the detour goes, if it stands like this,we will definitely drive every day around the city via the Fremont bridge. There’s no way we’re biking to the Broadway bridge and back.

It’s things like this and the construction in Brooklyn/Division/ 11th 12th Ave. Max mess, that highlight how little thought still goes in to, and how fragile our bicycle infrastructure truly is.

Glad we didn’t get rid of the car. Never thought I’d type that sentence.

Spiffy
Guest

on the upside, the Brooklyn/Division construction has the roads so backed up that I’m riding my bicycle to work more often now to avoid sitting in traffic… (:

Aaronf
Guest
Aaronf

The bridge could really use some sort of speed enforcement. Probably, it is hard to safely position an officer to do enforcement. It really is a 35 mph bridge, even though jokers are constantly going 45-50.

But wash your mouth out with soap for calling that beautiful bridge crappy! I enjoy the company of that bridge more than some people, although the bike facilities aren’t top notch. It’s like a 300,000 pound sculpture, in the middle of a part of town that has been working class for a long time. It’s a treasure. Have a little perspective. It was already the only game in town when you moved to Linnton, unless you were born there! The pluses outweigh the minuses, for most, even if an I-205 clone would be more efficient.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Agreed. I meant the access is crappy, not the bridge itself. But that’s just how I personally feel crossing it sometimes by foot or bike and others may not feel this way. To each his own, man.

grimm
Guest
grimm

Seriously that deck is a travesty. Every time I ride across that bridge it makes me so mad at the engineering behind the lane striping. Its becomes backed up getting onto it from both sides and everyone uses it like a freeway only to jam on their brakes 1/2mi later. No one gets what they want, causing speeding, unsafe passing and occasional yelling. I can only label it a nearly complete failure, for everyone.

Spiffy
Guest

I’m guessing the work crew and their vehicles will far outweigh any bicyclists that may be going across in the middle of the night…

Aaronf
Guest
Aaronf

During the big St Johns Bridge remodel I had a bus drop me off at the bottom of the bridge, just shortly after it had closed. I walked up just past the “no pedestrians” sign and spoke with a kind foreman who said “You’re not supposed to be here!” Safety concerns. I explained my plight (I was in for a long night if I had to bus back downtown) and he gave me a ride across the bridge in his pickup. No idea how often that happened…

Hopefully they do some outreach towards trimet drivers. I bet they do.

I assume if they could re-tension the bridge 1 side at a time and leave a traffic lane open they would do it. Even cars are being impacted, and we all can probably agree that ODOT has nothing but warm fuzzy feelings for cars.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Odds are that tensioning one side and then the other would put torsional stress on the bridge deck leading to cracks, fractures or outright failure of the bridge deck.
These will need to be tensioned as evenly as possible to avoid damage to the deck as well as not over stretching the cables.

Think of this as truing the spokes on a wheel only this wheel is flat, has a lot more spokes and weighs millions of times more. It would be too easy to understate the skill and finesse involved here. I’d bet good money that the measuring equipment used in this task can easily tell when and where a person is walking on the bridge.

Some times a critical piece of infrastructure MUST be completely shut down to effect quality repairs; this is a simple fact of reality.

Allan L.
Guest
Allan L.

Fortunately, there are some hotels near the Broadway Bridge where the detouring pedestrians can make an overnight stop. (I’ve given up trying to ride my bike on the St. John’s Bridge — it’s just too dangerous.)

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

this sounds like a great opportunity to reconfigure the lanes on the bridge to provide a safe space to cycle. Here is an idea for the construction period.
for 3 weeks, permanently close 2 lanes (use cones). along one side of the bridge, set up a scaffolding “tunnel” similar to what may be used over a sidewalk when building work is going on. This would create a protective tunnel to be used by peds/bikes during working hours. the work crew would have work around and over the tunnel. bikes would have to go pretty slow because it would be 8′ wide, 2-way, but it would be a lot more efficient than biking to Broadway! At the end of the project, stripe 2 12′ lanes for automobiles, and the rest for a buffered bike/ ped.

BTW, ODOT, it would would be much more convenient to ME if you waited until winter to do this!

Aaronf
Guest
Aaronf

1. Re-striping the bridge without giving stakeholders time to provide input almost never produces positive outcomes.

2. This is a fairly busy freight route for many companies, representing a substantial portion of industry in PDX. Any perceived reduction in freight capacity would be met with sustained, well-funded resistance, and would require a very strong, clear mandate from the public.

So, no. The timing is not good.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

The bridge itself is not the bottleneck; it’s the signals at either end. A restripe with 3 lanes (2 uphill, transitioning to 1 downhill) would not cause a measurable delay.

Aaronf
Guest
Aaronf

I’m not a traffic engineer, but assuming a simulation of the re-stripe would have negligible impact on traffic, I think both of my points stand, unfortunately. Such a simulation could be a useful tool in garnering enough support to actually change the striping.

I’m all for a serious conversation about a re-stripe, but this is just daydreaming until we acknowledge the concerns of all stakeholders and the very real connections and influence some stakeholders have. Political reality is a drag, but ideals like “My government ought not favor industry use over residential use of roadways,” get us nowhere unless enough people care enough that they voice their concerns and convince local politicians that our demands are reasonable, and that they will not go away until they are met.

Btw, I don’t intend to characterize your personal reasoning for re striping. The “ought” value statement provided above is my own.

Time to rally the troops!

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

Aaronf,
I agree with you! I think this IS a great time, maybe not to re-stripe without a conversation, but at least start that conversation. Of course the needs of freight should be accommodated, but the fact is there is single lane/slow roadways on either end of that bridge. I do not believe that having a single lane of auto traffic in either direction in big, comfy, luxury lanes would be much of a compromise.

grimm
Guest
grimm

I would really consider doing the opposite, limiting to one lane on the uphill and then two on the down to allow people to select the lane they need to go North or South. Merging everyone would be really scary for both freight and other vehicles! This would also open up the available lanes, which as it stands are very tight especially for a bridge with so much freight, seems pretty sub-standard.

Put a dedicated ped/bike lane on the South side with a 4’+ divider wall (to protect from noise and debris). Plus S side has better views.

stace
Guest
stace

Cars and bikes (and pedestrians) are getting the same treatment- isn’t that fair and what we want? They are doing structural work on the bridge at nighttime and need to have the bridge deck clear so that the cables can be properly tensioned. In addition to re-tensioning the suspension cables, they are replacing the pins on the seismic dampers. While I admit that the detour is really long and inconvenient due to the location of existing bridges, what do you really expect as a viable solution? I am a resident of St. Johns, and I bike almost everywhere, but you wont hear me complaining about these repairs.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

Two solutions have been proposed: a shuttle across the bridge or a scaffold-protected route for bikes and peds. If both of those prove inviable, then how about a shuttle around the detour? It has to be frequent enough and has to carry all kinds of bikes.

No, a 20 minute detour for cars and a 2 hour detour for bikes (6 hours for peds?) is not fair.

Paul in the 'couve
Guest
Paul in the 'couve

A pedestrian / bicycle ferry from Cathedral park across the river would be perfect. In fact, make it permanent.

Paul
Guest
Paul

I was about to say…”where are our ferries?” This would be great! Like the ferries that cross the IJ in Amsterdam.

Joseph E
Guest

Expensive, but it would be fun, and they could promote it to tourists!

Paul in the 'couve
Guest
Paul in the 'couve

It wouldn’t have to be that expensive. I guess it depends on what you call “expensive.” A 26 foot pontoon boat could carry 15 passengers at a time and make the 1 way trip in about 5 minutes.. I don’t know for sure if there is a dock they could lease or use on the south bank, but Cathedral park already has docks. It doesn’t have to be fancy.. Heck.. you could almost get a good sized row boat and start a ferry service. Of course stupid legal issues and insurance might drive the cost astronomical…. gets me back to “why do we accept cars on the road anyway?”

Paul in the 'couve
Guest
Paul in the 'couve

I was really surprised the first time I found myself on this road http://www.justoutsidedc.com/Whites_Ferry/Whites_Ferry_loading_cars.jpg around WA and OR “______ Ferry Rd” means “the road where there used to be a ferry but now there is a bridge.

Dwainedibbly
Guest
Dwainedibbly

Creative ideas? How about a temporary ferry every night? That could be sort of fun and would demonstrate that ODOT is serious about taking bikes seriously. Oh, wait….

kittens
Guest
kittens

A ferry would be awesome but you have to remember there are people out there that see ANY accommodation for bikes during a detour as preferential treatment. “Bikes get a ferry what about my car?!” Ha, how about the Fremont Bridge for the last 40 years, which is completely closed to anything not motorized and on wheels.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

Wasn’t a shuttle provided (to take people on foot or bike across the otherwise inaccessible freeway bridge) when the arterial bridge in Oregon City was closed?

I would say that sets a precedent, and ODOT can choose to either a) shuttle people over I-405 and back up, b) shuttle people across the St. Johns (surely a shuttle can’t be heavier than emergency vehicles that are allowed), or c) just let foot and bike traffic use the bridge.

jim
Guest
jim

This would be a good opportunity for someone with a boat to make a few bucks, water taxi. 🙂

Ethan
Guest
Ethan

Ad hoc ferries would also be great practice for an earthquake scenario. That gets my vote. It could be one person and a fairly small boat for Peds/Bikes . . . sounds like they won’t have to pay flaggers on this one so it could fit within budget and be a great PR tool.

Rita
Guest
Rita

Ad hoc earthquake ferries: get the boat out of the water for 48 hours – there is going to be a bunch of deadly debris floating downstream.

resopmok
Guest
resopmok

Perhaps my perspective is skewed because I’m not a resident of St. John’s, but it doesn’t seem to me that this closure is _that_ big of a deal. Realistically, the time frame of closure, 8p-5a, does not see a large amount of bicycle traffic anyway. It’s well outside of commute hours and, for the most part, during sunset, sunrise, and the dark hours of the day. Secondly, the actual destination of most people crossing the bridge is not the other side of the bridge, it’s either downtown or St John’s, depending on which direction you’re traveling. This makes Broadway a perfectly reasonable detour so long as you know the bridge is closed before you get to it. And I haven’t checked, but if ODOT doesn’t have their head completely lodged in their rear-end, they will put up signs on St Helens/30 noting the closure and times well before arriving there. If you want to climb Old Germantown Rd or head out to Sauvie Island from St John’s during the middle of the night, then I guess for now you’re out of luck. I don’t really see that on many people’s to-do list, though.

All this makes the article feel like unneeded whining and criticism to me. Where was the whining when Clinton was closed at 27th, making it a huge pain for people commuting along one of SE’s busiest bike routes? Maybe I just missed that one. Let’s not get caught crying wolf, this site has plenty of clout and using it at the appropriate times is better than using it on a whim. This closure seems perfectly reasonable and workable to me.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

Thanks for the feedback resopmok,

I think ODOT needs to hear criticism when they barely mention in a prepared statement how a major closure like this impacts people riding bicycles. To give turn-by-turn driving directions and only say “bicyclists use B’way Bridge” is not respectful or adequate.

And our transportation system must serve everyone as equally as possible. Speculating about who uses the bridge when and for what type of trips isn’t the point. It’s a public road that allows bicycling and closing it has a much much larger impact on people who ride than people who drive.

And while I respect ODOT, I am not sure we are served best by hoping they get the signage right.

Let’s see how this ends up.

Thanks again for your comment.

Paul in the 'couve
Guest
Paul in the 'couve

In terms of number of people affected you are correct. However, in terms of the impact of the closure on those people it is a bigger deal. At night time there are fewer options for transit. People who need to get home from a work shift at 10:00 pm or who leave for work at 4:00 AM and regularly use this bridge are SOL. There may be very few of them, but the realistic options are either just drive if they have a car, or take a cab if they don’t or stay home. Depends of course on where precisely they are going to/from.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

Great point, Paul. I’d guess that a greater number of people on night time shifts aren’t lawyers, software developers, etc, and ODOTs actions may disproportionately affect low income commuters.

Spiffy
Guest

exactly… I work in the NW industrial area and if I lived in St John’s this would be a devastating closure… I’m not sure how many people take that route but I see a lot of bicycles out here at all hours…

kittens
Guest
kittens

Wow you really get the impression with a huge bureaucracy like ODOT that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. Like the active transportation part saying one thing and while the rest continues business as usual. This is going to take generations to sort out. My vote is get ODOT out of the business of designing and maintaining roads in the city of Portland, give us the share of money spent and let PBOT do what it needs to do.

Spiffy
Guest

when they announced this closure in April there was no mention of bicycles or pedestrians at all… they only mentioned that “traffic” could use the US30-I405-I5 route…

http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/MCT/OD%20Docs/042613%20us30by%20closure.pdf

so the new mention of bicycles and pedestrians in an improvement, at least in public outreach… or maybe somebody mentioned back then that not all “traffic” can use the Fremont Bridge…

Spiffy
Guest

well, I guess that announcement was to a specific group of freight-movers, so people and bikes didn’t apply…

grimm
Guest
grimm

Thanks for posting this. I sometimes go ride the west hills or ride 30 home after work and can get in about that time since we have so much day light this time of year.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

Just want to make sure folks subscribing to this comment thread see the update: ODOT now plans to allow biking and walking over the bridge during the closure. Read below for full update:

Just off the phone with ODOT’s Jessica Horning. They have figured out a plan to allow biking and walking across the bridge during the closure. Horning said this is the first time they’ve done the cable maintenance since the bridge was renovated about 10 years ago. “We had a learning of how much space the boom and scaffolding would take up,” she said. ODOT had to meet a deadline for the traffic advisory, so Horning said their initial statement reflected a “worst case scenario” to meet that deadline. After meeting with bridge project managers this afternoon, they have figured out a path for biking and walking that will remain open. Flaggers will be positioned at either end of the bridge and a path through the construction area will be marked off with traffic cones. “We’ll make every effort to make sure the wait isn’t more than 10 minutes,” Horning added.

Paul in the 'couve
Guest
Paul in the 'couve

Nice. ODOT is improving IMO.

Carl (BTA)
Guest
Carl (BTA)

Big thanks to Todd Boulanger for helping the BTA work with ODOT to address this issue and to Jessica Horning for working to address our concerns. We’re very grateful to have their help and expertise.

We’re also grateful to our new intern, Ruben Montes, who is working with Todd to develop better standards for our work zones / detours. It is great that ODOT was able to make such a quick and vastly-superior change to this St. Johns Bridge detour. We hope that Ruben and Todd’s work can ultimately help ODOT, and others who design detours, do it right the first time.

eli bishop
Guest
eli bishop

Excellent news! Thanks, ODOT!

Spiffy
Guest

great news!

this is starting to be an activist site, and I like it…

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

That’s an interesting comment Spiffy. To me this has always been an activist site. ;-).

Aaronf
Guest
Aaronf

So either ODOT always had planned to re-evaluate the situation after meeting a design deadline, or the re-evaluation was a result of Horning addressing concerns raised by the BTA. Let’s speculate!

Dwainedibbly
Guest
Dwainedibbly

Fantastic! (But I was sort of hoping for the ferry)

stace
Guest
stace

Nice work ODOT and BTA! I am impressed.

Mike Mason
Guest
Mike Mason

This was Jessica’s work inside ODOT responding to some excellent feedback from the BTA and many of you. It also was a product of the Bridge maintenance crew willing to take another look at what could and could not be done. Jessica was a great hire by ODOT,
Mike, ODOT Planning

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

(re:UPDATE): THANK YOU!

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

OK readers…now for phase 2 of this reaction to ODoT’s work zone planning.

It would be good to actually have some more bikes and peds cross the bridge during the closure period…

…So how about packing a picnic bag and taking a ride (or walk) across the bridge AND thank the flaggers and crews for their work. Leave some cookies and lemonade for the flaggers too… 😉

Paul Atkinson
Guest
Paul Atkinson

AndyC of Linnton
OH MY GAWD!
While we do not like, almost absolutely deplore travelling this bridge by bicycle, (and for that matter, not too much of a fan by automobile either-the lanes are too narrow), it’s the only (crappy) game in town. This is ridiculous!
Bike lane the right side, make the center lanes wider for automobile/freight, and let’s be done with it already. It freaking bottlenecks at both ends for cripes-sake!
Obviously ODOT just thinks of this as a highway, it’s all too apparent.
BTA, I’m looking at the contribution envelope you mailed me, and watching this VERY closely.
Recommended 12

As of this morning, the BTA has successfully negotiated a crossing during the construction.

That contribution envelope they sent…still looking at it, by any chance?