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Multnomah County bought a tiny car to avoid blocking a bridge path

Multnomah County bought a tiny car to avoid blocking a bridge path

The County's new fit-on-the-bridge-but-not-block-the-path car.

The County’s new fit-on-the-bridge-but-not-block-the-path car.

How far would your county go to maintain the integrity of a path?

Multnomah County has added a new, very small car to its fleet. The reason? So that it won’t get in the way of people walking and rolling on the Morrison Bridge.

Not smart.(Photo: Scott Kocher)

Not smart.
(Photo: Scott Kocher)

You might recall back in February when we reported on an annoying issue: The car used by County bridge crews to drive to the small office located mid-span on the Morrison often blocked the path. We heard about this from several readers and it become enough of a thing that we posted a story about it and notified the County. Initially County spokesman Mike Pullen said the crew members were doing what they were supposed to do, which is to park “the smallest car possible… so that the path can still be used.” He also said it didn’t ever happen for extended periods of time.

But that wasn’t good enough. The car County employees were using was still sticking out into the path. And so, because this is Portland where take our paths seriously, the complaints kept coming. And the County kept listening.

On July 27th we were cc’d on an email to the County from Scott Kocher, a Portland-based lawyer and board member of Oregon Walks. “There is a Multnomah County car parked in the bicycle/pedestrian lane of the Morrison Bridge,” he wrote. “It has been there a while, and there is not obviously anything urgent going on. Does the County follow a policy on parking in the bike/ped lane?”

He got a reply from Pullen saying once again that they need to park on the bridge as a security precaution because operators work in the control tower around-the-clock. Then he added something unexpected: “A Smart car is being purchased that will be used by the bridge operator in the near future, to resolve this problem.”

This morning it actually happened! Pullen sent us a photo of the new Smart car tucked nicely to the side of the path. In a follow-up he said they purchased the new car (about $15,000 retail) to replace one in the County fleet that was retired. “After noting that the old car partially blocked the bike path, we opted to order a smaller car, which does not block the path.”

This may seem like a small thing, but Portland is full of tiny little miracles like this where people speak up and our local governments listen and then do something to address the problem. And a lot of little things eventually add up to something big.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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First look: New path north of Sellwood Bridge is open

First look: New path north of Sellwood Bridge is open

A very nice new path segment along the west bank of the Willamette River is finally ready to ride.

Created as part of Multnomah County’s Sellwood Bridge project, it connects the bridge to Willamette Park, a bit to the north. The path was supposed to open a few weeks ago, but construction work was delayed. (This is the same delay that led to an unprecedented last-minute route change for this year’s World Naked Bike Ride.)

Thanks to volunteer correspondent and longtime Multnomah County Bicycle Advisory Committee member Andrew Holtz, above is a thorough and nicely annotated video of the new path and its various spurs.

For folks heading north from the Sellwood Bridge, the connection to Willamette Park leads to the rest of the Willamette Greenway Trail, the South Portland neighborhood, the South Waterfront and eventually downtown. So this path (assuming it remains open) will eliminate a long-lived and unpleasant detour onto SW Macadam.

One note to keep in mind: there’s a short segment that runs on SW Miles Place, a residential street that hasn’t been a major bikeway before, so people there may not be expecting to see bikes. Use it with caution.

You can read about other features of the new route on this two-page PDF created by the county.

Now if only they’d finish up work on that new bridge itself. Bike traffic will continue to use its north sidewalk only until late October. We hear the final bike signalization is going to be sweet.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Further ‘clean up work’ will delay west-side Willamette River path opening

Further ‘clean up work’ will delay west-side Willamette River path opening

Patch connection (white) just north of the bridge.(Graphics: Multnomah County)

Patch connection (white) just north of the bridge.
(Graphics: Multnomah County)

The new path north of the west landing of the Sellwood Bridge opened briefly Tuesday morning, but then was re-closed and will remain closed for a matter of weeks.

Multnomah County spokesman Mike Pullen said in an email to BikePortland Tuesday afternoon that “some clean up work” is still needed after all, forcing the path to close:

I have some bad news. The westside regional trail between the Sellwood Bridge and SW Miles Place will not be opening for two to four weeks. … The trail did open this morning as scheduled. County staff found there is still some clean up work to be done on and near the trail that would not be safe to do with the public using the trail. Unfortunately, there are a number of subcontractors that need to be scheduled to do the work. So the public will be using the old detour route on the east side of Highway 43/Macadam for a few more weeks.

That’s all we know for now, except that the county’s new path still looks beautiful from a distance … and that ending Portland’s worst detour onto Macadam’s sidewalk can’t happen too soon.

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Here’s how Multnomah County promotes bicycling (video)

Here’s how Multnomah County promotes bicycling (video)

The vast majority of stories about road projects and transportation policies we publish here on BikePortland are about the City of Portland. The Oregon Department of Transportation is probably in second and Metro would be a close third. And then, way behind them all is Multnomah County. Because the County doesn’t control many newsmaking bikeways and they don’t hold as much sway over important transportation policies as PBOT, ODOT, or Metro, we can go months without even mentioning them.

But don’t forget about Multnomah County!

On that note, the County shared a new video with us today that we felt was worth a look. Given how rare it is that we cover County Chair Deborah Kafoury, we were excited to see how she’d talk about cycling.

The video is short and sweet. It features an intro/outro from Chair Kafoury and quick takes from several County employees who ride bikes to work.

County employees getting ready to ride.(Photo: Still from County video)

County employees getting ready to ride.
(Photo: Still from County video)

Here’s what Chair Kafoury says:

“Biking to work, to school, or to run errands is a stress-free way to get around Multnomah County. It’s also a great way to have fun with my family without a car and connect with our community up close. Biking also helps to keep our air clean by reducing car pollution. I rode my bike into work today and instead of burning fuel, I burned calories.”

And employee Mary-Margaret Wheeler-Weber:

“I like to ride because it can get me to where I want to go, faster than the bus can a lot of times, and it gives me a little fun time while I’m getting there.”

And employee Olivia Quiroz:

“I overcome barriers by practicing. I think that you need to get on your bike, feel confident, go at your own pace, read up before it if you don’t know the routes, get some maps, it’s OK there’s friendly bikers all over the city. I’ve gotten lost before and they’ve directed me to the right place.”

And employee Sam Baraso:

“When I get to ride with other people there’s this clan, when I’m riding in a bike way, there’s this sort of acknowledgement that we’re all in it together so I do like riding with people.”

And someone who goes by “Dan the Man”:

“Have fun. This is all about relaxation, taking care of yourself, taking care of your community. There’s nobody putting pressure on you, except you. Start slow, figure it out, just enjoy.”

As promotional videos from government agencies go, this one isn’t bad. There’s not an over-emphasis on safety and the employees make good points about why they bike. Not sure why the video has to live under the “Sustainable” umbrella. Bicycling is a transportation mode but for some reason agencies love to frame it as an environmental thing for some reason.

What do you think?

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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County’s new courthouse could bring a raised bike lane to SW Madison

County’s new courthouse could bring a raised bike lane to SW Madison


View of the new courthouse looking eastbound from SW 1st Avenue. Madison is on the left.
(Image: Multnomah County)

Multnomah County is planning a new central courthouse to replace the 100-year-old building they currently use on SW 4th Avenue — and it could come with a raised bike lane.

The location of the new courthouse at the corner of SE Madison and 1st Street, is very familiar to the thousands of Portlanders who ride on the Hawthorne Bridge every day. If all goes according to plan, by 2020 there will be a new 17-story building where an open lot with grass and trees is today.


Note the old Harbor Drive onramp that will be removed.

An eagle-eyed reader (thanks Iain!) spotted the bike lane on newly released design drawings and we followed up with the County to confirm it.

According to spokesman Mike Pullen, “The county is exploring the possibility of a raised bike lane on SW Madison. We will be getting input from the City of Portland on this concept soon.”


The new raised bike lane would only be a block long or so and it remains to be seen how the final design of Madison changes wth the project. One thing’s for sure, the old carfree path from NW Naito up to the eastbound sidewalk on Madison (a remnant of the old Harbor Drive) will no longer exist.

If it makes it into the final plans, this would be the second grade-separated bikeway in the central city (the other one being on SW Moody in South Waterfront).

To learn more about this project and give County planners your feedback on its impacts to adjacent bikeways, drop into a public open house on Thursday (4/21) from 4:00 to 6:00 pm at the old courthouse (1021 SW 4th Ave, Main Jury Room #130). An online comment form will be posted April 22nd at the main project website.

The final design is scheduled to be completed by January 2017 with construction starting in spring of 2017. The new courthouse is expected to open in early 2020.

UPDATE, 8:30 am on 4/20: Our friend up in Seattle Madi Carlson just posted a one-block separated bikeway outside the new Amazing headquarters that could be akin to what we might see here at the new courthouse:

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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County’s new mobile app tells you if the bridge is up or down

County’s new mobile app tells you if the bridge is up or down


Bridge Alerts app screenshots.

Multnomah County has just released a smartphone app that will tell you when and if one of their four downtown drawbridges is in action. Yes, for the first-time ever your phone can tell you how to avoid those dreaded delays that always seem to happen at the most inconvenient times.

Here’s more from the County:

The Bridge Alerts app is the first publicly available mobile application developed by the county’s Information Technology team. It provides notifications when one of the county’s four drawbridges opens for a river vessel, maintenance or repairs. The four movable bridges are the Broadway, Burnside, Hawthorne and Morrison. (The Steel Bridge, which is owned by Union Pacific Railroad, and the Interstate Bridge, which is owned by ODOT and WSDOT, are not included in the app.) The app includes notifications for scheduled bridge lifts when a bridge opening is scheduled in advance.

And they even made a video about it!

The app is small and very straightforward. It downloaded on my iPhone in a few seconds. When I opened it up the first screen shows all four bridges. An arrow in either green (for down) or red (for up) told me the immediate status of the bridge (the Broadway has been up for 14 minutes as I write this apparently). Click on one of the bridges and the next screen shows you the times, dates and durations of of the last five bridge lifts. For you bridge nerds (I know you’re out there!), there’s also a handy link to more information on each bridge.


My favorite feature are the alerts that are pushed to your phone when a bridge goes up and then when it goes back down again.

The app is free and available for Android or iOS operating systems.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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Why does Multnomah County allow auto parking on the Morrison Bridge bike path?

Why does Multnomah County allow auto parking on the Morrison Bridge bike path?


Not a parking spot. Or is it?
(Photo: Jason J.)

Have you ever noticed a car parked on the Morrison Bridge bicycling and walking path?

As one of Portland’s precious few pieces of physically protected, non-motorized travel space it sure seems like a bad place to park. It would be one thing if this was a rogue private citizen, but in this case the cars belong to Multnomah County employees.

We first heard about this phenomenon last October from a reader named Jason J. Here’s an excerpt from his email:

“This is the third time in the past month that there have been cars parked on the path. The first 2 times, the cars weren’t marked and it looked like there was some work being done in the control towers, but this time, no one was around, just the car in the path. I don’t see county vehicles parking in car lanes to access the control booths on this or any other bridges, so I wonder why they think it is acceptable to park on a sidewalk/bike path here.”

Then we heard about the issue again on Monday afternoon via @sharrowPDX on Twitter:

So what’s the deal?

County spokesman Mike Pullen says the cars belong to bridge operators and electricians who need to work in the tower. Pullen confirmed that current policy allows these staff members to drive to the tower and park. “We ask them to not block the path for users. We don’t want a vehicle parked there for an extended period,” Pullen said in an initial email.

We sent Pullen the image in our lead photo at the top of this story. He said the staffer was doing as advised and that the car was parked “so that the path could still be used.”

Pullen then did a bit more digging and found out that the reason county employees park on the path has to do with security concerns. Here’s more from one of his emails:

“For the security of employees working the night shift, the Morrison Bridge operator parks a vehicle by the bridge tower, on the outside edge of the path. Before this practice, the operator parked their vehicle off the bridge nearby. But we had repeated incidents of car break-ins.”

Pullen added that the Morrison bridge operator used to set out traffic cones and/or barricades around the parked car, but stopped doing that after those items were thrown into the river by passersby.

Pullen and the county acknowledge that parking a car on the bridge path is not ideal. To lessen the confusion and impact, he says they plan on marking the space and having employees drive “the smallest car possible.”

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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Advocate: County survey needs input from rural road users, not just residents

Advocate: County survey needs input from rural road users, not just residents

Family trip to Stub Stewart State Park-15-15

Riding on the County-maintained Skyline Blvd.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Welcome to one of the first in our series of occasional “Advocate” posts. These are quick, simple opportunities to get involved in making the Portland area better for biking.

Multnomah County is updating its wide-reaching long-range plans in ways that matter deeply to residents of the relatively few urban streets owned by the county government.

The result is that people who live on those streets — notably for bike users, Northwest Skyline Boulevard and Corbett in the western Colombia Gorge — have weighed in about the importance of bike transportation to the county, but most residents of the county haven’t.

“It appears that the only active outreach has occurred at two open houses held along Skyline and in Corbett,” Multnomah County Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee member Andrew Holtz wrote in an email to BikePortland. “Not surprisingly, the attendees at these meetings put bicycling, walking and other active transportation projects at the bottom of their priority lists.”

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“The survey is open only until 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, so there are just a few days to make your priorities known,” Holtz wrote. “Unfortunately, the key transportation questions are buried deep into the survey, so people have answer several pages of land use, agritourism and other questions before getting to the bike and ped stuff.”

If you’d like to weigh in, go for it.

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Dear everywhere else: This is how to do a detour. Sincerely, Multnomah County

Dear everywhere else: This is how to do a detour. Sincerely, Multnomah County

detour done right fb2

Service work on the Burnside Bridge Thursday, perfectly executed.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

With a few dozen orange cones and minimal fuss, a team of bridge inspectors and a county traffic safety specialist assembled a perfect Portland-quality detour on the Burnside Bridge Thursday.

It might seem like a small matter, but anyone who’s ridden a bike or walked near many construction detours knows how frequent it is for them to push people into mixed-traffic lanes rather than meddle with the flow of cars — even on streets that are far wider than they need to be for cars to keep flowing freely.

The good things about this short-term, lightly mobile midday detour started right at the beginning, with the well-placed warning signs:

sign placement

Closer to the heavy machinery, the bike lane peeled off gracefully, while the machinery itself remained clear of the sidewalk:

detour done right fb

With the cones in place, it was perfectly comfortable to merge left and ride in the bike lane next to traffic moving 30 mph or more, while also staying clear of the trucks on the right. Coming across the bridge at 2:30 p.m., there didn’t seem to be any traffic congestion issue.

detour no bike

Bike Gallery warehouse sale!

The cones continued for a bit on the west side of the detour, letting people decide when to merge right into the bike lane or whether to remain straight in preparation for the shared-lane descent into downtown.

looking back at detour

The detour was the work of Kevin Smith, a county employee assigned to support the private bridge inspection contractors during their annual job hanging over the side of the bridge.

“We just had a brainstorm in the morning,” Smith said when I stopped to ask what the planning looked like. “We try to do it the best way possible without obstructing and keep everybody safe.”

kevin smith

Smith mentioned that not everyone on a bike is going to use the detour, with some exercising their judgment that the main travel lanes are safer. Every person I saw pedal past seemed stress-free and content to be using it, though.

All in all, this was a detour that perfectly upheld this famous image in the city-county Climate Action Plan:

green hierarchy

It was enough to make you wish the Burnside had physical separators to improve the bridge’s bike lanes on every other day of the year, too.

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Turnover of top traffic engineers will shake up city and county

Turnover of top traffic engineers will shake up city and county

Cycletrack on SW Broadway-2

Rob Burchfield, who spent 16 years as Portland’s city traffic engineer, is moving to the private sector.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Two people whose judgment calls have shaped Portland’s streets for years — in one case, for decades — are stepping into jobs elsewhere.

Rob Burchfield, Portland’s top traffic engineer since 1999 and a nationally respected innovator on bike-friendly street designs, will leave the city on Friday after almost 30 years. He’s becoming the regional engineering director for Toole Design Group, a national engineering and design firm that specializes in biking and walking projects.

Meanwhile, Multnomah County Engineer Brian Vincent will leave his job April 3. Vincent, whose agency oversees most of downtown Portland’s bridges and many roads outside city limits (Sauvie Island’s, among others), will “pursue a long time career goal of serving as a public works director” by taking that position at San Juan County, Wash., county spokesman Mike Pullen said.

Vincent has been with the county since 2007, when he came across the Columbia River from Clark County Public Works.

Burchfield and Vincent’s successors will oversee things from the use of color on local streets to whether the Burnside Bridge needs right-turn lanes to the best spots for bike-specific traffic signals.

The turnover may bring changes to both agencies. Burchfield’s departure is prompting shifts in the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s organization chart, with Director Leah Treat assuming some of Burchfield’s legal responsibilities.

“I have made the decision to move Traffic District Operations and Traffic Design into Engineering Services,” PBOT Director Leah Treat explained in a Feb. 20 email forwarded by PBOT spokeswoman Diane Dulken. “Carl Snyder and Lewis Wardrip will be reporting to [Chief Engineer and Engineering Services manager] Steve Townsen. This will allow for stronger coordination between their Divisions and the Signals and Streetlights Division. This leaves open the question of who will be the City Traffic Engineer. We are working on changes to Title 16 to give all the Traffic Engineer responsibilities to the Director and I will then delegate them among Carl, Lewis and [Signals and Streetlights Division Manager] Peter [Koonce] as makes sense. This change will help current division of duties and also give future Directors the flexibility to deal with changing environments.”

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Burchfield is generally well-liked among local bicycling advocates. His new bio at Toole sums it up:

Inspired by a study tour to Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Rob was responsible for implementing many new and innovative design treatments on Portland’s streets. His experience spurred him to conceive and lead the development of the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Rob’s achievements earned him the 2009 Public Sector Professional of the Year award from the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals.

“Rob has been just a great engineer to work with,” said Bicycle Transportation Alliance Engagement Manager Carl Larson. “He’s willing to try new things and really saw the promise that bikes gave cities. I think he really embraced biking as a way to solve a lot of traffic woes. And I think his work with NACTO was huge.”

Burchfield’s new gig also represents a bit of news in the world of local bikeway engineering.

Toole, based in Washington D.C. since its founding in 2003, is one of the country’s two major engineering firms that work mostly in bicycle and pedestrian projects. The other is Portland-based Alta Planning and Design — whose local office is led by Mia Birk, a former colleague of Burchfield’s at the City of Portland.

By hiring Burchfield to open its first Portland office, Toole is stepping squarely into Alta’s home turf and will surely be competing with Alta and other companies for contracts with cities, counties and states in the region.

To us, this just sounds like the latest sign of private-sector confidence in the future of bike infrastructure. Let’s hope the public servants who step into Burchfield’s and Vincent’s current work have similar confidence.

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