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Portion of Esplanade path might have to close due to high water – UPDATED

Posted by on March 23rd, 2017 at 4:07 pm

Current conditions.
(Photos: Portland Parks & Rec)

**The path has been closed as of Saturday 3/25. See below for update and statement from Portland Parks & Recreation bureau.

The City of Portland Parks and Recreation bureau says the floating portions of the Eastbank Esplanade could close if water levels in the Willamette River continue to climb.

Here’s the problem: The section of path just north and south of the Burnside Bridge is tethered to the riverbank. The ramps that lead down to the floating path are fixed. Therefore, as water rises, the path rises above the ramps, creating a sharp incline as seen in the photos above.

We’ve received several reports from readers about this in the past week and today we heard from parks spokesman Mark Ross. “During periods of very high water, when the river reaches approximately 17.5 feet, the ramps rise to an angle determined to be potentially unsafe for bikes (and possibly pedestrians),” he wrote via email.

Ross said no decisions have been made at this time, but the City is keeping a close eye on the situation. Here’s more from Ross:

“For now, staff are monitoring the ramps to determine if a closure is needed. The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) is forecasting an average 17.05” Willamette river through the weekend. Should that prediction increase over the next day and a half, PP&R staff will install fence gates at the north and south ends of the floating section gangways so staff can close the section if needed before or during the weekend. I was down there this morning (photos) and riding up and down the ramps was noticable, but I was fine while riding slow. We urge cyclists and people on foot to be very careful and go extra slow, both for this steep incline and for the normal congestion on the riverfront trails.”

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NOAA water level projections. Parks will close the path if the level reaches 17.5 feet.

You can track the current NOAA projections here.

If you recall, Parks was forced to close the path in May 2011 for nearly two weeks after major storms and snowmelt combined to raise the water level to nearly 18-feet. That was the first time such a measure had to be taken since the Esplanade opened in 2001.

Here’s how it looked in 2011:

High water on the Willamette-18-17

High water on the Willamette-13-12

High water on the Willamette-19-18

In 2011 Parks waited until the water was at 16-feet before re-opening the path.

If you ride this part of the path, let us know how it looks and we’ll keep you posted on any closures.

UPDATE, 3/25: The Parks bureau has closed the path for “an undetermined length of time”. Here’s the statement:

Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) is temporarily closing the floating portion of the Eastbank Esplanade due to extremely high Willamette River water levels. PP&R has been carefully monitoring this section of the popular riverside trail, located on the east side of the Willamette, over the past few days. During periods of very high water, when the river reaches approximately 17.5 feet, the ramps rise to an angle determined to be potentially unsafe for people on bikes, on foot, and for those using mobility devices. This situation has occurred in the past during rare, extremely high river elevations (most recently in May of 2011).

The floating section of the Esplanade is tethered to the solid riverbank between the Steel Bridge to the north and past the Burnside Bridge to the south. Staff are installing warning signs (attached) to notify cyclists, runners and walkers. Signs will be located on the Esplanade, both ahead of the impacted areas and at the points of closure.

The closure will remain in effect for an undetermined length of time – until river conditions allow for safe travel on the impacted section of walkway. Staff are monitoring conditions regularly and will reopen the area as soon as it is determined to be safe. Commuters, walkers, cyclists, etc., should use street alternatives.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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

48 Comments
  • Glenn March 23, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    maybe replace with some longer ramps on those sections…

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    • SilkySlim March 23, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      No kidding! Seems like an oversight at the time, and luckily a pretty darn simple fix today. But then again, this is about a once every five year issue. For now! [shakes fist at sky]

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    • Carter March 23, 2017 at 5:08 pm

      Tangentially related: I’ve always wondered why the rubber footings at the end of the ramps are so short and steep. It makes for a really unpleasant bump every ride across. They could be lengthened and tapered more. You know, as long as we’re dreaming of them reworking that part of the path…

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  • Buzz March 23, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    I guess they saved money when they built that section of the trail by not consulting with a hydrologist.

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  • Tmac March 23, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    I rode this area around noon today and south of Burnside was very steep. There were no cones or other warnings. A lot of people riding at that time and saw a gentleman almost go over his handlebars as he went down the ramp. He and his bike were fine but he was a bit rattled. The city really needs to figure this out. Very poor design.

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  • Carter March 23, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    Once the feds defund NOAA, this won’t be a problem, right?

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  • Paula F. March 23, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    I remember 2011, quite the adventure riding up and down. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/freeheelgirl/5783180364/in/album-72157626570411153/)

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  • Fourknees March 23, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    Ramps were okay at 1pm for 20 inch wheels, but with a noticeable angle.

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  • stephen March 23, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    Not entirely related, but I found a pretty nice cycle oregon jersey on another water-closed trail yesterday. If you can help me find the owner, I bet they would appreciate it. I’ll follow the comments section. Thanks!

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    • stephen March 24, 2017 at 8:52 pm

      There were also some prescription glasses in the pocket.

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  • Merlin March 23, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    I crashed big time on Saturday March 18 going north on floating bridge. Wasn’t in a hurry either, just riding along.
    Had ridden the floating bridge many times before but a severe drop off caught me unaware. I remember the front wheel dropping off and me thinking “not going to stay up “.
    Had a face laceration which also resulted in a black eye. Seriously bruised shoulder but X-rays confirmed no break. Therapist also thinks nothing torn.
    PS – a friend rode home with me but I don’t remember that part of the ride at all.

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    • rachel b March 23, 2017 at 9:48 pm

      Agh! 🙁

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  • Kyle Banerjee March 23, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Even though the angle is hazardous, that’s not what the real issue is. Rather, it’s that people aren’t used to the angle being so steep so some are not recognizing the hazard in time. Clear signage and cones will help for now.

    Closing routes simply because some people are getting caught off guard is a terrible idea. Someone who gets into trouble in a situation like this will not be better off on roads where they can fall into potholes, cracks, collide with cars and encounter a bunch of threats that are worse than this.

    People just need to be aware the ramp is different than normal. But as others have suggested, longer ramps are a better fix. Having said that, they may have left the angles a little undesirable to encourage slower speeds — not a bad idea given how much traffic is there.

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  • q March 23, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    I call BS. Just saw the Portland Spirit go by and water is no higher up on its sides than it ever is.

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    • Gary B March 24, 2017 at 5:33 am

      Fake news!

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    • Rob March 24, 2017 at 7:42 am

      It’s probably because the Portland Spirit put a little more air in its tires. Maybe we can let some air out of the floating path’s tires to drop it down a little?

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  • Sio March 23, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    Thank you for posting this. I’m completely outraged at this incredibly short sited planning. I hope they close it until the river goes down and fix it asap. It is extremely dangerous.

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    • Sigma March 24, 2017 at 7:29 am

      The Esplanade has been open for 16 years, and this would be the second time they’ve had to close it due to high water. It functions 99.9% of the time. You want to make that 99.99%? Just double the cost. It is called diminishing returns.

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      • Terry D-M March 24, 2017 at 10:17 am

        True. That discussion happened in the planning stages as to whether it needed​ to float high enough for the 96 floods. The project, at the time, was the biggest bike project ever at $30 million to connect the west side path via the east bank to the Hawthorne. The decision was made that closing it once or twice a generation was more cost effective.

        We were also supposed to have the NE 7th Sullivan’s Gulch overpass by now as an on street alternative​, but that is another story.

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    • Kyle Banerjee March 24, 2017 at 11:19 am

      While they’re at it, they should close all sidewalks that join a street without a ramp, all stairs where you can’t ascend/descend on a ramp, and all streets with potholes or cracks…

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    • seRider March 24, 2017 at 7:09 pm

      Oh for crying out loud… just put up good signage, Worst case, you have to walk your bike around this hazard adding 10 seconds to your commute home.

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      • Kyle Banerjee March 24, 2017 at 9:13 pm

        It takes 10 seconds to walk one foot? I’m guessing this estimate is for the slowing down and getting cargo bikes rolling again…

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  • mran1984 March 24, 2017 at 12:49 am

    I ride this every night without any issue. Well, five nights a week. I like the launch heading south. 23c tires and full fenders…no problem at all. There is nothing to fix in regards to the ramp.

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    • Huey Lewis March 24, 2017 at 3:00 pm

      Why the hell are you riding 23c tires?

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  • Brian March 24, 2017 at 6:20 am

    Send it!

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  • rick March 24, 2017 at 6:45 am

    and detour to MLK? No thanks.

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  • BVT_Biker March 24, 2017 at 8:02 am

    I love the juxtaposition of full hi-vis helmet wearers walking the ramp next to the jeans and t-shirt laden, headphone-wearing, helmetless dude on the cheap Trek just bombing the ramp. Party on, dude.

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  • joel domries March 24, 2017 at 8:04 am

    ive completely fallen off my bike on these ramps. going downhill and braking yet hitting a bump.

    the hinged flaps if longer would minimize the angle. what does the engineer think? if the water levels rise above the supports that is one thing- but why would the ramp design not take into account water level increase.

    what was the initial design for the ramp. what was the initial plan proposed to the city and what got implemented.

    the ramps have always been terrible on the bumps. unsafe for children biking, unsafe for me riding.

    perhaps the real reason for the ramps to shut down is that if the water level rises more the flaps wont allow to connect? or there will be a gap and people could get hurt?

    what are the ramp angles at maximum water level? guess thats the big thing

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  • Colin March 24, 2017 at 8:10 am

    The ramp southbound this morning was starting to lift off the fixed pavement. I’d say the angle of the ramp was at or above 45 degrees

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  • johnny burrell March 24, 2017 at 8:11 am

    @the guy on the Trek in pic #5. I like the cut of his jib. There’s a gentlemen who needs to be introduced to cyclocross.

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    • Brian March 24, 2017 at 8:20 am

      I’m pretty sure that’s Cru jones.

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  • I wear many hats March 24, 2017 at 8:59 am

    its rough, but manageable, but they should really just extend the ramps to limit that angle

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  • Mike Gilliland
    Mike Gilliland March 24, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Ride there often. It seems pretty well flagged now, but my masculine warning system went off when I bounced on the saddle, like riding off a curb. Works every time.

    Normally just bunny hop the strips, but its interesting to see the effects of the river tides changing the angles.

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  • Jennifer Smith March 24, 2017 at 9:26 am

    It’s definitely tricky but the good thing is it means less elevation gain! The signs and cones are helpful. How high’s the water, momma? 17ft and rising…

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  • Russell March 24, 2017 at 9:37 am

    Went through the esplanade last night around 8PM. Pouring rain, low visibility. They had sign reading ‘Attention Cyclists’, or something of the like. It looked very much like Paula F.’s photo she posted above: https://www.flickr.com/photos/freeheelgirl/5783180364/in/album-72157626570411153/

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  • Terry D-M March 24, 2017 at 10:09 am

    This is NOT the first time this has happened. I specifically remember, I believe it was in 2004, when it was closed due to high water for close to two weeks. The ramps were nearly vertical.

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  • Brian Boucher March 24, 2017 at 11:03 am

    That Colnago though.

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  • Captain Karma March 24, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Longer ramps would be cheaper than a lawsuit, I’d think.

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  • Jason Skelton March 24, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    I rode it Wednesday evening and it was super steep; it knocked my u-lock out of my rack. There is a temporary sign warning of metal grates but nothing about the 45 degree angle of a curb onto the metal grate. It is definitely a slow down and pull up on your front tire kind of passage now.

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  • Alison Fulmer March 24, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    Rode esplanade around 10 am today. Cones at base of ramps and angle of rise of ramps seemed clear to me. Walked bike over the bumps. No reason to imperial people by closing esplanade, just add signage to warn cyclists to walk over the bumps. Safer and more pleasant than riding in the rain in usual automobile traffic

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    • GlowBoy March 27, 2017 at 6:59 am

      I’d rather see warning signs and a recommended detour posted, rather than complete closure. Let those with the ability to handle the ramps take their chances.

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  • Lester Burnham March 24, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    My Vanilla would easy shred these ramps.

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  • Justin M March 24, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    Also worth noting that the south waterfront path to Willamette Park is pretty much totally underwater and closed. I had to do a reroute to work all the sudden last week when I was on my way to work. As if the shitty weather wasn’t bad enough in its own right, now we have flooding. Does anyone know if there’s a resource to discover these things before leaving the house? I am enjoying my temporary route up and down terwilliger but it would be nice to know when the trail opens back up so i don’t have to spend an extra half hour riding on workdays.

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    • GlowBoy March 27, 2017 at 6:58 am

      I don’t think that in general such a resource exists. You might be able to find a Willamette River height gauge online somewhere, and if you knew at what level the river came over the path at Willamette Shores (which happens every couple years, much more frequently than the Esplanade closes) then you’d know if you could get through.

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    • Carrie March 27, 2017 at 7:29 am

      Justin, The USGS has a gage that tracks river height and you can view the data here: https://or.water.usgs.gov/will_morrison/monitors/will_morrison_gh_30.html (I found the 30 day plot fascinating!). Anyway, as others have said you would need to figure out at what height the south waterfront path starts to flood, but the data is available in real time.

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  • Tom March 25, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    While the Esplanade floating bridge is closed, here’s an alternate bike route to get between the Springwater Corridor and the Rose Quarter using the somewhat hidden cut through on Everett and Davis Streets and the West sidewalk of MLK Blvd. It’s the same 2.3 mile distance using either this route or the Esplanade.

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=1rxDzBw4vq_BI7fo9zPvLKqt_VjA&usp=sharing

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    • catherine feta cheese March 28, 2017 at 11:37 am

      This is a good alternative route. In the summer, to avoid Esplanade crowds, I use a route similar to this, but ride home (NE to SE) on SE 3rd instead of Water Ave, then take Main down to OMSI. 3rd is a nice wide street with good cross street visibility. The wholesale delivery trucks on 3rd are all parked in the evening and on weekends, low traffic then.

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