X-USA Rider; St Johns Bridge

Dear Bike Portlanders,

I’m planning to do another cross-country ride this summer. (Yes, it’s a terrible habit that Betty Ford said was hopeless.) I’m from Wyoming, but I’ve pedalled many a mile in Oregon over the years. In fact, my first X-USA started in Astoria back in 1987.

I am looking into a boat shuttle connection from St Helens to N. Sauvie, then down to St Johns Bridge. I’ve biked a good deal in Portland over the years and admire the city for all that it does for cyclists. But I’ve never ridden St Johns Bridge and I have a few concerns.

Sidewalk or Right Lane? The sidewalk looks pretty narrow with a high curb down to the roadway. I’ll have panniers and be riding slower than skinny-tire cyclists, too. Coming upon a pedestrian would require an elegant pas de deux. If there’s a meet-up with another cyclist going the opposite direction it would be ridiculous.

But the bridge is a spectacular work of art - - and I want to enjoy it. So the sidewalk would let me stop for photos or just to take it all in. Couldn’t do that in the right lane. In fact, I suspect you have to keep your wits seriously about you with traffic buzzing you close. Especially when you have panniers that drivers may not allow for.

I’ve read many of the articles posted here on BikePortland. I love the advocacy work y’all do. One of these days cyclists will rule the world, but that time hasn’t come - - - yet. Any ideas or suggestions are welcome. Thanks.

PS - Great little cafes in “downtown” St Johns?

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Another factor is the low-feeling railing height separating the sidewalk from a 200+ foot drop. Primarily a psych-out (who’s actually going to fall over?), it’s still very real while you’re there. Also, traffic speed tends to be over 35mph (edit: my mistake, limit is 35 despite the 25 limit).

I, based on only having walked and driven the St Johns bridge, would ride the sidewalk, and especially so on a wide, heavy, and slow bike. Maybe I’d consider the roadway if traffic was very light, and visibility good, or with a group and traveling faster. There’s a good chance you won’t encounter anyone while crossing on the sidewalk. If you do, it will probably mean stopping as snug up to the railing as you or they can, but you’ll still both be able to stay on the sidewalk as you scooch by. There are wide corners at the towers where you can get by another bike, so retreating to one of those reduces the length of a worst case detour.

This video covers bikes-eye views of both the St John’s Bridge sidewalks:

(And while I’m day-dreaming of a continental crossing, I’ll throw in the partially completed Great American Rail-Trail: Route and Map | Great American Rail-Trail | Rails-to-Trails Conservancy )

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Definitely the right lane. Traffic doesn’t drive that fast on that bridge.

Not sure I can agree with the recommendation to take the lane there. I came down from the center of the span in the right lane last week in a pace line of three riders at or slightly above the 35mph speed limit and we were getting aggressively passed by motorists the whole time.

When riding solo I always ride the sidewalk, and dismount to allow for a relaxed exchange if a pedestrian comes along. It is a beautiful bridge either way you ride it.

I’d use the sidewalk if sight seeing and the ‘experience’ are mainly what interests you. Yes, the sidewalks are narrow, and yes, passing pedestrians with paniers sticking out may require a dismount and some leaning. But the curb is tall and vertical. So it would be quite difficult to get your heavy bike off the roadway should you start in the lane and feel compelled to stop for a photo op along the way.

As for the safety aspect of riding in a vehicle lane and the angry speeding motorists that cross the span, they are there, and they are a concern. But that is something that you deal with on a daily basis on an extended bike tour.

If you are looking for a bite to eat in the heart of St Johns, I’d recommend Stormbreaker brewery or Chop. It’s been a few months since I’ve been in St Johns, but they both had nice, covid friendly outdoor seating options and good sandwiches to eat. If by cafe, you simply mean a coffee shop, there is one in St Johns that serves world class coava coffee: The Great North, which is on N Burlington, a block or two north of the St Johns bridge. There’s also St Johns coffee rosters, which isn’t far from the bridge, either. They seem to be popular, but I can’t speak to the quality of their product.

Finally, if your bike is in need of service, block bikes is a great little bike shop that you pass immediately after you get off the St Johns bridge. They do great work and are incredibly friendly.

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Thanks for all the responses!

Back in 2018, we rode through Southeast on our way down to the valley and out to the coast. (A very different “down & out”.) We stopped in Oregon City and took the elevator up. You would have thought we were a couple of kids at the county fair. Which is why I love touring.

The bridge video really helps a great deal - hoping for early June blue skies in the Rose City.
Generally, I ride the roadway and have experience with all kinds of traffic, but a bridge - with high curbs and a long way down - doesn’t have a lot of leeway.

Leaning towards the sidewalk and chilling where the sidewalk wraps around the towers. And if I do encounter a pedestrian or another cyclist, we’ll do a little bow and dance.

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Not sure the other responses have clearly mentioned this option, but what I do is just walk my bike on the sidewalk.

While I have ridden the road, it’s pretty scary at times. And the bridge and view are beautiful. So maybe take some extra time here and make it up by speeding through some less spectacular part of the USA?

Have a great time!

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