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ODOT will create carfree lane on Historic Columbia River Highway when it reopens this fall

Posted by on July 11th, 2018 at 10:15 am

Cross-section of ODOT’s “phased reopening” plan for the Historic Columbia River Highway.

“This is a great opportunity to try it and see how it operates.”
— Terra Lingley, ODOT Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Coordinator

They say when a fire strikes a forest it comes back even healthier than before. The same might be true for the Historic Columbia River Highway.

When a six-mile section of the scenic road reopens this fall following a one-year closure due to the Eagle Creek Fire, the Oregon Department of Transportation says it’ll have one fewer lane for automobile users. Referred to as the “phased reopening” plan, ODOT will limit automobile use to one lane in the eastbound direction for a five mile section between the Benson State Recreation Area/Hartman Pond (Exit 30) and Ainsworth State Park (Exit 35). The westbound lane will be set aside for walking, rolling, and emergency vehicles (see map graphic below).

As you can see in this section of the highway, there’s currently no dedicated space to walk or bike on.
(Photo: ODOT)

The idea was one of the recommendations in the Historic Columbia River Highway Congestion & Transportation Safety Improvement Plan, an effort launched last summer by ODOT to, “recommend projects and programs to improve safety, reduce vehicular congestion and enhance visitor experience…. along the ‘waterfall corridor’ from Women’s Forum to Ainsworth State Park.” Related efforts include the Columbia Gorge Express bus service which began in 2016 and has since been expanded to keep up with demand. ODOT also promotes carfree Gorge visits and the agency continues to work feverishly to complete new paths that will finally re-connect the Historic Columbia River Highway between Troutdale and The Dalles.

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Map of new lane configuration.

“The one-way configuration for the Historic Highway has been floating around for a decade or so, but there has never been a ‘good’ time to try it,” explained Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Coordinator Terra Lingley in an email yesterday. “This is a great opportunity to try it and see how it operates.”

ODOT says bicycle riders may use either lane during the phased reopening period and that, “Cyclists can use the dedicated lane to travel in either direction, but must yield to people walking and limit speeds.” In addition to making it safer for vulnerable road users, ODOT sees the new lane configuration as a way to ensure more reliable response times for emergency vehicles.

ODOT hosted an open house at Mt. Hood Community College last night to explain the plan to local residents and other frequent users of the highway. As it stands, the highway will reopen sometime in September (if/when all fire recovery work is done) and the new lane configuration will remain in place through October 31st. Right now there are no guarantees about whether this will become a permanent thing. ODOT says they’ll monitor how the phased reopening impacts congestion and safety and if it’s deemed worthwhile they will study a longer-term project.

— 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

  • alex July 11, 2018 at 10:19 am

    if the right line is drive/bike why is there a car only sign? 😉

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    • TH July 11, 2018 at 10:24 am

      I think it’s saying cars can only go in one direction while bikes and peds can travel in either direction.

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      • John Lascurettes July 11, 2018 at 11:14 am

        But if that’s not clear, get ready for ragers in cagers screaming, “get out of my lane!”

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        • Racer X July 11, 2018 at 3:53 pm

          Perhaps the striping plan includes sharrows for that section…

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  • Dave July 11, 2018 at 10:33 am

    Whoa, so cool! Hopefully with enough use and support, it’ll become permanent.

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  • Paolo July 11, 2018 at 10:41 am


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  • Alan Love July 11, 2018 at 10:52 am

    There is a similar section on the Pacific Coast 101 bike route a bit north of Newport (if I remember correctly). It was a lovely low-stress stretch of road, away from the constant noise and stress of 101. Undoubtedly there will still be a moderately high level of auto traffic along this part of the HCRH, but at least with dedicated, semi-separated space it will be MUCH more pleasant than what it was. I rode this several times and was always amazed at the impatience of drivers behind me on this “scenic highway”, in such an incredible hurry to enjoy the gorge. Meanwhile, an interstate highway with 70+ mph speeds was just a few hundred yards away.

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    • Clayton Stahnke July 11, 2018 at 2:13 pm

      Are you referencing the Otter Crest Loop? I’m planning a September Oregon-California Coast trip and am constantly searching for alternatives to 101.

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      • Racer X July 11, 2018 at 3:55 pm

        There is always I-5 (with it’s 12 ft “bike-lane”) shoulder, with no ocean vistas that can distract one. 😉

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  • Esther July 11, 2018 at 11:02 am

    YES!!! Make it permanent (and extend it all the way to Crown Point please).

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    • Hannah T July 12, 2018 at 10:23 am

      If it goes from the Women’s Forum EAST to Ainsworth, doesn’t that mean that CP would be included in the 1 lane car free zone?

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    • joan July 12, 2018 at 1:39 pm

      Yes! I was so hoping this would start at Crown Point! That would be incredible!

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  • Gabriel Amadeus Tiller July 11, 2018 at 11:04 am

    Woah, can you imagine if this was made permanent?!

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  • Tom July 11, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Is it necessary for the sign to take up half the lane? This creates pinch points in the walk/bike lane as demonstrated by their graphic.

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    • Todd Boulanger July 11, 2018 at 3:57 pm

      Yes, that concerns me too…I hope they do not use the Type-3 barricade and find other best practices vs. what is “free” in the ops yard.

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    • Megan Ramey July 11, 2018 at 4:53 pm

      I had the same knee jerk reaction, but then assumed this sign will probably be at either end of the experiment area with flex posts to delineate separation in between?

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  • SafeStreetsNow July 11, 2018 at 11:55 am

    Whoa. Did not expect this, and it’s totally awesome. I can’t wait to ride this!

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  • Paul B July 11, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    Long may it exist!

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  • Raktajino July 11, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    I wonder about how the multi-use lane will be divided. How easily will a car be able to pass another car using that lane?

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  • Dan Forester July 11, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    I look forward to riding this in September. If there was a car free lane from Ainsworth up to Crown Point, that would be a spectacular ride. Well, it’s actually spectacular already, just not a lot of fun sharing the road with heavy auto traffic.

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  • Cory P July 12, 2018 at 12:15 am

    Finally I will feel safe bringing my kid with me!

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  • GlowBoy July 12, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    This is phenomenal news. I’ll have to ride this in October.

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  • Jered Bogli July 13, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    I LOVE the reduction of a car lane, but I have more fear of mixing it up with oblivious walkers and cyclists than I do of cars.

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  • Doug Hecker July 15, 2018 at 5:57 am

    Sounds like a good idea between the months of April 1- Oct 1. I could see Biketown having a few kiosks and scooters as well. Concerns? Clueless tourist, unleash animals, and the part of the year where many people don’t ride or walk in that stretch due to the weather. “Better 30” has a good ring to it. This section isn’t downtown Portland where commuters are trying to get to work but more for the recreational type.

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  • Mark smith July 16, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    When I drove out there with my family, we drove from Portland to the falls. Coming back, took the freeway. It makes sense to me. Plus, that road needs less traffic, not more. Do it!

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  • Local Resident July 22, 2018 at 11:27 am

    You do all realize that there are people who live out here, though, correct? Many people from Portland like to think of (and treat) the Gorge like it’s their playground, but this is our home, and this is causing a lot of frustration and inconvenience to those who actually reside here. Things like this are part of what creates animosity towards bicyclists; the idea that miles of a working road should be shut down just for people to have a nice bike ride (when there are many other bike-only paths in the area). We are happy to share our lovely space (we think it’s awesome—that’s why we live here!), but this is almost like a slap in the face to those who live here.

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    • Pete August 7, 2018 at 10:00 am

      A slap in the face – seriously? You do realize that there are many people who live in the gorge without cars who get around by bicycle, correct? Many Native Americans from Celilo to Cascade Locks, for example, and others I have met by driving them across the Hood River Bridge because they can’t bike across it. Ellen Dittebrandt was a fellow gorge resident who lost her life on Highway 84… she’d still be my neighbor if this trail had already been opened. Not all of us are “Portland tourists.” BTW, the trail is designed with the ability for emergency vehicles to utilize as a bypass should I-84 be closed during a disaster.

      I’ve taken several Columbia Area Transit bus rides through this construction – some delay, but no big deal. You are over-dramatizing the impact, and you aren’t the only ‘local’ on this blog.

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    • Johnny Bye Carter September 30, 2018 at 12:44 pm

      “You do all realize that there are people who live out here, though, correct?”

      Incorrect. Nobody lives on that section of road.

      “this is causing a lot of frustration and inconvenience to those who actually reside here.”

      Again, nobody resides there. And it’s a concept, so it hasn’t caused anybody any inconvenience.

      “the idea that miles of a working road should be shut down just for people to have a nice bike ride”

      And what about everything that’s torn down so that people can have a nice drive in their motor vehicle? I hope you’re equally sad about all the neighborhoods that have been completely erased in the name of convenient motor vehicle access.

      “when there are many other bike-only paths in the area”

      I count exactly ZERO bike-only paths in the area. Where are the ones you know about hiding?

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  • Kevin G August 3, 2018 at 10:14 am

    So how many residences are there accessible from the Old Columbia River highway between the Angels rest trailhead (~exit 28) and Ainsworth state park (~exit 35)? In the first mile, going east, there are maybe five. After that, none. The first mile is in the two-way travel section which extends nearly to Wahkeena falls. I’m guessing that section is two-way precisely to accommodate private inholders. If you were one of those inholders, the only incovenience I can perceive is if you were traveling westbound on I-84 to your residence. You’d have to go all the way W to the Corbett exit and travel back E from there on the old highway. I acknowledge that’s sort of a drag. Do you live in one of those five houses and travel regularly back and forth to Hood River? If so, my sympathies, and you have a legitimate beef with this alteration in traffic flow. Otherwise, you do not have a legitimate beef.

    And I note in passing that a very, very high percentage of the Oregon gorge is public land (state or federal). You do not have the option of not sharing that with us. It belongs to all of us equally.

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    • Kevin Geraghty August 3, 2018 at 11:26 am

      Actually, “local resident”, I failed to notice the turnaround possibility at Rooster Rock state park three miles W of exit 28 , so the Westbound motorized restriction on the Old Highway would add about six miles of freeway driving to your hypothetical return home from Hood River. It’s probably the fastest way even with two-way traffic on the old highway, given how slow and congested the old highway can be.

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