Greg Stump

Last week, pedestrians and cyclists crossing the Hawthorne Bridge encountered the unexpected. Their part of the bridge—elevated sidewalks flanking the road, for bikers and walkers to share—had suddenly been divided into two separate, narrow lanes.

Cyclists were dumbfounded by the change. Previously, bikers simply hugged the bridge's rail, unless passing another cyclist or pedestrian. Now, cyclists are forced to ride on the inside lane, "teetering on the brink of rush-hour traffic," one biker explained. And there's no room to pass slower bikers.

"I can see thrilling commutes in our future," gripes cyclist Will Cervarich, speculating that one slow biker will cause a backup, as "a whole line of bikers putzes along behind."

Ken Southerland, who heads the monthly Shift to Bikes Breakfast on Hawthorne Bridge, spoke to the Mercury during their pre-Thanksgiving breakfast. He noted problems with the new lanes: "Who moves over, if anyone, into the pedestrian lane—the passer or the passee? Or are both [cyclists] stuck in a line until the end of the bridge?"

Southerland added that the lanes aren't wide enough to accommodate a bike trailer. Other cyclists are concerned about the tiny lane's steep drop-off to a grated motor vehicle lane—where oncoming cars could spell injury, or even death. (And unofficial observations show that plenty of pedestrians are ignoring the new path markings.)

Bikers suspect that Multnomah County, which owns the bridge and is notably less bike-friendly than the City of Portland, didn't get enough input from cycling organizations before spending $5,000 on the controversial lanes. County spokesperson Mike Pullen says the lanes are a response to biker accidents with pedestrians or other cyclists, and county engineers designed the paths after consulting with bike and pedestrian groups.

However, it's unclear if lane specifics were approved or if cycling advocates simply signed off on the idea of a marked bike lane. Indeed, some bikers are into the idea of Hawthorne Bridge bike paths; lanes, at the very least, are an improvement over the "rumble strips" that were previously used to slow bikers down, especially at trouble spots like the bridge's "on ramps."

But bikers weren't the only ones irked by the mysterious new lanes. County Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey—whose district includes the Hawthorne Bridge—told the Mercury she was "annoyed" that she didn't even know about the new paths until the Monday after they were put in.