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?


2 responses to “The Smartphone App I’m Waiting For”

  1. This affects me when I’m visiting my studio space, which is near 17th south of Powell in SE Portland. The normal access would be via 11th/12th, crossing over Powell, but 11th/12th are frequently blocked by trains. As you may know, 17th only connects with Powell to/from the west, there is no direct access from the east. So when 11th/12th are blocked, you have to go up Division into the 20s, then double back down Powell, then double back again. Alternately, you can use the MLK viaduct and go all the way south to Holgate, then up to 17th (utilizing local streets because there is no left allowed from Holgate to 17th).

    I once suggested that a short viaduct over the tracks be made for 11th/12th as part of the Milwaukie Light Rail project (which will introduce even more crossing traffic into that area). To do so would be rife with engineering challenges, but I think they’re addressable.

    It’s one of those places where the railroad clearly came first, and operationally they very much need to utilize those tracks. But for the sake of bringing balance to our N-S arterials, we should engineer way out of this bottleneck.

    Short of that, I’ll take the smart phone app! :-) Done properly, it could tell me as I drove toward SE as to whether it was OK to take 11th/12th (the shortest possible route), or get on MLK for the guaranteed uninterrupted (but longer) trip.

  2. I doubt the railroad would participate. They’ll make some noise about terrorism. But the real reason is that the Steel Bridge and the south end crossing are owned by UP who has completely forgotten about their land grants and federally guaranteed bonds.

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