Tour de Lab September 1st

Comment of the Week: A definitive wishlist for Portland’s bridges

Posted by on February 20th, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Last (and cold) sunrise of 2010-5

The Burnside’s bike lanes are OK;
it’s the landings that hold it back.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

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.

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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.

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25 Comments
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    PeeJay February 20, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Don’t forget the Hawthorne Bridge eastbound exit ramp to 99E that is just terrifying if we weren’t so used to it. I am amazed there hasn’t been a fatal crash there.

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    Champs February 20, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    > Yes, we pay for good comments. We’ll be mailing a $5 bill to Jessica in thanks for this great one.

    That fiver will buy Jessica a nice pint on on Max’s behalf.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) February 20, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      My copy-paste habits exposed! Been a rough day for typos. Thanks, Champs.

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        MaxD March 2, 2015 at 4:54 pm

        who did get that $5?

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      reader February 20, 2015 at 9:05 pm

      I think Max D deserves $10.

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    Alex Graham February 20, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    I noticed that the Steel bridge isn’t on the table for discussion (I researched why so I don’t need that story). But does anyone know when / how / if we can make recommendations for that one?
    It’s the one I use daily.

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      Terry D-M February 20, 2015 at 5:01 pm

      That is the most complex of them, the most iconic and the one that WILL go in an earthquake. By the time they get aorund to it…well, it might not be there anyway.

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      Dwaine Dibbly February 20, 2015 at 5:58 pm

      Talking to Union Pacific about bikes is like talking to the Clackamas County Commission.

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        q`Tzal February 20, 2015 at 7:12 pm

        I’m not sure the railroad companies have to do a single thing the states or federal government says except in relation to an act of war, probably only war that is actually occurring here.

        With the power that monopoly bought itself in legislation over 100 years ago you could almost consider that they have more autonomy inside the United States borders than any currently existing Native American tribes.

        They are so well insulated from the reality that the rest of us live in that I’m not sure an divestment campaign would be able to stir their interest or concern.

        In short: some bad sausage was made in government that day.

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    Keith February 20, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    MaxD’s comments are correct in my view, and the same can generally be said of the bridge crossings over the river of cars on I-405.

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    Leslie February 20, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    I want to echo MaxD’s comments about the St. Johns Bridge. I rode across it just last weekend-ditching the sidewalk so as not to scare/endanger pedestrians-and it was indeed a terrifying experience. The speeds at which cars travel across that bridge are WAY too high, rivaling freeway speeds.

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    HJ February 21, 2015 at 7:44 am

    So very much agree about St Johns. I used to ride it every week getting to/from the Tuesday night PIR races. I tried the sidewalk, once. Was so scary I think I actually ended up getting off and walking the bike. Riding in the lane is much better but the level of road rage I’ve encountered from drivers there is staggering, even worse than riding in center city Philadelphia. All of this on top of getting shoved by massive wind gusts courtesy of being so high up. The sharrows don’t do a thing. We need some kind of realistic accommodation for cyclists on that bridge as it’s the only option that far north and right now is a fatality waiting to happen.

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    Clark in Vancouver February 21, 2015 at 9:22 am

    This is a really good account of the bridges in Portland. I hope those in charge use this info.
    In my opinion, whether to include cycling infrastructure on a bridge is not the same thing as a question to include them on any other arterial. Unlike arterials in a city grid, there is no quiet parallel street that could be used instead for cycling on, the bridge is the only route in existence there.

    Therefore all bridges should include high quality cycling infrastructure.
    There should be no debate, this should just be standard procedure.

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    wsbob February 21, 2015 at 10:17 am

    “…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 …” MaxD

    Ask for crosswalks to be put in. Closing the ramps and requiring use of the ninety degree angle street grid to access the ramps sounds like something that likely would contribute to gridlock.

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      soren February 21, 2015 at 11:15 am

      “sounds like something that likely would contribute to gridlock.”

      a few seconds/minutes of delay that could help encourage portlanders to live up to portland’s sustainability goals seems like a good thing to me.

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      John Lascurettes February 22, 2015 at 10:29 am

      You can still have a dedicated turn lane, but it doesn’t need to be a slip lane – which drivers tend to take at high speed without yielding like they’re supposed to.

      I experienced a car at Broadway Bridge and Larrabee go up on the sidewalk to avoid hitting me because he had bike blindness. He saw no cars coming and didn’t even consider looking at the bike lane until it was too late. I’m glad he sacrificed his car instead of me.

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        wsbob February 22, 2015 at 11:21 am

        “…a slip lane…” John Lascurettes

        I’m not familiar with that description, or what exactly, relative to Portland’s bridges, that you intend it to refer to.

        I suppose I may not be certain what specifically it was that MaxD was referring to in faulting “…highway-style on-ramps and off-ramps…”, relative to Portland’s bridges. Reading what he’d written, the Morrison Bridge big sweeping circular ramps came to mind, though maybe he had something else in mind. To me, those circular ramps seem better for that location, then it would be having traffic access that bridge from the grid alone.

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          paikiala February 23, 2015 at 9:25 am

          see:
          http://tinyurl.com/pedsafesliplane

          A slip lane is a right turn lane that permits a turn without entering an intersection.

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            wsbob February 23, 2015 at 12:23 pm

            paikiala…thanks for answering the question of what a slip lane is. It may be worthwhile for people to think about advantages and disadvantages of that type lane instead of the circular rising ramps some bridges are equipped with, used on the street grid to bring traffic up onto the bridges.

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              Alex Reed February 23, 2015 at 12:58 pm

              Advantages:
              *Motor vehicle throughput
              *Motor vehicles may have more direct access to the bridge than they would otherwise (e.g. ramp on to Hawthorne from Naito)
              Disadvantages:
              *Potentially dangerous lane-merging area
              *Often high-speed traffic that bikes and pedestrians must cross. Have you tried crossing a Morrison Bridge ramp as a pedestrian? It’s not a comfortable experience. It seems to me that many of the motor vehicle road users haven’t switched from an “I-5” mentality to a “city street” mentality by the time they hit the ramps.

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    wsbob February 21, 2015 at 8:32 pm

    Referring to the bridges:

    “… 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. …” MaxD

    In the comment of the week, no ideas offered to deal with types of people that drive over the bridges at excessive speeds. My impression from driving across the bridges, is that crossing the bridges in a car is safe, and generally feels safe. One exception, not mentioned in this week’s comment of the week, is driving the under deck of the Markham bridge, which I don’t regularly do, so it tends to be kind of scary making the big, rising and then falling curve.

    Crossing the Hawthorne is a bit of a white knucled thrill, but wouldn’t say it’s unsafe for people driving. Burnside is no problem. St Johns isn’t fun or as enjoyable as a particularly beautiful bridge like this one should be while driving, but it’s ok.

    Broadway bridge is no big deal in a car. For biking though, probably room for improvement, though having been so long since I’ve ridden over it, I’m not exactly sure one way or the other about the merit of the comment of the week suggestion about that bridge. The experience wasn’t good. Burnside is much better, far more enjoyable to cross with a bike. Actually, for biking, the Burnside with its non obstructed views to the river due to the bridge not having any support members holding up an overhead structure, the Burnside may be the city’s best bridge for biking.

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    was carless February 22, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    I just have to say, as someone who commuted via the Burnside Bridge for over 5 years (before and after the eastside couplet), I think the eastside landing is pretty damn good as far as Portland bike infrastructure. I thought it was very safe and I never had any issues or close encounters after the redesign.

    The Westside landing is some of the worst place to bike in the city, unless you are only going a block or two. Same as the Hawthorne Bridge..

    I think this leads to the logical conclusion that downtown needs a thorough bike infrastructure that allows people riding bikes (not cyclists*) to safely bypass car traffic and congestion while access major destinations such as Pioneer Courthouse Square, PSU, Goose Hollow, Barbur Blvd, NW Portland, the Pearl District, and the train station – as well as interconnecting all of the bridges.

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    MaxD February 23, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks for selecting my comment! I do feel strongly that our bridges are underutilized in terms of their transportation potential and their peacemaking potential. When most of them were built, the river was a busy industrial place and traffic was kept away from it and from the river banks. Now we value the river and river banks for natural beauty and as places for gathering and recreation. IMO, the thinking about how our bridges can best serve our City has not kept up with the thinking about how our riverfront can best serve our City. There have been a lot of improvements over the last few decades, but I hope the county undertakes a serious and comprehensive review of potential improvements so we can some dramatic improvements!

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