A Tale of Two Bridges

 

If you haven’t spent any time recently on Portland’s Eastside bike corridor between Sellwood and the Steel Bridge, you’re missing out on Portland’s first new bike accessible river crossings built since 1958.

We’re not counting the Fremont Bridge, built in 1973 to extend the then new I-405 across the Willamette, because unless it’s Bridge Pedal, you can’t (legally) ride your bike across it. We have heard of individuals possessed of unusual courage (or idiocy, depending on your view) riding over it on their bikes when it’s not closed to cars, but without an eyewitness, we’re not calling it confirmed.

The last year has seen the opening of two new bike friendly river crossings. One, the Tilikum Crossing is completely new, and the second is a new bridge in an old location, the Sellwood Bridge.

The new Tillikum Bridge, as viewed from the North.

 

Heading south, the Eastbank Esplanade passes under the Tilikum crossing before linking up with the Springwater Corridor. Take a left before it’s too late, and head up the ramp, and the ramp will put you on the Tillikum headed west, toward Southwest Portland and OHSU.

MAX Train headed West

There’s a fairly steep grade at first. The bridge deck is arched, but the summit is reached fairly quickly, then it’s smooth and easy sailing down to the west bank of the Willamette.

Good view of the cable stays that support the bridge deck, as seen from one of the viewpoints.

The center of the bridge is reserved for MAX trains and Tri-Met buses. The outer lanes are divided into bike lanes and pedestrian paths, with plenty of room to pass. There are  wide viewpoints (belvederes, in civil engineer speak) that flare out of the path periodically, allowing for uninterrupted contemplation of the view.

A sidewalk cafe adjoining the path at the west end of the Tillikum Crossing.

 

MAX light rail stop at Water Avenue at the east end of the bridge.

Once you’ve reached the west side, you can turn south to connect to the South Waterfront neighborhood and the foot of the OHSU tram, or head northwest toward PSU and Downtown. Today, however; we’re turning back east, then making a right turn toward Sellwood, and the second of our two bridges. This is where the Eastbank Esplanade transitions into the Springwater Corridor, the multi use path that extends all the way to the city of Boring. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, we need to pass under the Ross Island Bridge, and thread the needle between the Willamette River and the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. It’s a beautiful ride, and it takes us right to our next destination.

The original Sellwood Bridge under construction.           Image: Oregon Historical Society

The Sellwood Bridge originally opened in 1925, and offers one of the only direct links between Clackamas County and Southwest Portland. As such, automobile traffic has far outstripped it’s original capacity. It was also quite narrow, with only two vehicle travel lanes and a single four foot wide sidewalk that was utilized for two way traffic by both pedestrians and cyclists.

By the beginning of the 21st century, it became clear the bridge needed to be replaced. In addition to being too small to handle the volume of traffic, it was deemed structurally unsafe. In 2006, Multnomah County, who owns most of the Portland area bridges, began the long process to replace it. A new design was approved in 2011, and construction began in 2012.

 

 

Old and new, side by side.

However, plans called for the new bridge to be built in the same location as the old, necessitating moving the original span to allow traffic to flow during the multi-year construction process. After first building new connector ramps, the old bridge was moved north an average of 50 feet before re-opening. The new span opened on February 29, 2016.

 

A better look at the old bridge’s skeleton.

 

A view of the Western foot of the new span, as seen from River View Cemetery.

 

A good view of one of the two ‘belvederes’ (no relation to ‘Mr. Belvedere’) on the north side of the bridge.

 

De-construction in process, as seen from Sellwood Riverfront Park.