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ODOT will close sidewalk on St. Johns Bridge for two months

Posted by on August 13th, 2019 at 10:48 am

The sidewalks on the St. Johns Bridge are already extremely narrow and stressful.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon Department of Transportation announced yesterday that a maintenance project on the St. Johns Bridge will result in the closure of one sidewalk for two months. ODOT will close one sidewalk for two, 30-day periods in order to stage construction equipment.

The project, which will reinforce the framework of the bridge to handle more and heavier auto and truck traffic, means bicycle users who use the sidewalks will share the narrow sidewalk space with more people than ever. This is a big deal because the sidewalks are only five feet wide and traffic around the St. Johns Bridge is notoriously unsafe.

This ODOT graphic is very misleading. The sharrows don’t look like that in real life. They are small, worn away, and very easy to miss when you’re in a car. And it’s mathematically and physically impossible for three people to use the sidewalk side-by-side.

Here’s how ODOT describes how the project will impact people who walk and bike:

The St. Johns Bridge will remain open to pedestrians and bicyclists during the project. People who walk, roll and ride bicycles on the sidewalks of the St. Johns bridge will share one sidewalk when the other sidewalk is closed for 30 days at a time for the duration of the 60-day project. There will be a temporary pedestrian access route to guide pedestrians and bicyclists on the sidewalk across the bridge during construction. People on bikes can also choose to ride in the vehicle travel lane.

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While drivers have more room than they need, people on foot and on bikes are forced to squeeze by each other.

When you account for shy distance next to the railing on one side and fast-moving drivers on the other, the bridge’s five-foot wide sidewalks feel like they’re just three feet wide. Communication with other sidewalk users on the bridge is difficult. Bike bells and audible warnings are often not heard due to the deafening roar of auto and truck traffic (not to mention all the people who wear headphones). I’m also concerned about how this sidewalk closure will lead to people crossing over the four bridge lanes to get to the other side.

Thankfully, ODOT said they will reduce the speed limit on the bridge from 35 to 25 mph during the project. The lower speed limit and presence of construction materials will hopefully cause people to drive more cautiously. The St. Johns Bridge does have sharrows, but many people don’t use them because people often drive 40 mph on the bridge. This speed differential (the incline to the center of the bridge span means many people can bike only 7-12 mph) makes it very stressful to “share the road”.

In official project materials ODOT recommends that people get off their bikes and walk before they overtake another sidewalk user.

Beyond the fact that bicycle users and walkers will be forced to share an already narrow space while automobile and truck users will still have all four lanes to use, the St. Johns Bridge is a sore spot for many Portlanders.

In 2005 ODOT undertook a major renovation of the bridge and had an opportunity to install bike lanes. The agency ignored the advice of advocates and a professional traffic study that said the bike lanes wouldn’t have a significant congestion impact and opted to preserve four lanes for driving. They reluctantly installed sharrows three years later. Today, this beautiful and iconic bridge — which serves as a popular and vital connection in Portland’s bike network — remains dangerous for everyone who uses it because ODOT has chosen to prioritize driving speeds and capacity above everything else.

Perhaps ODOT will come to their senses and at least offer a compromise by making the 25 mph speed limit permanent. A source tells us there was broad support for a lower speed limit when ODOT reps attended the St. Johns Neighborhood Association meeting last night. We’ll see.

We have yet to confirm the project start date. If you ride the bridge, please keep me posted with your experiences and work zone conditions.

— 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

56 Comments
  • Avatar
    Mark smith August 13, 2019 at 11:13 am

    Ok. Is this not mind boggling? Does this not demonstrate exactly where ODOT collective mind is? oh. Knows that there are a large number of bike users and people that walk that use this bridge. so instead of doing the reasonable thing by blocking off one lane with all your words and making it a biking walking Lane, only instead they put sharos effectively placing a large Target on your back as a user of that lane.

    personally I think this is a great precursor to the lawsuit that will come to odot when someone is injured or killed. I highly recognized a person that actually uses that bridge or a lawyer for a person send a letter stating this is a patently unsafe configuration. That way when someone is injured or killed the agency had been warned. All the agency speaks is money and litigation. Use it to your advantage.

    Just remember, odot knows.

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    stephan August 13, 2019 at 11:18 am

    Oh, this is so infuriating! “The project, which will reinforce the framework of the bridge to handle more and heavier auto and truck traffic” — and who pays the price for the work? Not the cars and trucks that benefit from it, no, the people who bike and walk.

    The fair approach to this project would be to close a vehicle lane during the construction.

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      David Hampsten August 13, 2019 at 1:22 pm

      Given the narrow sidewalk, I’d say a vehicle lane will be closed off. During the construction, but when the workers aren’t there, this closed lane will become an impromptu protected bike lane, so to speak, with traffic cones delineating it. Or at least that’s what they do here in NC.

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      Middle of The Road Guy August 13, 2019 at 3:43 pm

      Are they collecting money just from the people who bike and walk to pay for it?

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        Dan A August 13, 2019 at 4:18 pm

        You are taking the word “pay” too literally.

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          Middle of The Road Guy August 14, 2019 at 9:20 am

          Words matter 🙂

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    Josh August 13, 2019 at 11:25 am

    There are only a few places around town where I’ve walked/biked and been so sketched out that I refuse to use them again. The St. Johns Bridge sidewalks are one of them — and that’s before this squeeze. It is totally unacceptable to further restrict the already-unsafe pedestrian/bike facilities on this bridge.

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    miss_me_with_that August 13, 2019 at 11:56 am

    What a joke. Their graphic shows two pedestrians and a bicyclist all side by side. The 5-foot sidewalk isn’t wide enough for that to happen. A temporary “Better St. John’s Bridge” would be so much better.

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      dan August 13, 2019 at 12:26 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. At least they were honest enough to not show a bicycle in the “here I am, come kill me” lane with the sharrows.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty August 13, 2019 at 4:23 pm

      I don’t think those are people. They look like Grays, which are a bit more slender.

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    Bryan August 13, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    I do not ride the St. Johns Bridge much but did the other day. As a confident bike commuter taking the lane would be very risky. Drivers were driving very fast… my guess is over the speed limit, and all it would take is one person tailing another and not paying attention to wipe a biker out. I rode the side walk and though I felt I would be OK, at no point did I feel safe. I cant imagine someone new to bike commuting riding this route ever. Taking kids over this bridge… no way, one mistake and it’s over.

    The odd thing I saw was there was traffic lined up to get on the bridge but once on the bridge it seemed like a race to get across. Two lanes were not even needed since it was really only one lane on each side getting on waiting for the light. I was riding during the evening commute coming from down town going into St. Johns. This appears to be a blatant forget you pedestrians and bikes, get out of the way cars coming through, move.

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      Mike Ardans August 13, 2019 at 1:50 pm

      Yes from behind, by an Uber driver w/passenger, according to witnesses, made no attempts to avoid the collision. He stopped, his passenger was actually quite helpful. My guess is he was looking at a map app. He admitted to the firefighters to maybe going around 40, but changed his tune for the police, down to 30, go figure.

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    raktajino August 13, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    Just embraced my white middle class home-owning lady status by writing the team to complain about how this will impact my HIKING. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    I suggested bringing the traffic down to three lanes (the closed lane being the one next to the sidewalk) either full time or at least during the weekends. I only use this during the weekends; when is there actually the most ped/bike traffic?

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      Chris I August 13, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      It would be very easy for them to close down the outside lane with cones and reserve it for bi-directional ped/bike travel. The auto backups would be minimal. This is really outrageous.

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        dan August 13, 2019 at 1:26 pm

        Totally agree, but I think they need to make this closure with jersey barriers or other solid obstacles, not cones. Drivers feel entitled to tear across that bridge at 40+; I don’t think cones are enough.

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    Mike Ardans August 13, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    I was hit just last month while riding the deck while in those chevrons, I’m still recovering from a spinal injury. It’s kinda a slap in the face to hear this. I really don’t believe changing the speed limit will effect the speed, I’m sorry, I really don’t. That being said, I may not ride this bridge ever again.

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      Chris I August 13, 2019 at 1:14 pm

      Hit from behind? What happened to the driver? What did they say?

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        Micheal Ardans August 13, 2019 at 1:22 pm

        Yes from behind, all I remember was “Oh my god! Are you OK?”
        I wasn’t. It was an Uber driver, with passenger. If I had to guess, and it is a guess. I’d say they were looking at their map app. That’s really all it takes.

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      dan August 13, 2019 at 1:24 pm

      I’m really sorry to hear that. Best wishes for a full recover.

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      Steve Scarich August 14, 2019 at 9:10 am

      Over here in Bend, some major commuter routes have recently had reductions in speed limits. In most cases the reductions are kind of head-scratching regarding why the reductions were done. But, you’re right, drivers who have been driving 40 in a 35 reduce their speed exactly zero after these changes. That is because they are so habituated, and in denial about the speed change. So, they are essentially challenging the police to enforce the law. Your chance of getting a ticket in Bend are pretty close to zero, if driver behavior is any indicator.

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        Middle of The Road Guy August 14, 2019 at 9:23 am

        People are generally going to drive as fast as conditions allow, unless they have a healthy fear of enforcement…and I think we know how much enforcement there is in this town (and not just around traffic enforcement).

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        Middle of The Road Guy August 14, 2019 at 9:40 am

        ODOT receives most of their funding through motorized transportation-related fees and taxes…and nearly nothing from General Fund. It makes sense that their focus is on meeting the demands of drivers and commercial transport, as compared to walkers and cyclists. I imagine they views the demands from the non-motorized folks as disproportionate to their contributions.

        It’s frustrating, but it’s just not their focus and they don’t receive enough funds from non-motorized sources to change that focus.

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    dan August 13, 2019 at 1:23 pm

    I just sent a rather salty e-mail to ODOT about this. I would encourage others to also e-mail them and ask for a response. Here’s their contact address: Ask.ODOT@odot.state.or.us

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    Tom Hardy August 13, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    I first rode the St Johns bridge a few years ago, 1953. I did it with my Dad and e explained to me then that since people were not supposed to ride bikes on the sidewalks I was definitely supposed to NOT ride on the sidewalk on this bridge. “I could get blown off , either into the traffic lane or over the side.”
    The bridge was designed for traffic just after World War 1 and even with strengthening It would never support much heavier traffic loads. It was 2 lanes then (one each way).
    I have continued riding the bridge in the lane ever since. I have since come a cat’s whisker from being his several times. I will make a very big splatter when a car going 60+ or truck doing 40 hits me.
    I have identified several drivers that narrowly missed me over the years . I have also filed papers to be held in case I am hit ( I wear body cams). The papers will be dated and filed posthumously, against the motorists, the companies they work for, and PBOT, and ODOT.
    For climate change purposes, 20 foot lanes, one each way, is more than adequate. to handle 100% of the traffic across this bridge. A 2 foot high solid lane shield should be installed on each side, allowing at least an 8 foot bike lane each way with peds on the sidewalks.

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    Steve Hash August 13, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    I take the lane whenever I cross the SJB and the most trouble I’ve had is with ignorant drivers yelling “Get out of the road !” or the occasional coal-roller. I have long since believed that if all cyclists took the sharrow lane on the bridge that the level of awareness by drivers would increase, probably overly optimistic but I can dream.

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      dan August 13, 2019 at 2:40 pm

      I have ridden a lot of hairy spots, like the Oregon / CA coast tour, Chinese freeways, and dense parts of Hong Kong and Bangkok, and the SJB is outside my comfort level. That’s right, ODOT provides bicycle infrastructure that is less safe than a Chinese freeway shoulder.

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      Chris I August 13, 2019 at 2:43 pm

      We’d also have more people like Mike above, getting hit by inattentive and/or sociopathic drivers.

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    Todd Boulanger August 13, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    Come on ODOT! You can do a much better AND safer work zone for your customers. A buffered bike ped way will also protect your workers / contractors working on this project too.

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    Anthony August 13, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    I noticed the graphic also fails to show the the temporary 25 MPH signs placed on the sidewalk as there is no bike lane to place them in.

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      dan August 13, 2019 at 10:02 pm

      Ha! Sadly too true, I wonder if they’ll really have the gall to put their temporary speed signs on the sidewalk. Magic 8-ball says…almost certainly.

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    Suburban August 13, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    Sorry to read about Mikes collision. Hoping you mend well. I’ve been taking the whole right lane for 23 years on that lovely, regularly maintained span. Scorcher friends, never stay as right as possible here. Never rage or attempt to influence with words odot or other drunk drivers, rather hold your line. Teach children to hold their line . That’s my kids bridge they are working on.

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    Barry Cochran August 13, 2019 at 4:44 pm

    Yay, screw over everyone else to make it more pleasant for obnoxious and loud and heavy trucks to drive over that bridge and through St. Johns all day and night! That’s *totally* what we need in this neighborhood!

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    X August 13, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    In 2019 moral suasion cuts no ice. There aren’t enough walkers or bike riders (at any time I’ve been there) to sell a special facility, ie, protected bike lanes, to such a beast as ODOT. Call me chicken but I’ve never crossed that bridge any way but on the sidewalk. It’s fine, I even cleaned the passage around the piers on a bike with 72″ wheelbase. Giving lots of way to pedestrians is so much easier and a better bet then running your small pair up against the dump trucks and crazed commuters. I find myself doing lots of stuff the same way my old man did but in every case it’s a choice. Using the sidewalk here does not make you a Bad Person.

    The wind on that bridge can be tough, on at least one occasion I walked part of the way. I wouldn’t have been out with the mv in those conditions anyway.

    They better have signals or flaggers 24-7 to make this one-side thing work or else, lawsuit on them.

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    SD August 13, 2019 at 8:09 pm

    ODOT designed the St Johns Bridge as a monument for its hatred of humans that are not in cars.

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    Mark smith August 13, 2019 at 8:44 pm

    I’m trying to imagine the conversation between the manager and the artist. you know the conversation where the manager says “we need to somehow get three people on to that sidewalk. Can you do that?”

    The perplexed artist looks up with the manager. “When you say people do you mean real people?”

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    Ben Hubbird August 13, 2019 at 11:24 pm

    This actually sounds like a pretty excellent opportunity for some direct action — maybe a community-built “better St John’s Bridge”?

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    jered bogli August 14, 2019 at 9:57 am

    I took the sidewalk once – scared me to death.
    I just take the full lane now. There isn’t room to NOT take the full lane on the bridge. I usually ride towards the center as much as possible so that nobody ever thinks they can pass in lane.

    Love the idea of dropping the speed on the bridge – if only it is enforced…

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    Bike Guy August 14, 2019 at 10:29 am

    Conditions report: coal rolling:

    When I tried to ride in the sharrowed East-bound lane on the ST John’s bridge last weekend, some jerk with Washington plates in a red dodge truck crept up on me, then floored it (changing lanes) and left me in a big plume of sooty diesel smoke.

    I caught up with him at the Safeway, where he pulled in, and called him out on it. He denied it, or at least denied doing it intentionally, but I didn’t believe him because he admitted he had his truck modified to roll coal. And I kept him in visual contact the whole time …

    Keep in mind, I ride as fast as my little legs can carry me across that sucker, 15 mph uphill and 30-35 downhill … but these are the perils awaiting cyclists on the St J bridge for ODOT to consider. It’s a puckerfest.

    Screw our automotive culture.

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    El Biciclero August 14, 2019 at 11:23 am

    Every comment about how scary, unsafe, sketchy, etc. crossing this bridge is for bicyclists, every declaration that “I’ll never ride this bridge [again]”, is a dangerous, double-edged sword. While it should be an indictment of transportation agencies who “design” infrastructure that is nominally “accommodating”, but practically useless (legally meaningless sharrows on a 35-mph roadway), I fear such comments will be taken with a sigh of relief that demand is now even lower, and so there is even less need to make it better. Mission accomplished!

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    Champs August 14, 2019 at 11:27 am

    This is the conduit between west side industry and the port. Freight travels through downtown St. Johns and along US30 and will continue to do so indefinitely.

    One solution that would please all parties is a segment of the Westside Bypass alignment. I guess that alone makes it DOA, as if the status quo is anything to defend.

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    ed August 14, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    A bit of forgotten but relevant history on that 2005 bridge re-do that reveals ODOT well. When plans were announced the Portland bike community naturally expressed the need to have bike access – not on the sidewalks. Naturally ODOT resisted and refused till pressure got too great – then they announced it would be done! Bridge would be 4 lane only at the ends, 2 lane across the span with bike lanes. So naively believing them, the bike community piped down and the renovations commenced over, what, 2 years? Then at the LAST second, just before striping and reopening they announced they’d changed their mind and no bike lanes, only sharrows would be placed. Conveniently this was announced so close to end that nothing could be done. Most feel this was the plan all along but shrewdly ODOT knew the right thing for them was to lie to the public as the truth would have been acceptable.

    I knew an ODOT employee at the time who verified that and said then only retirement and dying off of the old guard there would make it an institution accountable to 21st century needs. Clearly not enough retirement and dying off going on at ODOT still! Do not expect ODOT to negotiate in good faith.

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    • Avatar
      Another Engineer August 14, 2019 at 12:32 pm

      Somewhat unrelated but,

      Its really hard to hire qualified staff because there aren’t enough Engineers with experience after the Great Recession.

      Its really hard to hire qualified staff in Region 1 – Portland because there is no cost of living adjustment for the region. Salaries are the same in Portland as Hermiston and City of Portland pays roughly 10% more. Locality pay was just denied by the Governer’s office unless all Unions ask simultaneously.

      Its really hard to hire qualified staff in Salem writing standards because people want to live in Portland.

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    Tom August 14, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    This is the organization that had to be sued to go back and put in ADA ramps that they sneaky left out. The only way of dealing with them is lawsuit plus direct action plus protest, and state legislation to rein them in. Negotiating with affectively a terrorist organization bent on killing VRUs probably won’t work.

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    dan August 14, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    ed
    A bit of forgotten but relevant history on that 2005 bridge re-do that reveals ODOT well. When plans were announced the Portland bike community naturally expressed the need to have bike access – not on the sidewalks. Naturally ODOT resisted and refused till pressure got too great – then they announced it would be done! Bridge would be 4 lane only at the ends, 2 lane across the span with bike lanes. So naively believing them, the bike community piped down and the renovations commenced over, what, 2 years? Then at the LAST second, just before striping and reopening they announced they’d changed their mind and no bike lanes, only sharrows would be placed. Conveniently this was announced so close to end that nothing could be done. Most feel this was the plan all along but shrewdly ODOT knew the right thing for them was to lie to the public as the truth would have been acceptable. I knew an ODOT employee at the time who verified that and said then only retirement and dying off of the old guard there would make it an institution accountable to 21st century needs. Clearly not enough retirement and dying off going on at ODOT still! Do not expect ODOT to negotiate in good faith.Recommended 3

    If this was indeed an intentional strategy, this is unacceptable. My taxes pay their salaries, and they’re deliberately making decisions to threaten my safety.

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      Middle of the Road Guy August 14, 2019 at 2:27 pm

      I’m curious, how much of your taxes pay their salaries?

      If you look at their budget, it’s pretty much driven by fees and fuel taxes. A non-driving cyclist pretty much contributes nothing to the ODOT budget.

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        dan August 14, 2019 at 3:49 pm

        That’s capital spending. ODOT staff are state employees, get PERS, etc. So 100% of their salaries come from tax revenue. Got any more misleading statements / half-truths to share?

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty August 14, 2019 at 3:59 pm

          Do you have a source for that?

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          Middle of The Road Guy August 15, 2019 at 11:09 am

          Look at their budget and get back to me.

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    Michael Rubenstein August 14, 2019 at 6:25 pm

    Yikes motor vehicles regularly do 40-50 mph on the bridge. Only enforcement will bring it down to 25mph. No chance of having only one motor vehicle lane open on the side of respective sidewalk closures during construction?

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    Conor Fitzgerald August 14, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    What day and time is the bridge the busiest? Maybe a weekly ride is in order.

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    Dan A August 15, 2019 at 8:14 am

    ODOT’s mission statement:

    ODOT provides a safe and reliable multimodal transportation system that connects people and helps Oregon’s communities and economy thrive.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty August 15, 2019 at 10:26 am

      They do: cars AND trucks.

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    Holtz August 15, 2019 at 11:37 am

    As suggested above, I just sent the following comment to Ask.ODOT@odot.state.or.us

    The announced plan to close one sidewalk on the St. Johns bridge makes a horrible situation even worse.

    There is not enough room for people who walk or ride to safely pass each other on the narrow sidewalk. Meanwhile, motor vehicle drivers have more room than they need… as demonstrated by the high speeds which make riding a bicycle in the so-called sharrow lanes unsafe.

    Traffic studies on the St. Johns bridge consistently demonstrate that almost all of the delay for motor vehicle users is caused by the intersections at the ends of the bridge. There is not a compelling need to have two motor vehicle lanes in each direction, especially during this construction project.
    See the 2003 report archived at http://bikeportland.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/dea_stjohns1.pdf which states:
    “In conclusion, when you drop a lane in either direction, travel time across the bridge will increase due to slightly [and thus safer] slower speeds on the bridge but drivers will not experience additional stops with the exception of the AM peak hour, which would experience stop and go traffic in 2020.”
    (inserted comment added)

    ODOT should revise its plan. Close a lane next to the closed sidewalk during construction, so that people have space to walk or ride.

    And then measure the traffic flow before, during and after the lane closure. I suspect the results will indicate (again) that permanently reallocating a lane for walking and bicycling would not cause notable additional delays for people driving… but it would dramatically improve the safety of people walking or biking.

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    MARK SMITH August 16, 2019 at 10:00 am

    Maybe the plan from ODOT is to “take care of” the few vocal cyclists that ride this bridge? You know, they ride the lane, trusting ODOT…and get killed/maimed and then it’s a few less vocal voices?

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    GlowBoy August 19, 2019 at 9:23 am

    Close a car lane! #BetterStJohns

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