Ride with me on the new Red Electric Trail Bridge (Video)

I know there are a lot of new carfree bridges opening up in Portland right now so I’ll excuse you if you’ve fallen behind (haha); but if you haven’t rolled over to the Hillsdale neighborhood in southwest Portland to check out the new Red Electric Trail Bridge, you are missing out on one of the coolest new pieces of infrastructure in the city.

On the other hand, if you can’t see it in person, the video I just uploaded is the next best thing.

I was excited when I saw Lisa Caballero’s report and photos last month, but I was even more impressed when I rode it myself a few days ago. It checks all the boxes: it’s flat, aesthetically pleasing, easy to find, and well-connected to existing routes. I was there on a weekday afternoon and saw a steady stream of people walking on it. I love that there’s an apartment complex on one side, and business destinations on the other.

The value of this bridge is also amplified because it is just one of many steady improvements in the active transportation network made by PBOT in the nearby area. As we’ve chronicled, there has been slow-but-steady progress in taming Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, the major arterial at the new bridge’s northern end.

Hopefully this bridge creates momentum for further changes in the nearby commercial district. As I rode home on SW Capitol Highway through the Hillsdale shopping center, I was shocked at how terrible that street is. As you can see in the photos below, there are five lanes of roaring car traffic and just tiny, unprotected bike lanes made even worse by storm drain grates and wide driveways.

If PBOT wants to get the full return on their $4.7 million bridge investment and get more people cycling and walking, they must reduce driving space on that section of Capitol Highway and add more space for bike riders and other types of non-car users. But that’s a conversation for another post.

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pigs
pigs
22 days ago

They plan on adding a bus lane through the area and while it doesn’t make the bike lanes bigger, might make for a more pleasant trip in the tiny bike lanes. Headed down capitol highway, the bike lane is useless with the storm drains and sooo so many curb cuts. You can pretty much keep up with traffic going downhill and “safely” take a lane. It’s required to take the lane regardless to access the red electric bridge anyways coming from Hillsdale town center.

pigs
pigs
22 days ago

Yeah, I get that. It’s an important route to get downtown and OHSU from SW that needs the bike infrastructure to represent the importance of this connection. The fork at Capitol Hwy and BH Hwy complicates things that no cheap solution exists. But also 9 bus lanes will be improved by the rose lane project, so not a complete misdirection of resources.

Fred
Fred
21 days ago
Reply to  pigs

Nine bus LINES? (not lanes). Remember that the Hillsdale Neighborhood Assn (https://www.hillsdalepdx.com/), Hillsdale Business Association, and SW Trails are all opposing the bus lanes in Hillsdale.

People need to oppose their opposition, which is grounded in baseless fears about snarling traffic.

Chris I
Chris I
21 days ago
Reply to  Fred

SW Trails is opposing the bus lanes? Why?

And yes, there are 9 bus routes that use this stretch of BHH. 4 of them are rush-hour only:
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Karstan
Karstan
22 days ago

Great video and article, JM! It’s so awesome to see this new infrastructure getting a lot of use already. 😀 I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet personally. While I live fairly close by in South Burlingame, the bridge doesn’t really lead anywhere I want/need to go.

If you’ll forgive me for taking this opportunity to rant a bit: I’m glad you highlighted the problems with the infrastructure in Hillsdale. My first thought when I saw the proposal for the REB was that it would lead to desperately needed changes along that strip. The two are a great contrast, imho, and I think it’s appropriate to highlight that contrast. To add insult to injury: the bike racks at all those businesses in your photos are also terrible. (It’s unlikely that anybody who’s ever tried to park a bike in Hillsdale is surprised that the local businesses are opposed to the Rose Lane project.) It never fails to surprise me that even the Hillsdale Farmer’s Market isn’t very bike friendly. A fact I find mind-boggling.

I’m afraid Hillsdale and the REB is just a microcosm for cycling in the SW outside of Downtown and the South Waterfront (the Willamette Greenway can be rather unpleasant to bike on unless you have a full suspension bike and very narrow handlebars). Beautiful, but tiny projects like the REB that lead into painted gutters with recessed drains along high-speed auto corridors, and few places to park a bike. It’s a terrible disappointment that the SW Trails folks have opposed the chance to improve this area somewhat with the Rose Lane project after they helped get the REB built.

PS your link to Lisa’s report actually leads to the City’s page. Looks like you copy/pasted the same link twice. I do that all the time myself. 🙂

rick
rick
22 days ago
Reply to  Karstan

The Red Electric Trail will eventually go to SW Oleson Road by the Raleigh Hills town center. One plan is for trail easements or purchases to have it go through the Portland Golf Club which would be extremely difficult. However, Beaverton and the Beaverton School District have been reluctant to build a trail on SW Vermont Street by Oleson which doesn’t help things. It took about a dozen years for SWTrails and others to get a permit to build the stairs on SW 25th Ave by Bertha and one of their leaders was almost critically injured doing that work.

Fred
Fred
21 days ago
Reply to  rick

I doubt the Red Electric Trail will ever make it to Oleson, and even if it does it will have to go over hill and dale (ha) – it will NOT be a level, pleasant ride, thanks to the fact that houses have been built on the old Southern Pacific RR grade and the trail will need to bypass them on the steep streets that run through this area.

SW Trails cares only about hiking trails, not cycling trails, so we can’t count on their advocacy to improve conditions for cycling. Their opposition to the rose lanes shows they don’t care about improving transit, either.

rick
rick
21 days ago
Reply to  Fred

SWTrails wants a far better design for both walking and biking for the Red Electric Trail at Barbur than Portland wants. Portland isn’t going to build a tunnel near SW Dover Street to reduce the grade, but they could remove dirt to help with that grade. There are still rumors of redevelopment of the Alpenrose property and there is a requirement for future development on that property to include the easement of the Red Electric Trail to get to Dover Street which has a mid-block crosswalk at Oleson with vegetation and street lamps.

Aaron H
Aaron H
22 days ago

Going from Capitol Hwy to BHH on the Red Electric bridge I’m assuming would involve crossing BHH at Bertha to get to the other side? That seems really dangerous.

rick
rick
22 days ago
Reply to  Aaron H

True. You could ride on the southern sidewalk and use the pedestrian crosswalk at 25th. The Red Electric Trail (greenway and trails) will go from Oleson Road to the river.

Fred
Fred
21 days ago
Reply to  rick

You nailed it, Aaron H. The ONLY useful thing the REB does is allow a cyclist going east on BHH to have a carfree connection to Capitol Hwy southbound. You don’t have to compete with the cars turning right from BHH onto Bertha. But that’s the only practical advantage – and not even an essential one since there was already a bike-lane-to-bike-lane right turn at BHH and Capitol Hwy.

Ernest Fitzgerald
Ernest Fitzgerald
22 days ago

Hmmm…. seems to me that with BP’s last article about the bridge, most of the commentators were down on it, criticizing it as a “bridge to nowhere.” But every little bit of bike-friendly segment helps. Eventually, all the discrete segments can be connected.

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

Comment threads are sensitive to a “founder’s effect,” the person who gets in with the first comment can often set the tone. But “first” often isn’t the most considered.

The Red Electric trail, of which this bridge is a part, was conceived as a “family friendly” active transportation route which would eventually run from the river to the Alpenrose Dairy, and can connect to other trails to the west to form a much needed E-W route through SW Portland.

But the route is useful even before being completely built, even in discrete segments. If you look at a map of the neighborhoods just south of BHH, you’ll see a labyrinth of streets that don’t connect to any safe E-W corridor. The Red Electric will be that corridor. The bridge already connects residents east of 30th to the Hillsdale Town Center. Red Electric wasn’t conceived of as a fast trunk route for cyclists concerned with commuting times. That’s what the previous comment thread got wrong.

pigs
pigs
22 days ago

“will be”, right now it just connects a couple apartments to a couple shops. Like JM said in the article, they built a very nice bridge without doing much to the connections. They didn’t make crossing 30th any safer, they didn’t improve the connections from Hillsdale town center, and getting to Bertha is just as difficult if you use the bridge. I’m sure eventually they will improve these connections, and maybe one day the red electric trail will be fully built. Until then, I’m scared critics will see the bridge and so little usage and say “what a waste of money” when the reason is its mostly a standalone bridge.

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor
Reply to  pigs

I don’t see just “a couple of apartments” being connected to Hillsdale Town Center, why are you ignoring so many people? All of little Bertha is connected east of 30th. And PBOT has made little Bertha one of the few SW greenways.

West of 30th is connected too, it’s not that hard to cross 30th, isn’t there a newish crosswalk there? And for those apartment dwellers on 30th, it’s an easier walk down to Bertha than up that steep hill to Vermont.

It’s OK to be enthusiastic once in a while.

Fred
Fred
21 days ago

C’mon, Lisa – this is such a small area, maybe 100 houses and 10 apt buildings? I appreciate that you want to be excited about something, but we have only so much money and energy and we seem to waste it on expensive projects that don’t really move the needle on cycling in SW Portland.

What motorist is going to look at that bridge and think, Gosh – time for me to start cycling everywhere? Most drivers won’t even know it’s there.

rick
rick
21 days ago
Reply to  Fred

There are many people who live and work on and near BHH. If PBOT (and Beaverton on Vermont Street) actually improved the paper street trails that connect BHH to say, SWTrails # 1 to the north and to the Red Electric Trail route, things and habits would start to change. Shattuck and Scholls Ferry Roads need help. Portland needs to buy the slice of property that is over at SW 33rd Place at Bertha and a slice of land just north of Alpenrose Velodrame, and make SWTrails’ version of the Red Electric Trail over by Barbur. The trail would be completed with some changes to South Corbett Ave. The trail on 45th to the south of BHH has been overgrown for years with invasive and thorny Himalyan Blackberry.

Rich Sanders
22 days ago

More exciting developments in our city, thanks again for bringing us the latest news. It will be interesting to see how things develop from here.

David Stein (SW Correspondent)

To address some of the comments here I agree with a lot of what has been said here. The Rose Lane project proposed in the area would be a marked improvement and represents a vexing stance by SW Trails as they staunchly oppose it. It also merits a separate column or even series with everything that’s happened.

As for all of the connections I agree that the lanes on Capitol Hwy are somewhere between bad and horrific. They have been part of my commute for years. This bridge still represents a lower stress way of getting to Hillsdale as crossing Bertha on Beaverton-Hillsdale doesn’t feel safe even if recent improvements have changed driver behavior for the better. This infrastructure does a much better job for people on foot rather than on bike.

A couple weeks ago at the July BAC meeting there was a quick build project that would provide for a two way bike path between the start of the Red Electric Bridge and the crosswalk at 25th so you can make a safe crossing. It’s not clear when this would be able to happen but a majority of the recent improvements in the area have been a result of quick build funding being directed to Beaverton-Hillsdale as there is a wide of right-of-way that can be slowly reallocated (in most areas) to people walking and biking.

I appreciate this project being complete as the construction phase wasn’t fun and this is something I can take my kids on and feel safe for at least a little bit.

Fred
Fred
21 days ago

JM, you nailed it in your last paragraph: The nicest bike bridge in the world doesn’t do much if the surrounding cycling infrastructure is so crappy.

Also you didn’t note that the bridge project made the bike lane on SW Capitol Hwy WORSE. It is now wavy and will get worse over the years b/c it wasn’t cured with a heavy roller. This is often the case with construction projects that have no standard for restoring the bike lane.