Did you know Portland has a bike path in the middle of an interstate freeway?
It’s true. The Glenn Jackson Bridge (I-205) over the Columbia River has a center-running, two-way bike path smack-dab in the middle of it, separated by a low concrete wall and metal railings. It opened to the public in 1982 and provides a crucial link between Portland and Vancouver.
I’ve always been fascinated by this path and have never really shared much about it (beyond the news of someone trying to drive on it). When I heard members of the Oregon City Commission suggest that ODOT should build something similar on the I-205 Abernethy Bridge instead of building a bike/walk only bridge, I knew it was time to share more about it.
This is one of those pieces of infrastructure that inspires a strong love/hate vibe. I’ve heard from folks who say riding these two miles between eight lanes of freeway traffic gives them heart palpitations. Then there are others who enjoy the adrenaline rush and think having a protected bike path over a huge river, that connects two states, and with gorgeous views of Mt. Hood is pretty darn fantastic.
One thing everyone agrees on is that it’s loud and it’s something everyone should try at least once.
But wait! This post is about more than a bike lane on a freeway bridge. This is BikePortland’s first-ever fully-produced video on infrastructure!
BP is on YouTube
Yes, on the 16th anniversary of this site (our first post was April 8th, 2005), I have finally made the “pivot to video“.
So please bear with me! I know it’s not as good as the always-excellent Streetfilms that we’ve all been inspired by for so many years (hi Clarence!); but I hope it’s the start of something new around here.
I had so much fun making that video of Michael Trimble last month, and I’ve always believed in the power of video and audio to tell stories — but I’ve stuck to good, old-fashioned words and pictures because that’s what I know best. It’s hard to try new content production workflows and learn new skills when you’re a one-person newsroom.
You were patient while I learned to write the news over these past 16 years, I hope you’ll be just as patient as I learn to film it and speak it.
You’ll be seeing more video and audio content on BikePortland in the future. And it will get better. You were patient while I learned to write the news over these past 16 years, I hope you’ll be just as patient as I learn to film it and speak it.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the video and on the path in general.
Specifically, what do you think we could do to make the path better?
Perhaps we should cover it with solar panels like they just did in South Korea…
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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I’ve wanted to write something about this bike path for years. A few years back I interviewed a guy named Stephen Oppenheim who co-founded Hippo Hardware and he told me that he worked on the committee that brought all the Metro area stakeholders on board for I-205 back in 1976(back when Metro was called something else and included Clark County?).
His story was that his first job out of PSU was to bring together the organizations and governments affected by the building of I-205. So he went around talking to school districts and county bureaucrats and landholders and so forth with maps of the proposed freeway, and somebody had drawn it with a bike path running along it and over the river, because it seemed like a good idea and Portland was just then considering bike infrastructure.
So they get the sign-off from all these local organizations and governments on this big ream of paper maps and they take it in to meet with the federal government people and the feds look at the map and say “what’s this line down the side of the highway?” and the committee people say, “well, it’s the bike path.”
And the federal guys are like “We don’t wan’t any bike path!” and they’re kind of outraged. Then the people on the committee are like “Well, that’s what everyone signed off on, so we could take it out, but then we’d have to go back and start all over again. And then the PTA moms of the school kids, and well you know these PTA moms…” and on and on.
In the end, according to Oppenheim, the feds just threw their hands in the air and said, “fine, guess the bike path stays.”
I’ve tried but failed to verify this story. Called a few highway and transportation and planning people from the era, but mostly they are retired, and the few left do not remember.
I’d love some sound barriers like they installed on the vistas of the Tappan Zee in NY. Even if they were intermittent it would be a welcome break from the noise and high winds that cut across the bridge deck.
I have a pair of earplugs tucked into my bike bag for rides that take me over this bridge; without them my ears will ring all day. Bike infrastructure that requires hearing protection is…not ideal.
Second that for sure (I’m def fine with calling it the Tappan Zee again with the recent news). I’d also enjoy it a lot more if the path were on the outside of the bridge like the Tappan Zee. Better yet how about another “Walkway over the Hudson”… er Columbia?
Yes, the 495 Woodrow Wilson Bridge, south of DC, has a giant plexiglass sound barrier, and it’s REALLY impressive how much of a difference it makes. Granted the path there is on the side of the highway, not in the middle like the 205 bridge.
Not sure if this google streets link will work, but if it does, it’s here:
Woah! That barrier is almost 20 feet tall! Cool!
yeah. It’s no joke and really cuts the sound down/out.
Video is great for those parts of the story to which motion is crucial. But the world emphatically _does not_ need more B-roll, talking-head footage or voice-over-still-images sequences, even with the Ken Burns effect. Text, images and audio are better tools for those jobs.
Thanks Jay! I definitely hear you on those points. I’ll get it dialed-in eventually. Gotta’ start somewhere! (Especially when you can’t just hire a professional film crew).
Eh, you _do_ have it pretty dialed in terms of common practice (such as local TV news stations across the country). I’m just suggesting the common practice doesn’t serve the world all that well.
Thanks for this video and shining a light on this infrastructure. I haven’t ridden this yet but certainly am familiar with infrastructure like it. It’s terrible to stick people on bikes or walking next to polluting, high-speed and noisy car traffic. It’s unhealthy for multiple reasons.
It’s likely that the only reason some folks think this is okay infrastructure is because of our pathetic active transportation infrastructure in this country. Once we have some serious examples of healthy active transportation (ie, more things like Tilikum) perhaps folks will be less inclined to accept this highly inadequate path.
Looking forward to more of your videos in the future.
I HATE this bike path. I cringe every time I go over it. Oregon City is insane to think this is a solution.
Anyone ever seen teens scamper across the 5 odd lanes to get to Governor’s Is? This bridge is godawful.
Per Oregon City, its an easy “solution” design wise if you have never ridden (or walked) across this bridge…it looks great as you drive 70 mph across the bridge. (That would be like if cyclists – who had never driven a car – were responsible for designing highways. 😉
But its the worse when you have to ride northward AND uphill…as your exposure to the air and noise pollution is much greater than southbound. (I take the Interstate Bridge whenever I have the choice…even with its deficencies its outer path way is much better.)
Would Antonio Amaro-Lopez have died in February, 2021 if both sides of the bridge had bike / walk infrastructure? It would have meant two jersey barriers would be on the edges of the bridge.
Both sides of the bridge already do have cycling infrastructure.
Not like the highest part of the big Highway 101 bridge over the bay in Newport, Oregon. The I-205 bridge over the Columbia River has the path in the middle. There aren’t double jersey barriers or structures.
I’ve ridden this bridge a few times because it’s a logical connection from some good rides on the Vancouver side back down to Marine Drive and thence home. Southbound, it’s a lot of fun (if noisy and carbon-monoxide heavy) because it’s all downhill. Riding up the hill from Portland to Vancouver is pretty miserable (the hill is steep and longer than you think, and if there’s a headwind as well… forget about it!).
Side note: I always think the 55MPH speed limit sign that you can see just as the bike path rises up to the same level as the road on the Washington side is the most incredibly optimistic sign in the greater Portland area – vehicles regularly clock 80-90MPH down the the bridge into Oregon in the leftmost lane (right next to the bike path).
Oregon should welcome all drivers from Washington by placing a speed camera in this exact spot. Who needs tolling revenue?
Washington could do the same because people going North drive just as Fast. There could be drivers that get a ticket one direction and get one in the other direction.
You nailed all the high and low points when crossing this bridge! Views are spectacular, but the noise, dust and dirt are irritants. I’ve found wearing earplugs and eye protection make the experience tolerable.
Above all else….it gets you across safely.
I also prefer to ride it with eye protection although I am not really comfortable riding with earplugs. The amount of debris that gets blown into your eyes without glasses is surprising. It is a pretty breezy and dusty spot.
Every time I cross it, I wish I would have worn a full face respirator and ear protection.
HaHa! I just rode this bridge for the first time last Thursday. It was awful, but I found some great adventure in Vancouver after crossing the 205 Bridge Bike Gauntlet.
Dear Clark County,
I (and many more Portland Residents) will come spend money in Vancouver & beyond if the ‘new CRC’ has:
A. Improved bike path wider than one person that won’t cause panic attacks for ‘curious but concerned’ riders.
B. Light Rail or BRT options
Dear Oregon City & West Linn I want to spend money in your hamlets as well.
Aloha Su, be sure to return to downtown Vancouver in the late fall…as there should be the new I-5 Bike Highway (protected bike lanes from ~Mill Plain north to ~45th St) to enjoy!
And when you do visit by bike check out our our ‘new’ waterfront district, the classic farmers market, the Reserve (Fort Vancouver)…and then before you go home stop at Niche Wine for a meal / beverage (plus the only restroom art gallery in town and the owner is a great source of bike information for your next trip plan).
One thing to keep in mind is those who ride this infrastructure are a very selected group. Have the average PDX bike rider try it out and you probably get very different reviews!
But that’s the point, stephan: the “average PDX bike rider” (as if we’re all “elite” riders??) won’t do it, ever. You’d need to make the route much flatter and less noisy.
This has been one of my semi-regular rides since Covid hit, partly because it’s never crowded. I ride north over the I-5 bridge, along the waterfront in Vancouver, and back south along I-205, then the Marine Drive path and NE 33rd.
I don’t think I would ride it northbound. Going southbound, you can keep your speed up and the torture is over faster. I’m sure the air is really bad for you, as well, so probably best not to be breathing hard.
Debris can and does fly over the barriers. I’ve encountered all sorts of crap in the MUP over the past year. An entire car bumper once, even. You will get pelted with sand/dust by passing vehicles.
My dream is that they someday run a MAX line down the middle, forcing them to hang a MUP off the east side, or cantilevered underneath (even better). Probably never going to happen, though.
In talking to some former ODOT folks I learned that the path isn’t actually part of the bridge and it would never support the weight of something like light rail. They basically stuck concrete panels in between two bridges that are equally spaced apart as an afterthought when they realized that they probably needed to provide some kind of option to cross due to the at the time recently passed bike bill. The path is capable of supporting the weight of bikes or the occasional maintenance truck, but it is not usable to run light rail.
Thanks for putting a spotlight on how horrendously loud and unpleasant it is to be on the bridge Jonathan. I wish there was a quick or easy fix for that but I am not sure that there really is any way to actually make a 2+ mile bike ride in the middle of an 8 lane freeway pleasant. The views can be ok but honestly I’d rather have a sound wall although I think that is very unlikely to happen.
One big thing that easily could and should be done to make the path better is to build the bike/ped bridge at the north end of the bridge that has been proposed for decades that would connect the current bridge path to the neighborhood on the NE side of where the 205 crosses the 14. Currently if you are trying to head East from the bridge you have to go pretty far out of your way to the west and then cross over the 14 and come back east. A non-motorized bridge over the 14 would cut well over a mile in each direction off my bike commute.
I would also disagree with the idea that the path is protected. That would be true if it was on a regular city street but this path is on the freeway with high vehicle speeds and I know of at least one case where a driver went right through the barrier and into the path, luckily no one was on the path at that moment and so no one was hurt or killed. Recently we have also seen drivers run off the bridge completely landing in the river. I don’t feel that those small low barriers make me safe either from being hit by a vehicle or possibly some debris that flies off a vehicle.
I’m not sure there is anything that can be done about it, but my main issue is with all of the joints. I know, it’s a bridge, but seems like they could have done something better for the bike lane portion. 2nd is how dirty it is. And I certainly enjoy riding down better than riding up, but I consider it my “reward” for having ridden up it first 🙂
I’m not a fan of this bridge either. In my book, the only thing worse is the other bridge over the Columbia.
The I-5 is terrifying for me. I hope the last time I rode over it is truly the last time.
Feedback about the “pivot” — I know it’s more work for you, but having a transcript included in the post really helps when searching for specific content. YouTube does an OK job of generating a text transcript, so you could copy that one and then just eyeball it for any errors and then include it. You often do such excellent research and citation in your posts, I would hate to lose the ability to go back and find something you said.
I’ve only ever ridden up this bike lane. My first go at it was as a 10 year old and it was exhilarating but futile. I turned back before half way and shuddered at the dust and noise and that was when it was cleaner (1993). Fast forward and I’ve biked it and hated it every time but also felt a sense of completion.
The I5 bridge on the Columbia river is shorter, flatter, and narrower and I like it even less. Width matters!
Its great to at least have a connection but its not one that makes you motivated to go across the river. This is a bummer as there are some great areas of Vancouver to explore on bike, like the waterfront, Vancouver lake/Frenchman’s bar, and the fort.
Now I tend to either take the bus across and then bike, or drive across and then bike.
This is unfortunate but just shows how the bike lanes are really subpar compared to others in the region.
The path could be seen as really cool and somewhat revolutionary in the region when it opened in 1982 – nowadays we have so many better designed paths, but everyone should ride it at least once in their time near PDX (with ear protection).
I spent the summer and fall of 1987 cleaning litter and pruning landscaping along the I-205 path by bike, towing a trailer fabricated by ODOT in their shop. Total of 13 miles, from the landing on the Washington side to the Clackamas town center, which was where it ended back then. It was an interesting gig, and something of an overkill: a full-time employee could keep that path pretty dang clean in those days; now, not so much…
I share people’s mixed feelings about the bridge. Glad it there, but hard to say I enjoy it when I ride it. The views are indeed spectacular, but one never has the urge to linger, surrounded by the constant roar of the freeway.
I live in SE Portland and work in Vancouver so I ride this bridge twice most days. I have absolutely no problem with my hearing or breathing while using the excellent bike infrastructure.
I’ve ridden this path about a dozen times (I use the I-5 “path” to go northbound and this to come southbound). It’s terrifying, to tell you the truth, though not sure I-5 is much better. Pretty sure if there was ever an accident on the expressway, that car / truck / whatever is coming right over that barrier and I’m toast.
It’s also frightening the amount of debris that ends up in this path. You can pick up quite a bit of speed coming southbound, but I once narrowly avoided a collision with a La-Z-Boy that someone had dumped in the middle of the path about 1/3 of the way up the Portland end.
Join the discussion…On one southbound crossing of this I-205 bike path, there were two plastic pickup bed liners in the path. I’m glad I wasn’t riding at night!
So, I find myself wondering how many of those complaining have never or seldom ridden across the bridge. And I wonder how many recognize that the decisions about the design were made 50 years ago.
I’ve ridden it scores of times and it’s almost often really noisy, but it’s a safe, direct, exclusive facility. Sure, we can do better, but let’s recognize the facility for what it is and how we will do at predicting the future.
Agreed. Yes, it could be better, but Portland is actually still ahead of the game by having bike/ped paths on BOTH of the interstate bridges leading to Washington. Yes, they could both be improved (by a lot), but they’re still both usable.
I was recently in an accident and my right leg was shattered and had to be amputated. Now I have a wooden leg. Yes, it’s not as good as my former leg, but it’s still usable. I guess I should recognize it for what it is and just be glad I can hobble around.
Imagine a world where a wide, sound-buffered bike lane on the outside of the bridge leads to a connection with the Government Island bike path and trail system. Bike camping only. Load up your bike trailer and bring your friends for a camp out on the island. It’d be amazing.
As bad as the bridge is, imagine how much worse it could be – and in most of the rest of the country, it is in fact a lot worse. I have ridden the I-205 bridge about a dozen times when I lived in Portland for 18 years, but I’ve also ridden the I-90 path on Lake Washington, I-68 near Morgantown WV, I-29 in NoDak, Lions Gate in VanBC, the existing CRC, Euston Rd in London, and many others. Uniformly they were all awful, strewn with debris, noisy, and very dangerous. And in most cities, there are no bike facilities at all near interstates nor any safe (legal) crossings over major rivers.
You nailed it, David: apparently cyclists have to be happy with whatever crappy infrastructure is provided for them – as long as the cars and trucks get the really good infrastructure.
I heard that Governor Tom McCall, famous for creating Harbor Drive Task Force that removed the waterfront freeway from downtown, delayed approving the bridge design for years until a a bike path was included. McCall also re-appointed Glenn Jackson to chair the Oregon State Highway Commission (Oregon Transportation Commission) after whom the I-205 bridge is named after.
It’s not a great path but I’ll take it (with the views of Wy’east/Mt. Hood) over the narrow Interstate Bridge/I-5 shoulders that rattle whenever a freight truck passes by.
There are some free sound meter apps for phones. It’s useful, and interesting to see your ears’ impressions appear as an objective number. Since they’re now something anyone can have available (sound meters, not ears) I’d love to see more reporting of sound levels in articles like this. The sound meter does not lie.
I refuse to ride it without earplugs. No question that being sandwiched between two fast lanes is a potential cause of permanent hearing loss. Even with earplugs, it’s not a fun ride by any means (even in the downhill direction). I say this as somebody who enjoys dangerous bike rides (black diamond MTB trails).
I rode this (Northbound) for the first time last weekend! It’s not going to win any awards for a spectacular place to ride, but it is pretty spectacular that you can relatively easily and relatively safely (given that you’re riding on a freeway) get across the river on an Interstate. In contrast, ODOT just striped new shoulder bike lanes on 99E through Gladstone/Milwaukie – unprotected on a 5 lane road (state hwy). It’s good that you can get to a business on McLoughlin if you have to, but it’s awful from a true usability standpoint. The bridge path is very useable, it’s accessible, and it does it’s job.
I rode this bridge every workday for four years while working in Vancouver and living in Portland. There were some fun moments: seeing a bald eagle soar over me on my way home, watching the planes line up for approach to the east of PDX in the evening. There were also some not-so-great moments: flatting on the sharp bolts used to hold two plates of the bridge together, riding across after a snowstorm, with the bike lane littered by the little reflectors from the road that had been popped up by snowplows, and dealing with mopeds and the like what would occasionally use the lane.
It’s not for the feint of heart to be sure, but I hope it serves as a bar that should be exceeded whenever the next river crossing designed for bikes is built.
Squareman— you cannot download a decibel meter on your smart phone. Very interesting to use.
I always wish the original designers had given even more thought about this bridge being more than just a MCM transportation facility but what it could be in 50 or 100 years…perhaps by adding the bike ped way slung underneath would be / have been a nice retrofit…plus adding a destination restaurant or even housing. Think of the views 😉 Yes, a crazy dream.
…And few remember / know that the outer lanes were designed and set aside for LRT (thus pushing the bikes peds to the middle). i-205 LRT was still discussed as part of our work plan at the City of Vancouver / Transportation as late as 2003 when we penciling in LRT station access along SR-500 (eg., future LRT station in the vacant lot next to the Heathman Lodge hotel in Vancouver)…but then the CRC1 took our focus away…and ODOT/ TRIMET (?) changed their LRT guideway specs to require more width for future LRT facilities so that “ruled out” an easier low cost integration…without losing lane car capacity (this could always be revised under the Biden era)…thus now only BRT does shoulder running there.
Join the discussion…Recently, I observed the elevated MAX alignment near IKEA and how the MAX tracks turn and descend to make the out-and-back connection at PDX. I am reminded that the existing MAX infrastructure is still designed to continue MAX service over the I-205 bridge to Vancouver. This commuter train connection to Vancouver would still be a useful service.
They need to install the anti-vehicle bollard on the sidewalk in between the 7-eleven and home Depot that leads up to this path on the Oregon side.
There has been motor vehicles associated with numerous violative conducts on the Oregon Department of Transportation property driving up and down this sidewalk.
agreed, far too many cars being driven onto this and the marine drive path.
Squareman— you can use an app on your smart phone to measure decibels. Very interesting to see results of various places. I use “decibel x” on my iPhone, there are probably better user-interface apps, but this one works fine.
It’s great that I-205 has that MUP, and at the same time it’s foolish to ignore the lessons it teaches about how to do it better. It is a sensory assault but it’s worth it for both the adventure and its connections.
One detail that hasn’t been mentioned is the south end connection at Airport Way. It’s easy to build speed on the ramp, but it ends in a blind, right-angle, tight-radius corner. Hard braking and the tendency to cut the corner with limited vision of oncoming people is a bad set-up for a collision.
I am glad it is there, as without it I’d probably would never have ridden my bike to Vancouver, Washougal etc. However, I always forget until I am about half way across just how stressful it is. I am an experienced urban rider and I know its safe but my anxiety level goes through the roof crossing that thing… I have not experienced anything quite like that. Even Highway 30 to and from Sauvie Island feels less stressful but is infinitely more dangerous.
In my humble opionion, Interstate-90 over Lake Washington in Seattle should have been the blueprint for the Glen Jackson bridge. Here they built a two-way protected bike path on the west side of the bridge so cyclists are not in the middle of the traffic. What the I-90 path needs however is a sound barrier because it is almost as loud as the Glen Jackson bridge. I ride the Glen Jackson all the time and often think how disrespectful they were of cyclists to put the path right in the middle of the bridge. Future projects should put the bike path on one side, or like earlier mentioned, below the car deck.
I would be very surprised if it were not shearing hairs on the cochlea after prolonged exposure on that path. Phones don’t have a mic good enough to accurately measure dB SPL. Damage occurs, depending on frequency, at around ~80 dB. When you have tinnitus, that often means hearing loss, but not necessarily (eg ear wax, meds).
Do the I-5 bridge next! Show how easily you can just fall off trying to go north or south. Utterly terrifying when it’s windy/raining.
a truly horrible bike route.