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A signalized crossing for bike traffic on the new Burnside Bridge?

Posted by on October 14th, 2020 at 2:09 pm

Ramp proposed for new Burnside Bridge.
(Graphics: Multnomah County)

There’s an issue with the forthcoming Burnside Bridge that is vexing county and city planners: How to connect bicycle riders on the east side of the Willamette River up to the new protected bike lanes on the bridge deck – and vice versa.

This monstrosity is barely used by bicycle riders and is far from ADA compliant.

The Eastbank Esplanade is a crucial north-south cycling route that’s currently all but cut off from the Burnside Bridge and the bustling central eastside. Few bicycle users will carry their vehicles up the long flights of stairs that exist today. And if they do, they are dropped on the south side (eastbound) of the bridge and unable to access the westbound bike lane unless they skirt across several lanes of traffic.

Multnomah County (the agency that owns the bridge) wants to make it easier for bicycle riders (and walkers, wheelchair users, scooter riders, and so on) to get on and off their $825 million bridge and they need to have a better connection in place before they break ground in 2024. The current concept is a ramp with switchbacks on the south side of the bridge that would connect to the Esplanade where the staircase is today. And similar to those stairs, it would give bicycle riders only limited access the bridge.

If you were coming eastbound into downtown, you’d have to go against traffic on the bridge to access the ramp. You’d have similar problems if you were on the Esplanade and wanted to go downtown. Both scenarios would require some combinations of dangerous crossing and/or out-of-direction travel.

At last night’s Portland Bureau of Transportation Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting, a consultant working with the county asked committee members for their input on two options (see below): extending the ramp under the bridge to the north side, or adding a signalized crossing on the bridge from the south to north side. The options were presented by the project’s technical lead Steve Drahota of HDR, Inc.

Central Eastside with typical bike routes in yellow.

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Extended ramp crossing under the bridge

Drahota referred to this as an “under-bridge passageway” that would connect the proposed ramp on the south side to the north side of the bridge. It would be similar to the ramps near the Steel Bridge, but with more vertical gap, it would need three switchbacks instead of two.

A slide Drahota shared showed only two “pros” and a “whole lot of cons.” On the plus side, it wouldn’t impact bridge traffic at all and it would give path users a route to bail out when bridge lifts occur.

On the negative side, the extended ramp would be quite long in order to remain ADA compliant (5% gradient or less) and move people the 50 feet up from the river and across the 115-foot wide bridge. And as many of you know from experience on the I-205 path, underpasses can feel unsafe especially if there are people living on them. Drahota also mentioned that the ramp structure would be more costly to build and maintain and would not be aesthetically pleasing.

Signalized crossing on bridge deck

The County seems to be favoring the option of a traffic signal on the bridge. The signal would give people a safe way to cross the bridge and Drahota said, “We feel this provides a much more intuitive route.” He also rattled off a list of reasons it’s a better option than the extended ramp: It’s a more intuitive connection, it provides better visibility/public safety than an underpass, and it would be cheaper to build.

The downsides of the signal are that it could delay bridge traffic and the bike lane design would have to include waiting zones for people as they queue for the light.

——

Drahota and PBOT Bike Planner Roger Geller also shared last night they’ve discussed two-way bike traffic on the south side off the bridge — either for the entire bridge span or just between Martin Luther King Jr Blvd and the ramp access point.

Drahota said a two-way facility on the south side would be challenging, but not impossible. “Adding a two-way facility across the bridge is not cheap,” he said. “It does build in a pretty hefty price tag. But from a feasibility standpoint, it’s feasible.”

He pointed to width constraints at the Burnside/Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd intersection that wouldn’t provide enough space to create a two-way bike lane on the south side and maintain a bike lane on the north side (of course he makes that calculation while maintaining the vast majority of the road width for standard lanes). Drahota said another option might be to bring bike traffic from SE Ankeny and build a ramp at the location of a building on SE 2nd Avenue that’s slated for development.

There’s also the possibility of removing all non-driving traffic from the north side and putting it on the south side. A two-way bike lane and sidewalk on one side of the bridge makes some connections easier, but it would also come at the cost of losing a bike network connection on the north side of the bridge.

“What do you lose by giving that up? If you don’t have a westbound facility on the north side?” Geller asked rhetorically, “Sure we can make it work two ways on the south side, but that’s the question we need to answer.”

The County is still early in the design phase of the project and these conversations will continue in the coming months. Stay tuned for more coverage and opportunities to share your feedback. Learn more at the County’s website.

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

This is a new bridge being built from scratch. How did we end up with ped and bike access as an add-on late in the design process, and therefore presented as just two options, both heavily compromised?

Tink
Guest
Tink

Can we all jusr imagine what a 5% grade in a manual wheelchair is really like for a disabled person? Try it, you will see exactly what I’m talking about. They should conside a 3% grade ramp instead. Also, the spiral ramps are not ada compliant for wheelchairs. An elevator is impractical due to maintenance issues, but is easiest for disabled people. Let’s not make people with disabilities an afterthought in the design of something new.

Eawriste
Guest
Eawriste

Remove I5. Build practical, simple, straight long ramps in its place to connect each pbl on each side of the bridge.

todd/boulanger
Guest
todd/boulanger

Tough choices…due to poor design decisions in the past.

Per the under deck linkage…any thoughts on creating a positive activity underneath (cafe or Bike repair shop) that would activate the out of sight area when open?

Per the on-deck crossing…any thoughts about creating a mass transit stop to integrate it with the signal crossing? (In the 1920s there used to be a streetcar stop in an island in on the bridge)

Jonathan K
Guest
Jonathan K

The ramps look dumb and they’re too long to be useful. Has an elevator been considered? I know public elevators tend to get used as urinals, but I wonder if a more robust/open-air design would work. The floor, walls, and roof could be a steel mesh. That would be easy to clean and would deter people from camping in it. Any architects here? Would it be possible to make an elevator like that that meets code?

Paul
Guest
Paul

“… have a better connection in place before they break ground in 2024.”

If I’m not mistaken, the new Burnside Bridge will be partly funded through Get Moving 2020 (Measure 26-218). Multnomah County’s existing vehicle registration fee will partly fund the bridge, but it is not enough. If the measure fails, Multnomah County will have to seek other funding sources. The 2024 start date of construction will only stand if Measure 26-218 passes or if another funding source is identified. Otherwise, it may take longer to get to the construction phase.

Doug Klotz
Subscriber

Will the ramp have a lockable gate at the top, like the current stairway? You know, for…’riots’ or something? The police had them lock it after folks walked down the stairway to get on the freeway, although folks could also have come from the Esplanade.

D2
Guest
D2

I’m all for new connections, but I’m not really getting this one. Between others comments here on the feasibility being low I can’t really think of a personal use case other than I changed my desired destination halfway across the Burnside bridge. Improving connections and safety on the east end of the bridge would be far more desirable and likely more useful than anything I could do with this ramp.

Juice really doesn’t seem worth the squeeze here.

Adam
Guest
Adam

Slightly confused. Is this intended to be a retrofit to the existing bridge? Or are they building a new bridge?

Mark Linehan
Guest
Mark Linehan

Consider spiral ramps instead of zig-zag ramps. Much easier for cyclists and (in my opinion) better-looking.

squareman
Subscriber

Whatever solution they come up with, please, please, please do not make it two-way bike traffic on the south side with no access on the north side.

The people accessing westbound Burnside on a bike from the Esplanade are in a minority compared to those coming from Couch. Part of that is the lackluster connection now (I would never consider it today based on the facilities now — I would choose Morrison in that case). But even if we build it good access, there would still be fewer people on bikes needing it than people on bikes on surface streets needing it.

Making two-way on the south side only would then force almost all westbound bike traffic accessing bridge to take weird approaches and exits when using this major throughway across town.

Historically, the Boadway, Steel, and Hawthorne have been my primary commute bridges over the years, but when I have used the Burnside (and I still use it often), I appreciate the ease of its approaches as much as I do the Hawthorne and Broadway. The Morrison’s approaches are the worst with the Steel a close second, and this would make the Burnside bridge’s bike access just as bad.

Steve
Guest
Steve

I would much prefer the double ramp design. The list of cons are just a bunch of excuses. The traffic signal option would be a mess. And doing nothing would be a missed opportunity. The double ramp design doesn’t need to be an eye soar, nor should we fear houseless folks.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

if this was a vehicle connection would be spared to make sure it was perfect for ….vehicles..

X
Guest
X

As long as bikes are thought of as an “other” kind of traffic, as not-quite vehicles, we’re going to have problems like this. When a long straight lane is a reason for car drivers to accelerate freely bikes and cars won’t mix well. There are only two simple solutions: VC, or a bike bridge. Anything else is a kludge.