The Worst Day of the Year Ride is February 11th

Should Sellwood Bridge be bike/ped only?

Posted by on August 2nd, 2007 at 11:35 am


The narrow sidewalk.
(Photo: Cindie Olson)

Perhaps influenced by recent events in Minnesota, there’s a post in the Portland Bike Forums that proposes a new solution to the ailing Sellwood Bridge.

Forum member (and regular commenter) Attornatus_Oregonensis (a.k.a. A_O) is a Sellwood resident and he thinks the aging and deteriorating bridge should be decommissioned and kept open only for bicycle and pedestrian use.

Here are excerpts from his posting:

“…the most sustainable solution would be to decommission the bridge for motor vehicle traffic and make it a ped-bike bridge…

… I realized that (a) many (or most) people who use the bridge are from Clackamas County, or elsewhere outside the neighborhood, on their way to and from the west side of the Willamette (and those from Clackamas who use the bridge will not pay for its replacement); (b) these people regularly clog and speed through Sellwood’s main street, making it difficult for its residents to get around, creating a dangerous situation, and generally lowering the livability of the neighborhood; and (c) the Sellwood Bridge roadway is essentially impassible by bicycles due to impatient, aggressive motorists and cyclists are forced to go across a narrow, almost unrideably narrow sidewalk.

…I want to draft a petition that calls for decommissioning the Sellwood Bridge. I want to send a message that the residents of the Portland area value people over cars.”

To get involved with the Sellwood Bridge Project, visit the official website.

Read A_O’s full post and read what others are saying about it in the Forums.

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

  • Austin Ramsland August 2, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Information on the bridge seems to change all the time, but I remember being at a Multnomah County Bike/Ped meeting a while back where it was noted that the bridge was actually failing under its own weight and that making the bridge bike/ped only wouldn\’t necessarily fix it in the long term.

    In any event, I know that the bikes only option has been discussed in the past. . .

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Martha R August 2, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    That\’s a good point, but keep in mind that the bridge piers on the west end are essentially sliding downhill towards the river. Parts of the bridge that are supposed to be straight are curved; parts that are supposed to be at a right angle are tilted…

    Turning the Sellwood Bridge into a bike/ped only bridge for now could be a stop-gap measure to extend the bridge\’s useful lifespan, but that\’s all. A bridge that\’s structurally deteriorating shouldn\’t have people on it at all. If the bridge were closed to cars, I\’d hate to see that used as an excuse not to put bike/ped facilities on the replacement bridge. If a bridge collapses with 100 people on bicycles, it\’s just as much a tragedy as with 100 people in cars.

    Personally, I\’d like to focus on ensuring that the new bridge is designed to accommodate the growing number of bicyclists and pedestrians: design the facility to accommodate future bike volumes, which will surely be much higher than current volumes. Those sidewalks on the Hawthorne Bridge that seemed soooo wide when they were first widened ten(?) years ago seem barely wide enough for today\’s volume of cyclists and pedestrians.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • sheldon August 2, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    The Willy Week has a pretty relevant story about replacing the bridge. There might be an alliance with the condo owners at the footbridge. The County\’s replacement plans call for removing that development to build a new bridge.

    Of course, it seems like the condo owners are pretty peeved that the County\’s evaluation criteria ranked biker and ped safety and accessible a combined 6 times greater than home removal.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • andy August 2, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    And what would happen if you closed the Sellwood bridge to all automobile traffic? They\’d take one of the next two bridges: Ross Island, which has a traffic route so convoluted as to make it completely impractical; or Hawthorne, which would put the kabosh on any ideas of taking over those lanes for bike and ped traffic. Closing the Sellwood bridge would just move the traffic to another Multnomah County bridge, to another Portland neighborhood.

    Other questions might be: should the cost for bridge maintenance be shared by counties and/or Metro and/or the State? Lake Oswego has always been against another river bridge farther south- is there a way to convince those cities and/or Clackamas County to build a new bridge which would help take some of the pressure off the Sellwood bridge?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • AllOver August 2, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    \”Should Sellwood Bridge be bike/ped only?\”


    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Roamsedge August 2, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    To andy and AllOver, I\’m pretty sure the suggestion was to close the existing Sellwood bridge to vehicle traffic, not the replacement.

    Correct me if I\’m wrong, but the replacement is planned to parallel the current bridge, not to be built in the same location.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • andy August 2, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Roamsedge, regardless of what the county\’s position is on replacing the Sellwood bridge, A_O\’s post made it pretty clear that he doesn\’t want any vehicular access across the bridge, new or old. I was responding to his post, not the county\’s plans.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • laura August 2, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    Austin and Martha – you\’re both right. The bridge rates a 2 of 100 for structural sufficiency. There are issues with the bridge cracking as well as the westside landslide. To keep it as a bike/ped only structure would still require some rehab work.

    One concept still on the table is to rehab the existing bridge for ped/bike use and build a new structure for car/freight/transit use. At this point, there has not been a decision on whether to rehab or to replace the existing bridge.

    Sheldon – Despite the tone of the WW article, there is no preferred alternative yet. The County is looking at several alignments, several deck configurations for motor vehicle and ped/bike use, and two alternatives for intersecting with Highway 43. All of these will be filtered into 4 alternatives for detailed study in an Environmental Impact Statement (per the Federal NEPA rules). The condo residents are peeved about three of the alignment alternatives, including one that uses the existing alignment for a new structure.

    The project is at a point where alternatives to be included in the EIS are being selected. I encourage everyone to go to the project website, look at the alignment alternatives and fill out the survey. Make your voice heard.

    PS: I\’m on the project\’s citizen\’s task force. At least one other CTF member and several of the consultants read

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Roamsedge August 2, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    andy, in that case I\’ll chalk it up to my hurried reading. Thanks for joggin\’ me upside the the head.

    Not replacing the traffic capacity of the current bridge, for vehicles, isn\’t an option. I\’m all for having ped/bike only bridges; we still need a vehicle bridge too.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • a.O August 2, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    Hey, I made the front page. For what it\’s worth, my central point is that the Sellwood Bridge replacement project, as it currently stands, represents a continuation of policy that is terrible and the opposite of the policy direction we, as a society, should take. I think it\’s time that we took a stand and used the Sellwood Bridge decommissioning to send the message: It\’s time for you to get out of your single-occupancy vehicle and find another way to get around.

    Not replacing the bridge for motor vehicle traffic *is* an option. You may not like it, but it\’s definitely an option. Yes, I know it will make it harder for people to get around … *in a car.* That\’s what we want to encourage, because soon driving around in a single-occupancy vehicle will not be an option, thanks to the price of carbon emissions and peak oil. Those two factors have the potential to raise gasoline prices so fast that we will suffer an economic shock as large as the Great Depression. We need to start moving away from our reliance on gasoline *NOW* in order to make the transition more easily. Our leaders don\’t seem to be able to explain to people why we need to make these difficult choices. Thus, we must lead ourselves. Now is the time, and the Sellwood Bridge is the place.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Grant August 2, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    While I can appreciate that sentiment, I wonder: how long could buses or streetcars cross a crumbling Sellwood Bridge? (even if it were closed to *all* traffic, that thing is falling into the river. Shoring it up would likely cost as much as a replacement) Or even a new one designed for bikes only? How about fire trucks and ambulances? What of carpools and cars that run on ethanol, biodiesel, or fuel cells?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • brettoo August 3, 2007 at 1:48 am

    Last year, when I suggested (on this website) using the existing Sellwood bridge for bikes/peds only, in addition to a new bridge for motorized traffic, someone pointed out that it\’d be really difficult to find nearby places for the new bridge to connect without disrupting existing neighborhoods or incurring high condemnation costs. I assume that\’s why one option the planners are considering is putting a bike/ped bridge under, rather than alongside, a new motor vehicle bridge. That means another reason to get rid of the existing Sellwood bridge, besides its decrepitude, is that a new bridge needs to use approximately its same location, to avoid these added costs.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Richard August 3, 2007 at 9:28 am

    I am a member of the Sellwood Bridge Community Task Force. My last posting on Bicycle/Pedestrian issues was on the BTA blog at

    One possibility under consideration is to build a new bridge, and leave the old bridge standing as the bike/pedestrian facillity. In that case, because of cost issues, there would be no (or minimal)bike/ped accomodation on the new bridge.

    Cyclists need to think about this proposal, and decided whether or not they prefer it to a bike/ped facillity built as part of the new (or rehabillitated) bridge. Providing a first class bicycle/pedestrian facillity with any bridge proposal has a high priority in the process.

    Leaving and using the old bridge has the obvious appeal of maximum separation from vehicles and would provide a very wide multiuse surface. The potential for use as a \”festival\” bridge is also good.

    However, there are several drawbacks which are currently under study. First, there are some issues for pedestrians. One involves connections to busses and a possible streetcar. Another concerns security, where for some pedestrians visibility and the presence of vehicles is preferred over isolation. This later issue is also relevant to any proposal for a bicycle/pedestrian facillity underneath the bridge.

    Second, depending on the location of the new bridge and interchanges,there are possible connection issues for bicycles to Highway 43, and the cemetary.

    Third, the ongoing maintainance expense of a separtate facillity is a concern. Because this involves the maintenance of the structural aspects of the bridge as well as the roadway surface it is more complex and costly than keeping it clean.

    Finally, there is the issue of the longer future, and the potential for an earthquake or continued damage to the old bridge due to existing instability on the west side. What are bicyclists and pedestrians to to if the old bridge is not useable and the new one has not been built to accomodate them?

    Multnomah County\’s website at has lots of information about the bridge proposals and ways to provide comment.

    The cycling community has has had a strong presence in process so far, and I encourage everyone to stay involved through the public meetings held by the county, and discussions on this and other websites/blogs.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jean Reinhardt August 3, 2007 at 11:47 am

    Sellwood as bike-ped only? Maybe. At least it\’s less than the shit-for-brains scheme I\’ve heard to rebuild a new Sellwood Bridge as a four lane unit–you\’d have to level the whole neighborhood and start over again to have streets that\’d handle the traffic.
    But maybe that\’s what the pimps and ho\’s of the real estate development community would really like…………….

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Dan Kaufman August 4, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    AO Says, \”Soon driving around in a single-occupancy vehicle will not be an option, thanks to the price of carbon emissions and peak oil.\”

    I wouldn\’t be so sure. Electric and compressed air motors (also electric powered) will replace internal combustion engines. Combine this with advances in solar energy and, like it or not, the motor-carriage is to stay.

    These advances will solve some but not all of our problems associated with cars Not the least of which is the car/bike weight class discrepancy issue. Which is a great point for having a bike/ped only bridge, btw and as far as I am concerned I\’d love to see it happen.

    My point here is that I don\’t believe we are ever going neo-Luddite a when it comes to cars.

    I keep hearing this argument that peak oil is going to happen an all of a sudden we won\’t be driving cars ever again.

    Remember, necessity is the mother of invention and people like having carriages.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • wsbob August 4, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    Dan Kaufman, I tend to agree with you about the continuation of motor-carriage use. The biggest reason probably, is that they make lots of money for those that manufacture them.

    Sure, people want the freedom they represent, (which is increasingly more of an illusion of freedom), but 60 years ago, if they could have looked into the future, would they have willingly exchanged the freedom of the autoworld then for the general gridlock and assault on livability that it has produced today?

    That\’s the issue I see the Sellwood neighborhood grappling with in regards to an expanded capacity replacement bridge for the Sellwood Bridge. It really doesn\’t matter how clean the cars of the future might be. If their numbers through neighborhood thoroughfares are allowed to exponentially increase to the point of destroying that neighborhood\’s livability, how can this rightfully be regarded as progress?

    Enough is enough. Send the cars to a more southward crossing point, and open the bridge at the Sellwood crossing to more cyclists.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • DK August 6, 2007 at 8:35 am

    Better do something soon, or it\’s going to be front page news across the world too! Build a new one that is bike and ped friendly…make every one happy. Put it to the north or south and make the condo people happy too.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Mia Birk August 7, 2007 at 8:37 am

    The concept of keeping the current Sellwood Bridge open for bicyclists and pedestrians while building a new bridge is being considered as one of many options. There is an extensive technical and public process underway. My firm is part of the consultant team on this, with our focus on the bike/ped components.

    Although in our team\’s technical evaluation the option performed reasonably well from a bike/ped perspective because the idea of full separation is desirable, overall this option performed poorly.

    It scored poorly on most of the criteria, which also include aesthetics,
    community quality of life, auto/freight/emergency vehicle flow, construction impacts, and cost. On the cost, please note that the County will still need to rehabilitate it to be safe, so therefore it would be a particularly high cost to both build a new bridge (for cars) and also rehabilitate the old
    bridge (so it does not collapse).

    In addition, the Westside ramps down to
    the Willamette Greenway do not function well and would need to be replaced.
    The connections over to the cemetery also do not work well. The County would have the cost of maintaining two structures instead of one, and the aesthetics of having 2 structures in the Sellwood neighborhood is a concern.

    FYI, all of the other replacement bridge options under consideration have very good bicycle and pedestrian facilities, so no matter what happens, the bridge will be a heckuva lot better than what\’s there now.

    Please review the materials on the County\’s website: There is an on-line survey and tons of info.

    Mia Birk
    Principal, Alta Planning + Design
    1638 NE Davis, Portland OR 97232
    Office: 503-230-9862
    Cell: 503-880-8615

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • […] which meant I was rarely going more than five or six miles an hour. By the time I got to the (wretched) Sellwood Bridge, I had worked myself in quite a state over the inferiorities of urban trail-riding compared to […]

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • hallie February 2, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    close the sellwood bridge and never replace it. this isn\’t neo-ludditism; it\’s Vision.

    there was a time when we couldn\’t imagine life without a freeway along the river, either, or a parking garage where pioneer courthouse square now stands… but thanks to people who have some sort of vision for our *future* and not just a reflection of the past and present burned into our minds, this very real possibility is attractive.

    i agree that most users of the sellwood bridge are not natives of multnomah county – if they need access over the river, they can build their own, through the towns *they* live in, so they can respond to their community\’s needs with their community\’s tax dollars. we don\’t need it here, and the neighborhood would be better off without it.

    the sellwood bridge could *still* be rebuilt – a lot more cost-effectively – for pedestrian and cycle traffic only; that would be a real benefit to the neighborhood.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • G July 10, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    “VISION” – closing the bridge and not using it.

    This is again the time to bring up one small but important point:

    The bridge will COLLAPSE eventually due to the west side pier buckling under the pressure of the slow landslide. Then you will have a MESS that also take MONEY to clean up. Then you can have another discussion Im sure.

    Recommended Thumb up 0