The Smartphone App I’m Waiting For

One of my key bicycle ‘gateway’ corridors is Naito Parkway. I use it to get from my neighborhood in NW Portland to the parts of downtown closest to the river, and to any east side destination south of Burnside (by crossing the Steel Bridge and accessing the Esplanade).

But there’s a problem. The route is not reliable. A heavy rail line with both Amtrak and freight traffic crosses Naito twice. And the Steel Bridge can lift for river traffic (and sometimes for reasons that don’t seem obvious).

There are alternatives. I can take 9th Ave instead of Naito through the Pearl, I can use other bridges to cross the Willamette. But these alternatives take longer.

What I need is information. Will there be a blockage when I plan to travel? How long will that blockage be? With that information I can make rational decisions. Without it, I’m watching a freight train or a lifted bridge, wondering how long before I can continue my trip, and whether I should turn around…

The railroad dispatchers and the bridge tenders have the information I want. We just need a way for them to get it me. And that’s where a smartphone app comes in. If we had a web site where the dispatchers and tenders could easily enter blockage info (not just for my routes, but for all the Willamette River bridges and central city rail crossings), it would not be much of a technical hurdle to create an app to display it.

It’s not a technical challenge, it’s a relationship challenge. Could we engage the organizations involved (Multnomah County, are you listening?) to make this happen?

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