We were delighted this week to hear from the Sellwood Bridge Policy Advisory Group – the highest ranking committee guiding the project – that they recommended the bridge configuration we supported!
The BTA has been involved in the Sellwood Bridge planning process for nearly three years through a representative on the Community Task Force (CTF) (the group of community representatives; they also recommended the configuration we preferred). Of course, planning the bridge is the easy part. Now we need to find some money to build it.
The features of the bridge that were most important to the BTA, which we stressed in our official comments, were:
1. A wide multi-use path. The Hawthorne Bridge paths are about 11 feet wide. Go down there at rush hour, on a rainy winter day, with gas at $2/gallon, and try to walk across the bridge. Not much room? That’s why we should invest in a really wide path on the Sellwood Bridge – a 12-foot wide path might be just enough for a decade or so. And because it’s attached to the bridge – and not a separate bike/ped only bridge – we can be fairly confident that it will be funded and built along with the rest of the project.
2. A signalized intersection at the west end (instead of a multi-lane roundabout). The project staff, the CTF and the BTA couldn’t see any way to get bicyclists safely across a multi-lane roundabout without installing special signals, which would interfere with the free-flowing traffic that was the intended beneficiary of the roundabout to begin with.
3. On-street bike lanes/shoulders. Something else you may notice on the Hawthorne Bridge is the range of speeds displayed by people walking and biking. A bicyclist who is late for work wants to go 18 mph; a commuter walking to the bus stop hoofs it at 5 mph; two bicyclists on a date want to pedal slowly, side-by-side; a tourist wants to stop and take a photo; a group of joggers bounces by at 8 mph, swinging their arms. We are asking too much of all these people by making them share the same 10- or 12-foot path, and we haven’t even added in the wobbly little children who will surely be crossing the Sellwood Bridge with their families. (Sure, the Sellwood Bridge doesn’t lead right into the heart of downtown; but in 20 years, with a completed Willamette River Greenway loop trail, if we don’t have thousands of people enjoying the river this way we’ll all be disappointed.) On-street bike lanes will relieve some of the pressure on the 12-foot paths, and will keep bicyclists who are in a rush from bothering other path users. Plus, these bike lanes can double as shoulders in case of a car crash or road maintenance, and at those times of trouble bikes can use the path as a detour.
What’s next? We’re not closing the file on the Sellwood Bridge. We need to get behind the other stakeholders and develop a source of funds for this, and other, sustainable transportation investments. There will be more work done on the west end of the bridge (many of the project’s stakeholders would like to see that intersection be smaller and less expensive). And, worryingly, the committee has suggested they might revisit the bicycle trip forecasts in the future to see if the paths could be narrower than 12 feet, to save money.
For now, though, we’ll share a moment of satisfaction with our partners on this project. Good choice, Policy Advisory Group! We think it was the right one.