James Beard Market plans could be chance to fix Morrison Bridge bike access issues

Posted by on December 4th, 2014 at 9:16 am

An indoor food market planned for the west side of the Morrison Bridge might bring the money needed to improve Portland’s newest and arguably most awkward downtown bridge landing.

At an open house and design forum on Saturday, Dec. 13, the public will get its first big chance to review and weigh in on the proposal to convert the little-used parking lots inside the bridge’s cloverleafs to a space inspired by Vancouver BC’s Granville Island or Copenhagen’s Torvehallerne. A local biking advocate, who identified the opportunity, is urging people who care about the area to join him in attending.

Andrew Holtz, a longtime member of the Multnomah County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said he doesn’t yet have a precise concept for how to better connect the Morrison Bridge’s biking path with the downtown grid.

“We know it’s screwed up now,” he said. “And here’s somebody who’s going to be doing some extensive transportation connection in the area, so let’s not botch this opportunity.”

Because the county owns the bridge, Holtz’s committee was part of overseeing its construction, which finished in 2010 after a 12-year advocacy effort. But though the crossing itself is quite comfortable, the landings were essentially unfinished.

“We just ran into this thing about the west end where there was no money to really make a good connection,” Holtz recalled Wednesday. “So they tuck in this thing with signs to say ‘This is how to use it.’ Which is not the way anybody actually uses it.”

Morrison Bridge bike-walk path dedication event-8

The problem is that westbound bike traffic runs onto Alder Street, which is one-way eastbound. To avoid sending bikes riding the wrong way on a downtown sidewalk, the bridge directs people down the freeway offramp sidewalk to Naito.

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“It’s like a three-block detour to go around, so people just ride the wrong way on Alder to get to 2nd,” Holtz said. “There needs to be a good way for people heading westbound to cross the bridge to continue heading west or northwest.”

The good news is that after a couple months of work, Holtz has made contact with the people behind the proposed James Beard Market, who seem receptive to the issues he raises.

The basic idea behind the James Beard Market.
(Image: James Beard Market)

An intuitive and popular bike connection would of course be a significant boon to the market, which is eager to minimize the amount of space required for auto parking — not to mention sidewalk conflicts between people biking and walking.

“My thinking was just make sure we’re at the table at the very beginning,” Holtz said. “It sounds like they are eager for input, so I’m hopeful that they will take the comments that people have and really work them into the plan. … I don’t know where they see their traffic flows going. I think there are people who use that route more than I do who might have some strong ideas for what destinations besides this new market people might have in the area.”

The design forum for the James Beard Market is Saturday, Dec. 13, from 2 to 5 p.m. at OMSI, 1945 SE Water Ave.

Update 1:20 pm: Not everybody likes the idea of changes to this bridge landing. Though this isn’t necessarily related directly to the Beard Market, in September the Central Eastside Industrial Council called on its members to email the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission to “save the Morrison Bridge west side off ramps.”

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29 Comments
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    Alex Reed - BikeLoudPDX December 4, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Fixing the west-side bike connection would be great! The eastside bike connection also needs fixed. Water Ave. is not a very useful place to end up.

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      Scott Kocher December 4, 2014 at 10:00 am

      Yeah–it’s amazing how much less bike/ped use Morrison Br. gets compared to Hawthorne or Burnside. Really does seem to be the landings, and poor connections to where most people want to go. On both ends even the bike-specific features don’t flow where you want them to. Small things, big effect.

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        John Lascurettes December 4, 2014 at 10:19 am

        The bike surface on the Morrison is actually fantastic. But it’s all about those approaches on either side that keep people from using (or even finding) it.

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      spare_wheel December 4, 2014 at 10:53 am

      i have no problem with the west-side connection. it’s the east-side connection that is a deal breaker for me.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) December 4, 2014 at 12:22 pm

      I neglected to mention it above, but Holtz agrees with you and points out that west-side upgrades would be likely to increase the pressure to improve the east side.

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    Fourknees December 4, 2014 at 9:59 am

    On a positive note, I like that the Morrison Bridge gives a protected lane, despite poor connections. Imagine if other routes, especially highly traffic ones where bike lanes already exist were like this, waterfront-side of Naito, Barbur in both directions….seems easy to put up temporary cement construction barriers to test and get feedback. I bet most cars would appreciate too.

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      spencer December 4, 2014 at 11:03 am

      how about protected lane on Burnside, you know that bridge that EVERYONE uses?

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        J_R December 4, 2014 at 11:56 am

        If “everyone” uses it, why are the bike volumes on the Hawthorne Bridge so much higher?

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          Joseph E December 4, 2014 at 3:51 pm

          Because it is the southernmost bridge, with no good options until… well… Oregon City! Burnside has the Steel and Broadway to the North, Morrison and Hawthorne to the south with separated bike infrastructure.

          And Burnside has just a bike lane with a 8 inch wide stripe of thermoplastic to separate you from 45 mph car traffic, while on the Hawthorne you are on a separate surface.

          Reduce Burnside to 2 car lanes each way and put a wide buffer and curb next to the bike lanes, and bike traffic on the Burnside bridge will increase by 50%

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            Joseph E December 4, 2014 at 3:52 pm

            Oh, also the bike lanes will need to continue at least to Park on the west side, and to Sandy on the east side, in both directions.

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    Chris Keady December 4, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Michael, it’s worth noting that a really cool firm, Snøhetta, has been chosen for the public market project. (Apparently Portland Monthly broke the news: http://tinyurl.com/kodbf6d) Here’s a profile of the firm: http://tinyurl.com/phb4b7f. Their website is also worth a look.

    While their past focus appears to have been more on pedestrians’ place in the urban fabric (making them a great choice for a public market), I have hope that their intellectual approach will help them re-think bike access through this mid-century ramp mess. (On the other hand, I also hope it will be a practical bike route rather than an intellectual one…)

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    Dan December 4, 2014 at 10:45 am

    A simple corkscrew ramp from the bike lane on the Morrison Bridge down to the northbound bike lane on Front/Naito would be a HUGE improvement. Heading southbound off the bridge on Front/Naito now seems to work OK, as does traveling southbound on Front/Naito and taking the ramp up to the bridge.

    Not sure how to solve access to Alder St…that is a tricky one.

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    jeg December 4, 2014 at 11:18 am

    I am excited about this project. It is being designed by the same people that did the Oslo Opera. I have good faith they will make a working market, a stunning iconic tower in the triangular lot, and excellent bike/pedestrian connections. They will listen, so go!

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    GlowBoy December 4, 2014 at 11:19 am

    I rode the Morrison the other day, for the first time in months, mostly to avoid the craziness of the Hawthorne sidepath (which I don’t mind if I’m coming from the Hawthorne viaduct, but sucks balls to merge onto if you’re coming from the Esplanade).

    The west-side connection is definitely awkward, having to detour a couple blocks out of your way, and I would welcome an improvement. But I’d agree with a couple of other comments above that it isn’t too bad, and the east-side connection at Water Ave, actually presents bigger problems. It’s more direct than the west-side connection, but also presents greater hazards, landing as it does right next to an all-way stop at the end of a freeway off-ramp.

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    Jim Lee December 4, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Express your concerns to Mike Pullen at MultCo.

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    Adam H. December 4, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    I tried walking across the Morrison Bridge from MLK once and it was a disaster. Had to cross the street no less than six times, and was inches from speeding cars. I guess that’s what 1950’s infrastructure gets you…

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    Adam H. December 4, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    I emailed the Planning and Sustainability Commission (psc@portlandoregon.gov) to express my support:

    I support the removal of the Morrison Bridge west side off ramps because it would open the area up and make it more people-friendly, rather than car-friendly.

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      Tim Davis December 5, 2014 at 5:51 pm

      Agreed, Adam!! I just wrote psc@portlandoregon.gov, and I urge everyone to do the same! We need to counteract the stuck-in-the-1950s mentality that still pervades Portland (of all places!) sooo very deeply.

      I’m so glad that you provided that 1:20PM update, Michael! This disturbing page is all the MORE reason to write to the Planning and Sustainability Commission: http://ceic.cc/index.php/district-news/1472-action-alert-save-the-morrison-bridge-west-side-off-ramps

      Like Adam said (and like I almost always include in my letters), we need PEOPLE-friendly rather than CAR-clogged places. They benefit everyone, even including those who travel exclusively by car, interestingly enough.

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    Reza December 4, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Agree that the eastside landing needs as much as work as the westside one, but I also think that concerns over losing access to I-5 southbound are real and need to be considered. If you’re on surface streets there are no access points to I-5 south of Broadway on the eastside, which means that general traffic and freight need to use the Morrison and Ross Island bridges to get to I-5 southbound. I know that many people want to see I-5 demolished on the eastside, but it’s something to think about.

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      Joseph E December 4, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      That’s fine. Put in a traffic signal to separate bike and car traffic at the ramp.

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      GlowBoy December 5, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      Good point. However, the way I see it is if people are already crossing the river on non-freeway bridges to get to I-5 southbound, that’s actually an argument in favor of ripping out I-5 from the eastside, along with the Marquam Bridge.

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    Adam December 4, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Excited for this! Cloverleaf intersections are such a collossal waste of urban space. Especially downtown. What’s wrong with jughandling bybcar onto the Morrison Bridge? They manage it okay on the Burnside and Hawthorne Bridges just fine.

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    Melis December 5, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    The eastside connection… I was headed downtown from 10th & Sandy this morning, turned right on Morrison, and suddenly realized I had no idea how to get to the Morrison bridge bike path westbound. So I gave up and road down to the Hawthorne.

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    Bikeaholic December 8, 2014 at 11:17 am

    One more vote for fixing the east side first. The Water St. on/off ramp is useful only for folks heading to Bunk Bar or ClarkLewis from downtown, or folks heading generally south along water, and useless for travel to or from points east.

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      Adam H. December 8, 2014 at 12:07 pm

      It drops you off right at Hair of the Dog brewery, though. 🙂

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    Art Lewellan December 8, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I support a public market, but not at this site. Potential for success is ruined by chaotic, noisy, fuming traffic on all sides. The artist renderings I’ve seen display glass roofs inevitably smeared with filth and noxious particulates, overheating inside, ‘rectangular’ buildings within ‘circular’ ramps darkening walkways all round and between market halves. Traffic to/from the Morrison is recklessly high speed. The intersections on 2nd Ave aren’t pedestrian-friendly. Access by all travel modes is restricted. There’s got to be a better site.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem bicycling the westside ramps, but I’m not like aggressive bicyclers who treat pedestrians like road obstacles and expect motorists to yield the right of way. Never trust cars to NOT run you over. The site has too much traffic already and will need to accommodate more. I’m not sorry to point out these obvious flaws. Find another site.

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    Art Lewellan December 9, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    “Oh it’s so exciting!” Hah! Wait til you’ve waded knee-deep through planning seminar mud flats wondering if your input adds anything other than more questions left unanswered. Watch your time pass by while those breathlessly waiting for higher times drop off the edge of the known.

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    Andrew Holtz December 10, 2014 at 9:09 am

    If dismantling the ramps on the west side becomes a serious option, then a whole new universe of possibilities opens up. The Oregonian ran an article on the discussion this morning:
    http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/12/how_removing_a_morrision_bridg.html

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