It is also completely and utterly broken: poorly designed and maintained, inconvenient, and unsafe. The fact that so many people still use it nevertheless testifies to its importance as a connector between neighborhoods.
Here's a tour of the bridge from a pedestrian's and cyclist's perspective:
To get to the sidewalk from the south, one must either take the Back Bay path or, if you're coming from any of the neighborhoods on the north side of the bridge, cut through a parking lot and follow a dark, narrow path under an overpass (broken glass abounds, natch).
The bridge makes room for eight lanes of freeway and one meager sidewalk, which is only on one side of the bridge. For most of its length, the sidewalk only has enough room for two people walking abreast. Bicyclists, runners, walkers, and strollers passing each other in both directions are frequently forced to jockey for space: in traffic engineering terms, this sidewalk's level of service gets an "F".
A big part of the problem is the fact that there's no sidewalk for northbound traffic on the other side of the bridge. Cyclists headed north have the choice of breaking one of two laws: either ride (illegally) on the sidewalk that leads into the bridge from Washington Avenue, or stay on the right shoulder of the road, even for the 100 yards over the bridge where it's designated a freeway and bicycles are forbidden (I opt for the latter option, which is faster and safer to my mind).
Anyhow, continuing southward, bikes and pedestrians have a choice between peeling off onto the Back Bay/Eastern Prom trails or continuing on a narrower sidewalk along the off-ramp to Washington Avenue and the Munjoy Hill neighborhood. If you should choose the latter, you'll encounter this off-ramp to Anderson Street:
Note the beefy guardrails. Traffic here is only supposed to be traveling at neighborhood speeds at this point, but this road is obviously designed to encourage much faster traffic. Not that this could be at all related to the speeding pickup truck that hit me, dragged me along the pavement, and ran away just a few blocks down this same street (see previous post).
Once across the off-ramp, bicyclists have two unsavory choices: either continue up the extremely narrow and overgrown sidewalk, as this guy does, until the guardrail ends and you can hop onto the street.
Or, if you want to be legal, wait until the coast is clear...
The state DOT could easily and cheaply fix the latter hazard by cutting the guardrail at the other end of the crosswalk and installing a curb cut there where bikes can go directly from the sidewalk to the road. This would also make it easier for northbound cyclists to get onto the bridge path from the other side of Washington.
It's kind of a wonder our highway engineers didn't do this in the first place, but I've seen enough highway engineers to know that they aren't fond of using their legs.
I'll be sending this assessment to the following bureaucrats, and I'd encourage you to send your thoughts on this crossing to the same people:
- Steve Linnell, Greater Portland Council of Governments Sr. Transportation Planner: firstname.lastname@example.org
- John Duncan, Director, Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation Committee (PACTS): email@example.com
- Eric Ortman, Transportation Planner for PACTS: firstname.lastname@example.org
- MaineDOT Engineers: email@example.com