I have a sort-of philosophical fascination with the chicken-and-egg aspect of right-of-way allocation on roadways. Should projects reflect the fact that most people still choose to drive as their primary mode of transportation, with facilities for transit, bikes, and the like being added to the mix only as demand for them materializes? Or should planners try to induce demand for alternatives by allocating capacity for them in advance of demand, hoping to prove the sagacity of that old mantra from Field of Dreams?
I certainly tend to think the latter notion is the smart one, and as the concept of complete streets grows more popular, I think a large majority of people who plan transportation projects for a living probably agree with me. But politically, such things can be more easily said than done, as controversy over the proposed reallocation of right-of-way on North Williams Street has clearly demonstrated in recent months.
With that in mind, I think the folks responsible for the design of the new-and-improved Sellwood Bridge deserve a big pat on the back. For cars, the new bridge features the same lane configuration as the old one–one lane in each direction. But for bikes and pedestrians, the itty-bitty sidewalks on each side are now wide, comfortable paths, clearly demarcated to separate the bikers from the walkers. In addition to the off-road bike path, there’s also an on-road bike lane in each direction. The project clearly anticipates (and intends to induce) heavy usage from cyclists, essentially providing them a fast lane and slow lane in each direction.
It gets better. A few miles downriver, construction continues on the Caruthers Bridge, which will carry nearly every mode of transportation you can think of except for single-occupancy vehicles across the Willamette. The Caruthers (or whatever it will be called when it’s completed) will serve light rail, bus, streetcar, bikes, and peds. Combined with the new Sellwood Bridge, that’s a lot of additional capacity for alternative modes to cross the Willamette without adding a single new lane for cars.
This is something that I really can’t see happening in too many other American cities, and I hope these bridges rightfully become points of civic pride as their construction continues.