Portland’s New Car-Free Bridge Is a Symbol of U.S. Mobility Goals

Tilikum Crossing allows walkers, cyclists, and transit riders—but not drivers.

Image Screenshot via YouTube
Pedestrians walk along Tilikum Crossing, Portland's new car-free bridge, during a public preview in August 2015. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Tilikum Crossing—Portland’s new bridge that makes room for just about every travel mode except cars—opens this weekend. Leah Treat, director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, says “the city is abuzz.”

“I think this is a very defining moment for us in terms of how we want the city to grow,” she tells CityLab. “We have really ambitious goals of reducing carbon emissions, getting people to take transit or walk or bike. It’s just a perfect symbol of our values in this community.”

Tilikum has become a symbol to those outside Portland, too. Cities across the country are turning to shared-use or even pedestrian-only bridges as a way to provide more balanced transportation options. When the U.S. Department of Transportation issued its proposed budget earlier this year, the cover image wasn’t an open highway or an interstate cloverleaf—it was Tilikum.

“For urban areas that are growing across the country, this is a great example of supplying convenient, easy, transportation options,” says Treat. “We’re increasingly seeing people adopting bicycling, walking, and transit as the way to get around.”

The U.S. DOT including this rendering of Tilikum, designed by San Francisco's Donald McDonald, on its Fiscal 2016 budget cover. (HNTB)

Other than drivers—who, it should be noted, don’t actually lose road capacity to the bridge—Tilikum has a little something for everyone:

  • Pedestrians and cyclists get their own lanes (as well as places to stop-and-chat). In some places, paint marks the paths; in others, there are physical separations. PBOT says special bike traffic signals will ease the transition onto the bridge, and that pedestrian connectivity has improved at both ends. All told, some $65 million in bike-ped upgrades, from sidewalks to bike lanes, have accompanied the project.
  • The MAX Orange Line, a new light rail service operated by TriMet, will get a dedicated lane on Tilikum, with travel times falling by 29 percent by 2030. Officials expect the light rail to carry upwards of 23,000 daily riders across the bridge by that date. Buses will travel the bridge, too, and the crossing has been tapped as a potential route for an emerging bus-rapid transit corridor.
  • The Portland streetcar, operated by PBOT, will also get to cross the bridge—closing the Central Loop service that currently makes a U-turn when it reaches the end of the line on either side of the Willamette River. Some 2,500 daily trips across the bridge are expected by 2030, and Treat says the agency will run service every 10 minutes.
A Portland Streetcar makes a practice run on Tilikum. (PBOT / Julie Gustafson)

The city’s ambitions for Tilikum go beyond mobility. Treat says developers have wanted to connect the Southwest Waterfront knowledge district (home to Portland State and Oregon Health & Science University) with the emerging “crafter-maker-doer” economy on the Central East Side. New housing units, jobs, and businesses are expected to emerge on both sides of the bridge, with growth on one side supporting the other.

“They now have a way to access each other,” says Treat. “It’s going to be incredible to watch the activity on that bridge.”

To get a modified (non-transit) sense of just how incredible, check out this excellent aerial video of Tilikum’s public preview in August, shot via drone by Clifford Paguio:

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