Another Streetfilms video, this one really surprised me. Hawthorne Bridge has become a massively popular route for bike commuters:

Since the mid-1990s, for example, vehicle traffic — motorized and pedaled — on the Hawthorne has increased 20 percent. But the volume of auto traffic has increased only a little more than 1 percent. Bus traffic, meanwhile, has held steady.

Cyclists — now about 7,400 a day — account for almost the entire surge.

That’s a lot of bikes.

33 Replies to “Bike Commuting on Portland’s Hawthorne Bridge”

    1. Depends, is the that a-hole Bridge Tender at the University Bridge still parking his or her god-damned car in the bike lane???

      Oh, and I always loved when some neanderthal came to do maintenance or some hack came for a visit and would block the lane on the working-tower side of the bridge because he/she couldn’t be bothered to park in the specially built (added $$$ to the original cost of the bridge) lay-by and walk back to the tower he/she needed to access.

      P.S. In may many years I have seen a few fatal motorcycle crashed on the steel bridge decks of Seattle. Be careful if you are a motorbike rider!!

  1. I’d bet not many. The logical crossings – just due to street layout, bike lanes, proximity to the riverside trail, etc – seem to be Hawthorne and Selwood. Of course, I lived on East Hawthorne and biked either to downtown or down the river trail to Selwood to cross & ride up the hill to the college, so that certainly colors my perspective. But the Hawthorne Bridge had those lovely bike ramps to get up there from the trail and I don’t recall the other bridges being as accessible.

    I shudder to think of bikers on the I-90.

  2. 7,400 bikes = 5.13 bikes per minute in 24 hour period, but 24 hours is a bad baseline for bike traffic, so:

    8.89 bikes per minute in a 14 hour period (roughly 5am to 7pm, a fair estimate of biking hours). That’s one bike crossing at least every 9 seconds.

    Biking in Seattle is a great idea, but our geography largely makes that a poor idea outside of short intra-neighborhood rides. (People biking around SLU and Ballard to run errands, great! Riding to work from Queen Anne to First Hill or Capitol Hill? That’s why buses have bike racks.)

    1. It’s all about awareness. In Portland, they have special maps showing you difficult grades, although I still saw people making the Steele/39th hill on their backs in small clusters, a hill that is akin to the Denny from Melrose-Bellevue slog or the Counterbalance.

      And it’s a bit of a slower pace more conducive to cycling.

      1. The free bike map put out by the city has grade arrows for most arterials. Or are you talking about maps posted on streets or the like?

    2. Rubbish… I commuted from Redmond to the top of Queen Anne for years. I am hardly a budding athlete. That was over a decade ago and Seattle’s bicycle infrastructure has improved dramatically since then. Anything you do to improve bicycle infrastructure will increase the odds that people who already want to bike, but are afraid to, will do so. If you get enough people on bikes, you can even solve the hills issue with a bike lift. Some European countries have them.

      I’m not saying that everybody will bike to work, school, or the store. But getting to 10% or 20% of trips converted to bicycle is a big deal, especially when you consider how little some of these facilities cost. It also gives people a legitimate choice. Just take a look at how many people decided to bike across I-90 during the expansion joint replacement.

      1. If you’re commuting 30-40 miles five times a week, you’re probably more than a budding athlete by most people’s standards.

      2. Re: Budding Athlete…maybe 30 years ago..

        How about old guy with sore legs? Honestly it if you walk a few hills it doesn’t take that much longer (maybe 5 minutes on a 20 mile ride) and after month or two I can ride most of the way to the top.

        And then again this afternoon.. would you rather put in your commute time packed in a bus with 80 of your closest and dearest unwashed friends? Or on a bicycle?

    3. More rubbish. I ride from Renton to Seattle to Bellevue to Seattle. It’s not the hills, it’s the traffic (and it’s the differential between the speeds) and the lack of lanes for bicycles.

      MLK, South of Seward park is a great bicycle ride except that the bike lane for some critical spots has potholes and rough spots due to bad drainage under the pavement. It has a dedicated bike lane and the majority of drivers are very courteous.

      Mercer Island would be a great ride except they have no bike lanes on the major roads and people seem to love to drive WIDE Suv’s… Ford Expeditions etc. Mostly it’s not an issue, but sometimes I get the brush by.

  3. wow, Portland riders are super cool… that looks like a very scary ride to me with the big drop onto the grate, plus congestion, encountering wrong-way joggers while you are passing pedestrians, etc.

  4. Some counts are included and “There were 801 bicyclists observed at the Fremont Bridge, which based on an average bicycle volume distribution over a 24-hour time period, would indicate over 3,000 bicyclists crossing here on a given day.”

    I agree that weather and terrain does deter some people, but that it’s a “poor idea” is incorrect. Thousands to it every day. Amazingly, I am a daily bicycle commuter, coming from West Seattle to downtown. I used to ride from downtown to the top of Queen Anne – not difficult if you use an alternate route to get to the top; in fact, it was easier than my current ride home. Buses have bike racks to help those who may not want to ride a great distance or facilitate multi-modal trips. Not just to get cyclists up hills.

    Portland has an amazing bike infrastructure system, strong advocacy groups which mobilize many participants, fairly flat terrian, more than ample bicycle parking all over the city and a very supportive base within the transportation and bus/metro system. All these factors have greatly increased cycling in Portland. We can work to make sure Seattle gets there, but it’s slow going.

    P.S. Bicyclists do use I-90. There is a bike/ped lane on the north side of the bridge.

    1. I ride I-90 and the worst is the rain going East, you get a spray of oil, tire latex and grime in your face kicked up by the traffic. It’s not far enough away from the cars and trucks to be nice.

      Also missing is the 520 connection. Plenty of people would do the Kirkland, UW ride if they didn’t have to go to Mercer Island and back North first.

      Bike commuting is all about a complete connected safe ride. (and safe parking on both ends.)

    1. Similar maps for Seattle are here – hills shown with little black chevrons pointing uphill.

      As a former Portlander, I’ll agree that Seattle can’t touch our neighbors to the south as a bike mecca, but we do okay.

  5. What I find absurd and obnoxious are the students at Evergreen who own bicycles, ride them on occasion, and then haul them back and forth on the bus’ bike rack.

    If you’re going to take your bicycle, ride the bloody thing, don’t just lug and roll it around like its some oversized backpack!

    1. There are some losers like that in Seattle too. Really annoying when you need to get across 520, up a steep hill with a load, or just have a ways to go and are using your bike as a “local connector” on either end of your trip.

      The “bike as fashion accessory” types almost always have either a bmx/stunt bike or a fixed gear bike.

    2. puh-leaze! In the context of cycling as alternative form of transportation, a bike is a bike.

      Today I commuted on a 28 year old bike originaly purchased in Fairbanks that got me to work at -40F, and has since been dragged across the country and back. But sometimes I run shopping errands on my $1,400 full suspension mountain bike with hydraulic disc brakes (otherwise it’s a backcountry toy that’s loaded up & driven to the trails).

      Look at car lovers… hip hoppers with their 22 inch rims, lowriders pinstripping Impalas, boomers restoring street hot rods, muscle cars, etc, etc. Plenty of diversity there.

      Let’s not demean fixies and bmx’ers. If it’s human powered and on wheels embrace it. Frankly I wouldn’t be caught dead on a recumbent, but nod to those I see on the road just the same.

      1. I have a lot of respect for someone who actually rides a fixie or BMX bike. You never see the people I’m talking about actually riding their bike. Mostly they just push their bike around or take up space on the bus rack.

        But yea it could be worse, they could be driving a car around. ;-)

  6. i think the geography is less of a factor than the general culture in seattle. you get used to the hills after awhile (seriously), but we just haven’t made the switch yet in this city to embracing anything other than the car as a way of getting around. i have a lot of theories as to why our culture is different than portland’s but i’m firmly convinced it’s not really a geography issue or a weather issue.

    on the other hand, one way to change the culture over time will be for more and more and more people to be seen out there on bikes. advocacy needs to change too – but that’s a can of worms i know well enough to stay away from.

    somehow, i think (and strongly hope) that cycling will become a mid-tier campaign issue in the upcoming mayoral and city council elections. the nice thing is at least we’re heading in the right direction – it could be worse.

    1. Do realize that the share of all trips via bikes or walking is far higher in Seattle than many other places. Sure it is higher in Portland, but we’re doing better than much of the US. If you really want to feel ashamed look at the share of all trips bikes have in the Netherlands or Denmark.

    2. I think there are only two reasons Portland is different from Seattle when it comes to biking: terrain and implementation of bike programs in advance of Seattle.

      Portland is rated as a “platinum” bike friendly city (Seattle is gold) because it has more extensive and integrated services and marked pathways for bikes. Seattle is finally doing that too, and our state legislature is working on something I think is called complete street legislation, which would require all new and restructured roadways to take the needs of cyclists into account when in the design and construction stage.

      I am new to bike commuting – literally! I started this month as a part of bike to school month (I’m a teacher). Previously I carpooled with another teacher, and before that I drove alone.

      The hills in Seattle are tough – especially for new bikers. But there are many alternatives, including buses and electric assist bikes. The more our city bike facilities are expanded, the more bike lane and trail miles we have, the more people who will choose to bike at least part of the time. And I don’t care what your bike looks like, what your gear looks like, how far or how fast you go. If you bike even part way to work, you are doing everyone and the Earth a service.

      I have female friends who say they would bike more often to work, but the streets don’t feel safe to them. When I made the change, I carefully thought out my route from Greenlake to Capitol Hill. Now I mostly feel safe (except on Harvard East). I only wish I had started biking to work sooner. Change takes time and change takes change. I’m glad we are all making progress.

  7. I commuted by bike for the first time (from Green Lake/Greenwood area to downtown) a couple of weeks ago and will probably not do so again, as I did not really enjoy dealing with traffic, particularly the stretches between downtown and Dexter where the bike lanes essentially disappear (2nd has a lane, but there is no good way to get over there). I’d probably get used to it if I did it more frequently, but quite frankly I probably won’t. The lack of good bike infrastructure is a bit of a dealbreaker for me.

    That said, I do run to work at least once a week and hopefully more often with the better weather and lighter mornings – it only takes 20 minutes longer, while I have to cross traffic, I’m not really in traffic, I prefer running to biking and if the weather goes south, I don’t have to deal with biking home in the rain (or putting it on the bus or leaving it downtown).

    1. When I’ve rode that route I generally go Dexter->7th->Bell->2nd. There really isn’t that much traffic to deal with even during rush hour other than where you cross Denny. I didn’t find the lack of a bike lane to really be a problem, but then I’m not a fan of bike lanes unless they are on their own ROW or really wide like the ones around Green Lake or down Ravenna. Narrow ones that have you riding in the door zone are worse than no bike lane at all.

      1. I actually prefer 3rd to 2nd; bus-only during commute hours and they’re pretty predictable as to when/where they stop.

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