One commuter’s take on the many turns and stops on Tilikum’s east side

One commuter’s take on the many turns and stops on Tilikum’s east side

tilikum east side map with numbers

Issues identified in Justin C.’s letter below.
(Map: Google. Annotations: BikePortland)

How many inconveniences does it take to add up to a serious problem?

“I feel like I’m using a system that was not designed for me… It seems to be designed to get me out of the way of transit vehicles, not to get me to work.”
— Justin C.

For about a year now, we’ve been watching the expanse of east-side paths to Tilikum Crossing with unease. We’ve heard from many readers, publicly and privately, about its many issues. But like most of us, we wanted to give TriMet and the Portland Bureau of Transportation a chance to get it built, celebrate the good parts and work the kinks out before talking about what can be done to fix the problems here.

After more than a month of Tilikum crossings, it’s time to start talking about what’s still wrong and what can be done. And we couldn’t frame the situation better than one reader, Justin C., did in an email to BikePortland last week.

The following is slightly rearranged for clarity, and we’ve added boldface numbers to correspond roughly to the map above.

A few of the issues mentioned here (such as wayfinding) have been getting better. But as a summary of the general situation, this is spot on.

Fridays I have a late start for child-care reasons and I’m usually biking in (from SE Holgate/67th area) starting at 8:15 or 8:30. I’ve tried on those days to avoid the Ladd’s/Madison bridge crowd, to use the Tilikum Crossing since it opened (so maybe seven weeks or so). Most of those times I’ve gotten stopped by a train at the Clinton crossing. Sometimes I wait and sometimes I detour to Hawthorne.

Having used the Clinton-to-the-River route frequently before the bridge opened, I was excited at the possibilities that the new project offered. My route had previously involved detouring south to nearly Powell and then back up 9th or 8th to Division Place and the Esplanade (when it was open) or another route to Hawthorne. I got tired of this eventually and joined the crowd using the Madison-Hawthorne approach (despite living and working south of there). When they opened a bit of separated multi-use path between the tracks and future bridge, I was thrilled. I sat through the poor signal timing because I figured that would all get fixed in time. It would have to, right, with all the Interested but Concerned people the new bridge would get on bikes? They wouldn’t open the best new bike bridge without making it easy to access on bike.

Of course, that’s what has happened, at least so far. Here are how minor inconveniences can add up:

We didn’t put in a bike bridge over the freight tracks. Fine. I understand, things cost money and no one can negotiate with Class 1 railroads. And you think, maybe being inconvenienced by a poorly timed light at Clinton and 12th (1) isn’t such a big deal. Maybe rolling the dice on being late for work because of a freight train (2) is no big deal.

But once we get over the tracks, it should be pretty smooth sailing for people on bikes. Instead, I feel like I’m using a system that was not designed for me. Because, obviously, it wasn’t. It seems to be designed to get me out of the way of transit vehicles, not to get me to work.

Maybe waiting for a bike signal to cross 11th/Milwaukie and get to the stretch of MUP (3) isn’t a big deal, even though the southbound platoon on 11th/Milwaukie hasn’t been released and it’s red all around.

cut the corner

SW 7th and Tilikum Way, looking west. Justin said
he’s seen people heading westbound cut this corner
and nearly run into someone heading eastbound.

Wayfinding would be nice, but if there’s a well-thought-out approach to the bridge, people will find it with or without signs. Fine. And the intersection at 8th (4) is complicated, so I don’t mind waiting.

When I get across 8th, I have to navigate a tight curve across a utility pole right in the bike path. And then stop for buses at 7th Avenue, only to hit another 90 degree turn right next to a blind corner (5) (where I’ve seen three(!) bike collisions already).

industrial caruthers

Caruthers Street just southeast of Tilikum Crossing.

So then you get to Caruthers, and you see the beautiful new bridge ahead of you, and you ride toward it and realize that you can’t get onto the bridge! I’ve just been abandoned in an industrial area. (6) You have to find a way over to a T intersection, cross the road and both sets of tracks (7) and then use a tangle of an approach lane to get onto the bridge’s main span.

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But here’s the thing: They built a nice new concrete road right there from scratch! A blank slate. It’s called Tilikum Way, and this portion of it runs from Seventh Avenue right onto the bridge. But you can’t use it. (You get routed farther away from the bridge to Caruthers and another stop sign at Fourth.)

tilikum way

Tilikum Way: transit only.

There’s a new sidewalk built on the north side of Tilikum Way (fenced between the Rail Heritage Center and the MAX tracks) that goes from the new bridge along Tilikum Way, under the MLK/Grand bridges, and just dead ends into a fence. It’s as if someone thought of connecting the bike route to the bridge via Tilikum Way but then decided against it.

I’m not naïve; I know it would take some planning to get bikes on the right side of the MAX tracks. And the bridge is lovely. But maybe I was naïve for assuming that more was being done to make this an actual “bike bridge” as opposed to merely a bridge that allows bikes.

I came to terms with my gripes about the west side connection (no bikes on the Harbor Viaduct structure from Lincoln to Moody), and I somewhat bought TriMet’s explanation that they couldn’t squeeze it between the existing bridges they had to thread. Taking Harrison to the MUP to Moody is solid “B” infrastructure, so they could be forgiven for not building an A+.

But the east side is just such a mess that here’s the reality: We’re hoping for signal timing to make a bad route slightly less bad. Wasn’t this supposed to be the shining example for the rest of the country on how committed we are to non-car modes? We really couldn’t do any better for bikes?

For years, I had hoped this bridge would make me feel proud to be a cyclist (and I know your views on this word, but this is how I feel), and that all the planning and attention to detail would make me feel that someone valued me as such and was looking out for me. What I’m instead left with is the thought, “well, I guess it’s better than Powell.”

Thanks for listening.

Like Justin, we at BikePortland try not to be naive. Crowded trains and buses get priority over bikes on a TriMet project because, from a pure street-efficiency standpoint, they should. Not to mention that TriMet is first and foremost a transit agency (did you notice that they refer to this as the Tilikum Crossing Transit Bridge?).

What happened with Tilikum’s eastside approach wasn’t that no one spared a thought for bikes. There was clearly some thought put into how bikes would find their way across the bridge. But what didn’t happen here was an effort, from the early stages of planning, to think about what it would feel like to actually bike through this new district.

As Justin mentions, there are still some things that could be done to improve the cycling experience around the Tilikum. We’ll be covering several of those over the next few weeks.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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