Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Gibbs Street Pedestrian Bridge elevator woes continue

Posted by on February 28th, 2014 at 10:40 am

Nice elevator when it’s working.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

The opening of the Gibbs Street Pedestrian Bridge in July 2012 came amid much fanfare. The $13.6 million span over Interstate 5 provided a much-needed connection between the Lair Hill neighborhood and the burgeoning South Waterfront.

While it’s a beautiful bridge to walk and bike on, it has one major flaw. There’s no ramp to make bicycling easy and smooth at the transition to the South Waterfront side.

Once you get to the east side of the bridge, the design requires people to: carry and/or push their bikes on six flights of stairs with only a narrow and hard-to-reach wheel gutter to ease the task; or use an elevator.

And unfortunately, the elevator — which is by far the preferred option if you are biking, especially with kids and/or with a large bike — has proven to be unreliable.

The elevator closed for repairs or inspections five times in its first two months. And now we hear it’s broken again. Ben McLeod has flagged the issue on Twitter and he’s been conversing with PBOT about it. Here’s his original tweet:

We’ve also received an email this week from a reader who uses the bridge every day. Geir E. wrote:

Is it only me, or has this elevator proven to be a complete piece of crap? I have tried to use it a few times a week over the last month (with a stroller, not a bike) and it has been out of service about 50% of the time. What is the experience from your readership? Are people (with and without bikes) happy with the bridge and the elevator?

And if my observation is correct, that it is broken down most of the time… are they planning to do something to improve the reliability?

We followed up with PBOT spokeswoman Diane Dulken. She said PBOT was aware of the issue and would get it fixed the same day. She also said there are plans to improve the signage so that it’s easier to communicate when the elevator isn’t working and give people easier ways to report issues.

It was also down for repairs in December, Dulken confirmed, and she assured us that PBOT is “looking into the reliability of the elevator.” Beyond bikes, the City is also concerned about how the elevator closures impact ADA access.

As for the wheel ramp on the stairs, back in October 2012, PBOT said they were working on a project that would bring a “major improvement” to the design.

Since that post, we haven’t heard anything about the project or about progress to improve the situation. Asked about it this morning, Dulken said the project manager who was in charge of the project is on vacation and she’ll plan to follow up about it next week.

We’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, take your chances that the elevator will be operational and get ready for a good arm workout if you have to use the stairs.

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. Thank you.

  • Alan Love February 28, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Although I could use this route daily, of the 6 times I have tried it, the elevator has has been down 3 times. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 3 times, well the fool’s the fool that fool’s the fool (paraphrased from GWB). I’ll take Naito, thanks.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Stretchy February 28, 2014 at 11:17 am

    This will always be a problem as long as there isn’t anyone who stands to profit (by providing excellent service) or lose (by losing ridership) from the elevator. Bid out a yearly maintenance contract. Every hour the elevator isn’t working, the payout on the contract is reduced. Provide incentives for excellent service. A bonus if they go a month without an unscheduled service interruption.

    There is nobody at PBOT who will be fired or demoted for providing such lousy service. There will be nobody promoted or given a bonus if they do a better job.

    Recommended Thumb up 16

  • spare_wheel February 28, 2014 at 11:26 am

    there should have been outrage over this facility from cyclists.

    and despite the millions spent on this corridor, unimproved sheridan (half a mile away) remains the best route across i5 for cyclists.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • Dan Morrison February 28, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Throw it over your shoulder, ya bums!

    Recommended Thumb up 6

    • Bill Walters February 28, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      Um, cargo bike? Not me, but others.

      Recommended Thumb up 9

      • Dan Morrison February 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm

        Throw it over your shoulder. People who take the elevator with a bike are on the level with people who stand on an escalator. Use your legs.

        They should definitely get this elevator working. It’s ridiculous that a new elevator would have such problems, but there’s an easy solution if it’s not working. You’re on your bike to get your legs working, right?

        Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Dillon February 28, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    “Nice elevator when it’s working.” I think not. That thing is the slowest piece of junk I’ve ever ridden.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

    • Dan Morrison February 28, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      I don’t know for sure, but most excessively slow elevators are hydraulic instead of cable.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Chris I February 28, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      Well, at least it’s just a “piece of crap” and not literally “full of crap” like the Trimet elevators on the eastside MAX line…

      Silver lining: all of the downtime has reduced it’s attractiveness as a public restroom.

      Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Bill Walters February 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    FWIW: This morning the elevator *was* working but an A-frame sign on the upper level, near the road, advised that it wasn’t. I trust that’s been fixed, but maybe a good idea to try the button even when the sign is out.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Opus the Poet February 28, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    While cyclists are perceived as whining about the elevator, what about the ADA implications of the elevator being out. How are people in wheelchairs supposed to get across the bridge if they can’t get on from the elevator side, or get off when coming from the other direction?

    Recommended Thumb up 13

    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 28, 2014 at 1:07 pm


      Thanks for reminding me about ADA issues. PBOT mentioned that in our conversation but I forgot to put it in the story. I’ve added it now.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Dan Morrison February 28, 2014 at 1:11 pm

      Thank you for bringing up the real problem here-disabled individuals being denied accessible routes.

      Cyclists whining about carrying their bikes are like cyclists whining about other cyclists not having full coverage fenders. Suck it up, you babies.

      Recommended Thumb up 6

      • Chris I February 28, 2014 at 1:52 pm

        Can you send me your phone number so I can call you the next time I need to get my loaded Big Dummy up these stairs?

        Recommended Thumb up 8

      • Jane February 28, 2014 at 2:52 pm

        You know what’s worse than a cyclist whining about having to carry their bike?

        A cyclist whining about a cyclist whining about having to carry their bike.

        Now suck it up and go about your business without griping about how other people go about theirs.

        Recommended Thumb up 17

        • annefi March 1, 2014 at 11:18 am

          Jane, You are awesome!

          Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Spiffy February 28, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    I would never have build this bridge without an ADA approved ramp to use in place of the elevator… no excuse for pushing this through without non-elevator access…

    Recommended Thumb up 7

    • grumpcyclist February 28, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      There are six flights of stairs right now, I imagine that would make for one hell of a ramp. I take it you’re not in a wheelchair.

      Recommended Thumb up 5

    • Panda March 1, 2014 at 12:48 pm

      Between this and waud bluff, I think it is pretty obvious the city does not care at all about accessibility

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • davemess March 3, 2014 at 5:47 pm

        They care about it somewhat, otherwise they wouldn’t have the built the bridge in the first place.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Tony February 28, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    They should have just put the wheel gutter down the center of the stairway like they do in The Netherlands.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • annefi March 1, 2014 at 11:19 am

      What happens when bikes going in opposite directions meet? Are the wheel gutters wide enough for them to pass?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • fool March 12, 2014 at 9:17 am

      and in seattle, the (impressively large) tunnel through the hill by lake washington is served by stairs with railings in the middle of the stairway, and a gutter on each outside *without* a railing/containing wall to get in the way. one could ride down the gutter if one wanted (not that i tried it or anything :)), and bikes going the other way are not impacted at all, nor peds using the railing.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • sabes February 28, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    That’s what you get when you go with the low bidder. Just like the Morrison Bridge fiasco. The city has to learn that the lowest bid isn’t always the least expensive solution.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • spare_wheel March 2, 2014 at 8:24 pm

      the only time i use the morrison bridge cycle track to no where is when i need to ghost a bike over the river during peak commute hours.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Reza March 3, 2014 at 12:26 am

      Morrison Bridge is owned by Multnomah County, bro. Not the City’s responsibility.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Paul Souders February 28, 2014 at 11:59 pm

    Between Terwilliger and Sheridan there are only 2 other places to cross I-5: Brier Pl and Corbett. These are both 3-4mi south of downtown. (Sheridan is its own mess because it requires riding along or crossing Kelly aka the Arthur/Ross Island interchange)

    If you’re in a wheelchair (or cargo bike, or bike trailer…) and confronted with an unexpected closure of the Gibbs elevator you have at least a 1mi detour.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Panda March 1, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      Or pushing a stroller! Elevators are a poor substitute for reliable infrastructure

      Recommended Thumb up 4

  • annefi March 1, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Okay, here’s my question. Have people ever been trapped on the elevator when it broke down? It seems inevitable that there would be occupants. What happened to them? How were they rescued? How long were they trapped in there?

    The few times I’ve been by there on my bike the elevator was out-of-service, but I wonder if I’d even want to risk riding it when it is in service. It’s a shame there aren’t easier to use wheel gutters on BOTH sides of the stairs.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Don Baack March 1, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    I was on the citizens advisory committee for the bridge. We asked Jody Yates to install an illuminated sign on the west end of the bridge telling if the elevator was working. Simple to do, the terrorists of the world have learned well how to use a phone to detonate a bomb, PBOT can surely learn how to turn on a simple sign for low bucks.

    The idea went into a black hole. I was told they would provide conduit to wire a future sign. I have no idea if that ever happened. For the sakes of all the folks using mobility devices, bicyclists and people who have difficulty with stairs such a sign needs to be installed. PBOT has folks monitoring things 24/7, they could control the phone. How long do you suppose it takes for PBOT TO POST A SIGN on the west end of the bridge?

    Don Baack

    Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Ben McLeod March 2, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Thanks for covering this Jonathan. And thanks to all who have contributed comments. The ADA issue is an excellent point. One that I must admit, as a whiney cyclist, I had not thought of. But it makes this problem all the more relevant.

    Last year, we made a big decision to send our kids to a school in Lair Hill. We live in Sellwood and are a one-car family. My wife works in Vancouver so she takes the car. I take the boys to school. They are in 1st and 3rd grade.

    The only way we were able to make that decision work was due to the Gibbs Street Pedestrian Bridge. Not only does it give us a mostly street-free route, but the elevator comes in handy when I’m riding the bakfiets (I invite some of you commenters to please “throw it over your shoulder”). It’s also very helpful to my 7 and 9 year old when they ride their own bikes (over 9 miles round trip – per day). Again, I welcome any of you commenters to meet us at the bottom of the stairs one morning and tell my 7 year old to simply “throw it over your shoulder.” I’m willing to bet that his steel frame single-speed weighs more than your hipster fixie.

    For me, the issue isn’t the unreliability of the elevator, because, as we all know, machines break. My problem with this is the lack of a decent alternative. The gutter that is currently there is an insult. The railing directly over it completely defeats the purpose. In order to use it, one must tilt their bike at an angle. This is made very difficult if you have panniers on, as I usually do, filled with the kids school supplies (sometimes a violin is in the mix) and my work stuff. I have, in fact, thrown this over my shoulder, but six flights is a bit much (I prefer the runups at Cross Crusade races). While my kids also love a good cross race, they do not appreciate the “ramp” that is provided.

    When the elevator is down for a month, as it was in November, it adds a good ten minutes to our commute. Those of you with kids can probably understand that 10 minutes in the morning is precious time. It’s really too bad that the city doesn’t even have the capability to know it’s not working until a citizen informs them. How expensive would it be to have a sensor or something? Something that ends an alert when the elevator breaks.

    I think the best alternative for the city to provide would be a ramp that spirals around the elevator shaft. A ramp coming down the existing stairs would not be accessible to wheelchairs. A spiral ramp would allow the correct incline for wheelchairs, strollers and bikes to ride up and down without even having to use the elevator.

    Recommended Thumb up 7

  • Terry D March 2, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Another bottleneck we built that will require a million dollar ramp addition to fix….like I said at the planning, building and opening stages.

    Once the multi-million dollar west side Willamette MUP is built with the Hawthorne, Steel and Sellwood bridges as anchors, the number of cyclists from the west side using the Gibb’s street bridge will skyrocket.

    I told you so. At least they can, when the bike congestion becomes unbearable, chop off the eastern end and add a long winding ramp to the waterfront. NO MORE BOTTLENECKS!!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • R-dat March 2, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    I almost never encounter an elevator closed for repairs. Not in new buildings, not in old buildings. Something is definitely amiss with this thing – it has never worked. I don’t know if the city went with the lowest bidder and got burned. Maybe they hired crooks to install it. All I know is that it is the most unreliable things I have seen. Tax payers deserve their money back. The city needs to find out what the heck went wrong and hold the responsible parties accountable. Someone screwed up.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Reza March 3, 2014 at 12:34 am

    Why are the bike channels on this bridge so substandard? I use the channel at the stairs leading to the Halprin superblocks (3rd and Market) everyday, and those work pretty well.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • WAR March 3, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Put in a Spiral Ramp. Problem solved.

    Recommended Thumb up 4

    • Ben McLeod May 23, 2017 at 11:16 am

      Yes. It’s been over a week. PBOT tells me it’s leaking oil and it’s for our safety. What they aren’t talking about is what a colossal mess this has been from the beginning.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Gibran Ramos August 11, 2017 at 12:33 am

    Recently I started to take the long way home this summer with my front loader cargo bike and the elevator seems like it is not operating 1/2 the time. There is no way to carry a 7ft long, 55lb bike down those stairs. Come on PBOT, please make this elevator more reliable.

    Recommended Thumb up 0