Though people have been sneaking across it for a week (and thousands prematurely maneuvered it at the World Naked Bike Ride on Saturday night), yesterday was the first chance for folks to officially ring in the opening of the Congressman Earl Blumenauer Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge, and though it was a searing hot day Sunday, hundreds of people gathered at a celebration to mark the debut of this long-awaited piece of infrastructure.
The sleek new bridge is named for Oregon Congressman Blumenauer, who has a long history of supporting biking in Portland and across the country, is founder of the Congressional Bike Caucus, and he’s known in Portland and on Capitol Hill for riding bikes and his signature bow ties. Blumenauer skipped the bowtie yesterday – it was too sweltering for such neckwear, although some attendees wore one in his honor and the City of Portland added them to bike lane characters nearby.
The gathering was a who’s-who of Portland politicians. In addition to the Congressman, four city commissioners were in attendance, as were Oregon Metro President Lynn Peterson, Metro Councilor Juan Carlos Gonzales, Metro Councilor-elect Ashton Simpson and several Oregon state representatives. During the opening ceremony speeches, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who leads the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), asked the hundreds of attendees to up their transportation advocacy and help make Portland the bike and pedestrian haven it has the potential to be.
“I know we need [better bike and pedestrian infrastructure], but I’ve got some colleagues that may need convincing,” Hardesty said. “I will be depending on you, because we need you. I can’t do it without you.”
After a very fond introduction, Hardesty welcomed Blumenauer to the podium with a kiss on the cheek. When the Congressman took to the mic, he waved away the crowd’s fanfare.
“It’s too hot for extended applause,” Blumenauer said. (Someone in the audience yelled “I love you!” in response.)
“When I biked over here this morning, I just was overcome,” Blumenauer said. He demonstrated toward his grandchildren, who were sitting in the front row, choking up as he elaborated on what his namesake bridge means to him and to the city.
“What we’re doing here today is celebrating their future,” he said.
Though Blumenauer was clearly honored by the bridge named in his honor, he emphasized that just because he now has a piece of infrastructure named after him doesn’t mean he’s done working. (“I’m not dead yet!” he said.) He urged Portland bike advocates to get aspirational about what this city can accomplish if people get serious about our cycling infrastructure.
“Let’s commit to getting two million bicycles out of garages and attics. Let’s take that goal for 25% bike mode share and make it a third,” Blumenauer said. “I’m looking forward to working with you to bring these things across the finish line, to build the coalition to expand our vision and to be the national leader for cycling. Burning calories rather than fossil fuels is what we do best here.”
This new crossing is part of why Time Magazine recently called Portland one of the world’s greatest places, and it is a lovely way to travel across Portland’s east side. A glance to the west through the bridge’s fence barrier will give you a beautiful view of downtown Portland, with the White Stag sign glittering in the horizon. A traveler who doesn’t bristle at heights can take a look at the freeway below the bridge and notice how gratifying it is to be above car traffic as part of the peloton representing what’s so special about Portland.
The celebration lasted all day long. Though the crowd trickled down after the opening ceremony as people sought air-conditioned shelter, the fact that so many people came out to party at a new bridge during a heat wave says a lot about how dedicated so many Portlanders are about making it better to bike and walk in this city.
The politicians who spoke at the ceremony were heartened by this, too.
“With this bridge and today’s celebration, we have a symbol of what’s right in Portland,” Hardesty said during her speech. “A project like this does not happen without people putting their hearts and souls into it.”