Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The St John’s Bridge: Glorious Acrophobia

OK, here’s the truth: I do actually experience a bit of acrophobia—an odd confession, perhaps, from someone who’s set himself the goal of walking all of Portland’s bridges! But I’m happy to say that I’ve reached that goal; today brings the Bridgetown series to its conclusion.

Make no mistake: The St John’s Bridge is a high structure; its navigational clearance is 205 feet, just 15 feet lower than the Golden Gate Bridge & seven feet lower than the George Washington Bridge (to give some context.) So walking across you are well over 200 feet above the Willamette River!

The view north from the St John's Bridge

I made my trek out to St John’s on Sunday: a gorgeous day here in Portland—clear blue skies, temperatures holding in the mid to upper 70s, & only a gentle breeze blowing. It’s easy to get to the bridge from the east side—several buses will take you within a few blocks of it, & you’ll find yourself in the delightfully funky St John’s neighborhood. St John’s is far to the north in Portland, & was an independent, incorporated city founded in 1847; St John’s was annexed by Portland in 1915, tho some Portland residents I know claim that St John’s isn’t “really Portland.” I find this an odd assertion, since it is literally untrue, & also since I think St John’s is delightfully funky, & I’m quite happy to think of it as part of the city I live in.

The bridge itself is really majestic. The St John’s Bridge opened in 1931; the construction had started in 1929, just before the Stock Market Crash, & the fact that the bridge made a number of construction jobs available was a big boon at the beginning of the Depression. Per Wikipedia:

At the time of its completion, the bridge had:

  •     the highest clearance in the nation,
  •     the longest prefabricated steel cable rope strands,
  •     the tallest steel frame piers of reinforced concrete,
  •     the first application of aviation clearance lights to the towers, and
  •     longest suspension span west of Detroit, Michigan.

The St. John’s Bridge carries the Route 30 bypass from St John’s to the east to Linnton & beyond on the west side. The most striking feature of the bridge would be the Gothic cathedral-like towers, which actually lend their name to the nearby Cathedral Park.

The Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge, with downtown Portland in the distance to the right

I have to say that I was very aware of the height of this bridge, especially when crossing the north side, which I did first. Maybe by the time I returned on the south sidewalk I was more inured to the height, but I found that much easier going. The sidewalks are ample, & while there’s some bike traffic on the sidewalks, there is a bike lane provided & many cyclists use this. I should note that there is no barrier between the sidewalk & the vehicle traffic.

My one regret about the outing is that I didn’t head down to Cathedral Park, where I could have gotten some shots of the bridge’s under structure; & also I didn’t get a shot of its span, which I believe I could have down from some vantage point in St John’s. I’d meant to go back there yesterday to remedy these oversights, but life—as is its wont—decided to intrude.  You can see a panoramic shot on Wikipedia here.

The Portland bridges are such an amazing component of this wonderful city, & I’m so glad I made a point of walking them all, even if my legs felt a little wobbly a couple of times! As far as ongoing bridge visits are concerned, I’ve made repeat crossings of the Steel Bridge (lower level), the Broadway & the Hawthorne—these are each easy & pleasant walks, & I’m sure I’ll also make use of the Burnside & Morrison Bridges when the opportunity arises. The downtown bridges really are pedestrian friendly & not intimidating. As for the Sellwood, Ross Island & even the glorious St John’s, I suspect my crossings were one time events.

Either next week or the following Wednesday I’ll be starting a new Rose City Wednesday series. Hope to see you then!


  1. Congratulations on reaching your goal. A stunning climax.

  2. This really is our most glorious bridge and you seem to have chosen the perfect day.

  3. Great series, John! Yeah. I suffer from acrophobia, too, and that bridge would give me real problems. I still can't go up the observation tower atop Cemetery Ridge in Gettysburg.

    1. Thanks so much, Roy, I'm glad you've enjoyed it! The last three bridges, the Sellwood, the Ross Island & the St John's were all challenging. I saved the St John's for last because, as Christine said above, it's the most beautiful. & for all its great height, it was overall a better experience than either the Sellwood or the Ross Island--the amazing setting had a lot to do with that.

  4. There is a quiet exhilaration that comes with facing fundamental fears like this. This was a wonderful series to follow and it truly was a grand finale. The shots you took of and from the bridge are spectacular. I can see why they use the word cathedral. The last picture, with the cars coming at you, is – in my opinion – the best.

    Thank you for sharing your city with us.

    1. Hi eArnie: Thanks so much! Really glad you enjoyed the Bridgetown series.

  5. Congratulations on your achievement! And thanks for the marvelous pictures you posted!

  6. Great photos, we love St Johns. One thing though, the St Johns bridge has what are called sharrows on a single lane in either direction, indicating a shared bicycle and motor vehicle lane. It's not a bike lane per se and drivers will find bicycles in the center of the outer lane going in either direction.


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