Do we really need a bike bridge on the west-side?

For those not in the know, Sam Adams is proposing to use the old Sauvie Island Bridge to gap I-405 across NW Flanders Street. I’ve lived in Portland long enough to appreciate the fact that we do stuff different here. But really? Is this necessary? Aren’t there perfectly usable spans one block on either side of Flanders? And if, as proponents claim, the sidewalks are too narrow, isn’t there a perfectly suitable means of walking under the 405 just a few blocks north?

I think this is a bad idea. Sure, it’s a neat idea, but a bad idea. Let’s forget about the fact that it’s unnecessary. We have some of the crappiest roads on the west coast. There are a small ton of potholes beggin’ for a-fixin’. Also, there are parts of the city that still don’t have sidewalks. Maybe we could fix these first? Secondly, this just smells like a pet project, and gives those folks out in the eastern hinterlands more ammunition for arguments of west-side favoritism. I can’t say I blame them, really. It does look bad when the city is seriously contemplating an absolutely unnecessary (but cool – I’ll admit it’s a cool idea) handout to peds and cyclists when their roads are crumbling.

Am I wrong here?

13 Comments so far

  1. leander37 on April 28th, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

    Your assessment of the availability of adjacent crossings is not wrong, but you are underestimating the barrier that unsafe, inconvenient crossings can create for pedestrians and bikers. IE, the nagging feeling that they might be killed.

  2. tenstringesquire (port_bill) on April 28th, 2008 @ 2:53 pm

    Thanks, leander. My post really isn’t meant to be snarky – I really am curious to hear arguments on the "pro" side of this project. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve overlooked something completely feasible.

    I used to live in NW and work at Powell’s. I walked across 405 on my way to and from work every day and never felt remotely unsafe. I can see how cyclists may feel differently, however, as the sidewalks and lanes are pretty narrow. That said, does the inconvenience of biking four blocks up to Johnson to cross under the freeway necessitate the expense of this project?

  3. brett on April 28th, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

    yes, you are wrong — but you’re open minded, so thanks for listening. This has been debated endlessly and thoroughly throughout the portland blogosphere and media, and I’m amazed that so many people still hold so many misconceptions.
    1. No, there aren’t perfectly usable spans on either side of Flanders. A few fearless hardcore bikers will use Couch and Everett, but they’re narrow and entrance ramps to a freeway, discouraging families who bike or walk. (I’ve biked for years and refuse to use ’em.) And Flanders has long been planned as a path from the river to the Pear, and a wide, welcoming, safe span for walkers and bikers will vastly increase that kind of traffic, while reducing car traffic and gridlock. Some experienced cyclists are comfortable with 12 foot wide paths, but many more non-lycra-clad regular would-be bike riders are not, and those are the ones ("interested but concerned," as the surveys show) we need to get out of their cars (when reasonable appropriate) and onto bikes.

    2. You can ride under the highway on Johnson, but that’s a half mile out of the way and a half mile back. Why do cars get direct access but bikes and peds have to go a mile out of their way? and how do you think that affects the choice whether to drive or walk/bike?
    That’s why the plan for a Flanders crossing was debated and analyzed by planning pros years ago, and Flanders determined to be the best crossing. There will be a Flanders bridge regardless — it’s been long planned and everyone who’s remotely informed has known for years it’s necessary. The business community supports it (with money, too). Bikes support it. Peds support it. City planners support it. The only question is what kind of crossing.

    3. The Sauvie bridge has NOTHING to do with sidewalks on the east side, or filling potholes in SE, or buying everyone in Cully a pony. The vast majority of the money for the bridge comes from NW area business owners and other funds (including one for saving historic structures) that are NOT LEGALLY USABLE for building sidewalks in Cully, or filling potholes in SE, or buying everyone east of the river a pony. The ONLY reason the bridge and east side sidewalks are discussed together is that Tom Potter wants to get his buddy Sho elected, and he’s trying to create a false issue by using the bridge to make Adams look more concerned about the west side than the east — when it’s Adams who’s doubled the amount of money going into east side safety and traffic improvements, doing more for fixing our infrastructure than any politician in two generations, while his opponent has done diddly. Sadly, public ignorance makes it seem that this scurrilous tactic is working. If only Potter had governed as well as he plays politics. Getting burned by the tram and other fiascos has made people sensitive to big projects, but this is NOT the place to fight that battle.

    4. The Sauvie bridge is a better buy — 70% more bridge for 30% more money, and economists who study these things say that the spiraling cost of concrete and steel over the next five years (the earliest a new bridge could be built) will push construction costs of even a narrow, uninviting bridge HIGHER than what it will cost to move the Sauvie six months from now, as planned. Plus we get to use it five years sooner, maybe saving a few lives (the girl who was killed on Burnside last fall would have been using Flanders instead if a safe bridge had been there, her mom has said) and untold amounts of gas from cars not driving because their drivers are now on bikes. Plus we save the environmental costs of scrapping an old bridge and building a new one — much higher than re-use, but sadly not included in bean counters’ budgeting. The environmental advantages alone justify reuse rather than new building.

    We DO need better roads on the east side, we DO need sidewalks citywide, and the decision to move Sauvie to Flanders has NOTHING to do with those things. (Maybe we don’t need more ponies in Cully, admittedly.) About the same amount of money will be available for them over the coming five years will be available regardless of which bridge is used. Meanwhile, if we have a Sauvie bridge, we get hundreds (at least more) people per week out of cars and onto bikes, reduce environmental costs, and connect NW better to downtown and the river, which benefits the whole city, not merely that area. We’re lucky that the bridge just happens to fit that span perfectly, and it’d be crazy not to take advantage of that lucky break. I’m glad we have some visionary leaders who are willing to make a safer, more environmentally friendly bridge happen, and don’t need to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars looking for a vision.

  4. morty on April 28th, 2008 @ 9:51 pm

    It seems that much of the debate about the Flanders Overpass has devolved into the standard two camp, us v. them, mentality.
    If one questions the necessity of the bridge, one is accused of being a backslidin’, pro-Sho Potterite.
    If one supports the bridge, you’ll be branded one of the new urban elites who gets all the love from City Hall.
    Myself, as along time bike rider here in town, I can agree that Glisan (w/b) and Everett (e/b) can be pretty hairy at times on a bike. But riding in traffic is a reality that people have to deal with if they ride regularly(at least until the personal auto goes the way of the dinosaur).
    I can get behind this project largely on the understanding that the funding for the project had already been earmarked for this project only- whether fair or not, those dollars are not fungible with other needed projects citywide.
    That said, I’ve got to take issue with a number of arguments in support of the project.
    First, Eastside complaints aren’t just limited to the need of sidewalks in Cully and pothole repair. There are a staggering number of high-traffic areas on the Eastside in desperate need of safety improvements. If one doesn’t like the nagging feeling one might get hit while crossing 405 on Everett St., one should consider the number of peds and bikes actually hit, and either seriously injured or killed in mid to outer SE. You can check out a lot of the stats in PDF on Sam Adams website. There’s a list of how many kids have been hit on bikes on SE Foster over an 8 year period. Yikes!! You can count pedestrian fatalities on 82/Powell.
    Foster finally got some ped islands w/ crosswalks and, surprise, much like the crosswalks and islands on SE Powell between 39th and 26th they are largely ignored by motorists who blow by at 40-50 mph. Do we see PPB Traffic Division enforcing the vehicle code at those crosswalks, making SE PDX streets at least a wee bit safer? Nope.
    With a little bit of money approved by City Council to study the idea of making alot of danger spots safer, has anything changed on the ground on ped/bike crossing nightmares like 82nd AV yet? Nope.
    While the death of Tracy Sparling is certainly a tragedy, it is no less a tragedy than the loss of many other people’s loved ones in other parts of town. I’ve heard the argument that a Flanders Bridge would’ve saved Ms. Sparling, I’m not sure how accurate that may be, my understanding is that Ms. Sparling was on the southside of Burnside, by the Crystal,crossing north headed in the direction of Flanders at the time she was struck.
    I don’t think the bridge would’ve been a factor one way or the other given those facts.
    I enjoy biking crosstown and I’d like to do so safely no matter which part of town I’m in, its just becoming increasingly difficult to maintain confidence that resources will find their way to places that really are in need, compared to more high profile, big ticket projects.

  5. tenstringesquire (port_bill) on April 28th, 2008 @ 10:16 pm

    Thanks, bret and morty. Two great arguments. I was not aware that the money allocated to the bridge project was earmarked solely for its use. Consider me edumacated, brett.

    And Morty, thanks for highlighting the woes of outer (and some parts of inner) SE and NE. One of the news outlets here reported that the police are doing some sort of crosswalk "sting" operation, but as a pedestrian myself, I can tell you that most crosswalks are very dangerous places indeed. But that’s another post for another day.

    Now, about that pony…

  6. nmarchetti on April 29th, 2008 @ 5:36 am

    I want a pony…

  7. nuovorecord on April 29th, 2008 @ 9:01 am

    Good discussion of the facts, tenstring. Thanks for being thoughtful.

    I would just add to the excellent reasons listed above as to why Portland needs this bridge is that the City’s research has shown that despite all the cyclists you see riding around, it’s only about 5-6% of Portlanders that ride on a regular basis. There are about 60% of residents who have indicated that they would ride, but do not due to a lack of safe routes. So there are a lot of potential cyclists out there that are looking for improvements such as this one.

    In addition to providing a necessary function, I think reusing the Sauvie Island bridge sends a tremendous message to residents about the City’s commitment to making cycling safer for all, not just a few.

  8. nolando on April 29th, 2008 @ 9:37 am

    And here I thought the off-roading-in-the-city-options in my neighborhood would be seen as a bonus, not a charity case… but color me ignorant for not being aware of all the details shared in these responses. It makes much more sense to me now – thanks, all!

  9. daaaaave on April 29th, 2008 @ 11:43 am

    Offroading in the city? I thought that’s why all you suburbanites bought those 4×4 SUVs?

  10. leander37 on April 29th, 2008 @ 12:06 pm

    Everyone keeps saying that the round trip bypass is 1 mile, but google says it is 0.6 miles.

  11. sabernar on April 30th, 2008 @ 5:43 am

    When I lived in Atlanta, there were a bunch of crosswalk stings in some of the more heavily trafficked ‘walkable’ neighborhoods, and I really believe that it helped change a lot of drivers habits. They also put these little signs in the middle of the road to remind drivers that they have to stop for pedestrians (they can be seen here: Those signs take a beating, believe me – I’ve seen some that are bent and twisted with tire marks all over them.

  12. nolando on April 30th, 2008 @ 2:51 pm

    Cully neighborhood makes me a suburbanite? Who knew…

  13. divebarwife on May 1st, 2008 @ 10:03 am

    Not suburbanites – but I do think it means we get ponies!

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