Through the Columbia River Crossing Project, our region has a great opportunity to make comprehensive improvements to the Portland-Vancouver corridor. Those improvements could be of lasting value to our economy and the health of our residents and environment…or they could saddle future generations with more congestion, more air pollution, more sprawl and less money to spend on all other transportation investments.
Few renderings of the 12-lane bridge exist; this one was created by Nick Falbo for his very interesting CRC visualizations.
At the start of this year, the Columbia River Crossing Project decided on a 12-lane bridge across the river (after paying lip service for a few months to 8- and 10- lane options). That was the moment when the different bike and pedestrian path options presented by the CRC became dominated by the one that would go underneath the freeway – tucked into the structural tube below the bridge deck, on the opposite side of the bridge from passing light rail trains.
Right from the start, we were concerned. The BTA fields weekly phone calls from residents about unswept and unmaintained bike paths in out-of-the-way places, particularly along highways (the St. John’s bridge sidewalks and the SE Powell Blvd./17th undercrossing, for example) so we know that these paths can be easily forgotten once built.
The BTA, along with all of the other members of the CRC’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, knew that only if the project set a high bar for ongoing maintenance would such an under-bridge path be safe and comfortable. It doesn’t take much broken glass, or graffiti, or cut fencing, or more than one threat of physical harm to keep people out of such a space.
The BTA and the CRC bike committee made our concerns clear to staff six, three, and one months ago. The BTA specifically asked to see a sign of a strong commitment to the perpetual maintenance and safety of this path from either the CRC or the two state Departments of Transportation.
Yet by yesterday’s committee meeting, as CRC staff pressured this committee to (essentially) rubber-stamp the under-bridge path, it was clear that no one outside that subcommittee had been talking about safety and maintenance, much less committing to it.
It isn’t important who would manage this bridge and collect revenues – even if it’s a separate, new entity (like a Bridge Authority or the advisory Mobility Council [48 KB pdf]) the two state DOTs will of course be instrumental in setting it up, and they might be the only agencies with actual binding authority over its operations.
The fact that the CRC did not take the committee’s concerns about safety and maintenance seriously enough to elevate that discussion beyond that room sends an unfortunate but clear signal about the importance of biking and walking mobility to this project.
Since 2008, the bridge pathway design has been stripped of most bicycle and pedestrian amenities. The design has gone
–from two paths on either side of the bridge (at 12′ and 26′ wide) to just one
–from access at both sides of I-5 (which is very wide) in Vancouver to just on one
–from two elevators in the system to one
–from four or more viewpoints along the route to just one
–from 2 open-air, full-view paths to one that is deeply overhung and enclosed along half its length
Further, the quality of the bicycle and pedestrian facilities are always vastly overstated when the CRC presents them to the public:
–the path is touted as “twenty-four feet wide” when in fact it is only so at its flattest, straightest part – most of the route is just the DOT standard 16′ wide
–travel distance on the planned path would actually be LONGER; it is more circuitous than today’s route
–access to the path from Vancouver will require going up 5 blocks worth of corkscrews
–the under-bridge path is always depicted on a blazingly-sunny day at dawn, and never with a glimpse to the east, and the 200 feet of concrete overhang and multiple structural walls
–the under-bridge path is described as “world-class” despite the fact that noone else in the world has ever made the mistake of building one like it
It has become clear to the BTA that our concerns and those of the other bike and pedestrian planners and advocates who have been working hard alongside us for three years are not important to the project. If they aren’t being discussed today, there’s is no reason to expect them to be addressed tomorrow and, most importantly, there is no reason to expect this under-bridge path not to fail.
The BTA can no longer justify pouring our members’ precious resources into a project that is bad for the health and vitality of this region and now has a lousy bike and pedestrian facility to boot.
Improving multi-modal connections between Portland and Vancouver has been a priority for BTA staff since 2005 (when it was included in our Blueprint for Better Bicycling). Even after coming to oppose the overall CRC project due to its harmful secondary effects on the bikeability and liveability of the region, we hoped that – if it were to ever get built – at least some good would come out of the bike and pedestrian path.
But the BTA works for results, not for process and not for appearances. The CRC is not delivering results for the people in this region who care about healthy, active transportation. We will put our energy elsewhere to get those results, and to develop a real solution – that solves more problems than it creates – to the mobility challenges facing Portland and Vancouver.