There’ve been drier, quieter, and warmer opening ceremonies for bike amenities, but few have been as eagerly awaited as the dedication of the new bicycle and pedestrian route across the Morrison Bridge.
Situated between downtown Portland and one of the country’s most bike-friendly neighborhoods, the Morrison Bridge is an obvious place for bikes. Unfortunately, as noted by Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen during the ceremony, “The Morrison Bridge was built in the 1950’s when the car was king.” The sidewalk facilities were narrow afterthoughts and bike access was simply non-existent.
With its connections to Interstate 5 and carrying more than 50,000 motor vehicles a day, the Morrison is Multnomah County’s most heavily used bridge. This made retrofitting bike and pedestrian facilities difficult. The new path is a great start. It provides a physically separated route from SW Naito Parkway to the Springwater Corridor and SE Water Street. Eastbound riders can get on the bridge from SW Alder.
The highly anticipated project has been years in the making. In 1998, when the county built a trial version of the facility, they received 450 requests not to remove it.
Today’s dedication included words from City Hall and ODOT as well as a performance by the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers and free coffee from Trailhead Coffee. Riders for B-Line delivery service were also conspicuously present with their huge delivery bikes. The Morrison Bridge will probably be a useful new connection for them.
The event also paid tribute to two Portlanders who were killed on the bridge. In 1997 Gary Michael Tipton was killed by a drunk driver as he biked across the bridge and in 2004 Lynda Pilger was killed when a speeding motorist hit her and her dog on the sidewalk. Family, friends, and one very vocal dog attended the opening.
Here are three highlights of the Morrison Bridge:
-the lift span section of the bridge is Portland’s first bridge to physically separate traffic into three types (foot, bike, and motor vehicle). It’s short but notable. Pedestrians needn’t worry about bikes flying past them with inches to spare (thanks to a tall curb) and bicyclists needn’t worry about highway-speed traffic just feet away (thanks to a heavy steel barricade). Might the Hawthorne Bridge’s outer motor vehicle lanes convert nicely to bike lanes (with the sidewalks dedicated completely to pedestrians) for a similarly protected experience? It’s worth thinking about…
-the Morrison Bridge’s new path has two covered “bump-outs” which form pleasant belvederes for river contemplation and donut consumption. The St. Johns Bridge is the only other bridge in Portland with widened contemplation-points. The Morrison’s could benefit from some seating, in my opinion.
-the spiral down to the Esplanade is a thrilling trip back to the days before the ADA made our ramps all easy and safe. Seriously, though: as long as you take it slow and watch out for other people on it, “the spiral” is a lot of fun.
The bridge is not without its problems, though. The BTA has expressed concerns about the facility. Relatively steep grades at either end mean that some people on bikes will be moving quickly and, with a relatively narrow two-way facility, conflicts at intersections may result. Grade changes and bike/ped zones need better marking. Meanwhile, wayfinding at either end of the bridge is seriously lacking. Multnomah County is aware of these concerns and will be working with the city to monitor the path and improve it as necessary. We look forward to seeing these improvements before the masses discover this exciting new route. In the mean time, please be careful, take it slow, and be mindful of other bridge users as we all get used to this new connection.
For those of you who wish you could’ve been involved with this project’s design process, there’s a new opportunity on the horizon. Bike/Ped meetings are about to start up again regarding the design for the Sellwood Bridge, currently a very poor connection for bicyclists. Keep an eye out for news!