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St. Johns Bridge sidewalks re-open, and speed limits go back up

Posted by on October 10th, 2019 at 3:17 pm

Why not keep it that way?
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregon Department of Transportation just announced they’ve finished a maintenance project on the St. Johns Bridge that had closed one of its two sidewalks for the past 42 days.

That might not sound like a big deal, but if you’ve ever tried to ride or walk over the bridge you know that people not in cars or trucks need all the space they can get. While we’re happy people will have more sidewalk space to bike on, we’re not thrilled that the speed limit will go back up to 35 mph. It was nice of ODOT to lower the limit to 25 during the maintenance project. I think it should stay there.

The view is even better when you slow down.

The St. Johns Bridge is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Its one major flaw is that it’s managed by ODOT, an agency that prioritizes driving above everything else. As a result, this iconic span is a scary and stressful place for vulnerable road users. ODOT had a golden opportunity to stripe bike lanes on the bridge during a major renovation project back in 2005; but they chose not to (despite a traffic analysis showing it wouldn’t make traffic worse). In the 15 years since, people have died and been seriously hurt due to dangerous driving on the bridge, yet all ODOT has done to remind people to drive safely is to paint a relatively useless and almost invisible sharrow on one of the lanes.

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I still hope the agency comes to their senses and creates safe bike lanes. Until then, why not make that 25 mph speed limit permanent? ODOT felt slower speeds were needed to keep their construction crews safe. “The construction workers are unprotected by barriers and shoulders,” an ODOT rep shared with me in an email explaining why they felt lower speeds were necessary. I agree! But shouldn’t they offer the same respect and safety concern to all bridge users?

Using the Ask ODOT portal, I asked ODOT to lower the speed limit and received a response that the request would have to come from the City of Portland. (Interestingly, ODOT’s reply included this claim: “Increased enforcement is generally the most effective way to help reinforce the laws in a community.”) So I contacted PBOT using their 823-SAFE system.

I heard back relatively quickly that PBOT has put my request in the queue and that it could be up to three months before engineering staff have time to process it. Once they can observe the location and gather data to complete a review, they’ll write up a report and contact me with the results. I’m still waiting to hear back and I’ll keep you posted if/when I hear something.

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed. And if you ride the St. Johns Bridge, keep an eye on approaching traffic because the speed limit is back up to 35 mph.

— 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

16 Comments
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    J October 10, 2019 at 4:09 pm

    What’s worse is they’ve removed the speed bumps they put down on Fessenden while they put up pedestrian islands. People are once again driving 40 plus- only now they’re swerving around while doing so.

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      Doug Hecker October 10, 2019 at 6:35 pm

      That’s because they wasted our money by installing them the wrong way…

      J
      What’s worse is they’ve removed the speed bumps they put down on Fessenden while they put up pedestrian islands. People are once again driving 40 plus- only now they’re swerving around while doing so.Recommended 1

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      Drs October 11, 2019 at 10:31 am

      Wait, I haven’t been in Fessenden for a couple of weeks. You say they took out the speed bumps? What? Are they putting them back?

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        J October 11, 2019 at 10:35 am

        Yep, they only put them down to slow traffic for the workers to install the ped islands.

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          Drs October 11, 2019 at 10:57 am

          That is unbelievably stupid. Fessenden was so much better with the speed bumps. It will be a scary place to bike with the pedestrian islands and no other speed controls.

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    Bjorn October 10, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    I feel like there should be a maximum speed limit at which sharrows are considered ok to use. It is one thing to promote sharing the lane at 20mph but if traffic is travelling 40-45 as it regularly does on the bridge with the 35 mph limit in place then we shouldn’t be pretending that lane can be safely shared.

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      johnny burrell October 10, 2019 at 5:13 pm

      Spot on Bjorn.

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      B. Carfree October 10, 2019 at 9:34 pm

      That sounds nice, but what do we do with the hundreds of thousands of miles of roadways across the state that have default 55 mph speed limits but are the only route one can cycle on between towns? Frankly, I’d prefer it if the counties and small cities would go ahead and place sharrows and “bikes may use full lane” signs to educate our ignorant motorists on these roads. (While they’re at it, they can take down those universally misunderstood “share the road” signs that are always misinterpreted as “share the too-narrow-to-share lane”.)

      However, if we simply mandate that every road function for cyclists and pedestrians or it must be closed to motorists, then I think it all comes together nicely. 25 mph, enforced, with sharrows is fine. Faster? Then we’re talking better infra.

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      J October 11, 2019 at 10:38 am

      I drove over the SJBridge Wednesday morning in the right lane doing 30, which was speeding. A semi roared past me on the left at 45. Speed bumps should be everywhere I say!

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        Chris I October 11, 2019 at 11:56 am

        Speed cameras would be even better.

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          middle of the road guy October 11, 2019 at 12:28 pm

          And those cameras would activate spike strips.

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    Andrew October 10, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    It was nice of ODOT to lower the speed limit during construction. They know that lower speed traffic is less dangerous when unprotected people are near travel lanes, good looking out for their own!

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    eb October 11, 2019 at 7:48 am

    “The construction workers are unprotected by barriers and shoulders,”

    Currently, vulnerable road users on the bridge aren’t protected by barriers or shoulders either.

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    david brokaw October 11, 2019 at 8:49 am

    Hi Jonathan,
    Just a heads up, your hyperlink to the 823-Safe line points to the Ask-ODOT site. I ‘ve made a couple safety requests through that link and found it to be quite effective at getting things done. I’ve been thinking you should keep that link up on the front page of your website. One issue I flagged through there was addressed within 48 hours.

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    JBone October 12, 2019 at 5:13 am

    “While we’re happy people will have more sidewalk space to bike on”?? What about pedestrians? Super sketchy to dismount on that sidewalk. The sidewalk is very dangerous for all but the most experienced and confident of riders. One mishap and you’re off the 12”+ curb into 45mph traffic or in the Willamette. (Admittedly, I’m scared of heights:)

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    Mark Smith October 12, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    You folks do realize that ST. Johns will be the freight industries last stand for a surface highway. ODOT is the foot soldier of the freight industry.

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