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Gap Week: Westbound Burnside Bridge between Naito and 3rd

Posted by on January 25th, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Bikeway gap Burnside Bridge to SW 3rd-2.jpg

The person cycling in the upper part of this image is in a bike lane, but not for long.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Welcome to Gap Week! This is our first in a series of posts where we’ll take a closer look at those annoying places where the bike lane ends.

As we shared in our intro last week, we’ve chosen four gaps where a bikeway abruptly drops then picks up again just a few blocks later. Our goal is to put these gaps on the radar of the community and staff at the City of Portland so we can get them closed as soon as possible.

Our first gap is one many of you are likely aware of: westbound Burnside Bridge between 1st and 3rd. Here’s a map for reference:

gap-burnside3rdmap

Existing conditions

The bikeway on the Burnside Bridge isn’t anything fancy, but it’s many peoples’ favorite. Unlike our other bridges, the Burnside is relatively flat and because it’s a bike lane and not a multi-use path, it doesn’t get crowded with other users who are walking, jogging, and so on.

Heading westbound (into downtown), the bike lane is 5-6 feet wide. Then it unceremoniously stops right at the big “Made in Oregon” sign. Along with the bike lane, Burnside has two standard lanes in this section. The bike lane drops to make room for a right-turn only lane which starts just about 160 feet west of the end of the bike lane. People drive about 30 mph or so here and with the slight downhill leading toward 2nd Avenue, bicycle riders can easily approach 20 mph. Right where the bike lane drops there’s a TriMet bus layover zone and then an auto-parking lane pops up. This means you’ve got to merge over toward the left whether you plan to turn right (north) on 2nd or continue straight to 3rd (and beyond).

The section from the bike lane gap to 2nd Avenue isn’t too bad because you’ve got space to operate in the right-turn only lane. But if you want to continue west on Burnside, you’re forced to share a busy traffic lane or squeeze between other traffic and on-street auto parking (not recommended).

Merging from the bike lane into the other travel lanes at these speeds and in this environment is far from the low-stress conditions Portland is aiming for.

Here are several more photos of how it looks today…

burnside bridge bike lane.jpg

Before the gap (looking east).
Bikeway gap Burnside Bridge to SW 3rd-6.jpg

After the gap (looking west).
Bikeway gap Burnside Bridge to SW 3rd-3.jpg

Where the bike lane ends and the turn lane begins (looking east).
Bikeway gap Burnside Bridge to SW 3rd-7.jpg

Looking west toward 2nd Avenue.
Bikeway gap Burnside Bridge to SW 3rd-11.jpg

The bike lane in the background, then the gap, then the bike box on NW 3rd in the foreground. PBOT currently uses 8-10 feet of the roadway for an auto parking lane. I counted about 12 spaces west of 2nd and another 7-8 spaces between 2nd and 3rd.
Bikeway gap Burnside Bridge to SW 3rd-8.jpg

This rider is about to enter the pinch-point between 2nd and 3rd.
Bikeway gap Burnside Bridge to SW 3rd-13.jpg

Riding in the pinch point between 2nd and 3rd.
Network context

The Burnside Bridge is an important route that handles bicycle traffic from inner northeast and southeast. In 2014, the Portland Bureau of Transportation estimated there were about 2,200 people who rode past East Burnside and 6th every day (a location that feeds onto the Bridge). Compared to the other four major downtown bridges, Burnside is second-to-last in popularity with about 2,300 average daily trips (that’s about three times as many as the Morrison and about half as many as the Steel).

PBOT recently striped a new bike lane on 3rd Avenue that provides dedicated cycling space along a destination-rich corridor. Unfortunately, the bike lanes on the Burnside Bridge don’t connect to them. There are only 754 feet (about 0.14 miles) between the newly painted green bike box on 3rd and the end of the bike lane on Burnside. PBOT knows many people take Burnside to (southbound) 3rd because they’ve positioned this bike box to act as a two-stage left turn box to encourage the movement.

What the future holds

Speaking of PBOT, we asked them about this gap. They said they’ll “be looking at it” as part of their Central City Multimodal Safety Project. That project aims to build a network of new downtown bikeways and PBOT says it will begin planning them this summer. As for this gap in particular, PBOT told us “Public outreach and analysis will be needed to come up with a preferred design.”

There should be an added sense of urgency around this gap because as we reported earlier this month, Portland’s new bike share program could be up-and-running before the public process for the downtown bikeway project has even begun.

If you want to share your thoughts about this gap with PBOT, contact them via safe@portlandoregon.gov.

Stay tuned for our next gap. And we’re still taking submissions from readers. Tag your gaps with #GapWeekPDX or drop us a line with the location.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Adam
Subscriber

Burnside remains the only bridge in the City Center without physical separation for people cycling. This gap is embarrassingly bad, but if it were up to me, I would put my efforts campaigning the county for a cycle track on the bridge itself. As far as the gap itself, the solution is a no-brainer: remove the parking lane.

Anne Hawley
Subscriber
Anne Hawley

Terrific, in-depth reporting and pictures. The problem (even for someone like me who’s never ridden this route) is now crystal clear. And I agree with Adam, above, about removing some of that parking. Seems so obvious!

Mark S
Guest
Mark S

I am assuming the mention of the Broadway Bridge in the 3rd paragraph should be the Burnside Bridge.

ethan
Guest
ethan

I would take the Burnside bridge way more often if it was safe to do so. From my girlfriend’s house to my work is less than a 10 minute bike ride if I go over the Burnside. But, if I’m riding to work, it’s at rush hour, which means it becomes very unsafe to ride there.

Detouring to the Steel or Hawthorne doubles the amount of time it takes to get to work.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

I use this a bit- whenever I go visit fellow cyclist @kitchen, basically, so once a week or so. When I remember, I turn right onto 2nd to Flanders, heading towards NW).

I really don’t know the best way to fix it for cyclists going straight through, since it’s an often-used right-hand turn. Putting it on the other side of parked cars makes the intersection more dangerous. A mixing zone with dotted green paint would work, I suppose.

Ben Schonberger (@SchonbergerBen)
Guest
Ben Schonberger (@SchonbergerBen)

This gap is the most treacherous part of my otherwise safe inbound morning commute.

Byron
Guest
Byron

I use this almost daily and find the Burnside bridge the better bridge to use for so many reasons. That doesn’t mean that it is that much safer but I manage it fine. After the Couch/Grand was fixed with lights I have had fewer incidents there from right turning vehicles. I do see the crowding going onto the bridge that they tried to fix with bumps. From my rides I see mostly buses running over the bumps. But the bike lane is wide, there are no pedestrians stepping in front of you, and it is wide enough to be able to pass easily. It is also easy to get at as long as you come up at the point the bike lane starts on Couch.

Yes, it was terrifying at first coming down and having the bike lane disappear. I have become good at watching and staying in the turn lane until I can move over to go up to 3rd or 4th avenue. I do take the lane on Burnside, actually on any downtown street, so don’t feel that I have to worry about being hit by a turning vehicle. I move over into the through travel lane in a break in the cars which somehow always materializes when I need it. But then I start watching early on. I don’t ride next to parked cars or thread the lanes as this to me is dangerous with the way that drivers react. I used to go the 4th and then up to Glisan but now go on 3rd with the bike lane and turn north on Taylor. The loss of a bike lane on Jefferson at the construction should be a crime. There are not that many east/west routes with bike lanes and Oak/Stark does not work for me. How about those gaps caused by construction? Why are they allowed?

I worry about extending the bike lane unless it is extended at least to 3rd or 4th as the cars will want to move over to turn and this will cause problems. I would think that this problem needs signs that all drivers read and heed to allow bicyclists to move over when needed. In some ways I think it is safer to have the bike lane end where it does than have it end at 2nd. So unless it is extended to at least 4th I think that the current solution is the best we can hope for except for signage, maybe.

Spiffy
Subscriber

“People drive about 30 mph or so here and with the slight downhill leading toward 2nd Avenue”

you meant 40 mph… it’s a 35 mph zone across the bridge so people are only slowing to 30 if you’re lucky at this point…

Tom Hardy
Guest
Tom Hardy

I either take 2nd ave right then left on Couch to 3rd. Otherwise if the light permits I take the traffic lane as I am still doing the traffic speed coming off the bridge until the park blocks, past Broadway.

Curt Gardner
Guest
Curt Gardner

I almost always take the 2nd Ave right turn and ride on Couch even though it’s stop/start. Don’t feel comfortable riding the gap area on Burnside.

Amy Hunter
Guest
Amy Hunter

I hope you will explore the hell that is NW Everett heading eastbound, after you go over the freeway. Left-hand bike lane that poof! Disappears and suddenly you’re all alone and on the wrong side of a fast-moving, one-direction road. I take my kids on it from one school to another and stress out every time. Thanks!

Social Engineer
Guest
Social Engineer

This is a good one to start with, and I hope the $6mm project will look at improve the bike connections on the west end of this bridge. But I have to wonder: Why does this article only focus on the WESTBOUND gap? Doesn’t the eastbound gap merit discussion as well? Moreover, why doesn’t this article encompass W Burnside to Broadway, if not all the way to the Park Blocks?

maccoinnich
Subscriber

The bike lanes on the Burnside Bridge really need to extend (in both directions) to the Transit Mall, or better yet the Park Blocks. Getting them to the Transit Mall and adding floating bus stops would eliminate the bicycle-bus leap frogging problem that’s particularly bad at that location. Extending them to the Park Blocks would create a great connection into the future Green Loop.

Given that Burnside has 6 or 7 lanes between the river and SW/NW Park Avenue this should be doable. If PBOT is willing to narrow E Burnside down to 3 general traffic lanes they should also be willing to narrow W Burnside down to 4 or 5.

Scott Kocher
Guest

Nice gap! It’s a doozy. Can’t wait to see which others will get top billing.

Mark
Guest
Mark

Burnside works well for me as it is. I ride west over the bridge, then merge left as the bike lane ends. I take the right lane on Burnside all the way past the Park Blocks, then turn right on 9th to get to Couch. Traffic doesn’t move that fast once you’re off the bridge, and there’s a whole other lane if someone feels the need to pass me. My issue with Couch is that it’s much slower with all the dumb stop signs.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

A frequent ride for me.

Westbound:
– NE Couch to Burnside Bridge works fine, with the bike lane plus the downgrade allowing cyclists to keep up with cars, plus signal timing holding cars to about 20 mph. Right hook at Grand is a risk, but the very visible lighted signage helps and both drivers and cyclists usually seem pretty alert here. The S-curve is okay, despite the irritation of cars/buses cutting into the buffer, because they very seldom cut into the lane itself.
– This doesn’t matter for cyclists, but do you notice how cars get backed up on NE Couch during morning rush hour, despite the signal timing?. It seems like the signal timing does not adjust when the street is full of cars. So if you are at a red light, when it turns green, you cannot drive until the cars on the block in front of you move, but they don’t get their green until a delay after you got yours, and they in turn are unable to drive until the cars on the block ahead of them get their green, etc. I think the city should consider adaptive signal timing there.
– The bridge itself is fine. Yes, the bike lane is merely paint and cars are going 35-40 mph, but they are in wide lanes and you can always ride on the sidewalk if you really want separation. I would not like to see barriers between the bike and traffic lanes here, because then every other cyclist would get bottled up behind the riders going 5 mph, who are often a bike delivery rider pedaling a wide trike.
– W Burnside is fine for the first block (to 2nd) since the road is very wide and the right turn lane is also wide. But the block from 2nd to 3rd is a problem. The simple solution would be to remove street parking between 2nd and 3rd; the businesses on that block are social service/missions, whose “customers” (people seeking housing, food, help) do not arrive by private car (although they are sometimes taken away by ambulance/police car) and there are no retail stores there.

Eastbound:
– The E Burnside approach to the bridge used to be fine, because the right most lane was only used by buses and cars turning right. It was thus a safe place for cyclists, albeit kind of slow if you got stuck behind a bus. But the road is being restriped now, and that rightmost lane may no longer be as nice – time will tell, and this could be a problem. Anyone know what this will look like?
– The bridge itself is, again, fine. Same comments as westbound. Some people think the three eastnound lanes could be reduced to two. I don’t think that is necessary, but it probably wouldn’t make any difference to car traffic, because the bottleneck for drivers isn’t the bridge, it is E. Burnside.
– E Burnside is okay, if (and only if) the cyclist in the bike lane is alert to the risk of right hooks. The lights are timed to a slow speed (20 mph?) and there isn’t usually too much contention with buses stopping.
– For drivers, during rush hour, even with the signal timing, E Burnside gets backed up to 12th. This is because the signal timing does not adjust when the street gets filled with cars – same issue as NE Couch westbound. This doesn’t matter to cyclists.

TL:DR version: remove street parking on westbound W. Burnside to 3rd, it won’t deprive any of the missions of their clients, and it will allow cyclists to easily connect to the future bike network on 3rd.

Ben
Guest
Ben

“…it doesn’t get crowded with other users who are walking, jogging, and so on.”
If there’s a constant refrain on BP it’s “words matter.” Perhaps you could train that refrain on “jogging” — it’s running, not jogging. Like it’s “people on bikes” not “bikers.” The sport is running, people are runners. Thanks.

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

If you want to see the gap bridged, share your thoughts with Mike Pullen, director of the Multnomah County Bridge department, which owns and operates the bridge.

mike.j.pullen@multco.us

Ted Buehler

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

Also, people in cars regularly travel at 50 mph on the bridge, not just 40.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1UJwJEgTEhU

Ted Buehler

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

PBOT should immediately mark the far right eastbound lane as bus-only, from 6th ave all the way to MLK. This will slow down average speeds for cars, and get the buses out of this traffic. Absolutely ridiculous that they have three striped eastbound lanes on this bridge.

Holtz
Subscriber

I sent a link to this article to my fellow members of the Multnomah County Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee. We have been discussing a big maintenance project on the bridge that is coming up. However, while the county owns the bridge to the first intersection, the city is responsible for traffic control. The jurisdictions typically coordinate decision making about these things.

rick
Guest
rick

Why are we so far behind other cities in the usa?

Champs
Guest
Champs

Why do I feel like BikePortland asked its readers to name the city’s worst gaps, then ran with the four they’d already chosen?

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

For want of a bit of paint and a few hours, we could have a proper lane up to 2nd with a defined mixing zone (dashed lines) and associated right-of-way. And, a block of parking-protected lane (ending at 3rd, a one-way to the left, thus no right hooks.)

Brad
Guest
Brad

You want a preferred design, PBOT? Remove the fricking parking and put in a bike lane! There, I just saved a lot of outreach time.

Ian Stude
Guest
Ian Stude

I use this bridge daily for my commute to and from PSU, having switched over from the Hawthorne several years ago. I’ve joking referred to it as the “pro’s bridge” because of the bike lane rather than multi-use trail format. Personally, I will always prefer this environment over mixing with pedestrians, especially under constrained conditions like the Hawthorne or Steel.
But all joking aside, I think this is a reasonable facility until you reach the west side. The vast width of Burnside with its through lanes, dedicated turn lanes, medians, and parking lanes, yet no bicycle facility at all, is a clear indicator that those who choose to ride aren’t welcome downtown. At least not to the level of the east side. Also, I would argue the “gap” extends all the way to Broadway or the Park Blocks. Plenty of right of way out there…