Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Top 10 Reasons Why Cyclists Should Ride Salem #10: The Union Street Bridge

Hey, Portlanders! Pay attention! You’re about to read why you want to pack up the bike and head on down I-5 to one of the best places in Oregon for riding...Salem!
Not convinced? Skeptical? Read on.

Salem desperately needs another pair of bridges over the Willamette River. No duh. Just ask the folks who get stuck in West Salem every morning. No fast passes here. Only two bridges--one going in each direction--serve this entire area, and even on a good day that’s a bad thing. Oh, and just go deep into hiding somewhere when there’s a crisis--recently somebody threatened to jump off and end their life. Law enforcement got involved and shut the bridge down, causing traffic to seize up for over eight hours. Gridlock set in for literally miles in every direction, livid motorists had nowhere to go, and the political fallout went viral for months afterward. The squeeze that's put on these bridges is an ugly reality here, and is punctuated by the fact that there’s no relief in sight.

The bridge shortage is precisely what makes this such a remarkable story: one bridge goes east, and one bridge goes west. But there’s also one entire bridge that is dedicated to non-motorists over this stretch of the Willamette. Two to one--that’s a pretty amazing ratio, really. Admit it, Portlanders...you’re impressed!

The Union Street Bridge was originally built in 1913 for rail traffic between Salem and western parts of the Willamette Valley. Trains stopped rolling across it in the 1990’s. After the city bought it from Union Pacific in 2004 for one dollar a whole bunch of groups, including ODOT and Cycle Oregon got together to repurpose the span. In April 2009 it opened as a multi-use path serving a whole community of walkers and riders. When federal stimulus dollars became available, it closed again for painting and repairs that would have been years from happening otherwise. When the Union Street Bridge reopens in May--just about eight weeks from right now---it will connect to two parks (Wallace Marine and Riverfront ) and an infinite amount of rides on either side.

Until the repairs are completed, you can cross over the Willamette River via the Marion Street Bridge. Riding that span feels similar to the Sellwood Bridge in Portland: you can cross it if you must, but you really would rather not have to come across a pedestrian or another rider.

In May all the repairs become a distant memory, water under the bridge.

Yes, we will all be able to cross that bridge when we come to it.

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