Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Waud Bluff Bridge

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A recent post here covered Portland's new Waud Bluff Trail, at the north end of Swan Island. I mentioned in passing that the trail included a new footbridge over the railroad tracks here, and said something to the effect that I was saving the bridge for a separate post. I think on the theory that I'd done a few other posts about pedestrian bridges over railroads, and from what I could tell there was a manageable number of other such bridges out there, usually rather obscure, and thus a mini-project was born.

As I understand, today's official Waud Bluff Trail is new, but there has been an unofficial trail down the bluff here for a long time. The current trail seems to have incorporated an old service road, which once continued down to track level past the level of the bridge. I gather the route of the unofficial trail involved walking across the railroad tracks the old fashioned way, without a bridge. Turning the trail into something official involved building a bridge, since the railroad was never going to sign off on a new grade-level pedestrian crossing. Railroads apparently take a dim view of the human nature of pedestrians, since they also seem to want any bridges to be entirely enclosed, I suppose so people can't toss rocks onto a passing train, or jump onto the train as part of a daring Old West-style train robbery, or something.

The Waud Bluff Trail opened in spring 2013 after six years of planning and handwringing about funding. The bridge had been installed the previous December. This bridge made the whole trail possible, but it's not universally admired. A Bicycle Transportation Alliance article pointed out the new bridge design is not very bike or wheelchair friendly at all, and expressed hope for for a future retrofit, sooner rather than later.

The trail forms one small segment of the ambitious North Portland Greenway Trail, which would run between downtown Portland and Kelley Point Park. The segment across Swan Island from Waud Bluff to the south end would essentially incorporate existing sidewalks and bike lanes into the project, which is probably all you can do unless you want to build a flat trail halfway up the bluff, skirting Swan Island entirely.

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