Over the last several years, an industrial neighborhood along a riverfront in Portland, Oregon, has been transformed with new housing and a new branch of a university campus. But with few roads leading to the area, it used to be hard to reach. The city's solution, instead of building roads, was to build a new bridge—and as they began the design, they decided to make it car-free.
The new Tilikum Crossing, at more than 1,700 feet in length, will be the longest car-free transit bridge in the U.S., and the first multi-modal project of its kind. Light rail trains, buses, and streetcars will travel down the middle, with bike and pedestrian paths on either side.
In part, the decision to leave out cars was practical. Without a network of larger roads to lead up to the bridge on each side of the bridge, it would have been difficult to drive on and off. Including cars also would have cost the city more.
"The bridge would have been much wider—two lanes for traffic in each direction—which would have doubled the size of the bridge and taken away land for redevelopment on both sides of the river," explains Dave Unsworth, director of project development and permitting for TriMet, the local transportation agency. "It would have also added significantly to the cost of the bridge."
It also wasn't necessary, because there are already so many ways to get around without a car, including bike and pedestrian paths and a plethora of public transit options. "With so much transit service on both sides of the river—light rail, streetcar, buses, and the Aerial Tram on the west side of the bridge—adding through traffic would have been unsafe and wasn’t necessary given the quality transit access," Unsworth explains.
The city thinks it could serve as a model for new bridges in other cities. "We need to think multi-modal," says Unsworth. "Streetcars for central city circulation, buses to connect to neighborhoods, and light rail for regional destinations . . . and bike and pedestrian connections to the nearby trails."
Despite the fact that Portland leads in public transportation, it's not trying to go car-free anytime soon. "Not everyone can use transit, but we need to continue to make it more convenient by doing a great job of connecting to where people want and need to go," Unsworth says. "All cities need to encourage and invest in alternative modes."