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New Flanders Bridge or not, crossing I-405 is about to get easier

Posted by on April 15th, 2016 at 2:16 pm

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NW Couch where it crosses I-405. Riding through here you must keep your head on a swivel and scoot quickly across three intersections (two of which have no traffic signal).
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Part of NW Portland Week.

Eight years ago, when former Mayor Sam Adams made his case to re-use the old Sauvie Island Bridge as a new crossing of I-405 at NW Flanders Street, one of his chief arguments was safety. Adams and Portland Bureau of Transportation staff convinced Portlanders that the nearby crossings at Burnside, Couch, Everett and Glisan, were inherently unsafe for bikers and walkers.

Here are the slides Adams used in a presentation he made to City Council in April 2008:

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When Adams scrapped his bridge plan, our hope of a safe (and iconic) crossing died; but the safety issues outlined in the slides above remain to this day.

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Merging on NW Everett approaching 14th.
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Glisan is dominated by cars and isn’t a very comfortable place to bike.

NW Glisan (one-way westbound) east of I-405 has no dedicated space for cycling and a freeway on-ramp encourages fast and dangerous right turns. NW Everett (one-way eastbound) has buffered bike lanes; but they unfortunately end as you approach I-405 and riders are forced to merge into traffic in a congested, shared environment. And Burnside? Well, nobody really rides on Burnside do they?

We’re hopeful that the Flanders Bridge project we reported about yesterday will get funded. But even if it doesn’t, at least one of the existing crossings is slated for changes that will improve safety and access for people on bikes and on foot.

On March 30th Portland City Council approved a $2 million grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation for the “Downtown I-405 Pedestrian Safety and Operational Improvements Project”. That means PBOT can start final design and get the improvements ready for construction (which is scheduled for 2018).

Changes are due at six intersections in the area of NW Couch, across I-405 to 16th and south to West Burnside. Official project map is below:

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Project map. The red dots are curb extension locations. The dark grey area in the middle is where a lane will be removed.

Today the Couch overcrossing of I-405 is confusing and stressful. There are freeway on-ramps and unsignalized crossings with multiple lanes of high-speed auto traffic that feel as though they’re coming from all directions. If you’re going westbound and want to continue on Couch, you’ve got to first get across NW 14th, then SW 14th — a freeway on-ramp, then SW 15th (another freeway ramp), then NW 16th, then you merge onto Couch with traffic from 16th. It’s a bewildering game of Frogger and the design clearly didn’t have walkers and bikers in mind (except for a nice contra-flow bike lane at 16th – thanks PBOT!).

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Looking east from 16th.

The new project will include: marked crosswalks, traffic signal upgrades, better lighting, auto parking space removal, the removal of a slip-lane on NW 16th, and more. The official project description says the new configuration will, “simplify the intersection at the end of the NE Couch Street/E Burnside Street off-ramp, which will result in more efficient operations through reduced congestion, queuing, and idling time for both local and freeway traffic. It will extend a critical link in the bike and pedestrian network of the central city, contributing to a more seamless multimodal transportation system.”

Here are the specific proposed design changes:

  • Upgrade traffic signal at NW 16th and Burnside
  • Remove the slip lane, construct corner extension, and install marked crosswalks at NW 15th Street and Burnside
  • Full signal replacement at NW 15th Street and Couch Street
  • Remove on street parking on NW 16th Street north of Couch Street to accommodate the modified lane configuration on southbound 16th Street.
  • Modify curb returns to reduce crossing width at select intersections and provide ADA ramps
  • Close connection to NW 16th Street from Couch

Stay tuned for opportunities to weigh in on the details. If we want to unlock the potential of northwest Portland we’ve got to make crossing I-405 as easy as possible.

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

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20 Comments
  • Terry D-M April 15, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    I always hated that area biking home when I lived that way. About time.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • maccoinnich April 15, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    The whole Burnside / Couch / 405 area is a complete mess, so I’m really looking forward to this project going ahead. What isn’t clear from any of the published diagrams is what will happen with the bike lane on 16th. Right now it ends at Couch. With this project there will be an opportunity to extend it to Burnside, and possibly along the short section of SW Washington that connects to SW 15th, up 15th and onto SW Alder. That would provide a straight and direction connection from NW / Pearl into Downtown.

    On a side note, I’ve really enjoyed your coverage of NW Portland this week. You’ve both done a great job of covering the area from a number of angles.

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • Adam H.
    Adam H. April 15, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Just tear out the highway already.

    Recommended Thumb up 9

  • Spiffy April 15, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    “And Burnside? Well, nobody really rides on Burnside do they?”

    I enjoy riding east down Burnside… not a lot of effort and traffic doesn’t exceed bicycle speeds…

    the pavement isn’t the greatest though, and once you get to the park blocks it gets really congested with cars… although now you can cruise through in the right lane since it’s a turn-only lane and has few cars… I treat every right-turn only lane as having an “except bicycles” sign and proceed straight in them… we need to make that a law…

    Recommended Thumb up 8

    • Spenzor April 15, 2016 at 4:49 pm

      I also enjoy riding Burnside (either direction). During non-peak hours, people seem happy to pass you in the other lane going up hill – and no one passes me going down hill 😉

      During peak hours, I get tired of sucking exhaust and take a different street.

      Recommended Thumb up 5

  • Adam April 15, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    It’s a shame it won’t also include new sidewalks, so that BOTH sides of the bridge overpasses have them.

    There is nothing more of a giant “**** you” message to pedestrians than making them cross three sides of a square and negotiate freeway on ramps in order to go 40 feet. And one block from Whole Foods too and all the associated Pearl foot traffic.

    It’s so weird to have these awful remnants of Robert Moses planning in the middle of downtown Portland.

    Recommended Thumb up 15

    • maccoinnich April 15, 2016 at 5:06 pm

      I agree. Couch is really wide where it crosses 405. There is plenty enough room to keep the existing general purpose lanes, while adding a sidewalk on the south side and bike lanes in both directions.

      Recommended Thumb up 6

      • Social Engineer April 18, 2016 at 11:00 am

        I’m not sure if the existing bridges could support additional sidewalks without rebuilding the whole thing. At the very least they need a seismic retrofit.

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        • maccoinnich April 18, 2016 at 12:09 pm

          I’m not a civil engineer, but I’d be surprised if there was no way to add a sidewalk to the bridge. If the bridges on SW Yamhill and Morrison could take the weight of the raised MAX lines (added in the 1990s), I’m sure Couch, which is of a similar design, could take the weight of a sidewalk. The structural deficiencies in those bridges likely relates to brittle connections at either end, and not the ability of them to carry gravity loads.

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  • AJ_Bikes April 15, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    They should really close the slip lane from Burnside NB onto the freeway. Freeway traffic should turn onto the regular NB 14th from Burnside, then turn left onto Couch, and a signalized right onto the freeway ramp. Could remove the four parking spaces on the north side to provide a dedicated right and a thru/right. That whole area could then probably be sold and developed on. Could make a decent triangle shaped building on that space.

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  • Tim B April 16, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Hey, that slip lane is my favorite way to get home (North Portland) by car. By bike, Everett (or Burnside) to the Broadway Bridge. I have fond memories of making all the lights from Broadway to 16th on Glisan pulling a trailer or tag along to fetch my daughter from school. Shouldn’t there be some challenges (fun) to biking? In all honesty, it would be nice to have a calmer route south of Johnson (near Burnside), but who wants to ride Couch with all it’s stop signs and congestion (cars & pedestrians)?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • RushHourAlleycat April 16, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    I shouldn’t be riding on Burnside?

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Mark smith April 16, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    Adam H.
    Just tear out the highway already.
    Recommended 5

    Well, leave enough for a bike highway.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

    • shirtsoff April 17, 2016 at 12:01 pm

      YES. Now we’re dreaming boldly. I never considered such a possibility but it would be lovely to have one day.

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  • GlowBoy April 17, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    I don’t want to rip out I-405, because i want to rip out I-5 across the Central Eastside, from I-84 down to the Marquam Bridge (which I would also demolish). Then what’s currently called I-405 will become the new I-5.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. April 18, 2016 at 8:53 am

      Rip that highway out too.

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    • Bradwagon April 18, 2016 at 9:53 am

      I like the idea but getting to I-84 from I-5 south would be a nightmare. Not to mention there is nowhere near enough pavement to handle all the traffic through 405 Corridor (do we really want downtown / NW separated by a constant traffic jam of pollution? We obviously need to just cover 405 with a park…

      But back to vehicles…You could leave Marquam but have all traffic crossing it directed right onto 84. This would let you take out I-5 portion that would give decent space for waterfront development (although it would back up to current I-84 lanes). Maybe this would finally allow room for a direct on ramp from SE to I-5 south prior to Marquam…

      Cutting the direct route through Portland would hopefully push more traffic to 205 where it is at least in the realm of possibility for lane additions if needed. Overall agree with you though that having I-5 take up the prime waterfront space is a shame… although the area will always be a bit more industrial due to Inner south east industry.

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    • Social Engineer April 18, 2016 at 11:02 am

      Basically, screw people on the west side of the river so that eastsiders can reach the river without crossing a freeway.

      Except that you’ll still have an active freight railroad line in the way.

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      • Bradwagon April 18, 2016 at 11:56 am

        Which we manage to route cars over everyday somehow… If only humans could travel on elevated surfaces.

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        • Social Engineer April 18, 2016 at 12:41 pm

          We’re gonna bury the UPRR line now, too? Sign me up! Just as long as the same is done to the BNSF line in NW.

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