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At groundbreaking, Blumenauer says new carfree bridge over I-84 is part of bike-friendly legacy

Posted by on November 7th, 2019 at 1:31 pm

Congressman Earl Blumenauer at this morning’s groundbreaking.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The dream of a carfree bridge over Interstate 84 between the central eastside and Lloyd neighborhoods is older than some of the people who showed up for its groundbreaking this morning.

“It’s going to be a very powerful symbol for people coming into downtown. They’re going to see bicycles and pedestrians on this bridge. And that’s the way it should be.”
— Earl Blumenauer, U.S. Congressman

U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer was a Portland City Commissioner in charge of the Bureau of Transportation when the idea of the bridge was first hatched. At the event today, he said the bridge that will bear his name shows the power of persistence.

With members of his family, former and current staff, and many fans looking on, Blumenauer said, “This is about implementing a vision that makes Portland the most bike-friendly city in the country. And we’re building on a legacy.” In his remarks, Blumenauer expressed gratitude for the many partners and organizations he’s worked with along the way. He also called out the importance of Portland’s vaunted “human infrastructure” — the many volunteer activists who push for change and question the status quo.

Blumenauer and former PBOT bicycle program coordinator Mia Birk.

One of the people who helped lay the foundation for Blumenauer’s bicycling legacy and this bridge project was Mia Birk, a former PBOT bicycle planner credited with striping many of Portland’s first major bike lanes in the 1990s. Birk, who now works as a small business consultant and is working on her second book, was at this morning’s event. I asked her if it was true that Blumenauer and others have wanted a bridge like this for 30 years. “Yes!” she replied. “We were talking about precisely this — a bridge over Sullivan’s Gulch at 7th.”

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Why didn’t it happen back then? I asked. “There were just so many other things to do that we had to start with the low-hanging fruit,” Birk replied, “and this didn’t rise to the top of the priority list at the time.” A biking and walking-only span might have been a bridge too far back then, she explained. Instead, they focused on getting bike access on existing bridges and basic, on-street bikeways. “This has been a steady chipping-away with ups-and-downs depending on who the politicians are and the funding cycle,” she shared.

“Come hell or high water there will be a bowtie on this bridge!”
— Chloe Eudaly, PBOT Commissioner

In her remarks, current PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly thanked Blumenauer for stoking our local activism ecosystem by starting the Traffic and Transportation class at Portland State University in 1991 (the class that “changed Portland forever”). As an alumna of that class herself, Eudaly has an even deeper understanding of Blumenauer’s impact. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this recognition,” she said.

And Eudaly sounded completely serious when she added, “Come hell or high water there will be a bowtie on this bridge!,” a reference to Blumenauer’s penchant for wearing them.

While a bowtie would be a fitting and quirky design theme for the new bridge, Blumenauer hopes the bridge itself stands for something more than his legacy. “I think the bridge will be symbolic of persistence, connection and partnership,” he shared during a chat after his formal remarks. “It’s going to be a very powerful symbol for people coming into downtown. They’re going to see bicycles and pedestrians on this bridge. And that’s the way it should be.”

We should be able to ride our bikes on this powerful new symbol by spring of 2021, that’s when PBOT says the 475-foot long, 24-foot wide, $14 million bridge will be open to traffic.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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20 Comments
  • Avatar
    Maria November 7, 2019 at 2:04 pm

    Thank you, Mia! Thank you, Earl! YAY!! I can stop riding on the sidewalk on MLK one day!!!

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    Ash Mitchell November 7, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    Chloe also said she would SING on the bridge. I for one, would like to see that! Our company is a block away, everyone is very excited about the bridge!

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 7, 2019 at 2:48 pm

      Yeah that was funny!

      FWIW I thought it was sort of creepy to remind people that it’s so loud above the freeway that “no one can hear you scream”… Not exactly a great message in terms of encouraging the public to feel safe using the bridge IMO.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty November 7, 2019 at 4:07 pm

        “In space (and on the Blumenauer Bridge) no one can hear you scream.”

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        Ash November 8, 2019 at 9:11 am

        I thought she said – ‘or if you need to scream, if that’s your thing…I would rather sing…’ Which I took to mean if you’re having a rough time and need to vent.

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        q November 8, 2019 at 2:33 pm

        Seriously, it’s a reminder that the noise generated by motor vehicles in cities is one of the worst aspects of urban life. It destroys livability and health. It gets overlooked as an impact because other impacts (especially to safety) are even worse.

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        • Avatar
          mh November 8, 2019 at 9:04 pm

          I wish I could upvote this about 20 times.

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          Bald One November 12, 2019 at 9:26 am

          I agree, and I would like to understand why Portland Parks B removed all the trees and vegetation between the Eastbank Esplanade and I-5 during their maintenance event this summer on the eastside path near the Morrison bridge. Doesn’t appear they did any significant or effective re-planting in this area where they removed all the landscaping, either.

          Not only did the vegetation provide a sound barrier between the path and the freeway, but a visual barrier, and I expect a bit of a pollution “fence” as well.

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      middle of the road guy November 7, 2019 at 3:06 pm

      I fully expect to be moderated but I cannot resist.

      Will it all be over when she does sing?

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    kate November 7, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    cannot wait! i’ve been dreaming of this north-south connection as long as i’ve been in portland, almost 20 years.

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      Sanu November 13, 2019 at 10:09 pm

      What’s wrong with the 12th street bridge

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    mh November 7, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    I’m glad the occasion felt that positive. I was increasingly miffed when PBOT moved the celebration from the north landing to the south, mostly because they would have had to do traffic control on Lloyd.

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      Ash November 8, 2019 at 9:15 am

      I was glad it moved, there’s a lot of traffic on the Lloyd side, the Flanders side already had a large pad of gravel and space for folks to move around safely, talk to each other, eat donuts and drink coffee…I was surprised they didn’t arrange it that way to begin with.

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        mh November 8, 2019 at 10:27 am

        Of course there is, and they should have closed at least one eastbound lane for the occasion, if not both. Made traffic narrow down to one lane in each direction in the two northern lanes. I come into almost every discussion of auto traffic with a chip on my shoulder, feeling like a second class citizen. Even in this, where they’re pouring real money into the project.

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          X November 11, 2019 at 1:42 pm

          (insert rant about prolific lane closures for every other construction project in Portland. I had to detour five blocks off line in NW the other day)

          In fairness, a lane closure on the N side would have involved a bike lane.

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    mh November 7, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Oh, and that first picture is sweet.

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    Adam November 8, 2019 at 8:12 am

    Awesome!

    On a related note, isn’t the I-405 Flanders crossing supposed to be breaking ground soon too?

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    john schmidt November 11, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    Wait what?, Why a bridge there? Isn’t there a nice (meaning low traffic, pedestrian cyclist friendly) bridge just like 100-200 feet away?

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