Bridges of Portland

Like Chicago, Portland has many moveable bridges that connect major parts of the city. In Chicago, you have to cross the Chicago River from the west or north to get into the central business district (or loop). For Portland, you’ve got to cross the Willamette River from the humongous east side to the west side and central business district.

But that’s where the similarities stop. While Chicago has twenty bikeable bridges* from Lake Shore Drive on the east to Roosevelt Road on the south, they are each 200-500 feet long and bicyclists ride amongst normal traffic (except for northbound Lake Shore Drive). To ride on the bridges in Portland, bicyclists ride on bike-specific facilities across five bridges, all over 1,000 feet long.

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There is only one lane for people riding bikes.

From north to south:

  • Broadway – Sidewalk with one-way bike traffic and two-way pedestrian traffic in each direction.
  • Steel Bridge – Narrow sidewalk on the lower level with tw0-way bike and pedestrian traffic.
  • Burnside – Bike lane, one in each direction.
  • Morrison – 15-foot wide path for bicyclists and pedestrians, in both directions. The City of Portland has construction details on this new path.
  • Hawthorne – Sidewalk with one-way bike traffic and two-way pedestrian traffic in each direction.

It’s great that people riding bikes are accommodated but all of these bridges are excellent examples of “afterthought planning.” There are tens of thousands of people riding bikes across the bridges each day in very close quarters (see this video I made of people riding and walking on the Hawthorne Bridge). Expensive changes are being made now (or have recently been constructed) to accommodate the high volumes of bikes on the bridges.

Complete streets policies are being adopted across the country that attempt to address our past experience with transportation infrastructure construction: bikes will be accommodate throughout all aspects of planning, design, and construction to ensure people riding across these bridges on bikes don’t have to tread carefully between joggers and high curb next to automobiles and buses traveling at 30 MPH.

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The Burnside bridge has a typical bike lane.

The Columbia River Crossing (a highway bridge replacement project between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington) will be a failure for residents from the day it opens if it does not include facilities that allow for comfortable and convenient biking.

I didn’t appreciate the riding environment on any of the bridges** except for the Burnside bridge. This one seems most like the twenty Chicago bridges I have the choice of riding on each day on my commute to work – they look and act like typical streets. While bike-specific facilities like those on the five Portland bridges are not necessary, taking care to make cycling across bridges convenient and comfortable is a priority.

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There’s only one path on the Steel Bridge and its on the lower level. You should probably only use this bridge recreationally because it doesn’t connect well into the street grid at either end.

*Only two of these twenty bridges have bike-specific facilities. Wells has a bike lane and a treatment to make cycling safer on the open-grate metal bridge. The Lakefront Trail traverses the Lake Shore Drive bridge.

*I did not ride on the Morrison bridge during my trip in April 2010.

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About Steven Vance

Enthusiast for urbanism, bicycling as transportation, and open data. Building a bicycle culture in Chicago.