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FreightWaves Classics/ Infrastructure: Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People opens in Portland, Oregon

The only major bridge in the country dedicated to light rail, buses, bicycles and pedestrians

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In yesterday’s FreightWaves Classics article – Pioneers: Columbia Rediviva was first U.S. ship to sail around the world – the state of Oregon played a major role. Today’s article will also focus on Oregon, which became the 33rd of the 50 U.S. states on February 14, 1859, but this article is about a much newer event.

Seven years ago yesterday, a new cable-stayed bridge that spans the Willamette River was first opened to the public. The “open house” occurred more than a month prior to the official dedication of the bridge. The bridge was a project of TriMet, the Portland metropolitan area’s regional transit authority. The bridge’s primary purpose is to carry light rail passenger trains across the river.

Light rail, pedestrians and cyclists share the bridge. (Photo: sedg.org)
Light rail, pedestrians and cyclists share the bridge. (Photo: sedg.org)

However, the bridge, named Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People, not only serves TriMet’s MAX Orange Line but also city buses, Portland’s streetcar system, bicycles, pedestrians, and emergency vehicles. It has the distinction of being the first major bridge in the United States that was designed to provide access to bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit vehicles but not private automobiles and trucks. 

(And while trucks and cars are prohibited from using the bridge, it means there are fewer buses, bicyclists, pedestrians, etc. on the bridges they do use.)

Pedestrians and cyclists on the Tilikum Crossing bridge. (Photo: segd.org)
Pedestrians and cyclists on the Tilikum Crossing bridge. (Photo: segd.org)

The bridge

Tilikum Crossing was the first new bridge over the Willamette River in the Portland area since the Fremont Bridge in 1973.

TYLin, a global engineering firm, served as engineer of record for the bridge. The company’s description of the bridge is: “At 1,720 feet long, with a main span of 780 feet, the concrete bridge is a hybrid between a traditional cable-stayed layout and an extradosed bridge, with two towers and two landside piers. Two 14-foot-wide bicycle-pedestrian paths flank each side of the bridge, with pedestrian belvederes at the towers.” A belvedere (from Italian for “beautiful view”) is an architectural structure sited to take advantage of a fine or scenic view.

A cable-stayed bridge consists of one or more towers, through which cables are strung to support the bridge deck. Cable-stayed bridges are efficient at spanning long distances while also minimizing the number of piers in the water. In addition, they can be designed with thinner decks than other bridge types; this allows a more transparent structure and more vertical navigation clearance.

Tilikum Crossing at night. (Photo: trimet.org)
Tilikum Crossing at night. (Photo: trimet.org)

TYLin also provided the “design engineering of the elevated structure, along with roadway improvements at the eastside touchdown, two 160-foot-tall pylons, drilled shaft foundations, direct-fixation track, and systems integration.” In addition, TYLin implemented “important value engineering concepts. These included optimizing the foundation system by reducing the number and size of drilled shafts and providing an alternative structural basis for mitigation of liquefaction that removed the need to stabilize the soil on the west approach.”

The bridge includes a pair of wide paths for pedestrians and cyclists. Stops along its length provide opportunities to appreciate the bridge’s well-designed details – “angles formed by the cables mirror the outline of Mount Hood, which rises in the background.” (The angle is also repeated elsewhere, including atop the tower pylons.) There are osprey nesting poles at either end of the bridge, as well as a “sonic dish art installation on the east bank that amplifies the sounds of the river.”

The bridge was “the jewel” of the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project, which is a 7.3-mile transit link that runs from downtown Portland (in Multnomah County) to Park Avenue in Clackamas County.

A patch designed by Greg. A. Robinson for Pendleton. (Image: blog.pendleton-usa.com)
A patch designed by Greg. A. Robinson for Pendleton. (Image: blog.pendleton-usa.com)

Naming the bridge

TriMet selected Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People from entries submitted by the public. “Tilikum” is derived from the language of the Chinookan peoples, who lived in the area that became Portland and its surroundings for thousands of years. Tilikum means “people, tribe or family.” Tilikum was chosen as part of the bridge’s name to honor the Native American tribes who lived in the region – and still live there – the Multnomah, Cascade, Clackamas, and other Chinookan peoples.

The patch was attached to this Pendleton blanket, which was also designed by Mr. Robinson. (Image: blog.pendleton-usa.com)
The patch was attached to this Pendleton blanket, which was also designed by Mr. Robinson. (Image: blog.pendleton-usa.com)

The bridge’s opening

As noted above, the Sunday, August 9, 2015 “sneak preview” for Tilikum Crossing was a very popular event. TriMet estimated that at least 40,000 people toured the bridge. The transit agency also estimated that approximately one-third of the total (about 13,000) rode their bicycles across the bridge. “I watched thousands and thousands of people [biking],” TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch said in an interview with the Oregonian newspaper. “There was a woman who was 95 years-old riding over the bridge. There was so much excitement.”

TriMet advertising for the opening of the bridge. (Image: on-track-on-line.com)
TriMet advertising for the opening of the bridge. (Image: on-track-on-line.com)

The formal opening of Tilikum Crossing occurred a few weeks later – on September 12, 2015. Among the dignitaries taking part in the opening ceremonies were: Oregon Governor Kate Brown; Confederated Tribe of Grande Ronde Councilwoman Cheryle Kennedy (representing the Chinookan peoples); U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici; and the Federal Transit Administration’s Acting Administrator Therese McMillan.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Confederated Tribe of Grande Ronde Councilwoman Cheryle Kennedy and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzann Bonamici at the grand opening celebration for Tilikum Crossing on September 12, 2015. (Photo: smokesignals.org)
Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Confederated Tribe of Grande Ronde Councilwoman Cheryle Kennedy and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici at the grand opening celebration for Tilikum Crossing on September 12, 2015.
(Photo: smokesignals.org)

FreightWaves Classics thanks oregonlive.com, segd.com, travelportland.com, TYLin.com and Wikipedia for information and photos that were used in this article.

The Bridge of the People, being used by the people. (Photo: lightthebridges.org)
The Bridge of the People, being used by the people. (Photo: lightthebridges.org)

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Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.