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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Steel Bridge Frustration

Yesterday afternoon I had to ride into the Pearl District (to go to the bank, not be a yuppie) from inner SE. Coming onto the viaduct that leads to the Hawthorne Bridge, I had two options: cross the Hawthorne and use either Waterfront Park or 2nd Av to get to the bank, or take the Eastbank Esplanade to the Steel Bridge and then cut through the Union Station area. The second option is a bit longer, but more scenic, and since it wasn't raining, I opted for it. Riding across the pontoon pathway that floats over the Willamette was pretty neat because of how high the river was. And luck upon luck, a freight train was going to cross the Steel the same time I was!

And then the fun stopped. The lower deck bridge walkway was closed off. A yellow sign indicated that the deck was closed for maintenance, please use the upper level. This scenario happens more often than I'd like it to, and it's heavily frustrating when it does. In order to get up to the top, you need to ride up a long, steep ramp. From there you either take the closest side (going in the reverse direction of traffic), riding along a narrow sidewalk that you'll have to stop for any bike traffic coming from the opposite direction; or go even further out of your way to get to "the right side".

My biggest beef with the whole sitch is if I had known the lower deck to the Steel Bridge was closed beforehand I would have not used the Eastbank Esplanade. But there is no indicator at the beginning of the route that the deck is closed. This would definitely be helpful. A sign with an amber flashing light stating, "Lower Deck of Steel Bridge Closed Ahead. Please use alternate route" would be great! It could be placed on the path right by the Hawthorne Bridge. Similar signs exist in Portland: at SE Madison and Grand a warning light will flash letting people know the Hawthorne Bridge is up, and on NW Front in the Industrial District there's a similar warning if a train is crossing the road down the way.

But then there is the question of who is responsible for that? The Hawthorne Bridge is maintained by Multnomah County, the Esplanade is the City of Portland, and the Steel Bridge? Well, the bridge itself is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, who leases the upper deck to the Oregon Department of transportation, who then sub-leases to Tri-Met for the MAX tracks. What about the pedestrian path on the lower deck? That one stumped me. There is a number provided on the sign closing the bridge, and with a little research I found that is a City maintenance number (503.823.1700). I called it and asked about the situation with the bridge and they said the deck was closed "indefinitely" because of a mechanical problem, and there was no timeframe for it to re-open. Great.

And so far, that number seems to be the only way to learn about the situation. There is the website Keep Portland Moving which is supposed to provide information about road work, detours, closures, etc. But I couldn't find anything about the Steel Bridge on there. Maybe the bike/ped path is just not important enough to warrant attention?

For now, if you want to know if the lower deck to the Steel is closed, you'll have to call and ask. And that's pretty annoying.


  1. whats annoying is this posts whining about having to go a couple extra blocks (on a website titled Urban Adventure League) because the city is fixing something. i cringe at what you might post if they didn't fix it. (Urban Adventure League in danger!)

    toughen up or whine less

  2. Aah, an anonymous post is telling me to toughen up. I'm savoring the irony.


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