Last week, Multnomah County proposed significant last-minute changes to the design of the new Sellwood Bridge that would particularly impact people walking and biking. The county, in an attempt to save roughly $2.5 million, is proposing to remove one of the west-side ramps. As a result, most bike/ped traffic is now on the north side of the bridge. (See graphics below.)
These could be good changes, but only if they’re done right and details are addressed. Currently, Multnomah County Commissioners are scheduled to vote on this new “final plan” on Thursday of next week.
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance urges its Multnomah County members to tell their commissioners that more time is needed to vet and improve this new design. You can find your Commissioner’s contact information HERE.
It has been nearly 40 years since the Portland area built a bridge across the Willamette River — The Fremont Bridge, which carries I-405. It has been seven years since the BTA released a list of 40 bicycling facilities, policies, and programs that will drastically increase bicycling — “The Blueprint for Better Biking.” Topping that list as the biggest barrier identified in the Portland area was the “nearly uncrossable” Sellwood Bridge.
A year later, Multnomah County started the public input process for replacing the structurally deficient bridge. After six years and countless meetings, it looked as though that hard work had paid off when the project broke ground in December 2011. With help from BTA Project Advisory Council member Richard Marantz, the county had settled on a plan that worked well for all users. The following graphic represents the previous consensus design.
Wildly different, but not wildly bad. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance believes this new design can work. We do not, however, believe that stakeholders have been given a chance to ensure that crucial details of this new plan, particularly its connections to the street and trail network, are worked out.
Our concerns are focused in three areas:
The east end. There needs to be better connections for the bi-directional bike path. The proposed plan fails to account for likely bike movements and may create a dangerous situation for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The west end. We have not seen thorough enough designs for west side connections. We are concerned that the connection between the west-side trail, the bridge, and the cemetery do not provide enough space for safe use. We would also like to see a stairway designed for pedestrians who don’t want or need to walk up a very long ramp to the bridge.
The Willamette Shoreline Trail. One of the other top-10 items on the BTA’s 2005 Blueprint for Better Biking is a “Highway 43/Willamette Shoreline Trail” connecting Portland with Lake Oswego and West Linn. We need reassurance that the new bridge design will not challenge or complicate the design and construction of this important trail.
Given enough time to review detailed plans and give feedback, these challenges are manageable. The Sellwood Bridge still has strong potential to be the crown jewel of Portland’s bike-friendly bridges. We urge Multnomah County Commissioners to respect the last six years of staff time and citizen input by delaying their vote on this new plan.