The Sellwood Bridge: Perilous or Iconic?
There's a sign on the Sellwood Bridge that reads "Men below please don't throw." While the temptation to throw a man off a bridge may seem strange, after spending some time on this bridge during peak traffic times, one may understand why such a sign had to be erected.
I feel bad picking on the Sellwood Bridge because it is one of my favorite bridges. It has a strong feeling of nostalgia and a personality that is uniquely its own and uniquely Portland. I often cross it in order to get from the lower west side to the lower east side, to visit clients and for myriad other reasons. it leads into the very cool and historic Sellwood neighborhood the oldest amusement park west of the Mississippi River, Oaks Park, can be seen at the apex of the bridge.
Every time I cross the bridge I am filled with conflicting emotions: awe (at the beautiful view from the bridge), fear (from the perilous nature of the bridge), annoyance (at the bikers, pedestrians and traffic), sadness (that the bridge may someday soon be gone or drastically reconstructed), etc. And let's face it- it's not the bridges' fault that we use it in a way it was not intended for. It's not its fault it's a bad bridge- but a bad bridge is exactly what it is.
The Sellwood bridge is a truss bridge and was completed in December of 1925. depending on what direction you are traveling, it is the first or last bridge in Portland and generally marks the imaginary line between the city and the suburbs. Typical of bridges constructed at that time, it was designed primarily for foot and horse traffic. Cars, buses and trucks were not a part of its design plan and, as such, when the automobile became popular and widely available shortly after the bridges' completion, it quickly became apparent that the bridge was having more weight and traffic on a daily basis then it was originally intended to have. As such, it's foundation began to wear and crack quickly. By 2004, its maximum weight limit was reduced from thirty-two tons down to twelve tons, which caused a problem for local traffic. Compounding this problem, the local Tri Met bus routes were diverted from the Sellwood to different bridges, resulting in added travel time for bus travelers, and more congestion in the city.
During rush hour, the traffic around the bridge is horrific and frustrating; often backing up for miles in both directions. Through no fault of its' own, the Sellwood Bridge is wreaking havoc on the cities commuters, raising blood pressures city wide and contributing to acts of road rage, fits of obscenities and the pulling out of roughly twenty five pounds of hair per year (and who knows how many gallons of wasted gasoline!).
The bridge is also perilous for those who choose to walk or bike on the bridge. The sidewalk has less than two feet in of usable walking/biking space! Not only does this make it dangerous for folks to walk over the bridge hand in hand, it makes it next to impossible for cyclists to use the sidewalk at all- forcing most of them onto the road which is, not only more dangerous for the cyclists, but also causes further traffic issues, as cars have no way around the bicycles. Also, since bicyclists in the city of Portland are extremely arrogant (after all, they love the arth more then we car driving heathens) and often choose to mockingly travel at an excruciatingly painfully slow pace, the sounds of horns, F bombs, and flying of birds are common occurrences on this bridge.
The city of Portland began a reconstruction project of the bridge on Dec 16, 2011 and we, the citizens, are being told that it will go from being one of the most perilous bridges in the world, to the safest in the city. I'm sad to see this bridge change, but I look forward to the possibilities a new bridge might bring. Will this new bridge solve the traffic problems? Will the new bridge carry the charm and dignity of the old bridge? Will it still have that sign?
Only time will tell.