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Multnomah County bought a tiny car to avoid blocking a bridge path

Posted by on August 23rd, 2016 at 2:08 pm

The County's new fit-on-the-bridge-but-not-block-the-path car.

The County’s new fit-on-the-bridge-but-not-block-the-path car.

How far would your county go to maintain the integrity of a path?

Multnomah County has added a new, very small car to its fleet. The reason? So that it won’t get in the way of people walking and rolling on the Morrison Bridge.

Not smart.(Photo: Scott Kocher)

Not smart.
(Photo: Scott Kocher)

You might recall back in February when we reported on an annoying issue: The car used by County bridge crews to drive to the small office located mid-span on the Morrison often blocked the path. We heard about this from several readers and it become enough of a thing that we posted a story about it and notified the County. Initially County spokesman Mike Pullen said the crew members were doing what they were supposed to do, which is to park “the smallest car possible… so that the path can still be used.” He also said it didn’t ever happen for extended periods of time.

But that wasn’t good enough. The car County employees were using was still sticking out into the path. And so, because this is Portland where take our paths seriously, the complaints kept coming. And the County kept listening.

On July 27th we were cc’d on an email to the County from Scott Kocher, a Portland-based lawyer and board member of Oregon Walks. “There is a Multnomah County car parked in the bicycle/pedestrian lane of the Morrison Bridge,” he wrote. “It has been there a while, and there is not obviously anything urgent going on. Does the County follow a policy on parking in the bike/ped lane?”

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He got a reply from Pullen saying once again that they need to park on the bridge as a security precaution because operators work in the control tower around-the-clock. Then he added something unexpected: “A Smart car is being purchased that will be used by the bridge operator in the near future, to resolve this problem.”

This morning it actually happened! Pullen sent us a photo of the new Smart car tucked nicely to the side of the path. In a follow-up he said they purchased the new car (about $15,000 retail) to replace one in the County fleet that was retired. “After noting that the old car partially blocked the bike path, we opted to order a smaller car, which does not block the path.”

This may seem like a small thing, but Portland is full of tiny little miracles like this where people speak up and our local governments listen and then do something to address the problem. And a lot of little things eventually add up to something big.

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

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36 Comments
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    B. Carfree August 23, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    “This may seem like a small thing,”

    Funny guy. Yes, a (misnamed) smart car can seem like a small thing.

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    Teddy August 23, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    Neat story though I am still a wee confused. The car is driven from the county garage to the bridge by the lift operator right?

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    dan August 23, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Yeah, this is nice, though I assume they did not / can not replace the work trucks that are sometimes parked on the bridge. Was a taxi or a bicycle not an option?

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    Kyle Banerjee August 23, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    So they need to drive a car that is transporting nothing but people onto the bridge? While better than blocking the path, seems like it would be better to park downtown and walk a few blocks. Even car drivers do stuff like that…

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. August 23, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    lol, this is quite possibly the most car culture solution to this problem. Never mind that it is entirely possible to get to this bridge without a car. From an engineer’s perspective, I supposed the technically solved the problem, though.

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      Eric Leifsdad August 23, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      yeah! Car is in the way => we just need a smaller car, duh.

      They could have bought two US-made ELF velomobiles with electric assist for the same price. http://organictransit.com/product/elf-solo/

      Or a dozen folding electric bikes.

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    Bill August 23, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Initially County spokesman Mike Pullen said the crew members were doing what they were supposed to do, which is to park “the smallest car possible… so that the path can still be used.” He also said it didn’t ever happen for extended periods of time…..that is one of the most out of touch statement, or far from reality, I have heard from a spokesperson in a while

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      John Lascurettes August 23, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      “not for extended periods of time”? I rarely cross on the Morrison’s path, but every single time I have, there’s been a car parked there. I’d hardly consider that uncommon then.

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    RH August 23, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    How do they tackle this problem on the other bridges? Haven’t seen a car blocking paths on the Steel, Broadway, etc…

    Oh…perhaps they simply WALK to the control tower?!

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. August 23, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Make the control tower a virtual Biketown docking station.

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        Spiffy August 24, 2016 at 7:38 am

        make it a Pokemon gym…

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      paikiala August 24, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      little known is that the other bridges are controlled from this central location.

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    nuovorecord August 23, 2016 at 2:55 pm

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    Lester Burnham August 23, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Yeah they could ride a bike, but come on this is Portland…it would be stolen before the bridge operator could even sit down.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. August 23, 2016 at 3:07 pm

      The county could have paid for a Brompton instead of a tiny car.

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    PNP August 23, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    Jeez, people, do we have to complain about everything? The county made an effort and did solve the problem. The path is clear. So now we’re complaining because we don’t like how they solved the problem? No wonder people think cyclists are a bunch of whiners.

    (Sorry, Jonathan; I’ll understand completely if you moderate me out.)

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. August 23, 2016 at 3:15 pm

      My complaints are mostly tongue-in-cheek. I just find it hilarious that after hundreds of complaints about a car on the bridge path, the county’s response was “okay, we’ll get a smaller car”. It’s absurd because the office entrance is literally on a walking and cycling path.

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      Eric Leifsdad August 23, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Did you hear whining? Maybe check the fan belt, or is it the seatbelt? Seems like whining would be the reason there’s a car parked on the bridge instead of a bike. But, sure yeah yeah, the hill is “too big” (said nearly every 5yo on the way to school), so fine: bikes can have motors, even 3 wheels and a roof. Something without a tailpipe at least?

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        mran1984 August 23, 2016 at 11:30 pm

        It is never a bicycle when a motor is involved. You can play new name all day, but it is a moped. Nothing “smart” about that car, or your phone either.

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          Eric Leifsdad August 26, 2016 at 2:37 pm

          More like half of a moped, at 1000W.

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      Kyle Banerjee August 24, 2016 at 6:05 am

      I’ll be the first one to admit that I think the cycling community can be whiny.

      But this is nuts. It is common for workers to walk a few blocks to the parking lot — if you work for a large outfit like a university, this is the norm.

      There is loads of parking downtown so there is no reason to park in the middle of the bridge. And as has been mentioned, they don’t park in the middle of any of the other bridges with control towers. I’ll bet even other city workers often walk a few blocks from where they park.

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    Pat Lowell August 23, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    Sounds like a perfectly reasonable solution that accommodates both path users and current/future bridge operators who are unable to ride/walk long distances.

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      JeffS August 23, 2016 at 8:38 pm

      Yea, putting “must be able to walk two blocks’ into a job description would sound ridiculous.

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    John Lascurettes August 23, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    Two tenths (1,000 feet) of a mile is a long walk? That’s about three football fields.

    https://www.google.com/maps/dir/45.5180273,-122.6701194/City+Center+Parking,+422+SW+2nd+Ave,+Portland,+OR+97204/@45.5191602,-122.6884783,14z/data=!4m9!4m8!1m0!1m5!1m1!1s0x54950a06820e6d61:0xbf5e262497f6ccd2!2m2!1d-122.6733716!2d45.5194362!3e2

    It’s not even a long way to drive a Lark (before we go down the “but, but, what if they’re disabled?” defense).

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      Spiffy August 24, 2016 at 7:41 am

      I don’t think the control room has an elevator, so you probably have to be able-bodied to work in it…

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    Matt Youell August 23, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Clearly the county should get a fleet of Boosted Boards. 1/10th the cost of a Smart Car!

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    m August 23, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    This is completely absurd.

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    Todd Boulanger August 23, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    Yes this is a bit perverse mitigation on the behalf of the County…yes, they could have picked a more MUP friendly vehicle…though I seem to remember that one of the rationales given for needing a motorized vehicle was the institutional perception of safety/ security of its staff on the bridge / traveling between points late a night.

    Perhaps the County will decide in a year that there is a more ideal vehicle to use and this current vehicle is transferred to another more appropriate site. I too figured they might have spec’d a micro pickup truck (electric etc.)…as a interim solution.

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    rick August 23, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    Thank you! I was just on the Morrison Bridge after Sunday Parkways and there were two bigger cars on the bridge. However, I would much rather appreciate county resources being used to overhaul the northern part of SW Scholls Ferry Road.

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    9watts August 23, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    PNP wrote:
    “The county made an effort and did solve the problem. The path is clear.”

    As many have already eloquently stated, a Smart car is only a solution if you define the problem so narrowly that the answer can only be a car. What I think many are asking (not whining) is Why was the problem so narrowly defined?
    These decisions have consequences. This is our money. The fossil fuels that power this ‘solution’ shouldn’t be dug up and burned so that some bridge official can get to the middle of the bridge once a day, or whatever. I think it perfectly reasonable to register a dissenting opinion, and am not sure why 17 people upvoted your screed.

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    Michael S August 24, 2016 at 1:39 am

    Why build a bridge with a wide path to then block the path anyway? The costs for this car, may it be big or small, are nothing compared to the costs spent for a bridge that wide, which cannot make use of its width anyway.

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    Kyle Banerjee August 24, 2016 at 9:10 am

    I wonder how far the people using the Smart car walk from their own vehicles to get to it?

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    KristenT August 24, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Not being familiar with the area, I looked on the google maps for closest parking garages– I seem to recall in the last BP article, the bridge operator “had” to park on the bridge because their cars keep getting broken into down on the surface lot at the bridgehead.

    There’s a SmartPark garage not two blocks from the waterfront on Alder and 3rd-ish, definitely within walkable distance to the Morrison. Why aren’t the bridge operators parking there and walking to their work? Since they spend their shift sitting up there, the walk will be beneficial to their health.

    I know a couple of the SmartPark garages have sections set aside for city workers, did the city investigate this option? If the reason why not is “safety of our workers walking back to their cars”, isn’t this a reason for more police patrols in this area during shift change for the bridge operators? What about the safety of other people walking around here at that time?

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      paikiala August 24, 2016 at 1:07 pm

      The bridges are County facilities.

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    Adron Hall August 25, 2016 at 11:58 am

    This is simply…

    …absurd. Part of the job requirement ought to be “walk to the office”. It’s not even 5 minutes to walk up from the actual parking lot at a SLOW walk. So they spent 20-30k on a NEW car to lazily go up to the bridge.

    Honestly, that’s absurdly pathetic and just one more action that shows little concern for a reasonable and intelligent solution (i.e. – walk to the bridge on the “walking” path or better yet, just go park the bloody car in the car part of the bridge if we want to be snarky about it – as this new car is evidence.

    Anyway… bag… on to more important issues since this one seems a lost cause.

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    nate August 25, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Saw there little car out there yesterday, nicely tucked mostly out of the way. Big SUV blocking half the path right now though (I have an excellent view of the bridge from my office). So much for the big change.

    Also, the previous statement about the cars rarely being there and never for a significant time is a blatant lie. From my window I could see a vehicle parked there almost every day, usually for the vast majority of the work day.

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