The New Sellwood Bridge: Subsidizing the Two Percenters

Sellwood Bridge. Photo by SoulRider.222/

By Michael Nielsen

For more than six years, Multnomah County has been considering how best to replace the Sellwood Bridge. The plan that has been adopted calls for removing the current bridge and replacing it with a new one that is twice as wide.

However, none of the new space will be available for cars, even though cars carry nearly 98% of all passenger trips during the peak hours. Only about 40% of the new bridge will be allocated to vehicular travel, with the other 60% dedicated to non-motorized transportation in the form of bikeways and mega-sidewalks. Heavy trucks will be banned entirely from the bridge, increasing congestion on nearby streets and raising transportation costs for businesses.

The new bridge does need more space for cyclists and pedestrians because the current bridge was never designed for them. However, there is no reason to allocate 60% of bridge space to satisfy two percent of all travelers.

County Commissioners were recently shocked to discover that the price tag for the bridge has gone up by $70 million since last year. If city planners want to save money, they should reduce the width of the bridge. Planning for two 12-foot sidewalks to accommodate a few hundred pedestrians is simply a waste of resources.

Michael Nielsen is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy think tank.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Public Transportation, Transportation | Tagged , , , | 34 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    You know there are stretches of Southeast Holgate boulevard which use to be two lanes each way; but the city replaced one lane each way in broad sections so as to accomodate bicyclists. But these bicycle lanes are hardly used. Ever once and awhile the Portland bike alliance will ride a pack of riders out there just to keep a bicycle presence. How disingenous this whole bike mantra of Portland cityhall and Multnomah County government.

  • valley person

    The chief reason the new bridge does not increase car capacity is because the roads on either side of the bridge lack capacity for more cars, and the Sellwood Neighborhood doesn’t want more and more cars from Clackamas County driving through it to get wherever they are going.

    Likewise, heavy trucks aren’t welcome in a residential neighborhood.

    I think the extra width was to eventually accommodate more transit, but could be wrong about that.

    • Michael Nielsen

      You are correct that there would be few reasons to add more car lanes . I was simply pointing out that the bridge’s width could be reduced, saving money.

      • valley person

        Our parents overbuilt the infrastructure we now use with an eye on the future. Don’t we have some obligation to do the same for our kids?

        • Michael Nielsen

          Yes, we should increase room for alternate modes of transportation. However, it seems fairly clear that 37 feet is far too much. This kind of political decision makes the county look better, but this image change has a cost that doesn’t seem to be addressed in the current plans.

        • Steve Buckstein

          At the risk of setting off the “it takes a village” crowd, I will point readers to a great essay by economist Walter Williams. When asked if we have some obligation to future generations, his short answer is “What have future generations ever done for me?” His long answer is actually an explanation of how his seemingly greedy, selfish actions toady actually benefit those future generations tomorrow:

          • valley person

            Self serving rationalization for selfishness. If the last cowboy in line had managed to kill off the last bison for the horns, would we celebrate his greed?

          • Davis

            You do realize, don’t you, that the only reason we have any bison today is because we essentially privatized them, just as Williams recommended. While “celebrate” is probably too strong, had the cowboys or Indians killed off all the bison we probably wouldn’t care since we would be getting along just fine without them.

          • serene

            Good dog. That is likely the basest justification for nihilism I have ever witnessed.

  • Research Associate

    Michael – if you’d traveled across the current Sellwood Bridge by foot or on a bike, you’d understand how hard and dangerous it is. The infrastructure is an artificial block to more people using it by walking or biking. Come back in five years and report the usage numbers. I’m sure it’ll be more than 2%. And under Oregon law, bicycles are vehicles, so your statement about vehicular traffic is wrong.

  • Mike

    Everyone knows cars are evil. If people want to get downtown they can ride bikes, take the rail, or walk. We must save our mother, the earf.

  • Bill

    Bikes are vehicles, yes, and of that I am glad. I have one and I ride it all the time.
    What about these big SUV’s. I hate them. I hate their owners. They should be against the law.

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