Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Lafayette Street Bridge

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Here's a slideshow of the sketchy Lafayette St. Bridge, which crosses over the Union Pacific Railroad's Brooklyn Yard in SE Portland. I lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood for a while back in the 90s, and I never used this bridge. I knew it existed; I even thought about using it once or twice. But it didn't go anywhere I needed to go, and it didn't exactly look bike-friendly, so I never got around to it.

In a recent post about the pedestrian bridge at Union Station, I tried to list a few other similar pedestrian bridges I was sort of aware of. I vaguely remembered this one and the one at Brooklyn St. north of Powell, so I included them. A commenter then pointed out that the Lafayette & Brooklyn St. bridges were going to be demolished soon & eventually replaced due to Milwaukie MAX construction. So I figured I ought to hurry up and take some photos before that happened.

The Lafayette St. Bridge is a bit... picturesque. It's surrounded by a somewhat gritty industrial area, not overly inviting for the casual pedestrian. The bridge is tall and narrow, with steep staircases at either end, and there's nothing remotely ADA-compliant about it. It seems to have been cobbled together from scrap wood and spare railroad parts. Without using a level or straightedge, apparently -- especially on the staircases. There's graffiti everywhere. There are even gaps and holes in the boards that make up the bridge, and you can see daylight through the gaps. This is not to say it's actually unsafe, just that it fails to inspire confidence, which is something I look for in a bridge.

As you've probably guessed by now, this is not a newly built bridge. In fact this year marks the 70th birthday of the Layfayette St. Bridge. Back in 1943, the Southern Pacific Railroad (now part of Union Pacific) convinced the city to close several railroad crossings in the Brooklyn neighborhood, at Lafayette, Pershing, and Haig streets. The city agreed, with a stipulation that the railroad had to construct a pedestrian bridge at Lafayette St. at its own expense. The bridge was partially reconstructed in 1961, replacing some wooden parts with metal. This may have been the last serious maintenance it's received. The local neighborhood association was already concerned about its state of disrepair back in 1984, nearly 30 years ago. In addition to demanding basic repairs and safety features, the neighbors lobbied for better bike accessibility at the time. They, or their descendants, are obviously still waiting for that to happen.

The Oregonian database shows several instances of people being hit by trains at the Lafayette St. crossing prior to 1943, usually with fatal results. So it's no big mystery why the bridge was built.

While researching this post, I came across a Tinzeroes post about the two SE footbridges (here & the one at Brooklyn St.), and a post at Sellwood Street about this one, both from 2006. The Sellwood Street post shows a board on the bridge labeled "DANGER - do not step". Which could mean there really was a broken board, or just that somebody with chalk was trolling people who use the bridge. I didn't see this warning when I visited, so either the board's been replaced since then, or the warning's been painted over. I also came across a mention of this bridge in a paper about pedestrian/bike bridges, including an inventory of ones in the greater Portland area. I'm not saying I'm going to take that on as a project. Most of the ones on the list look kind of uninteresting, especially the ones over freeways. But if I ever do decide to do that at some point, I now have a list to work from, which is always the key step. Oh, how do I keep stumbling into these projects?

1 comment :

reid said...

looks like the new bridge is almost done!