Big Changes for Sellwood Bridge Design

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.

This is a draft of the design that surfaced last week (full presentation HERE) and is being voted on next week:

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.

Find contact information for Multnomah County Commissioner HERE.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Comments (11)

  1. Ethan Permalink  | Jul 12, 2012 04:27pm

    Perhaps we could just add an inexpesive diverter on each end that reroutes Clackamas County residents to another route.

  2. Kevin Permalink  | Jul 12, 2012 04:40pm

    Seems rather odd to have the bridge in Sellwood when 80% of the traffic originates in Clackamas county… Build the bridge in Clackamas county and allow the 20 % of other traffic to find alternate routes.

  3. Andrew Holtz Permalink  | Jul 12, 2012 04:47pm

    The Sellwood Bridge design process has included input from many, many members of the public over several years. The pros and cons of several concepts were carefully considered.

    Now the county is suddenly proposing a new design that is substantially different from the preferred design that emerged from the long public process.

    We will be using this bridge for the rest of our lives. We need time to ask questions and consider the consequences of such a major design change.

  4. Bjorn Permalink  | Jul 12, 2012 06:11pm

    The bridge needs a toll to recoup the lost revenue from clackamas county not cuts to the parts of the bridge most likely to be used by citizens of the county that is paying for the bridge.

  5. Ben Guernsey Permalink  | Jul 12, 2012 08:46pm

    Very wildly different, but not bad. Certainly much better than the current situation.

    I’d thought to myself quite a few times “I would rather have one good usable side of a bridge than two sub-standard sides.” That said why are we providing two types of bike lanes? With one buffered and the other not? Why not just throw all non-motorized traffic behind the barrier? Seems redundant.

  6. Richard Marantz Permalink  | Jul 13, 2012 09:48am

    Reply to Ben Guernsey

    Hi Ben-

    The bike lanes have an important function as breakdown shoulders and help with emergency access. They will be present in any bridge design.

    The buffer for the south side bike lane is proposed because it is thought that much of the east bound bicycle traffic coming from the cemetery will choose to use that lane, rather than negotiate the north side cross walks of the intersection to reach the cycle track.

  7. Andy Permalink  | Jul 14, 2012 01:18am

    Wait a minute… no sidewalk on the south side? Only a bike lane?
    For years I’ve been looking forward to finally being able to walk on the south side of the bridge, and now this??? Whose brainfart was this?
    You can bet your sweet behind that I WILL be walking in that bike lane!

  8. Doug Klotz Permalink  | Jul 15, 2012 11:57am

    Yes, there needs to be a sidewalk on the south side, and it needs to connect on the west end to sidewalks on the east side of Macadam and OR 43. As mentioned, people will want to walk on the south side for a variety of reasons, including the view. If there’s not a sidewalk, they’ll walk in the bike lane.

    There’s a sidewalk on Macadam as far south as the Macadam Bay driveway now. Leaving the bridge and heading north, you should have a choice of that or the West Side Trail, not be forced onto the trail, or forced to walk on the shoulder from the bridge up to that sidewalk. From the south side of the bridge, you should be able to either cross to the north, or head south, down the ramp (where a sidewalk is no longer in the plans), toward Lake Oswego. Yes, there’s no sidewalk once you get to the bottom of the ramp.

    However, should we be constructing a new bridge and ramps with the assumption that no one, not now or in the future, will ever walk on OR 43 south of the bridge? In the future with higher gas prices and fewer cars?

    The 24′ assymetric design eliminates any accommodation for pedestrians not only on the south side of the bridge, but in the west end “interchange” as well.

    Time to step back and talk about these radical changes.

  9. Gerri Sue Lent Permalink  | Jul 15, 2012 02:37pm

    The curent Sellwood Bridge is asymmentrical — and a disaster. The Ross Island Bridge is asymmetrical — and a disaster. Cyclists will be able to use the new lite-rail bridge by OMVSI but how does that help cyclists headed for Lake Oswego and Oregon City? I am sick about trying to stick a one-sided bridge to Sellwood while raiding the design “pot” for cars (again). The proposed design “changes” from a projected regular bridge to a north-sided, lop-sided CURRENT design definitely needs more time for study.

  10. Gerri Sue Lent Permalink  | Oct 27, 2012 11:43am

    I hope I helped save the “symmetrical” bridge. I have biked the Sellwood Bridge for more than 30 years, and I hope the realization that bikes need their own lane came through. Thank you, BTA, for continuing your mission.
    Gerri Sue

  11. Dan Michaels Permalink  | Jan 19, 2013 05:21pm

    What , there is still only going to be two lanes for car traffic, What a waste of money. I hope the bike people helped pay for their part and the walkers too. As for Clackmas people , use those Car License plate detectors and charge for Clackmas users. if they used it two or more times on a daily basis.