Bike lanes on St. Johns Bridge were nixed 13 years ago

Calls for safety changes after bicyclist hit

PORTLAND, Ore. – Bicyclists are asking The Oregon Department of Transportation to better protect bicyclists on the St. Johns Bridge after a bicyclist was hit and killed Saturday.

ODOT studied the impact of adding one or two bike lanes to the busy bridge in 2003, but ultimately did not change the lane designations for multiple reasons, according to ODOT spokeswoman Kimberly Dinwiddie.

The St. Johns Bridge is a four-lane bridge with sidewalks on either side. It’s a busy route with freight traffic, commuters, bicyclists and pedestrians all using the bridge to travel to the east and west side of town on Highway 30.

Poll: Should there be bike lanes on the St. Johns Bridge?

The traffic study, published in 2003, considered the impact of adding one or two bike lanes to the bridge. The options included one bike lane on each side, leaving two lanes for vehicle traffic; and one bike lane westbound or one bike lane eastbound. 

The study found that any of those options could work. Traffic would back up a bit on both sides of the bridge, but traffic on the actual bridge wouldn’t change significantly.

“When a given direction is reduced from two lanes to one lane there is an increase in travel time and control delay across the bridge,” the study’s executive summary said. “However, at no time to vehicles stop on the bridge due to a reduction in travel lanes.”

But Dinwiddie said two factors kept ODOT from adding bike lanes. She said state guidelines stipulate that freight routes, such as Highway 30, have to be 19-feet wide in each direction. The St. Johns Bridge is 40-feet wide.

“If we placed a bike lane with a separated barrier we would be in violation of the state law,” she said.

Gerik Kransky disagrees. The bike safety advocate sat on the rule making committee that created implementation guidelines for the rule Dinwiddie was referring to, ORS 366.215. He said it's possible to add bike lanes on the bridge and comply with state law.  

 

 

Traffic was the other reason ODOT decided not to add bike lanes. The agency didn't want to increase traffic backups during rush hour.

Ultimately, ODOT decided to widen the sidewalks on the bridge a little bit to make more room for bicyclists instead. It also added “sharrows” in 2012 that didn’t change the rules of the road but are intended to remind drivers that they share the road with bicyclists. 

Dinwiddie said no changes are currently being considered following Saturday’s fatal crash. She said that between 2010-2015, there have been two crashes between bicyclists and vehicles that resulted in minor injuries. 

“People who are biking on the bridge have the option to use the travel lane. They are legally allowed to use the travel lane or they can opt to use the sidewalk,” she said. “Drivers should give them plenty of space and go the speed limit.”

She also said drivers have a responsibility to make sure their car is safe. The vehicle involved in Saturday’s crash had bald back tires and police said the driver fishtailed and slid into the opposite lane, hitting and killing the bicyclist.

“Keep vehicles maintained,” she said. “Make sure your tires are appropriate. If you can’t afford to maintain your car maybe you shouldn’t be driving your car.”

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Q&A with ODOT

We took some of the many questions we received from viewers directly to ODOT to try to get them answered. Spokeswoman Kimberly Dinwiddie answered the following:

Is it really true that freight routes have to have a 19-foot lane?

Freight routes in Oregon require by law that freight haulers have at least 19 feet of width in each direction they're traveling. On the St. Johns Bridge it's only 40 feet wide, so if we put protected bike lanes in each direction on the St. Johns Bridge, it would prohibit us from following that law.

The entire width of the bridge is 40 feet wide.

The 19-feet cannot be obstructed by any barrier.

It doesn't matter how many lanes there are, what matters is the width. And it doesn't matter whether that 19-feet is in one lane or two lanes. What matters is that its unobstructed with any barriers or curbs.

Could you lose a lane... in order to get bike lanes?

We have studied removing travel lanes. We discovered in that study it would cause backups on U.S. 30 as well as into the St. Johns Neighborhood. In addition it would limit the width available to freight haulers.

You said that based on ORS 366.215 the roadway must have 19-foot unobstructed lanes. Does that mean a TOTAL of 19-feet of unobstructed travel lanes in each direction? So, two 10-foot wide lanes each way satisfy the requirement? But one 10-foot wide lane plus a protected bike lane would not?

That is correct.

Does state law allow any flexibility in this? Would the city of Portland or Multnomah County be able to request an exemption? What would that process look like?

The process to change the exemption would require a possible change in the statute but it would also have to be approved by the Oregon Transportation Commission before that could be moved forward

You referenced a previous study on this bridge. Do we need a new road study? It's been a decade since the 2005 study on the St. Johns Bridge – the region and it's roads have clearly grown and become more taxed by changing demographics in Portland. In particular, North Portland seems to have experienced a major growth spurt. Would ODOT support a new study? What would it take get a new study done?

At this time we have not had any discussions about a new study.  The study that took place in 2003 included projections for up to the year of 2020. 

To make room for bike lanes could ODOT create a flexible traffic pattern with 1 dedicated lane each direction and a center lane that would change based on flow of traffic for freight? 

That has not been considered in either study and it's not under discussion.

This is a really sad reminder we have to take responsibility for the safety of others every time we get behind the wheel.

We had the study in 2005 as we were leading up to the rehabilitation project for the bridge. And what we did was we widened the sidewalks around the bridge spires to allow for more room for people who choose to walk or bike on the sidewalks. In 2012, we looked at this again to see if there was anything else we could do and we still came to the same conclusion that bike lanes, and especially a separate bike path, was not feasible for the St. Johns Bridge. What we have done instead is install sharrows and signs to warn drivers that there are bikes in the travel lane and they have the legal right to be in that travel lane so people who are driving need to expect there are going to be bikes in that travel lane and to give them their room and to slow down.

At this time there is no further discussion to place bike lanes on the St. Johns Bridge because of the congestion and dangerous situations that could occur from that.

KGW


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