New Flanders Bridge or not, crossing I-405 is about to get easier

New Flanders Bridge or not, crossing I-405 is about to get easier

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NW Couch where it crosses I-405. Riding through here you must keep your head on a swivel and scoot quickly across three intersections (two of which have no traffic signal).
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Part of NW Portland Week.

Eight years ago, when former Mayor Sam Adams made his case to re-use the old Sauvie Island Bridge as a new crossing of I-405 at NW Flanders Street, one of his chief arguments was safety. Adams and Portland Bureau of Transportation staff convinced Portlanders that the nearby crossings at Burnside, Couch, Everett and Glisan, were inherently unsafe for bikers and walkers.

Here are the slides Adams used in a presentation he made to City Council in April 2008:





When Adams scrapped his bridge plan, our hope of a safe (and iconic) crossing died; but the safety issues outlined in the slides above remain to this day.

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Merging on NW Everett approaching 14th.
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Glisan is dominated by cars and isn’t a very comfortable place to bike.

NW Glisan (one-way westbound) east of I-405 has no dedicated space for cycling and a freeway on-ramp encourages fast and dangerous right turns. NW Everett (one-way eastbound) has buffered bike lanes; but they unfortunately end as you approach I-405 and riders are forced to merge into traffic in a congested, shared environment. And Burnside? Well, nobody really rides on Burnside do they?

We’re hopeful that the Flanders Bridge project we reported about yesterday will get funded. But even if it doesn’t, at least one of the existing crossings is slated for changes that will improve safety and access for people on bikes and on foot.

On March 30th Portland City Council approved a $2 million grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation for the “Downtown I-405 Pedestrian Safety and Operational Improvements Project”. That means PBOT can start final design and get the improvements ready for construction (which is scheduled for 2018).

Changes are due at six intersections in the area of NW Couch, across I-405 to 16th and south to West Burnside. Official project map is below:


Project map. The red dots are curb extension locations. The dark grey area in the middle is where a lane will be removed.

Today the Couch overcrossing of I-405 is confusing and stressful. There are freeway on-ramps and unsignalized crossings with multiple lanes of high-speed auto traffic that feel as though they’re coming from all directions. If you’re going westbound and want to continue on Couch, you’ve got to first get across NW 14th, then SW 14th — a freeway on-ramp, then SW 15th (another freeway ramp), then NW 16th, then you merge onto Couch with traffic from 16th. It’s a bewildering game of Frogger and the design clearly didn’t have walkers and bikers in mind (except for a nice contra-flow bike lane at 16th – thanks PBOT!).

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Looking east from 16th.

The new project will include: marked crosswalks, traffic signal upgrades, better lighting, auto parking space removal, the removal of a slip-lane on NW 16th, and more. The official project description says the new configuration will, “simplify the intersection at the end of the NE Couch Street/E Burnside Street off-ramp, which will result in more efficient operations through reduced congestion, queuing, and idling time for both local and freeway traffic. It will extend a critical link in the bike and pedestrian network of the central city, contributing to a more seamless multimodal transportation system.”

Here are the specific proposed design changes:

  • Upgrade traffic signal at NW 16th and Burnside
  • Remove the slip lane, construct corner extension, and install marked crosswalks at NW 15th Street and Burnside
  • Full signal replacement at NW 15th Street and Couch Street
  • Remove on street parking on NW 16th Street north of Couch Street to accommodate the modified lane configuration on southbound 16th Street.
  • Modify curb returns to reduce crossing width at select intersections and provide ADA ramps
  • Close connection to NW 16th Street from Couch

Stay tuned for opportunities to weigh in on the details. If we want to unlock the potential of northwest Portland we’ve got to make crossing I-405 as easy as possible.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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