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After much finger-pointing, the Steel Bridge’s lower deck reopens – UPDATED

Posted by on August 13th, 2013 at 9:19 am

Some commuters and exercisers used the upper
sidewalk of the Steel Bridge Tuesday morning.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Update 3:59 pm: The bridge lower deck is now open, and the city’s Diane Dulken writes to confirm that the city, not Union Pacific Railroad, is responsible for the lower-deck cameras related to this closure.

Portlanders’ unscheduled trip into the 90s extended into its fourth day Tuesday as the lower deck of the Steel Bridge, built for $10 million in 2001, remained closed due to a camera failure.

City spokeswoman Diane Dulken said Monday that Union Pacific Railroad runs the cameras, and that the problem is UP’s. The next morning, UP’s California-based spokesman Aaron Hunt said that this was not true, and that the city has been working to repair them. Update: Dulken confirmed, late Tuesday afternoon, that the railroad was correct, and the cameras are the city’s responsibility.

Dulken said Tuesday that she had no information about whether Union Pacific had been in contact with the city. She said she wasn’t aware of detour signs other than the ones at the Steel Bridge’s lower-deck gates themselves.

The cameras are important because they let the on-site bridge lift operator know when people are crossing the bridge’s lift span. The cameras have failed in the past, including a one-day closure last year.

About 3,500 people cross the Steel Bridge on bikes daily. Thousands more use it as a foot crossing for transportation or recreation.

“We don’t manage the cameras, so we’re not quite sure what’s going on with those,” Dulken said. “It’s Union Pacific, and we haven’t heard from UP.”

Union Pacific, however, disagreed.

“The cameras are the responsibility of the city of Portland,” railroad spokesman Hunt wrote in an email Tuesday. “Union Pacific reported that the cameras were not working last Saturday. The city then closed the gates for safety reasons. The city has been working to repair the cameras since that time.”

Meanwhile, Portlanders have been taking various strategies to detour across the river.

Kevin Wagoner, a Kaiser Permanente employee who bikes to work daily from southwest Portland, said Tuesday morning that it was a minor annoyance for him, but that he’d seen one man trying to open the bridge’s gates himself.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know if that’s a good idea,'” Wagoner said.

Here’s a comment from Ted Buehler from yesterday’s post on this issue:

Steel Bridge upper deck sidewalks are not suitable for bicycling — far too narrow to permit safe passage. Bikes require a minimum of 4′ width. If you’re a skilled rider you can make do with less, but on the Steel Bridge sidewalk there’s no margin of error, and any twitch can bump you into the [substandard] railing posts, launch you over the [substandard] low railing and 85′ down into the Willamette River.

Best to simply take the lane. I do it regularly, just hang all the way on the right as you’re going up to the main span, slow down a bit toward the top to rest up, and wait for a gap in cars. Then scoot out into the middle of the lane and ride at your fastest comfortable speed across the main deck. I take the lane all the way to the bottom on the steep downgrade westbound, and scoot back to the right curb on the downgrade eastbound.

Another commenter, going by Vinney, reflected on Dulken’s comments from yesterday afternoon:

In situations like this I always find myself wondering if this would be acceptable if it was a car lane. What would be the city’s response then? What would be the reaction if Diane made this statement:

“People crossing the Steel Bridge Monday evening should reroute to another bridge. The bridge has been closed since Saturday evening, when a set of cameras that monitor the crossing stopped functioning. We don’t manage the cameras, so we’re not quite sure what’s going on.”

Dulken said she would ask her colleagues if there are any plans to improve communication with the railroad during future closures.

I spent a few minutes on each side of the bridge Tuesday morning to see how people were handling the closure.

There was a steady flow in both directions across the upper deck.

Most people descending to the Eastbank Esplanade rerouted to the south.

Some eastbound travelers hoisted their bikes up the
stairs to the upper deck after encountering the closure.

Others with larger vehicles didn’t have that option.

Whatever the cause of this four-day closure, it’s an odd situation for a city whose long-term business plan depends on persuading tens of thousands of people and jobs to locate or relocate into the central city and whose official policy documents describe its transportation priorities this way:

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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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Scottq`TzalAndyC of LinntonIan C.Michelle and Jim Recent comment authors
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Scott
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Scott

Isn’t it a ticket able offense to ride bikes on the upper deck sidewalk?

Spiffy
Guest

who is Diane Dulken a spokesperson for?

Anne Hawley
Guest
Anne Hawley

Is the City still counting on BikePortland to somehow make up for their complete lack of signage at the top of the Eastbank ramp, or has that been remedied?

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

UPRR has zero motivation to expedite this repair; perhaps an hourly/daily fine should be assessed.

The only way this will get resolved in a timely manner is for PBOT & ODOT to take responsibility for the current and future physical maintenance of these cameras.
PBOT can bill UPRR and we can get infrastructure up and running again.

Ted Buehler
Guest

As I recall, the Union Pacific was gracious in allowing a bike/ped bridge to be added to the lower deck of their bridge. They had no obligation to do this, and it was the first, or one of the first in the country. & it’s still one of the only in the country, certainly of a bridge as large and complex as the Steel.

It was a terrific bonus for the city to get the lower deck crossing. It’s been an integral component to the city’s commuter infrastructure. Imagine biking around Portland without the lower deck option. & it was built at a very affordable price tag. It comes with limitations — tight 90 degree turn at the west end, too-narrow path on the lift span, and frequent lifts.

The agreement between the city and railroad is probably pretty complicated, but it gives the UP and “out” for anything that goes wrong. That’s the way it works if someone wants to add public access to a privately owned bridge. & it’s a known fact that things will go wrong on occasion.

So it shouldn’t be unexpected to have the path out of service for a week or two, now and then, as mechanical issues crop up and are dealt with on the railroad’s timetable, not the city’s.

****

The problem here is that the city appears unwilling to respond appropriately to these known, expected mechanical problems. All roads get closed once in a while, and there’s standard ways of putting up orange detour signs to minimize inconvenience and tame increased congestion on alternate routes. None of this has been done here:
* No marked detour route.
* No advance warning signs for folks coming down N Vancouver Ave or over on NE Multnomah.
* No “bikes on bridge deck” signs for the top deck of the steel.

****

If you want to see the city respond better marking detours when bike routes are closed, drop them a note. Something like:

“Hey, I noticed the Steel Bridge has been closed for a while and there’s no detour signs. Can you make a point of putting up advance warning detour signs whenever a bike commuter route is closed? Luv n kisses, your favorite constituent”

503-823-SAFE
safe@portlandoregon.gov
http://www.portlandoregon.gov/novick/

kittens
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kittens

Can we move the new PMLR bridge a couple miles downriver to where it is really needed?

Joseph E
Guest

“lower deck of the Steel Bridge, built for $10 million in 2001”

That sounded a little pricey for a moment, until I realized the CRC was supposed to cost $3 billion (probably more). That’s 300 times the cost of this crossing, for only 30 times the trips per day.

The Steel bridge, at 3500 trips a day (or more), has cost less than $1 per trip over the past 12 years. The CRC would cost $10 per trip in that same time-frame, even without cost over-runs.

Peter P.
Guest
Peter P.

Dream of the 90’s? More like nightmare of the 90’s. I spent over a year commuting with my son in a trailer on that sidewalk. A lot less traffic then, but peds still had to stand on the railing so I could get by. You also don’t want to get hung up on the roadside railing, ouch.

mezay
Guest
mezay

Ted: your points are duly noted.

One clarification: There is already a “BIKES ON BRIDGE ROADWAY” sign on the top deck of the Steel Bridge.

Image available in this 2011 BikePortland article:
http://bikeportland.org/2011/11/03/riding-on-the-steel-bridge-a-tale-of-bike-access-and-anger-61466

Hillsons
Guest
Hillsons

How is it that no matter where I’m headed in Portland or what mode of transportation I choose, Union Pacific somehow finds a way to screw me?

Michelle and Jim
Guest
Michelle and Jim

The bridge just opened a minute ago. We just crossed it.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

UPRR: unloaded responsibility for cameras on PBOT, smart move.
PBOT: Doh!

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Wow. Just wow. Really shows our priorities.