Could the new “earthquake ready” Burnside Bridge also provide an opportunity to reimagine the public space along Portland’s riverfront? The Portland City Council has voted to spend $20,000 from its Fall Budget Monitoring Process (“Fall bump”) funds to find out.
“Fifty years from now this investment will be a time capsule to the values of our community today.”
— Willie Levenson
The Human Access Project, a group that aims to make the Willamette River and its banks accessible public space for all Portlanders to enjoy, has asked city council to look at its plan for improving wheelchair and bike accessibility to the new Burnside Bridge that would also provide space for a small park on the east bank of the river between the Burnside and Morrison Bridges.
As BikePortland has previously reported, Multnomah County has gone back and forth on some of the details of the Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge Project, including about whether to include a ramp for people with bikes or wheelchairs up to the bridge from the Eastside Esplanade. Without the ramp, the only way for people on wheels to get up to the bridge would be via an elevator.
While an elevator is currently a favorite option of project leaders, it would be yet another key connection that is likely to often be broken due to disrepair and lack of maintenance. Elevators at other bridges throughout the city are constantly on the fritz (the Bob Stacey overcrossing being the most recent) and government agencies have a terrible record of keeping them running.
When Commissioner Mingus Mapps brought the amendment the Portland City Council at the November 10 meeting, he spoke encouragingly about the idea of using a project designed for practical benefits — in this case, helping people cross the Willamette River safely in case of an earthquake — to achieve other goals at the same time.
“Instead of just replacing the Burnside Bridge with a new bridge that is more resistant to earthquakes, this is also an opportunity to reimagine our waterfront so that space is greener,” Mapps said.
At the city council meeting, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty pointed out that a lot of Portland’s waterfront is currently only accessible to people who live in expensive condos along the Willamette River. Hardesty also said that compared to Vancouver, Washington’s new waterfront development on the Columbia River, Portland is falling behind when it comes to riverfront spaces for people to enjoy, and she hopes this can be an opportunity for change.
The Burnside Bridge replacement project has been estimated to cost $800 million and and Multnomah County officials say they’ve only identified less than half of that. To increase the likelihood of the project being funded and built, they’ve been weighing ideas for how to cut costs. The initial plan was to begin construction on the new bridge in 2024, but as it stands, the earliest the project will get underway is now 2025.
To Willie Levenson of the Human Access Project, improved accessibility and a new waterfront park is worth it.
“Fifty years from now this investment will be a time capsule to the values of our community today,” Levenson said in an email to BikePortland.
Taylor has been BikePortland’s staff writer since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org