Bridges of Portland: the scenic structures spanning the Rose City's waterways
Ah, Portland! City of Roses, P-Town, Rip City and Portlandia – these are all fond nicknames for this hip Pacific Northwest city. But the most descriptive moniker is "Bridgetown," because Portland's location on the Willamette River near its confluence with the Columbia has born a host of bridges to provide transit between West and East Portland.
The city is, in fact, home to 12 bridges spanning the Willamette.
Bridges to see ... and those to avoid
While all of Portland's bridges have stories to tell, some have specific uses and are not open to regular vehicle traffic or to bikes and pedestrians.
- The Broadway Bridge. With 11-foot-wide sidewalks on both sides, it's bike- and pedestrian-friendly.
- The Sellwood Bridge. Bike- and pedestrian-friendly, this bridge offers a pleasant stroll to the Sellwood area on the east side.
- Tilikum Crossing. Motorized private vehicles are banned from this bridge that invites nighttime strolls with its gorgeous display of colorful LED lights.
- The most popular bridges for cycling? Hawthorne, Steel, Broadway and Tilikum Crossing.
- The Marquam Bridge. Widely considered by Portlanders to be a blot on the city's otherwise beautiful bridge skyline, it was built by city planners on a budget, and it shows. Since it carries I-5, though, you may find yourself on it anyway.
- The Steel Bridge. While beautiful, it's the only bridge across the Willamette that has been deemed structurally deficient.
The lowdown on the bridges
Portland's 12 bridges, in a nutshell, from north to south:
St. Johns Bridge (1931) is the northernmost bridge on the Willamette. Its two Gothic-style towers inspired the naming of its immediate neighborhood, Cathedral Park. With 400-foot towers, this bridge is the tallest in Portland and, at the time of its completion, had the highest clearance of any bridge in the country.
Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge 5.1 (1908) carries rail traffic across the river. The "5.1" signifies its distance from the Portland Union Station. This railroad-only bridge is a through truss type, meaning that its center lifts vertically to allow boat traffic to pass below. Portlanders usually refer to it as "the Railroad Bridge."
- Fremont Bridge (1973), which hosts Interstate 405 and the U.S. 30 highways, is a double-decker, with four lanes of traffic on each deck. It's the longest bridge in the state and carries only vehicle traffic.
Broadway Bridge (1913), carrying Broadway Street, was the city's first bascule-type bridge, or drawbridge, and still features the longest span in the world of its Rall bascule type. Originally black, the bridge was painted "Golden Gate Red" in 1963. Due to its complicated design, opening this bridge to allow water traffic takes longer than it does to open any other Portland bridge.
Steel Bridge (1912) is former Oregon Route 99W and connects Chinatown on the west with the Rose Quarter on the east. One of the most versatile of the bridges, its upper deck supports cars and MAX light rail trains, while its lower deck handles freight cars, Amtrak, pedestrians and cyclists.
- Burnside Bridge (1926) carries Burnside Street and has a rail design with ornate towers, perhaps because it's the only bridge in the city to be designed by an architect. While this bridge supports bikes and pedestrians, its 6-foot-wide sidewalk is somewhat marginal.
- Morrison Bridge (1958), which carries Morrison Street, replaced two earlier Morrison bridges and is also a bascule bridge.
- Hawthorne Bridge (1910), hosting Hawthorne Boulevard, is a truss bridge with a vertical lift similar to the Burlington railroad bridge. This bridge replaced two earlier Madison bridges, both of which were destroyed in the 1902 fire. It's Portland's oldest bridge and offers a great photo-op.
- Marquam Bridge (1966) bears the weight of I-5 leading to I-405 on the west side and to I-84 on the east.
- Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People (2015), carries only bicycles, pedestrians and a range of public transit options including TriMet buses, the Portland Streetcar and the MAX light rail. The bridge is named after the local Chinook tribe's word for "people."
- Ross Island Bridge (1922) carries Powell Boulevard and is named for Ross Island, a nearby island in the Willamette. It has a cantilver truss design, unlike the many vertical lift and bascule bridges in Portland.
- Sellwood Bridge (2016), spanning the river from the west's South Waterfront area to Tacoma Street on the east side, opened in 2016 and replaced the Sellwood Bridge built in 1925. This new, vastly improved version has two auto travel lanes, two 12-foot pedestrian/bicycle sidewalks and two bike lanes.