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


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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