Thursday, May 10, 2007

This Is Broken: Tukey's Bridge (of Doom)

Tukey's Bridge crosses Portland's Back Bay between the Munjoy Hill neighborhood and East Deering. It also completes the circuit of Portland's very popular Back Bay running path and links into the Eastern Prom bike path. In short, it is an important and well-used connection in Portland's bike and pedestrian network.

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).

Because of the guardrails, bikes and pedestrians must cross the off-ramp at the crosswalk, which at least has a bright sign to get the attention of the hurtling traffic.

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...

At the other side of the crosswalk, make a sharp turn against traffic (keeping a sharp lookout to make sure there aren't any cars coming around the bend at 60 MPH)...

Make a tight turn around the end of the guardrail...

...and ride normally up the right side of Washington Avenue (presuming you haven't been vehicularly manslaughtered in the meantime).

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:


Brown said...


Wow. Very glad that you're ok. I haven't been a-blogging lately, mostly due to work intruding on my electronic energy.

Also not surprised, sadly. And, naturally, I agree with you assessment of the bridge.

May I add to your list of contactable people with a possible lever to the issue:

Jim Carmody, Transportation Engineer for the City of Portland (874 8894)

Dan Stewart (, MDOT's Office of Passenger Transportation's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator

Alex Landry, Bike-Ped Advisory Committee, City of Portland (citizen. contact me and I'll give you his email)

Kevin Donoghue, whom you know, but you might not know that he is also Chair of Portland's Transportation Committee.

As you're aware, design work is now being done on a path through Bayside. You might start planting the seeds of interest in Kevin's ear (as will I) that now might be a good time to look at the utility of all of Portland's Trails as commuter routes. Oh, also get in touch with Portland Trails about that.

Brown said...

PS: keeping my eye out for your assailant as well.

Turboglacier said...

It's bad alright.

Not much better is the process of biking northbound over the "Million Dollar Bridge" and trying to get to anywhere in the west end. You can be legal, staying in the bike lane to the end of the bridge, then cutting left across two lanes of 40+mph traffic to take a left onto High St. Then you're faced with keeping to the right on High up the hill and cutting again across two lanes of traffic to turn left on Spring... or staying to the left on High and enduring the honks from behind as you grind up the hill. Eventually you'll wind up in the west end, albeit with a dangerous half-mile detour.

Or, you can risk your life to cut across two lanes of traffic before the end of the bridge, and take an illegal left onto York the other direction, trying to avoid crossing in front of State St. at the moment its green light unleashes a drag-race of Cape Elizabeth SUVs aiming to hit 80mph before mid-bridge.

I do the latter.

takinanap said...

thanks for this article. and sorry for your mishap! i am new to portland and frequently travel by bicycle. this part of the walk/bike path is such a puzzle to me. i finally figured out how to use the path to get from munjoy hill to falmouth by crossing thru that parking lot!? wish i had seen your post earlier.

on the subject of franklin art...has there been an update to the submissions for changes to the arterial? i notice new billboards along the arterial, but don't dare pause on my bicycle to read them.

Anonymous said...

Stop yr whining. I've biked over the area you described for 14 years and never once felt that i was in danger.And I am hardly a thrill seeker. are you even from Portland?

C Neal said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for elevating and enlightening this discussion! Your stance against whining and your impressive tenure in this city is enough to convince me that you're absolutely correct.

I'm glad that all of this bridge's problems have been solved, thanks to your bravely speaking out.

It's amazing how many brilliant online insights come from this "Anonymous" person. The internet is certainly a richer place with him/her around.