Portland Parks: Esplanade re-opens at noon today

High water on the Willamette-21-20

It will re-open today at noon.
(Photo © J. Maus)

After 20 days, a vital artery in Portland bike network will be re-opened. The Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau just announced that the closure of the floating portion of the Eastbank Esplanade — which was closed on May 31st due to high water on the Willamette River — is set to re-open today at 12 noon.

This closure marked the first time in the Esplanade’s 10 year history that it had to be closed due to high water. The closure made north-south bicycle travel in the area more difficult for the estimated 2,750 that use the route with their bikes every day.

For more information, read the full press release from PP&R below…

Eastbank Esplanade Walkway Re-Opens:

EFFECTIVE by Noon Today: PP&R Engineers Declare Water Levels Satisfactory

A team of Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) operations supervisors and engineers working on-site has determined that the floating walkway and bike path underneath the Burnside Bridge shall be RE-OPENED to all foot and bike traffic. Crews are working to remove fencing and should be finished by 12 noon on Monday, June 20, 2011. The area affected was approximately 1000-to-1500 feet of floating territory that the recent high water on the Willamette made impassable. PP&R engineers and survey teams concluded via on-site inspections, in conjunction with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data, that the water level had dropped below the target height of 16 feet, making the reopening possible. PP&R teams will continue to survey the water levels regularly and cannot rule out re-closing the walkway in the future, depending on the conditions.

The elevated water levels had forced the temporary closure of the Eastside Esplanade’s floating walkway from May 31st until today. The walkway transitions from a sidewalk to a wooden deck over water beneath the Burnside Bridge on both sides. However, the closure affected users from north of the Morrison Bridge to south of the Steel bridge.

The temporary closure was marked by signs and construction fencing, for the safety of the thousands of walkers, runners and cyclists who typically use the area daily.

A PP&R 2010 study indicated that close to 2750 bike trips are made on the Eastbank Esplanade daily; a large number of walkers and runners also use the area.

High water was exacerbated by both recent rains, and by hot weather that may have accelerated snowmelt, further prolonging high water conditions. As the water rose, it lifted the floating bridge so that the connecting portions between the bridge and fixed, concrete sidewalk were at unsuitable angles. Portland Parks & Recreation’s primary concern is for the safety of everyone using the area, and the Bureau kept the floating platform closed until the water subsided to the target height of below 16 feet. Engineers insist on maintaining a few inches of pad beyond the 16’ mark in case of fluctuations in the water level.

This was the first time in the dock’s 10 year history that rising water forced such a closure. While the walkway will remain open until further notice, the river overall remains high. Therefore, we cannot rule out the need to close the walkway again in the event of more rain in the future, or higher water levels for other reasons (including snow melt and runoff)

Terri Davis, PP&R’s West Services Zone manager, says water in the Willamette during the closure was at its highest level since the floods of 1996.

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John Ponce
John Ponce
11 years ago

Who the heck approved a float-deck biking-hiking esplanade without paying any attention to the river level histories? Are walkers, let alone bikers (who should know better) so desirous of “their” pathways that they sacrifice reason when construction and unverified river conditions combine to relegate the project useless and laughable? Is there really that much blind arrogance in the ‘cycle community? All my friends in Sacramento (another river town, another bike-friendly realm) are hooting at this one….

Spencer Boomhower
11 years ago

@John Ponce,

I wasn’t privy to the Esplanade’s design process, but I’m guessing its designers probably did pay some attention to the river level histories.

This is a river whose level fluctuates 10-15 feet on a regular, yearly basis:


That this section of the Esplanade is a floating bridge and can still handle those kinds of extremes is pretty impressive.

A non-floating path in this location would, I assume, have had to have been built more like one of Portland’s bridges. Which would have been unfortunate, because part of the Esplanade’s appeal is that it gets you down near the river.

But putting aside the loss of aesthetic appeal, a more bridge-like structure of that length and in that location would probably be prohibitively expensive for a humble multi-use trail.

And it would of course have to be high enough to handle once-in-a-century extremes. Like the 33′ flood (far worse than anything we saw this spring) in 1894 that turned downtown streets into canals:


The floating bridge design could probably survive that kind of extreme flood just by floating up.

That this section becomes impassible during those kinds of infrequent and extreme conditions is the downside that comes along with its considerable upsides.

The design of the Esplanade is no more unreasonable than the location of Portland itself, where this city can on occasion be flooded by a river that is subject to such extremes.

Those pictures came from this story BTW: