Marquam Hill road closure leaves cyclists in the lurch

Looking north on SW Marquam Hill Rd as it turns into Gibbs St.

*** Update, 5/16/2023: The SW Gibbs Street closure has been extended another week until May 19th according to a sign posted at the site. ***

Cyclists and pedestrians scrambled to find alternate routes to the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) on Monday, the first day of a two-week road closure at the western entrance to the Marquam Hill campus.

SW Gibbs Street is the only direct access to OHSU from the west and its closure has left OHSU employees and students who walk and cycle to work in a lurch. Although the closure is marked with detour signs, the detour is only practical for drivers.

Early this morning, I followed the marked detour from the east end of the Gibbs closure down the hill to the city center, and then back up Marquam Hill along SW Broadway Dr, and then took the Fairmount loop to campus. That’s right, this two-block Gibbs closure has been assigned a four and a half-mile detour, involving elevation changes of several hundred feet. And as the sign says, cyclists and pedestrians should take this route too!

As a service to the community, allow me to suggest an alternate detour for sure-footed cyclists (below). This involves taking one of the Marquam Nature Park trails from near the water tank on SW Marquam Hill Rd to SW 12th Ave. It’s a short trail, not flat, but you can walk it with a bicycle.

I’ve learned that some pedestrians are also taking the “Whitaker easement,” which you can reach from Marquam Hill Rd by going up the staircase near the pump house of the same water facilities.

If you don’t want to dismount, and are OK with adding about a half hour to your commute, a scenic (and safer) alternative to the official detour is shown along Fairmount Blvd to Terwilliger.

That gets the practical matter of how to get to work out of the way. Now I can focus on how poorly this has been handled. Gibbs Street is closed directly in front of the new apartment building BikePortland has been covering, the one with the frontage on which the city will not allow the developer to build a sidewalk. The closure is most certainly for utility hookups and shoulder widening.

The city, for its part, has gone from treating people who don’t commute by car as an after-thought, to not considering them at all. Maybe it is not possible to keep open a four-foot wide path through the utility hookups. Maybe. But a group of city reviewers who did not see the need for a protected sidewalk on the dangerous curve at the building’s frontage, might also not have given much thought to what pedestrians and cyclists might need during the road closure.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at lisacaballero853@gmail.com.

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Danny
Danny
1 year ago

I agree that the City has “has gone from treating people who don’t commute by car as an after-thought, to not considering them at all” — at least quite often in SW Portland. On my ride to work this morning on SW Multnomah Blvd., the City or a contractor had attempted to simply close the shared sidewalk/bike lane going eastbound at 30th. The utility work that apparently prompted the closure was a long way to the east, and there was no alternative other than to ride on the (very busy) road. Fortunately, one could ride around the closure tape and along the completely unobstructed bikeway to a turnoff that avoided the utility work. But the City or its contractor clearly gave zero thought to cyclists in this case.

SD
SD
1 year ago

Great start to bike to work month! OHSU could do soooo much more to advocate for bike and pedestrian infrastructure throughout SW Portland. In some ways they put a lot of effort into SOV alternatives, but they also leave a ton on the table. It is disappointing, and reflects a narrow perspective in leadership around these issues.

Brandon
Brandon
1 year ago
Reply to  SD

I feel like infrastructure improvements in the hill are pretty limited. There was the marquam hill light rail tunnel idea and then the elevator platform as part of the sw corridor lightrail project which was voted down. But where OHSU has had the ability to support the infrastructure it wants, like the South waterfront, it’s the best in the city.

There’s always room for improvement but OHSU does a lot more than most employers to not encourage sov commuting. A bike valet service, secure card access bike storage, lockers and showers for bike commuters, paid incentives for biking or walking to work, allowances for commuter bikes and repairs. Free yearly trimet passes. Building a tram to the hill within a few minutes walk of the Tillikum bridge, which is served by many bus lines, the max, and the streetcar. Employees have to reserve and pay (quite a bit) to drive and park at work. 60% of employees arrive by a means other than sov

SD
SD
1 year ago
Reply to  Brandon

This is all true and also makes the blind spots more glaring. OHSU fails to maintain or advocate effectively with PBOT or parks and rec to maintain the Terwilliger bike lanes by OHSU. Most of the year, they are filled with gravel or overgrown plants. They have not pushed for a North bound bike lane through SW-NW downtown, and here we are 20 years later. They were not effective in championing CCIM have started by watching it be whittled down. There is a list far much longer than this, but in the end, the OHSU lens on their transportation footprint is mostly self-serving. If they wanted to be a good neighbor, an advocate for a healthy community or simply an active advocate for their employees to have access to work without a car, they could and should do much, much more. Most of OHSU leadership has an undeniable windshield suburban bias.

Where is OHSU in this conversation?

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

The city, for its part, has gone from treating people who don’t commute by car as an after-thought, to not considering them at all.

Comment of the week!

qqq
qqq
1 year ago

That’s crazy. I can’t imagine that there was no way to keep a narrow path open. Certainly it could have been managed with some construction scheduling and flagging.

I’d love to hear PBOT’s reasoning why it was impossible. At the very least, why didn’t PBOT even bother to identify the alternative routes the article shows? I’d also like to here PBOT explain why it felt a several-mile detour was acceptable for people walking or biking. Would PBOT allow a construction project to cause a one-hour detour for cars, or would it tell the project to adjust its scheduling? We all know the answer.

This blindness of PBOT towards people walking or biking reminds me of when PBOT issued a permit for a contractor to close off a main entrance to Willamette Park at S Nevada for the convenience (the closure wasn’t necessary at all) of a contractor working on an adjacent project. I asked PBOT why. “It’s just a dead end.” When I told them it’s a dead end for cars, but a main official entrance for people walking and biking to the park and Willamette Greenway Trail, they replied, “Oh.”

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

Why not send them the questions, publish the story, and then if you get a response either update the story or publish a follow-up?

The whole point of asking is that they might tell you something unexpected.

Stephan
Stephan
1 year ago

Lisa, thank you for covering this important issue. I don’t need to go up to the OHSU main campus (I work at the waterfront) but it galls me that this is happening at OHSU. Neither the university nor the city should allow that.

I’ll follow up with them but was curious whether you have shared the article with PBOT to see whether they might change the construction site to make it more accessible for people on bikes? It might be worth doing it and see what happens.

X
X
1 year ago

Local knowledge is invaluable!

Watts
Watts
1 year ago

I liked the questions qqq raised. They struck me as reasonable and not too cable-newsy. Well, at least the first few.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago

I agree it wouldn’t have been worth holding up the story. I also hate the policy in various bureaus of having communication run through an intermediary. It often kills communication, to the point it’s not even worth trying.

One thing occurred to me after making my comment. What about ambulance access to OHSU? It looks like closing this street means a much longer ambulance ride for at least a few thousand people. I’m sensitive to that because I’ve been to OHSU via ambulance twice, where a delay of only an extra minute or two could have killed me. Of all streets to maintain partial access, wouldn’t one that’s a main route to an emergency hospital be one PBOT would avoid closing completely?

It makes me wonder whether PBOT allowed the full closure based only on traffic counts, without noticing the need for emergency access to OHSU. That makes it like my example of PBOT closing off S Nevada, not noticing it was a main park entrance–but with literal, potential life-or-death consequences.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago

Multi-monthclosures of essential bike facilities with no functional detour is the new normal. The message this sends to those few of us who still bike for transportation is clear: we don’t matter and our neglected facilities definitely don’t matter.

Keith
Keith
1 year ago

At the same time, PBOT wonders why bicycling mode share is dropping like a stone. Another example of modal disrespect, as Jonathan has previously described it.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Keith

I agree, mostly, but I question whether this sort of thing is why people have quit riding en masse. While this project (and its kin elsewhere) are surely annoying to cyclists, PBOT’s respect towards people who bike seems pretty distant from most people’s daily concerns.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Whether it’s cause or effect does not change the fact that it discourages people from riding. The barriers to increased active transportation mode share in this city just keep on getting bigger.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

It’s not the first cut, it’s the other 999.

Travis
Travis
1 year ago

I rode down from Fairmount today and don’t remember the signage saying cyclist specific can not pass, just a local access only sign. When I got to the gate I was hoping to get through since it was early evening. The crew was sweeping up but when I asked to ride through and was denied. So I had ride five miles plus 300 foot climb for a detour. This made late to my appointment and I had to skip dinner. My specific questions would be did the pay for closing the bike access too to get a permit? Why can’t this 30 foot long construction zone be open for during off hours for bike/walk traffic?

Steph
Steph
1 year ago

Why cant I find ANY information about this closure? No updates from OHSU or PBOT. When will this reopen?

Spencer
Spencer
1 year ago

There is a trail just uphill from the closure on the south side of the road that bypasses it. Goes right down to the sidestreet below the closure. Its in the park so don’t ride unless you’re OK with getting yelled at.

X
X
1 year ago

Lisa I really appreciate your coverage of this story, really an ongoing story of PBOT’s serious neglect around maintaining human scale transportation. If managers can’t talk to the press, how about the commissioner? Mingus Mapps came into office identifying as a bike person. It’s time to walk the talk.

I regret for the moment that this is not on Walk Portland, because in this lovely land bikes are toys, and a person working on a bike can be told “don’t quit your day job”, but just walking there has to be inalienable. It goes back to 1854, at least.

cct
cct
1 year ago
Reply to  X

meet the new boss, same as the old boss, sadly.