Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bridgetown #1 – The Steel Bridge

The Steel Bridge looking southwest from Rose Quarter Transit Center
Portland is a city replete with nicknames. I’ve chosen “Rose City” for theWednesday series about this new home of mine, but there are a number of others: PDX (the airport abbreviation); Stumptown (looking back on the logging days); Rip City (related to Portland’s NBA team, the Trail Blazers); both Beervana & Beertown (due to the large number of microbreweries); & Bridgetown.

Why Bridgetown? Simple: as you probably know by now, Portland is divided into east & west sides by the Willamette River. As a result, counting the Burlington Northern Railway Bridge, there 11 bridges spanning the Willamette between the eastern & western sides.  In addition (again counting another Burlington Northern Bridge) there are three bridges crossing the Columbia river between Portland & Washington state.

A Green Line Max train heading east-all Max lines cross the Steel Bridge
These bridges play a large role in most Portlanders’ lives; in my case, the Steel Bridge, which connects the Rose Quarter in North/Northeast Portland with Chinatown & Old Town in Northwest Portland, is a bridge I cross at least a few times a week—if I’m going to the west side, chances are really high I’ll cross the Steel Bridge; & the bus line I use to visit my friends in Southeast loops thru the west side before heading back across (on the Hawthorne Bridge.)

So I’ve been across the bridge quite a few times either by train or bus; but I also knew the bridge has sidewalks for pedestrians & cyclists, so on Friday afternoon—a truly gorgeous spring day here—I decided I’d head out on an adventure the next day to walk the bridge & take photos for this post.

A zoomed in shot of Northwest Portland from the Bridge-note Union Station Tower
Zoom view of the Broadway Bridge & the Fremont Bridge-looking north

Of course, we know about the best laid plans of mice & men: Saturday started out gray & rainy—but the hourly forecast told me there should be a window of relatively better weather in early afternoon, so I headed out. My plan was to head to the Overlook neighborhood & take the Yellow line Max train from Overlook Park station to the Rose Quarter Transit center, & then hike across.

Steel Bridge looking north & east
The skies were quite threatening by the time I got to Rose Quarter, & as I headed up the bridge, the drizzle got more persistent. I found that getting back to the south side of the bridge involved a fairly long walk thru Chinatown & Old Town—& after hanging out for a bit in Waterfront Park, I began the ascent to head back east. By this time it wasn’t exactly a downpour, but it was rather soggy. & I discovered that the steel plates that form the walkway for much of the span are a bit slick in the rain—not the most comforting feeling when you can see a sliver of the Willamette below the guardrail some 70 plus feet below! But I lived to tell the tale.

Facts & figures on the Steel Bridge, in digested form (thanks, Wikipedia!):

The Steel Bridge is a through truss, double lift bridge…. the only double-deck bridge with independent lifts in the world and the second oldest vertical-lift bridge in North America, after the nearby Hawthorne Bridge.

The bridge was completed in 1912…. Its name originated because steel, instead of wrought iron, was used in its construction, very unusual for the time [actually the current bridge, constructed in 1912, took its name from the 19th century bridge it replaced.]

The lift span of the bridge is 211-foot long. At low river levels the lower deck is 26 feet above the water, & 163 feet of vertical clearance is provided when both are raised. Because of the independent lifts, the lower deck can be raised to 72 feet, telescoping into the upper deck but not disturbing it. Each deck has it own counterweights, two for the upper & eight for the lower, totaling 9,000,000 lb.
Waterfront Park to the right, the Burnside Bridge, Southeast Portland (left) looking south-note raindrop smudge!

The Bridgetown feature will continue as part of the Rose City Wednesday series at (I think) irregular intervals. Not all of the bridges are “walkable” (& if you’ve seen the Fremont & St John’s Bridges, you know that’s a good thing), but as much as is feasible I’ll try to make expeditions across the ones that are open to pedestrians to get “up close & personal” photos. However, I think I’ll wait until a much more dry day for the next bridge excursion!


  1. I like walking across bridges. One gets a greater sense of the power of the river below, and the marvel of the architecture that keeps us from falling into it.

    Among the many bridges leading from Kentucky to Cincinnati, Ohio, there is one dedicated solely to pedestrians. I enjoyed walking that bridge one morning, thinking all the while of the harrowing escapes, and attempted escapes, of slaves from Kentucky to Ohio right along this very route. There are memorials on both sides of the river to this escape route, and an excellent museum in Cincinnati about the Underground Railroad.

    While walking back from Ohio to Kentucky, I saw a young man, possibly in his late 20s, African-American, strolling across the bridge from Kentucky to Ohio. He had his iPod playing music, oblivious to the rush of the dangerous water below, hands in his pockets, and in no rush. Just enjoying the day. I had to smile at the thought that perhaps the ghosts of thousands of his possibly enslaved ancestors were smiling now, too.

    Looking forward to more of your bridge excursions.

    1. What a wonderful story, & just the sort of observation I'd expect you to make! If you ever are in Portland, maybe we can take in a bridge : ) & thanks.

  2. Great shots, John! Bridges are some of my favorite photography subjects.

  3. So glad you took that walk, John. That zoomed in shot of north-west Portland is a treat.


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