Biking through inner southeast Portland got a little easier Tuesday with the opening of the Gideon Overcrossing.
The $15 million bridge goes up and over four railroad tracks near the 12th Avenue MAX Station, offering riders relief from long delays caused by freight trains blocking nearby intersections. These delays are so bad some folks risk life and limb by hopping over moving trains to get to the other side.
Construction of the new bridge was delayed by a kerfuffle with an adjacent business owner, but TriMet worked through that controversy and broke ground in spring 2019.
The new bridge is very similar to the Rhine-Lafayette Overcrossing TriMet built over the tracks about a half-mile away in 2015.
To use the new bridge you can either roll into an elevator or take a few flights of stairs. The elevator works great. I only had to wait a few seconds for it to come after I pushed the button. It’s wide enough for two large bicycles side-by-side and you enter and exit from different sides so it’s easy to roll-on and roll-off.
You’ll also notice what PBOT refers to as, “cyclist-friendly stairways”. There are steel channels near the edges of the stairs.
These wheel gutters are designed to make it easier to walk your bike up and down the stairs. PBOT touted the design in an announcement yesterday, saying, “The bike gutters are a unique design and a first for Portland. The design was based on experience locally, and studies of what works and doesn’t work worldwide. The Gideon bike gutters were designed to prevent problems experienced elsewhere.” My bike has relatively wide tires (45 mm) and fit in the gutters just fine. All you do is line up your tires in the gutter and carefully roll. I found these easy to use going down, but much more difficult going up. My bike is heavy and my bars hit the wall a few times as I struggled to push it upward (see video). This is a big downside of wheel gutters that are so close to the edge. You have to tilt your bike away from the railing and wall to make it work.
From a bike network connectivity standpoint, this bridge is a huge deal. It connects the very busy bikeway on Gideon to the Clinton bikeway (via Taggart), making it much easier to safely ride between the Willamette River and the Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood. PBOT has done a good job with pavement markings to guide riders along. There’s even a new bikeway sign on Gideon that includes: “Clinton Bikeway (via Gideon Overcrossing)”.
While I was on the bridge yesterday I met Alicia Reese and her young boy Wyatt. “This guy loves trains and bridges more than just about anything in the world,” Alicia said, “So this is a very exciting development.” She was pointing to Wyatt who had already jumped out of his trailer and onto the upper path to see an oncoming train. “Look mom, here comes the Amtrak!” he shouted. Alicia said she would see people hopping trains in the past and the new bridge makes this daily ride with her son so much nicer. “I think this is really going to save lives,” she added.
TriMet built the bridge, but it will be owned, operated and maintained by the City of Portland.
Another bonus? Excellent views of the downtown skyline.
Have you used this yet? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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After reading all the criticism of this new piece of infrastructure, I figured I should check out this boondoggle for myself, and I have never been so angry at the lever-pullers in city government. My beef? The elevator doors take several seconds to open(!). It might be as many as ten seconds(!). And, to make matters worse – as if that’s even possible – they don’t make the Star Trek “whoosh” sound.
Where the heck did the money go?
(The wheel-tracks work great, up and down, but so what? I’m still mad.)
My future votes have been cast.
A bike bridge without a ramp on each side. Sad.
It’s a pretty tight fit, don’t know where you’d put a ramp in on the north side (14th Ave)
Corkscrew, just like the one on the Eastbank Esplenade path at Morrison Bridge.
How long would the ramps need to be considering the elevation gain up to the bridge is pretty large, maybe 26ft? I don’t know how you could fit such a ramp in this footprint.
The ramp at the Hollywood Max station and 84 crossing comes to mind to illustrate the length needed with an acceptable grade ramp: https://email@example.com,-122.6205286,3a,73.5y,98.25h,93.73t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sUWNlIHmbugcTIxVcn3fYTQ!2e0!7i16384!8i8192
I’d say it was about 250-300ft? at a normal grade. And this ramp is only gaining maybe 70% of the elevation as this crossing.
18ft rise at 6% takes 300ft. This looks to be about 26 up, so 430ft?
And folding it with switchbacks won’t work either. Both for space reasons (added width vs the available footprint) and as the ramp on the north side of the Max station shows, these switchbacks are fine for ADA access but it’s almost impossible to ride around the tight turns. That’s why most take the stairs.
I guess I wish there was a way to get across without dismounting but all in all it looks like a nice piece of infrastructure.
Edited with shorter 26ft vs 30ft estimate.
Right. But if we are trying to get riders 8 to 80 to use bike infrastructure, how is building what is essentially a pedestrian bridge going to attract such users? Why build it at all? And how is the city planning on preventing the houseless from settling inside the dry elevators and camping on the bridge?
There’s a grade crossing a few hundred feet away. Anyone is welcome to wait for the train if they prefer it.
Plus, there is an elevator? I don’t get the complaints here. There are grade crossings nearby if you really don’t want to get off your bike.
Counter examples to the ramp at NE 42nd are the corkscrews over N Going at Concord; at the Morrison Bridge and the Eastside Esplanade; and over SE Powell at 9th Ave. None of these are perfect of course, but when I see a pedestrian bridge like this, I’m reminded of the concrete pedestrian bridges in East Portland from the 70s that no one currently uses, precisely because crossing on the surface is much easier even when it is far more dangerous (and illegal for the railroad tracks.)
I should have mentioned the corkscrew layout too. I think the adjacent property owners were already very unhappy with the design as is and even a tight circular ramp would have impacted the loading dock access too much. Sad? Maybe, but it is what it is.
Speaking of cool corkscrew ramps to pedestrian bridges, I always liked this one in SF:
That is cool. A few more layers and we might get a Leaning Tower of Pisa effect on it.
This argument is a little confusing to me. You’re saying that it’s easier/more convenient to get off your bike at the 12th St crossing and carry your bike over a freight train (literally risking your life) than to get off your bike and push it up a stairway gutter (or hop in an elevator)?
…and as mentioned before… there is an Elevator that will get you to the top of the bridge. Still not sure what you are getting at.
I and many other people use the Lafayette Bridge nearby on my daily commute – so it does not seem to be a hindrance.
I’ve carried a 45 pound commuter bike on my shoulder up and down the Broadway Bridge staircase countless times to avoid the trains crossing on 9th, so wheel gutters and a wide staircase look like a real nice bit of infrastructure from where I sit.
I’m not saying that should be YOUR takeaway but it’s mine.
It get a bit harder when you are carrying a 90 lb electric bike, and it will be impossible to use the spacious elevators once someone decides to use it as their home.
You should just go around to every public space and say, “what happens once someone decides to use it as their home?” What happens to a corkscrew ramp when someone decides to use it as their home? To get to the bridge hight it needs to be either multi-tiered to fit in the space available and is somewhat sheltered, or it would need to be comically wide. And even if the bike ramp and bridge is unsheltered, what happens once someone decides to use it as their home?
Houseless people need to be provided options to become housed, or our insanely expensive public infrastructure will be rendered substantially less useful. Sounds like a good reason to provide housing.
City needs to provide shelter beds (not permanent housing–too much $) and OUTLAW camping. Houseless are currently being enabled in Portland.
1. It is actually more effective to just provide housing for the houseless who want to live in permanent structures than shelter beds. Finland has done this and drastically reduced the numbers of people sleeping rough. 2. People who want to live outside should be allowed to if they want, and the city should arrive to let people do that in ways that are good for everyone, like sanctioned camping zones with some services. Living outside in semi-permanent structures has been a way people have lived for thousands of years and it’s unrealistic to think any society won’t have some people who want to live in that way.
I don’t think that anyone is going to try and live in a trimet elevator, they always reek of urine.
Do 90-lb e-bikes even exist? If so, how is that even relevant when there’s an elevator at your beck and call?
Wheel channels need to be at least a few inches in from the railings in order to work properly. Disappointing if you can’t roll your bike nearly upright, and still not fixing the problems from older designs. Also, a stairway with landings and turns in it, that forces you to negotiate your tires into the tracks twice, is disappointing. I recognize that both problems are in part due to ADA requirements.
Haven’t tried the channels yet, but I’ve walked over the bridge, and these wheel channels may be OK.
But you want a bike leaning well past upright when you push upstairs so you can put your weight into it like a cane.
Thank me when you lose your footing and fall forward and into the bike instead of getting pushed backwards.
I can always walk further from the edge if I need to lean into the bike. Forcing me to do it doesn’t work, especially with wider tires, which will often walk out of the track when the bike is leaned.
Yes! I had problems with a staircase and a wheel-channel with my fully-stuffed panniers in the Gorge–it turns out that I couldn’t fit the bike on the channel without removing one the panniers . I ended up precariously guiding my rear heavy bike down a set of stairs.
I always thought it was just an older design but I guess the problem still persists!
Hope to check it out this weekend. Thanks for the article!
Hmm, looks like those 45 mm tires fit, but not with a lot of room to spare. Tire widths have been trending upwards for a while, so this narrow channel seems an odd choice. Looks like a typical cruiser tire at 2 or 2.25 inches (51 or 57 mm) probably wouldn’t fit.
It would still channelize tires like that, they just wouldn’t bottom out in the channel. I think it would still work. And with anything over 2″, I would just expect you to ride up or down the stairs, anyway.
What will keep this bridge from becoming a hot new camping spot?
Thermodynamics. Thermodynamics would make it a very cold new camping spot (like any other bridge).
The Lafayette Bridge on 17th is very similar and I have never seen anyone hanging out on it, let alone trying to sleep there. As noted – in the winter months it would be the worst place to be.
We live in the neighborhood and we were very happy indeed to see it’s open. We went last night and thought everything worked really well. The lighting is nice, not harsh, and bright enough to feel safe. And as Jonathan mentioned, the view of downtown is surprisingly nice. I can see it being our new favorite fireworks watching spot.
Happened upon this today when there was a stopped train on the tracks & was so glad! I took the elevator up and the stairs down, and I found the channels were the best of this type that I’ve ever used, much better than the Rhine overcrossing or the channel beside the stairs on the historic columbia highway (near cascade locks). Unlike the others, the bike tires don’t jump out of the channels because they are much deeper. a+ experience.
In response to some comments below- There’s no roof on the bridge, similar to the Rhine-Lafayette bridge down the road. Not a great place to camp, and I’ve never seen anyone camping in the Rhine-Lafayette bridge elevators.
I went yesterday afternoon and felt like it worked really well.
That being said, 3 small gripes:
1) The channels should have been designed with scuppers on each end to help ‘funnel’ the bike tire into the notch. It was difficult to thread both bike tires into it, especially since you have to lean your bike away from the handrail.
2) The alignment for the curb cut on the 14th side was a little frustrating as it angled riders to dismount at the elevator and not near the stair landing. The rest of the curb was a mountable design with a 1″ lip (per PBOT standard) and can be really dangerous if people are trying to ride onto the sidewalk at such an angle before dismounting.
3) There should be better way-finding signage at the 12th/Clinton intersection to direct people to use the crossing in case there are slow trains. I could imagine non-locals or new users getting off the MAX and not realize this great option a block away and still cross through stopped trains or waiting in frustration.
“Scuppers” has long been one of my favorite words. Thank you for the use of “scuppers”. Much appreciated.
(“Smock” is another of my favorite words, but that’s because of Calvin and Hobbes.)
Did you say “smockron”?!
I used this yesterday and had similar thoughts. The wheel troughs worked fine, but it could have been easier to align the bike, especially with the 45 DEG turn in the stairs on the east side.
The bridge worked, though. There was freight stopped on the main, with cars backed up in all directions. There were about half a dozen people on top of the overpass checking out the train traffic. This looks like it will be a cool spot to bring the kids.
The bike ramp got it 70% right (?) – not sure why ‘they’ had to do a “special design”as the engineering of these ramps is very well known in Europe…and looks like the off the shelf Saris bike ramp would have fixed the steep walled gutter issue others have pointed out: https://www.sarisinfrastructure.com/product/bicycle-access-ramp and the FALCO ramp has a nice brush “friction” feature to slow the bike decent …
– its great they put in an overhead crossing at this location as fracked oil trains and other trains are getting longer (1 mile) thus increasing wait times AND chance that peds would take a chance and cross with a train
– its good they had a pass thru design foe the elevator that can accommodate bikes + trailer…this was one point our committee pressed for strongly when designing similar for the CRC stations in 2008
– I took would rather use a cork screw ramp vs. a zig zag one
– We as a design + investment community really need to tie the landuse and access needs together vs in isolation…I hope in the future these type of ‘isolated single user base’ facilities could instead have multiple user bases…like a longer pedestrian ramp that has a gentle slope to allow peds across a barrier AND plus serve a multi story building to help activate what would otherwise be a dead zone…etc.
forgot Falco link with brush ramp
Wow. Great link. Thanks, Todd.
You know, maybe with COVID-19 ravaging through close quarters, an elevator is a bad idea? Can we just go back to the old days where we had ramps and corkscrews? Not going to lug my bike up stairs.
Used the crossing for the first time this morning. It was great! Took the stairs up, no issues getting my 38c tires in the tracks and did not have to lean my bike (with panniers) any more than I would normally have in order to push it up anyway. Took the elevator down (with my mask on). They are quick, large, and clean. The whole area was well lit and I was super excited to not have to ride up to the Hawthorne Bridge to get over the tracks due the typical Wednesday 6:45am rail car.
Great work to all involved!!!!!
Took the kids back on the heavy cargo bike yesterday and we tried out the elevator. This really is a first-class facility, especially the huge glass elevator. Having entry/exit doors makes it so easy with a big/heavy bike, and the kids loved the views and the trains. Hopefully the elevators stay in good shape and we don’t have any maintenance issues (I’m looking at you, Trimet elevators along I-84).
Used it today very cool. Unfortunately the north elevator has already been vandalized. Graffiti on glass and floor. Anything goes in Portland. Hardly worth building nice stuff anymore.