Four days after camera failure, PBOT has no word on Steel Bridge lower deck reopening

Four days after camera failure, PBOT has no word on Steel Bridge lower deck reopening

Some commuters and exercisers used the upper
sidewalk of the Steel Bridge Tuesday.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Portlanders’ unscheduled trip into the 90s extended into its fourth day Tuesday as the lower deck of the Steel Bridge, built for $10 million in 2001, remained closed due to a camera failure.

City spokeswoman Diane Dulken said Tuesday that she had no information about whether Union Pacific Railroad, the owner of the cameras, had been in contact with the city or was making any efforts to fix them. She said she wasn’t aware of detour signs other than the ones at the Steel Bridge’s lower-deck gates themselves.

The cameras are important because they let the on-site bridge lift operator know when people are crossing the bridge’s lift span. The cameras have failed in the past, including a one-day closure last year.

About 3,500 people cross the Steel Bridge on bikes daily. Thousands more use it as a foot crossing for transportation or recreation.

Kevin Wagoner, a Kaiser Permanente employee who bikes to work daily from southwest Portland, said Tuesday morning that it was a minor annoyance for him, but that he’d seen one man trying to open the bridge’s gates himself.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know if that’s a good idea,'” Wagoner said.

Portlanders took various strategies to detour across the river. Here’s a comment from Ted Buehler from yesterday’s post on this issue:

Steel Bridge upper deck sidewalks are not suitable for bicycling — far too narrow to permit safe passage. Bikes require a minimum of 4′ width. If you’re a skilled rider you can make do with less, but on the Steel Bridge sidewalk there’s no margin of error, and any twitch can bump you into the [substandard] railing posts, launch you over the [substandard] low railing and 85′ down into the Willamette River.

Best to simply take the lane. I do it regularly, just hang all the way on the right as you’re going up to the main span, slow down a bit toward the top to rest up, and wait for a gap in cars. Then scoot out into the middle of the lane and ride at your fastest comfortable speed across the main deck. I take the lane all the way to the bottom on the steep downgrade westbound, and scoot back to the right curb on the downgrade eastbound.

Another commenter, going by Vinney, reflected on Dulken’s comments from yesterday afternoon:

In situations like this I always find myself wondering if this would be acceptable if it was a car lane. What would be the city’s response then? What would be the reaction if Diane made this statement:

“People crossing the Steel Bridge Monday evening should reroute to another bridge. The bridge has been closed since Saturday evening, when a set of cameras that monitor the crossing stopped functioning. We don’t manage the cameras, so we’re not quite sure what’s going on.”

Union Pacific Railroad’s California-based spokesman Aaron Hunt said Tuesday morning that he had “calls in to a number of different people” to learn more about the issue. Dulken said she would ask her colleagues if there are any plans to improve communication with the railroad during future closures.

I spent a few minutes on each side of the bridge Tuesday morning to see how people were handling the closure.

There was a steady flow in both directions across the upper deck.

Most people descending to the Eastbank Esplanade rerouted to the south.

Some eastbound travelers hoisted their bikes up the
stairs to the upper deck after encountering the closure.

Others with larger vehicles didn’t have that option.

Whatever the cause of this four-day closure, it’s an unusual situation for a city whose long-term business plan depends on persuading tens of thousands of people and jobs to locate or relocate into the central city and whose official policy documents describe its transportation priorities this way:

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