Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Salem gets bike bridge, what about Portland?

Posted by on February 7th, 2007 at 9:33 am

[Salem will convert this
bridge to bike/ped only.]
Photo: City of Salem

Back in November, I got an email from City of Salem project coordinator David Skilton. He wanted to share news that they’re converting an old railroad bridge on the Willamette to a bicycle and pedestrian-only crossing.

The Salem project sounds exciting. It’s got federal funding, is likely to get $1 million from ODOT Transportation Enhancement funds, and it just received its first private grant (from the Cycle Oregon Fund no less).

It got me thinking about the potential to do the same here in Portland.

I asked around and it turns out that there are two possible candidates. The first is a railroad bridge in North Portland that currently acts as a mainline railway of BNSF and Amtrak .

According to North Portland transportation guru Lenny Anderson,

“It’s quite a busy bridge, but there are ideas floating about to add a bike/ped facility to it, a la the Steel Bridge.”

But the other — and more likely option — is an existing railroad bridge south of downtown Portland that connects Milwaukie and Lake Oswego.

I did a bit of digging and found out that it’s one of the BTA’s “Top 40” projects. In their PDF about the project they say,

[Existing RR bridge
between Lake O and Milwaukie.]
Photo courtesy David Skilton

“The bridge is privately owned (by railroad companies). Even though this bridge only sees a few trains per day, working with private railroad companies generally makes a project like this difficult.”

Heather Kent from Metro’s Parks department says they have funding to study the bridge. The study will start this summer and will explore various options on how to best convert the bridge for bike and ped use.

BTA in Eugene

[DeFazio Bike Bridge in Eugene]

I would love to see Portland have a bike/ped only bridge over the Willamette. Sure, we’ve got the Steel Bridge, but there’s something very special about a bridge without motorized vehicles. It would be a potent symbol of what this city stands for.

Eugene’s “DeFazio” Bike Bridge (shown at right) and the one upcoming in Salem will hopefully provide inspiration to keep moving forward on one of our own.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Attornatus_Oregonensis February 7, 2007 at 10:23 am

    One big difference between PDX and Salem is that the Willamette is navigable here. Thus, any new bridge would have to be either a drawbridge, like the Steel, or really high, like the Fremont. Since I prefer to be really high, and I love a good downhill, I say we go for the latter.

    Sadly though, I think a higher priority should be improving access on the existing bridges, especially the Sellwood Bridge. This is somewhere that I think we should really be focusing our efforts. It’s the only weak point in an otherwise great infrastructure.

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  • Jessica Roberts February 7, 2007 at 11:22 am

    Eugene has something like FIVE bike/ped only bridges. I’ve got bridge envy!

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  • Eric H February 7, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    I agree with Attornatus_Oregonensis, I rather see the Sellwood improved as there is an existing infrastructure of trails and roads near by. The railroad bridge is a bit remote on the eastside and getting there would only add to the cost of the project. This bridge is also a major east west route for Portland & Western Railroad.

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  • Martha February 7, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    What’s with the either/or way of thinking? As the population increases, the need for better transportion options (read: good infrastructure for safe walking, biking, and transit riding in addition to the infrastructure for freight and driving) increases.

    The Sellwood Bridge options are being studied now — if you care, pay attention to the project and submit written comments and/or verbal testimony to help inform the outcome.

    As for the Lake O bridge, trails and bike connections are being developed there. You may not have noticed because, unless you live in Lake O, it’s darned near impossible to bike to it safely and comfortably. Hence the bridge study, which will look at ways to add a bike/ped structure without disrupting the railroad.

    Good connectivity for bikes in the places where there is none (or next to none) will help our community decrease our dependence on the car.

    Good job, Salem!

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  • Jonathan Maus February 7, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    Good points Martha. I agree. I think there’s a misunderstanding that there’s only one pot of money and every potential project is after it.

    My understanding is that there’s usually opportunity for more than one project to be considered and funded at once without any of them sacrificing in the process.

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  • rixtir February 7, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    The Sellwood Bridge is supposed to be replaced. I would think that any new bridge would be designed for cycles as well as cars. Alternatively, imagine building a new Sellwood bridge, and keeping the existing structure for bikes and peds only. I don’t know if that could be engineered, but it’s intriguing.

    Another possibility is the Max crossing for the new line running south. No reason a bridge couldn’t be designed for the Max AND bicycles.

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  • Laura February 7, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    hey Jonathan- this is a bit off-topic, but what ever happened with that idea to take the main span from the old Sauvie Island Bridge and use it as a bike/ped crossing of I-405 at NW Flanders?

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  • Dave February 7, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    I’ve long thought it would be extremely cool to turn the Sellwood into a kind of park / open air market – the city could lease stalls to vendors on one side, add plantings and a couple bathrooms, and turn it into a Rialto Bridge for the West. Or at least a new site for the Saturday Market.

    From what I understand of the problems, though, they’re almost certain to have to just tear the entire thing down and start over somewhere else. Which is all the more reason the Lake O RR crossing is so appealing – Sellwood could take a decade to have a tangible result, where the Lake O idea could be achieved very very quickly with enough support.

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  • Garlynn February 7, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Portland has long had a need for a bike/ped only bridge. As I suggest on my blog in this post:


    …one potential solution is to build a new bridge in the central portion of the city that has shops on it, ala the Ponte Vecchio in Italy (and many other medieval European bridges that may no longer be around today).

    Otherwise, adding bike/ped capacity to both of the railroad bridges mentioned here is a great idea. So is making sure that any new light rail bridge has bike/ped facilities on it.


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  • rixtir February 7, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    The problem with shops on a bridge, ala the Ponte Vecchio, is you can’t cross the bridge very quickly because of all the pedestrian shoppers. We shouldn’t be confusing a market bridge– which can be fun– with a commuter bridge.

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  • Dave February 7, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    I don’t see any reason the two ideas have to be mutually exclusive. Between the Lake O bridge and whatever does get built to replace the Sellwood, I can’t imagine there’s going to be too many people commuting over it anyway…

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  • rixtir February 7, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    Which would mean it’s not a commuter bridge.

    That’s OK, as long as we understand that a market bridge is not a commuter bridge.

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  • PFin February 7, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    From an engineering perspective, shops on the bridge are totally doable; As is A_O’s suggestion of “high” bridge. In the case of the Hawthorne, elevated roadway could begin at 12th, as the residential neighborhoods give way to industrial lots. West side terminus could be a level path to PSU (#1 destination for TriMet), as well as ramps/elevators to/from the Waterfront and other downtown destinations. Space for vendors could be “bubbled” off from the main thoroughfare, so pedestrians have a physical border between loitering space and roadway. Could be beautiful farmers’-market-in-the-middle-of-the-air…

    As for the Steel, what a mess! Closed “after hours” with horrible bike access on both sides, it’s like someone is rooting for the “other side” (whoever that is). An excellent example of How Not To Design A Bike Bridge. That signal on the Rose Garden side is pretty cool, though.

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  • Randy February 7, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    A floating-bike/pedestrian only bridge could be cheap to building and could be global warming. Such a bridge could be built cheaply and could transport more people than the tram could ever imagine.

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  • Jessica Roberts February 7, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    I am thinking of bridges across rivers, of course, and not mere overpasses. Here’s a list of Eugene’s bike/ped bridges over the Willamette (source):

    Owosso Bike Bridge
    Greenway Bike Bridge
    Peter DeFazio Bike Bridge
    Autzen Bike Bridge
    Knickerbocker Bike Bridge

    You can see them on a map here (PDF).

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  • mykle February 7, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    I like the idea of a bike bridge, but I don’t understand why you’re talking about putting it down in South & Central Portland, where there’s so much access already. In the North, there’s absolutely no bike crossing between the Broadway and the St. John’s bridges. But south of Broadway, there’s the Steel, Burnside, Hawthorne and Powell bridges, plus whatever the Sellwood will offer. Even the Morrison bridge has a pedestrian option, albeit a ridiculously complicated one, engineered as an afterthought. The Fremont serves only cars.

    When we ask ourselves why the African-American community doesn’t bike more, we should recognize that we’ve given their traditional neighborhoods the short end of the stick, infrastructure-wise. Not just in bike routes — although the official bike routes are meager and sketchy in Northeast — but also in bridges, road maintenance, streetlights, and landscaping. The major NE street improvement initiatives in recent years have been directly aimed at intentional gentrification and attracting new, wealther residents rather than serving the interests of current residents. Meanwhile, we still lack safe bike routes to school.

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  • Bill February 7, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    One thing to keep in mind about the BNSF bridge over the Willamette is that it is normally up until it needs to be lowered for train traffic. This practice reduces the number of bridge raises needed to accommodate river traffic. The railroad would have to pay more for power to operate the bridge if it was normally left down, as with the Steele Bridge.

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  • Ethan February 7, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    I like the bridge with shops idea. That would really set Portland apart from other American cities, and it would become a potent symbol that the city is taking the road less traveled, as far as transportation is concerned.

    Or we can widen I-5.

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  • alex February 8, 2007 at 9:12 am

    A signature Calatrava bridge might be nice.

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  • dsaxena February 8, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    There was some discussion last year about moving the Sauvie Island bridge down into NW and making it into a pedestrian and bike only bridge. Is this still a possibility?

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  • Adam8 February 9, 2007 at 10:20 am

    I agree that the location of a new bike/ped friendly bridge should probably be North Portland. Although the NoPo train yards and Swan Island would be tough to navigate, perhaps the bridge could be included in the plan Jonathan posted a while back for a bike trail running North from the Rose Quarter to University of Portland?

    I also think a new bike/ped option for the Morrison bridge would be awesome.

    As for a bridge with shops being unfeasible due to pedestrians blocking traffic (rixtir above), there’d probably be a separation between bike lanes and sidewalks. I think it’s an amazing idea and a good start to making more car-free spaces in Portland.

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