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The Sellwood Bridge: Perilous or Iconic?

Updated on December 17, 2012
PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

Justin W. Price, AKA PDXKaraokeGuy, is a freelance writer, blogger, and award-nominated author based out of Juneau, Alaska.

the Sellwood bridge today
the Sellwood bridge today | Source
sellwood bridge:
Sellwood Bridge, 0 Tacoma St, Portland, OR 97202, USA

get directions

Oaks Park
Oaks Park | Source

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.

Thanks for Reading.


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    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile imageAUTHOR

      Justin W Price 

      6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      csheal, thanks for stopping by. I'm not sure how familiar you are with Portland, Oregon, but, if you like bridges, it's pretty famous for them. Actually, even if you don't like them, they're still pretty famous for them. Check out some of the books above if you're interested.

      i remember watching a special on the Discovery Channel about the Brooklyn bridge and found it fascinating. I believe it was built around the same time as the Sellwood Bridge but I may be wrong...

      anyway, thanks for visiting!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      The architecture of this bridge is marvelous. Back in NY, the only bridge that has quite a small comparison to this is the Brooklyn Bridge. But I do like Sellwood bridge, beacuse its backed up against a forested and scenic hillside. Excellent Posting PDX.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile imageAUTHOR

      Justin W Price 

      6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      yes. and, i always seem to remember it as "please don't throw men below" which is even funnier, imho

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hahaha! Now I will have that image in my mind. It IS a funny sign!

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile imageAUTHOR

      Justin W Price 

      6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      Thank you for saying so, PenMePretty

      Peggy, I believe your last interpretation for the meaning of the sign is the correct one. Even if it's not, we'll go with it!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Interesting hub about the Sellwood Bridge. But why the sign? "Men below please don't throw" Is that because there are men working below on the reconstruction? Or is the river below often used for transport and people could be hit by flying objects? Or...and I hesitate to ask...are men often tossed off of that bridge by frustrated women and they are piling up causing river congestion below? Hahaha!

    • profile image


      6 years ago from Franklin

      Beautifully done. Thanks for sharing. You are a great writer. Voted up!

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile imageAUTHOR

      Justin W Price 

      6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      subron, I'm glad you enjoyed this. I am a huge fan of archaeology (I just saw an amazing documentary on frank Lloyd Wright), especially bridges.

      richard, thanks for stopping by. I certainly hope so, but I'm still nostalgic for the past.

      Gypsy, I suppose that is the better option. Better then the alternative, certainly.

      ruby, thanks for reading. I do remember the Minneapolis bridge collapse. That was such an odd situation because it wasn't even an old bridge. Thanks fr stopping by. It's always nice to see you!

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Interesting, Thank goodness they have started repairing old bridges. Remember the collapse of the Minneapolis bridge? We have a bridge close that should have a sign that reads, " Cross at your own risk " Thank's for thoughts...

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      6 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Sounds like a wonderful bridge. It's often hard to accept changes when you're used to something but isn't it better that it will remain standing?

    • RichardSpeaks profile image

      Richard Kent Matthews 

      6 years ago from Portland, OR Metro Area

      Between the new Sellwood Bridge and the new MAX Orange Line Bridge, the city will be even more accessible and attractive. I love the old bridge, but the new one will, eventually, become as iconic. Great article. Many thanks.

    • SubRon7 profile image

      James W. Nelson 

      6 years ago from eastern North Dakota

      KaraokieGuy, I know how you feel about old, nostalgic things, be it God's creations or man's, but this hub was hugely humorous--thank you for a morning laugh!

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile imageAUTHOR

      Justin W Price 

      6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      Daisy, that's a good question. I actually wrote the first half of this article for school back in January. When i was finalizing research today, i discovered that the reconstruction had actually started, whereas it had been only rumor before. So, maybe?

      Thanks for commenting!

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 

      6 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Thanks for sharing your story about the bridge. You made the bridge sound almost *human.* Are you planning to write another article after reconstruction has been completed?


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