Broadway Bridge detour: Can we do better?

Broadway Bridge detour: Can we do better?

Broadway Bridge detour-1

People heading west split into two groups. Some use the left turn lane (on the left) and some opt for the left turn box.

A closure of the biking and walking path on the Broadway Bridge, and the suggested detour that comes with it, is creating a chaotic situation that’s causing confusion and leading to dangerous situations. And it’s not necessary. There are two lanes in each direction on the bridge’s main deck. Why not set up some cones and have flaggers direct bike traffic onto one of them — especially during the AM and PM peak hours?

The closure started on Monday (9/24) and is due to a Portland Bureau of Transportation project to replace the non-slip coating on the paths (it’s peeling up). The north sidewalk is closed now and then they’ll switch to the south sidewalk with both of them re-opening by October 8th.

With the path closed, the nearly 5,000 or so people who cross the bridge by bike each day (according to most recent PBOT bike counts), and the significant amount of foot traffic, are all expected to share one narrow (about 10.5 feet wide) pathway across the river and negotiate some tricky connections on both ends.

I’ve been experiencing this detour both to and from downtown for the past few days. This morning I took a closer look at the east end of the bridge and it really disturbed me.

Large groups of people riding bikes head down Broadway toward the bridge each morning. Usually most of them continue west onto the pathway. But with the path closed, they must figure out a way to get onto the path on the south side (which is usually only for eastbound traffic). About half the people cross N. Larrabee and wait in the green bike box prior to turning left (this would be the “two-stage left turn” the “Copenhagen Left” or the “Portland Pivot” depending on your style). But the other half make a more direct, yet more risky move. They merge (on the downhill), across parallel streetcar tracks and get into the left turn lane at Broadway and Larrabee.

Broadway Bridge detour-3

Looking east, back uphill on Broadway.

Broadway Bridge detour-2

Yesterday I got an email from a reader who said she watched a woman crash doing this maneuver. Another victim of the streetcar tracks, perhaps pushed into the situation because of the approaching detour? This morning it was a chaotic scene as people on bikes scattered across Broadway, trying to make their decision of using the two-stage turn method or using the left turn lane.

Those who opted for the two-stage left turn by using the bike box in the northwest corner of Larrabee and Broadway found themselves in a big crowd. Paul Cone said via Twitter, “A dozen of us crowding into the bike box were tripping over each other, where to turn into westbound lane not clear.”

And then there’s the mix of people walking and people biking. This is problematic at both the bridge entrances and on the deck itself. Bryn Dearborn shared with us via Twitter that, “Two pedestrians were almost nailed by two bikes at the east end.” And he added, “It is a crazy confluence there.” He’s right. Whenever you direct people on bicycles up onto, and then off of a sidewalk, you create a bad situation. Especially when it happens on a side of the street where other road users are not expecting oncoming traffic to be.

Broadway Bridge detour-4

Westbound bike riders wait for the walk signal to cross via crosswalk over Broadway
(this path is also used for all eastbound traffic).

What will happen when the south pathway is closed and all foot and bike traffic is routed onto the north side?

Isn’t there a better way to handle this?

The Broadway Bridge paths have been closed several times over the years and I assume they’ll be closed again in the future. What if, instead of herding all the biking and walking traffic up onto one narrow path (which feels quite disrespectful), we simply use one of the existing lanes on the bridge? Some people take the lane anyways, but it’s a pretty gutsy move for most people. All it would take are some cones, signs, and flaggers. If not that, does anyone have a better idea on how to avoid this in the future? Or, like many other minor annoyances in the daily life of bicycling in Portland… should we just ‘Shut up and deal with it’?

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