Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Death Defying Acts on the Sellwood Bridge

 When I left you last Rose City Wednesday, dear readers, I’d followed the Springwater Corridor from its beginnings in Portland’s inner southeast all the way out to the far-flung Sellwood neighborhood. The Corridor actually continues past Sellwood, tho there’s a one-mile gap at that point. However, I’d come to Sellwood with one object in mind, & yes, it was related to the ongoing Bridgetown expeditions.

The Sellwood neighborhood is home to the southernmost of Portland’s Willamette Bridges, the eponymous Sellwood Bridge. In fact, I believed that my goal of walking all eight of Portland’s bridges that are open to pedestrian traffic was in the balance—sometime this summer the old Sellwood Bridge will be undergoing significant construction, & I thought it might be closed for some time. Doing a bit of armchair research for this post, however, I find that’s not true: in fact, according to, the construction, which will begin this summer & continue thru 2016, is only expected to result in 30-day closures at any given time. 


Still, without that knowledge in hand, I undertook the crossing that day, & I can say that I lived to tell the tale. Make no mistake: as it is currently constructed & used, crossing the Sellwood Bridge on foot is not the sort of pleasant walk across the river that one might experience on any of the downtown Portland Bridges. Reasons? 1. This is not a drawbridge, so you’re walking across at a significant height, in case that matters to you; 2. the sidewalk is narrow & is for the accommodation of both bikes & pedestrians; 3. & perhaps most significantly: although there are signs clearly requiring that bicyclists walk their bikes across the bridge—& given the narrowness of the passage, compelling reason for them to do so—at least in my two crossings, I found that the majority of bicyclists don’t obey this directive. Thus, you’re always looking over your shoulder for the next bike (& the bridge is heavily used by bicyclists) & hoping it occurs next to one of the streetlights so you’ll have a place to duck away to relatively safely as the bicyclist goes past you. In fact, there was one other pedestrian on the bridge during my crossing, & he came very close to getting clipped by a bike simply because he neglected to look over his shoulder before moving back into the midst of the sidewalk after standing by the railing to look downriver—I pointed toward the bike for him at the last second & a mishap was avoided. Frankly, I would not like to be hit by any moving object at that height! 4. the bridge is in poor condition: it’s rickety, & just doesn’t feel very safe. In fact, lists the following “deficiencies”:

  • Poor structural condition, with a limited service life
  • Vehicle weight restrictions, which have forced an average of 1,400 trucks and buses each day to find a different river crossing route
  • Geologic instability on the west end that has damaged the bridge
  • Narrow travel lanes with no shoulders or median
  • Short stopping distances and lines of sight for motorists
  • One narrow sidewalk insufficient for bicyclists and pedestrians
  • Poor connections to established trails at each end of the bridge
  • Tight ramps at west end that cannot easily accommodate large vehicles
  • High risk of structural failure in an earthquake
  • A National Bridge Inventory sufficiency rating of 2 out of a possible score of 100
No, I wouldn’t want to be on the current Sellwood Bridge in an earthquake! 

Note peak of Mount Hood just above the blue hatchback

Mount St Helens: nothing like viewing an active volcano from a bridge that's seismically unsound!

You’ll notice I said “two crossings.” In fact I don’t believe there’s any Trimet bus service back north to downtown Portland anywhere near the west end of the bridge. Apparently Trimet buses used to use the bridge for some routes, but that was curtailed when the bridge weight limit was reduced. So once I’d survived the east-west crossing, I decided to head back to Sellwood with the thought that this would be the best bet for getting a bus back in my home direction in a reasonably timely manner. I didn’t know that the #70 bus route runs infrequently even on weekday afternoons! But after some considerable hiking around Sellwood hoping to find another option, it at last occurred to me that I could stand to “take a load off,” & found a bus shelter where I could take a good long 30 minute rest while waiting for the next northbound bus.

& I could say: I walked the Sellwood Bridge & survived!


  1. You're right about bicyclists on the bridge. I have walked across once and that was enough.

    I have always been amused by the Sign: "Men Below Please Don't Throw." I've wanted to sneak up there in the dark of night and add another sign that says "Women Above PLease Don't Shove."

    1. Hi Christine: Sorry to be so atrociously behind on commenting! That's a good observation about the sign--that bridge is definitely not a place for shoving! As I understand it, the new bridge will be much more pedestrian & bike friendly.

  2. You're a brave man, John! This sounds like a bridge to avoid.

    1. Absolutely, Roy, at least on your second point. People I know who drive over it aren't all that keen on it either. However, the new version is supposed to be a big upgrade--we'll see in a few years!

  3. Glad you lived to tell the tale. Sounds like a suspenseful adventure.


Thanks for stopping by & sharing your thoughts. Please do note, however, that this blog no longer accepts anonymous comments. All comments are moderated. Thanks for your patience.