Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Photo contest: Portland’s worst (and best) detours

Posted by on August 27th, 2013 at 12:42 pm

If only there were a strip of underused pavement nearby.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Here in Portland, it’s been a summer of detours. And some of them are much better than others.

Let’s help the city make more of them good.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance, fortunately, has noticed this problem. This Thursday, BTA intern Ruben Montes is hoping to meet with the City of Portland’s Mark Lear and Craig Goodroad to start looking for ways the city can better design construction zones to work for active transportation.

We’d love to give them some material to talk about. So for the next few days, any time you see a detour in Portland that doesn’t seem to prioritize human beings, or one that you think does so well, snap a photo and email it, with a few words about its location, to michael@bikeportland.org or text it to me at 503-333-7824.

Or if you’ve got an old photo from a past detour, that’s great, too.

We’ll select the best and worst examples and send them to the BTA and the city, and maybe publish them here in a follow-up post. Feel free to send, with the photo, an explanation of what you think could be better or why it works well, but you don’t have to.

Obviously construction is a fact of life, and sidewalks and bike lanes are going to be affected. But the problem isn’t that walkways are being blocked. It’s that detours give the city a choice to inconvenience either auto travel or foot travel — and auto travel usually seems to come out ahead.

Our little project was inspired by a smart note last week from Kirk Paulsen to the Active Right of Way Google Group. Paulsen, a recent PSU grad who’s recently joined Portland-based Lancaster Engineering, was frustrated by detours on the Broadway Bridge, Southeast Portland light rail construction, St. Johns Bridge, Cemetery detour and Steel Bridge that seemed to leave people on feet or bikes at the bottom of the heap.

Paulsen asked for advice on how transportation advocates can “work with / encourage local jurisdictions to make their detour plans work for active transportation from the beginning, instead of making it a ‘fight’ after the fact.”

“A recent trip to Chicago opened my eyes as to how an urban city that is making REAL & SUBSTANTIVE modern strides in becoming much more sustainable could teach us a lesson or two,” Paulsen wrote.

Here’s a detour from the middle of downtown Portland that Paulsen saw as failing to uphold the city’s stated priority to put foot transportation first:

Pedestrian detour at SW 4th and Yamhill.
(photo: Kirk Paulsen)

Meanwhile, here’s one from downtown Chicago that sacrificed a bit of auto space in order to preserve the walking connection:

Temporary walkways at State and Washington in Chicago.
(photo: Kirk Paulsen)

“Certain modes of travel [i.e. foot travel] absolutely have to give up some space during construction, and it is as if temporarily reallocating standard travel lanes is an untouchable subject,” Paulson wrote to the group. “Why aren’t our policies being implemented?”

Good question, Kirk. Some city detours are so thoughtfully built that I’m sure this is something the city could happily improve if they made a habit of it. With your help, we can help them develop that habit.

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  • John Lascurettes August 27, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Oh man. I was hit with three different construction/road closures today in the span of several blocks in NE today – all horribly signed. I’ll be taking some shots tomorrow if they’re all still there.

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  • Maren August 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    I didn’t get any photos, but I was actually very impressed, and pleasantly surprised, a few weeks ago when I ran from my home in SE to the PSU Farmers Market. I encountered several different detours on both sides of the Ross Island bridge – and it was annoying to have to go so far out of my way – but in each case, there was a plan for pedestrians and it was well marked. Seemed to be mostly true for bikes too, though I paid less attention to that at the time since I was on foot. Kudos to whoever was in charge of the signage and detours on both sides of the Ross Island!

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    • matt picio August 28, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      I wish they’d implement that up on Mississippi. Between Freemont and Skidmore there’s at least 3 full sidewalk closures with zero signage for pedestrians until you get right up to the closure. And then they have the nerve to say pedestrians MUST use the sidewalk on the other side of the street, when the parking spaces next to the construction zone are off-limits to cars – why not let pedestrians have that space?

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  • Alex Reed August 27, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    The detour near SE 7th & Clay has been very helpfully signed for westbound travel at Clay. Normally bikes go north on SE 6th to get to the Hawthorne bridge westbound but detour signs were placed directing bikes to use SE 8th. Thank you PBOT!

    (Now if PBOT could repave and traffic-calm SE Clay between SE MLK and SE Water to make an all-ages-friendly access to the Hawthorne Bridge other than the Springwater that would be even better. But small steps are good!)

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    • Reza August 27, 2013 at 3:07 pm

      Clay needs that treatment all the way to SE Ladd (read: diverters). With the traffic volumes on that street I don’t know how people find Clay more comfortable to ride that Hawthorne/Madison, and that’s saying very little.

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      • Psyfalcon August 27, 2013 at 9:06 pm

        Its the left turn onto Madison for me. 12th is actually pretty hard with a lot of speed, and making a left from 7th suffers from issues with that light.

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      • Adam August 27, 2013 at 10:32 pm

        I find Hawthorne more comfortable to ride for that stretch than Clay.

        Clay is a total clusterf**k.

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        • Alex Reed August 28, 2013 at 10:13 am

          I tried Hawthorne(Madison) this morning between 12th and 6th and it was nicer than the Clay / 6th connection and playing frogger to turn left on Madison. I was lucky that no buses came by so I wasn’t trapped between cars and buses at any point, which I find quite stressful. I also poached the bus lane for most of the way so I didn’t have to ride right next to cars. Might be my new route!

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  • Reza August 27, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    The ongoing apartment building project at SW 5th and College has been a constant pet peeve as I walk between the MAX and my office. It should be a required City ordinance for construction crews to preserve a pedestrian corridor during all construction without requiring people to cross the street. It doesn’t matter if you have to close a parking lane or traffic lane. This is the law in DC where I grew up.

    A city with a reputation like Portland’s forcing pedestrians to cross streets several times out of their way is, quite frankly, a joke.

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    • Peanut Butter August 28, 2013 at 8:36 am

      We’ve been having that problem down here in Eugene. So many student apartments are going up in the University area along with repaving projects that I had to cross the street 3 times in 1.5 blocks on 13th the other day while trying to get to a bus stop.

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  • Indy August 27, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I’m a pedestrian that has encountered these examples, and I just walk across the street.

    Of all the issues… wow.

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    • Steve August 27, 2013 at 2:47 pm

      The goal is Active (but not too active) Transportation

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) August 27, 2013 at 3:18 pm


        Indy, do you always cross the street? I know I regularly decide to walk in the street, around the fence, even though I know it’s a bit of a hazard. The example from Chicago shows a city that understands many people will take the most direct route no matter what, and prioritizes their safety and convenience during construction over maintaining a third or fourth auto travel lane.

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    • CaptainKarma August 27, 2013 at 3:36 pm

      Differently-abled folks would appreciate not having to cross the gauntlet of motorized metal any more than is necessary; e.g. folks with white canes.

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    • Reza August 27, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      Count all the light cycles you have to wait for to do this. If you’re not downtown, make sure to leave enough time for law-breaking motorists who decide not to legally yield the right of way at unsignalized intersections.

      Glad you made the time to comment on something you purport to not care about.

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    • matt picio August 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      I’m glad it works for you, Indy (and for me!), but what about those who are in their 80s, or in a wheelchair, or on crutches? A couple months ago, I had knee issues, and traveling more than 6 blocks was a huge problem. In some of these areas, like on N Mississippi, Trimet bus stops are impacted, and people need to walk 6 or more blocks to get to the next nearest stop, and then cross the street twice to get to where they are going. If you’re able, and 25, and uninjured, that works great. If you’re not, well then – why are we telling these people they have to just deal with it, while providing unimpacted access to able 20-somethings in automobiles?

      This isn’t about convenience for the able, it’s about access for everyone.

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      • Indy September 3, 2013 at 1:58 pm

        “I’m glad it works for you, Indy (and for me!), but what about those who are in their 80s, or in a wheelchair, or on crutches?”

        They walk the extra hundred feet or so?

        In your example, they are walking anyway, so what is an extra ~50-100 feet of detour?

        We act like we have people dying of their last breath here. These are such minor concerns compared to the grand scheme of there’s inadequate pedestrian access all over the STATE, let alone Portland. You can’t walk to most towns safely, let alone your corner store. That screams crazy to me.

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  • Jessica Roberts
    Jessica Roberts August 27, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    See the “Roadworks” chapter in the 2000 version of the Danish bicycle facilities guide (“Collection of Cycle Concepts”). For some reason their 2012 update does not go into as much detail, which is hard to comprehend.

    If you can find a copy of the Dutch “Design manual for bicycle traffic” book, that has a more policy-oriented discussion than the Danish one.

    I also have a couple of stellar photos of northern European bicycle detours I’ll send Jonathan.

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  • Carl (BTA) August 27, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    Keep the examples (bad AND good) coming, folks! Thanks to Todd Boulanger (who is helping us with this project) we have taken a look at the Dutch design manual but I hadn’t seen the Danish one. I’ll be sure to pass it on to Ruben. Thanks Jessica!

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  • KJ August 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    I was walking Hawthorne on the north side sidewalk a few weeks ago headed west and there were 2 different construction projects closing he side walk. One built out a temp walkway, awesome!! Similar to the one is Chicago above but uses jersey barriers I think.

    The other diverted you across the street at a light (at least it was at a light) but my destination was on the next block. Boo.
    Sorry no pics!

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    • Greg August 27, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      I like your avatar. Where is it from?

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  • Jackie Yerby August 27, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    I wish that the Dept. of Environmental Services had left an option for bikes and pedestrians to bike/walk down NE 33rd to Marine Drive. I love riding along the river and into the Gorge, but don’t feel particularly safe taking the detour to NE 21st and riding along Columbia. I’ve pretty much avoided riding Marine Drive since they started that project.

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    • Terry D August 28, 2013 at 8:06 am

      That one caught me by surprise, I was heading north from Marine with a food destination in mind at 30th and Alberta….ending up on 21st I went somewhere else.

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  • Ted Buehler August 27, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    Worst — apartment building construction at the SE corner of Burnside/12th/Sandy has closed 12th to pedestrian traffic for over 6 months now.

    No detours, if you’re walking up 12th you get stranded at the “no pedestrian crossing” signs an Sandy, and need to risk your neck or find the unmarked 4 block detour via Ankeny and 13th.

    I requested pedestrian access through the “safe@portlandoregon.gov” hotline and got this response:

    “Hi Ted – Our inspectors looked into this and felt that given the geography and limitations here, the options were very limited. They have been working with the contractor to ensure that the approved traffic control plan is adhered to.”

    I was unimpressed.

    Ted Buehler

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    • Ted Buehler August 27, 2013 at 7:10 pm

      I wrote back and asked for pedestrian detour signage, and got no answer at all. 12th is still a dead-end for Peds at Burnside, last I checked.

      Ted Buehler

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  • Adam August 27, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Oh my god, where to begin! How about the closure of every single sidewalk on every single side of the new Lloyd Superblock project that broke ground last week. It’s only in one of the busiest, most pedestrian-heavy daytime neighborhoods in Portland. Grrr!

    There are hundreds of office workers who are just walking in the bikelanes since the sidewalk is closed, forcing bicyclists out into car traffic. To be honest, I don’t blame the pedestrians tho. I’d probably do the same.

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  • Roger August 28, 2013 at 1:18 am

    Safeway remodel on Barbur Blvd at Multnomah Blvd – the sidewalk and bike lane on the westbound slip lane to Multnomah were completely removed and fenced off several months ago. This forces bikes & peds into a one way vehicle lane posted 45 mph as cars accelerate off Barbur Blvd to merge with the I-5 southbound off ramp to Multnomah Blvd.

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  • Aaron August 28, 2013 at 11:39 am

    I think there is some merit to prioritizing auto traffic. Peds and to a lesser extent cyclists can easily maneuver around and through construction, while cars never have this option. It speaks to a deep and fundamental difference in the travel modes. Walking, you can just crawl all over the urban environment and the obstacles therein, and cyclists can easily switch to pedestrian mode by hopping off the bike or simply slowing to a walking pace. Cars are in a figurative sense on rails. The impact is much higher when the “rails” are broken by construction.

    I can’t be the only pedestrian/cyclist/driver who feels this way.

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    • Alex Reed August 28, 2013 at 1:14 pm

      I understand this perspective but the construction detour prioritization interlocks with myriad other prioritizations of auto traffic (no sidewalks in places, “beg buttons” to cross the street on foot with no similar requirement for cars, “crosswalk closed” signs all over the place to speed auto traffic through intersections, few crossings of freeways, excessive speed limits, few marked crosswalks across high-speed/dangerous streets, free parking for cars but no good free parking for bikes in many areas, little comfortable bike infrastructure, few dedicated bus/train lanes despite the fact that a bus or train moves often 40-50x the number of people of a car, the list goes on…) to make driving the #1 entrenched mode of transportation in this area.

      An alternate case could be made that auto transportation is already so subsidized and prioritized that for equity’s sake, bike and pedestrian traffic should ideally not be inconvencienced or endangered one whit more just because there’s a building being built.

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  • Eric August 28, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Certainly not the worst, but the confluence of private housing development and the PMLR bridge (which I’m really looking forward to) just north of the Tram/SoWa area has been a disaster for people biking to/from Oregon’s largest employer, not to mention the one with the most bike commuters.

    Just as the PMLR folks shut down the Eastern sidewalk on SW Moody so they could put up the infrastructure for the light rail, a private house development on the West Side of Moody realized they were way behind in finishing their building and bumped the construction fence out to take over all but ~4 feet of the combined bike/ped lane on the now open side. The only other northbound option (which I routinely take) is the single traffic lane with streetcar tracks. After a week or so of complaints, the developers have now left ~6 feet of lane for bike/ped traffic.

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