By Noah Hanser-Young
Portland is world renowned for being one of the best cities for cyclists. The Congressman Blumenauer Bicycle & Pedestrian Bridge, which opened July 31, is sure to add to this well-deserved reputation. Portland’s newest bridge is the culmination of years of planning, community involvement, design, and construction. It serves as a shining example of Portland’s commitment to pedestrians and cyclists, reducing emissions, community engagement, and the creation of beautiful public spaces. The new bridge has already been featured in a TIME Magazine article naming Portland one of the “World's 50 Greatest places.”
The idea for the Blumenauer Bridge started in the 1990s as planners at the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) looked for ways to connect the neighborhoods of the central city east of the river divided by I-84, making them more accessible for pedestrians and people biking.
The idea for the bridge gained support from cyclists and community organizations like The Street Trust and Friends of the Green Loop. By 2015, PBOT secured core funding for the project, including financial support from Go Lloyd and the Central Eastside Industrial Council.
Bringing together The Lloyd and Central Eastside districts
Two neighborhood business associations, Go Lloyd and the Central Eastside Industrial Council (CEIC), came together to support the bridge because of the positive impact they saw it having on businesses in their neighborhood and the community at large. CEIC Director Eric Cress explained the benefit for residents of the Lloyd neighborhood and adjacent northeast neighborhoods who commute every day to the Central Eastside, and vice versa.
“Before this bridge, you really had two options to cross I-84,” Eric says. “The fastest was Grand and Martin Luther King Jr, but it was hazardous and unsafe, with four lanes of traffic, the Streetcar, and no lane for bikers. The second was 12th Avenue, which was a major detour for many commuters, and still was not the best bike route. Not only will the bridge provide a scenic direct link between the neighborhoods for commuters, it will also likely save a life.”
As a beautiful piece of public infrastructure, the bridge brings together Lloyd and the Central Eastside in ways beyond improving the commute for pedestrians and people biking. Michael Larkin, Director of Central Eastside Together, has already seen this added benefit firsthand.
“I can see the bridge from outside my office building and it’s already getting regular use,” Michael says. “I see people walking across it in both directions around lunch time as people explore areas during their lunch breaks that weren’t possible to access in an easy and enjoyable way.”
With the new bridge, Portlanders can experience these two districts as true neighbors. Walking, biking, rolling, and strolling are not only better for the environment and ease congestion by removing cars from the roads, they connect us more immediately to the places we travel to and through. Michael expects the bridge to help build this deeper kind of social connection as well. “If you drive you'll see what's around you, but you won't be able to stop and really take it in,” he says. “The more we can encourage bikes, pedestrians, and safe avenues, the more people will connect to all the streets and new things going on.”
Developing the Green Loop
Portland’s newest bridge doesn’t just thread two districts together. It also serves as a crucial link in the Green Loop, an aspirational pedestrian and cycling loop that connects the entire central city.
Portland's city center is home to 60% of Portland's affordable housing and has the largest concentration of social services and care providers in the city. The Green Loop helps connect everyone within the city center as well as all those outside it, through our city’s network of bike lanes.
Some of the largest obstacles to completing the Green Loop have been river and highway crossings. In 2015, TriMet completed construction of the Tilikum Crossing Bridge from South Waterfront to OMSI, a car-free bridge serving pedestrians, people biking, buses, and light rail. The Blumenauer Bridge adds a vital car-free connection in the northeast section of the Green Loop, spanning across I-84.
The Friends of the Green Loop were a key community organization involved in supporting the bridge and the recent opening celebration. A map of the Green Loop plan and the projects that are making it a reality can be found here at this city map.
Celebration and the work to come
On Sunday July 31, the bridge officially opened with a public celebration. Thousands came out to see the new bridge, interact with community organizations, and hear from city officials and Congressman Blumenauer himself. Scott, a lifelong Portland resident, attended the celebration and has been enjoying the bridge ever since. “I can see the bridge from out my window. I’ve been following it as it got built for the last few years. The old bridges we had to use weren’t suitable for bicycles. This is one of those really good things that happens in this city.”
The city’s commitment to build quality infrastructure for pedestrians and people biking doesn’t stop with the Blumenauer Bridge. Planning is already underway to complete a bike and pedestrian crossing over I-5 in the Rose Quarter, a final missing link in the Green Loop that will help thread more Portland neighborhoods together.
Thanks to the tireless work of PBOT staff and so many others across the city, as well as the long-term commitment and support from community members and organizations alike, we hope Portland continues to be a model for transportation planning.
Noah Hanser-Young is a Communications Assistant with PBOT Communications and a student at Reed College in Southeast Portland.