From afar, Portland’s bridges are civic treasures. Up close, they’re little slices of rural highway in the middle of the most beautiful part of the city.
To its credit, Multnomah County asked for ways to change this, and this week BikePortland readers certainly delivered — none more comprehensively and persuasively than reader MaxD, whose Tuesday morning comment on the subject picked up on points raised by many other readers.
Here’s what MaxD said, with some paragraph breaks added:
People drive cars and trucks way too fast over all the bridges; Morrison and Burnside are the worst! Some traffic calming and enforcement on all bridges is necessary.
The highway-style on-ramps and off-ramps are totally inappropriate for an urban environment and should be closed. People in cars and trucks can simply use the grid to get around.
The pedestrian condition crossing the ramps is atrocious- particularly at these ramps: on the west side of the Morrison there are no curb ramps and peds are actually expected to cross a block west to continue north or south!
The Morrison bridge should connect to SOMETHING on the west side and the east side: both connections are laughably useless to me now.
The Burnside bridge should have improved connections to it on the east and west sides, west side definitely to the Park Blocks at minimum. The driving lanes should be narrowed and reduced to 2 lanes in each direction with wider bike lanes. Maybe the bike lanes could built up to match sidewalk grade, with a painted walking and biking lane for extra passing space if no peds were present.
I am not sure if the MLK bridge over I84 is on the table, but with so much of the sidewalk closed on the west side, people heading to north Portland are having to use the east side sidewalk with no curb ramps, very poor/low lighting, and a massive pole blocking everything at MLK and Lloyd.
The St Johns is a terrifying mess – bikes DO NOT belong on that sidewalk for their safety and ped safety, but it is completely unsafe in the lane, too. People drive super fast, and weave around jockeying for position. There should be a single wide (13-14′) lane in each direction with a center buffer of 3-4′, and the remaining width given to a protected bike/jogging lane (protected with Jersey barriers or similar).
Getting on to the Broadway westbound is too narrow and inefficient: the area currently painted green along Broadway and the stretch of Larrabee from Broadway back to the stop bar should be raised to sidewalk height to prioritize pedestrians and simplify riding for bikes. Exiting Broadway eastbound is likewise too sketchy with a highspeed merge, blocked sightlines and a narrow ramp; moving/removing the ped light pole (move lights to catenary pole) would help a lot, and a curb separating bikes/cars extending 30′ or so past the bottom of the ramp would also help. I think that the 3rd eastbound motorist lane on Broadway should not start until after Larrabee to provide a wide/long and safe place to bike to exit the bridge.
My summary is that bridges in Portland are among our worst-designed infrastructure for everyone. They do a very poor job of accommodating pedestrians both in using them (mixed with bikes) or crossing their bridgeheads (missing curb ramps, crosswalks, dangerous slip lanes). They serve bikes poorly (narrow lanes, poor connections, shared space with pedestrians). They are unsafe for motorists because they present a wide, multi-lane, signal free opportunity for certain drivers to drive as fast as possible and use the multiple lanes for passing and jockeying for position. If the county is considering spending any money on the bridges, I hope they take some time to step back and evaluate how these bridges are contributing in a negative way to our urban fabric.
Portland has so many great bridges, and crossing the river should be a mini-celebration, but it is currently an unpleasant experience, fraught with danger and discomfort regardless of mode. Prioritize safety and re-design from the ground up for the 21st century.
Wow. I think Max said it.
Yes, we pay for good comments. We’ll be mailing a $5 bill to Max in thanks for this great one.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.