2015 was a memorable year. Providence Bridge Pedal was the first opportunity for people to bike or walk across Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People. The 20th Providence Bridge Pedal set all kinds of records including for the number of bridges crossed, number of participants, and the most number of miles biked and walked. Now that the Tilikum Crossing is open for regular Max, streetcar, and bus transit, the bridge is no longer available to use for special events.
The Fremont Express was created this year as the result in our efforts to keep all registration prices from skyrocketing. After decades of having a very generous policy supporting special events, the City of Portland switched to a policy of “full cost recovery”. In one year, Providence Bridge Pedal’s Portland permit fee went from $3,500 to about $70,000. For a premium, Fremont Express riders get early access and a light breakfast on the Fremont Bridge. As with many new event components, there was a learning curve for us. The first time this was offered there was some confusion with ODOT regarding the time we got access to the bridge to set up for the Fremont Express riders. In the end we had 18 minutes to set up breakfast for 1,000 people. The event is extremely popular and receives rave reviews.
In an effort to make Providence Bridge Pedal accessible for cyclists of all ages, Providence Kids Pedal became a regular part of the ride. The three-mile loop crosses the Hawthorne Bridge then uses the Eastbank Esplande to reach the lower deck of the Steel Bridge. The young cyclists then finish with all the other cyclists on SW Naito. It was a startling moment early on the morning of the ride when we saw the Esplanade Crossing of the Steel Bridge was closed because of mechanical problems. This was the first—and we hope only—time that we have had to redesign a ride while it was taking place.
For two years the Providence Bridge Pedal finish line was moved from SW Naito Parkway to Lincoln High School near Providence Park. This route offered all cyclists the fun of biking off the Fremont Bridge and through town on I-405. It had, however a significant drawback. Access to the Fremont Bridge for all Providence Bridge Pedal bikers ends at 11:30 a.m. Under this configuration, however, an unacceptable number of cyclists doing the longer ride to the St. Johns Bridge did not get back to the Fremont Bridge in time. We abandoned this routing after two years.
2011 presented a significant challenge. The Broadway Bridge was completed closed as streetcar tracks were being installed. Without the Broadway, getting to the Fremont Bridge and back to the finish line was very difficult. While we explored many options with our transportation partners, the solution was we biked from the Marquam to the Fremont through downtown on I-405. Once on the Fremont, cyclists did a U-turn and headed off to the bridge toward northwest Portland.
On Sunday morning, Aug. 9, how many miles will Providence Bridge Pedal cyclists pedal?
Approximately 18,500 will bike the bridges that morning: 1,000 doing the Fremont Express, 5,500 the 11-Bridge Ride; 4,500 the 9-Bridge Ride; 6,500 the 7-Bridge Ride; and 1,000 in the Kids Pedal. Applying these numbers to the distance of each ride yields a total of 437,000 miles. That is equal to circling the earth 17 times or going to the moon and 3/4 of the way back home.
Providence Bridge Striders will walk a distance equal to that from Portland to Washington, DC and back again.
Applying the same calculations to the previous 19 events, Providence Bridge Pedal participants have cycled over 6 million miles.
The Most Tense 20 Minutes of the Year
Getting the first of 18,000 bicyclists across the Providence Bridge Pedal start line follows a complicated choreography by Portland police, ODOT employees, Bridge Pedal staff and hundreds of volunteers.
Beginning Saturday evening, plywood has been installed on the Hawthorne Bridge. A fence has been built across the Broadway Bridge. Traffic cones have been placed on the Morrison and Sellwood bridges, and caution tape has been strung across the Marquam and Ross Island bridges. Barricades have been left at the 250 intersections crossed on the ride.
On Sunday at 6:25 a.m., volunteers move all those barricades into position closing the Providence Bridge Pedal route to motorized traffic. For the next 20 minutes, police officers are scouring the route and reporting to the event command center. "Traffic is leaking onto the course at SW Kelly." " There is no volunteer at NW Flanders and 6th." "Sellwood is solid and ready." Providence Bridge Pedal staff is stationed at key locations around the course to immediately respond to any problem.
All the information about the course's status is forwarded to police officers at the two start lines, one on the Fremont Bridge for the Fremont Express and one at SW Naito Parkway and Salmon Street for the 9-Bridge Ride. After any problem is corrected, the word is radioed from the command center to these officers: "The course is solid." The lead police officers start their motorcycles and give thumbs up to the starters. With a big "whoop" and a huge sigh of relief, the ride begins.
So Many Players
There are a lot of cooks in the Providence Bridge Pedal kitchen. To get approval for the event, it is not simply a matter of going to the city of Portland's special events permit office and saying we want to have a bike ride.
The federal government owns the Interstate Highway system. They contract with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to manage it. ODOT permits the use of the I-5 and I-405 sections of the route. The state owns the Ross Island and St. Johns bridges so our ODOT permit covers these, plus St. Helens Road, McLoughlin Blvd. and SW Macadam, which are state highways.
Multnomah County owns the Sellwood, Hawthorne, Morrison, Burnside and Broadway bridges. The county works with the U.S. Coast Guard to control river traffic so none of the drawbridges opens in the middle of the ride.
We close about 30 miles of city streets on the ride. All these street closures are planned and approved by Portland Bureau of Transportation and managed during Providence Bridge Pedal by Portland police.
With the continuing expansion of the light rail and streetcar systems, TriMet participation is growing. TriMet also has to re-route a number of bus lines impacted by street and bridge closures. Their role is expanding further with the addition of Tilikum Crossing, which is owned jointly owned by TriMet and the city.
A prime example of how convoluted things can be is the Steel Bridge. It is owned by Union Pacific Railroad. The road surface is a state highway (99W), so ODOT is a player as is the city of Portland Bureau of Transportation. Tri-Met leases a portion of the upper deck for its MAX line. Since the completion of the Eastbank Esplanade, Portland Parks and Recreation manages the walkway on the lower deck. Finally, the U.S. Coast Guard enters the picture because the Steel is a drawbridge and the navigability of the Willamette River is under their jurisdiction.
On one day each year all these agencies work together so Portland's bridges and streets are available for you to enjoy during Providence Bridge Pedal.
Where do Providence Bridge Pedal participants live?
As you might expect, most Bridge Pedal bikers and Bridge Stride walkers come from the Portland area. Approximately 95% reside in NW Oregon or SW Washington.
In the past three years, we have hosted cyclists and walkers from 46 states plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico. The four unrepresented states are Delaware, North Dakota, Rhode Island and West Virginia. If you have friends or relatives from any of these states--or anywhere else--invite them to join us in Portland this August.
We have had international cyclists from Brazil, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Israel, Italy and Japan.
The 11th Providence Bridge Pedal was the biggest Providence Bridge Pedal--21,000 participants--and it was our biggest disaster.
Many things need to go right for Providence Bridge Pedal to be successful. Two of the most critical factors are making sure the various groups of cyclists don't merge together creating overcrowding and getting everyone to the Fremont Bridge before 11:30 a.m. when the gates close.
In 2006, biking on SE McLoughlin Blvd. to reach the Sellwood Bridge was new to the route. We incorrectly estimated how long it would take these cyclists doing the 10-bridge ride to return downtown to the Hawthorne Bridge. As a result, there they merged with other cyclists who were just starting. To make matters worse, that year only one lane on the Ross Island Bridge was dedicated to cyclists. The resulting bike traffic jam was massive. Thousands of cyclists were delayed so long they did not reach the Fremont Bridge in time.
Since 2006, we have kept registration under 20,000 and have always had two lanes for cyclists on the Ross Island Bridge. We have also become better and better at estimating the flow of the various groups of cyclists.
The 10th Providence Bridge Pedal was celebrated by including all 10 of Portland's Willamette River bridges in the ride for the first time since the inaugural year. Portland Parks had completed the Springwater Corridor trail from OMSI to Oaks Park, providing Providence Bridge Pedal cyclists with a way to reach the Sellwood Bridge. It turned out the trail was pretty crowded, so in subsequent years SE McLoughlin Blvd. has been used to reach West Moreland and the Sellwood Bridge.
More than 19,000 people participated in the 2005 Providence Bridge Pedal, making it the largest Portland biking event up until that time.
The Oregonian joined as a Providence Bridge Pedal media sponsor in 2005 and has been a steadfast supporter ever since.
Surprisingly in 19 years, Providence Bridge Pedal's route has never been exactly the same two years in a row. Bridge and road construction projects require an ever-changing route. In 2004, the St. Johns Bridge was returned to the ride after a two-year absence because of a repainting project. The Hawthorne Bridge was omitted one year as new decking was installed. We lost the Broadway Bridge once as the streetcar tracks were being installed. However, with thanks to Multnomah County, we have been able to keep the Sellwood Bridge as part of the ride each year as the new Sellwood Bridge has been under construction. And most importantly, the top decks of the Marquam and Fremont bridges have always been included in the ride.
This year's challenges include dodging two major buildings under construction at the east end of the Burnside Bridge and the painting of the Broadway Bridge. To accommodate the addition of Tilikum Crossing, the 11-bridge and Fremont Express riders will be biking on a section of the Eastbank Esplanade for the first time.
The Hawthorne Bridge presents one of the biggest challenges in staging Providence Bridge Pedal. The lane used by the cyclists is just 12' wide, making it the narrowest section of the entire ride. The deck's metal gating is challenging for cyclists, and seeing the river through the open grating can be very disorienting.
During the first Bridge Pedal, the lane was covered with carpet. The wind ruffling the carpet added extra excitement to the ride. The next winter the Willamette River flooded. To protect downtown from flooding, the city used plywood to build up the seawall. That plywood was reused that August to cover the grating on the Hawthorne Bridge. Although is has been replenished from time to time, the plywood is still used to cover the bridge during Providence Bridge Pedal.
How many people does it take to put on Providence Bridge Pedal? A lot!
At 4 a.m. on Providence Bridge Pedal, Sunday 55 Oregon Department of Transportation employees start closing down the Marquam and Fremont bridges and other sections of the route that are on state highways. More than 60 Portland police officers monitor the event and control traffic at critical locations. TriMet has about 20 staff stationed where the bike routes cross MAX or streetcar tracks. Nine Portland-area bike stores provided bike mechanics, and American Medical Response has a dozen EMTs assigned to the event. There are 35 Providence Bridge Pedal staffers managing the various venues and driving trucks. Finally, don't forget to count our amazing volunteers--over 450 of them.
All of these people work together with one goal: making Providence Bridge Pedal a safe and memorable bike ride and walk.
On Aug. 12, more than 13,000 people participated in the sixth Providence Bridge Pedal. None of us could have guessed that just 30 days later our world and our lives would change so dramatically.
Remembering 9/11 and more recent tragedies, this week for every paid Providence Bridge Pedal registration and for every gift card and bike jersey purchased, we will donate $5 to Portland-based Mercy Corps, to support their relief work in Nepal.
Click here to register for Providence Bridge Pedal or make a purchase. To donate directly to Mercy Corps' Nepal earthquake relief effort, click here.
In more ways than one, 2000 took Providence Bridge Pedal into the 21st century. That year, even before we had a website, we began offering online registration. A few brave souls tried it.
During those early years, you could register in more than 20 different bike stores throughout the area, by mail or at the Providence Health and Wellness Expo. About a third of the 12,000 Providence Bridge Pedal participants registered each way.
How quickly things changed. Within five years of beginning online registration, we ended in-store registration. Now over 90 percent of registrants sign up online. The few others register by mail or at the expo.
As Providence Bridge Pedal continued to grow in its fourth year, interesting challenges arose. One of the biggest was managing the start line. Our goal is to start bicyclists at a rate of about 100 per minute so congestion on the ride is minimized.
In 1999 all Providence Bridge Pedal rides began at SW Naito Parkway and Salmon Street. The throng of cyclists at the start line was an impressive sight. At its maximum, the queue reached back to the Burnside Bridge. In fact, the first cyclists finishing the ride could not reach the finish line at SW Naito and Ash Street because of people waiting to start the ride. To minimize this backlog, we began using assigned start time in 2000.
1998 was the first year that more than 10,000 people participated in Providence Bridge Pedal, and there have been more than 10,000 participants every year since. In just its third year, Providence Bridge Pedal was already the second- largest community bike ride in the country, trailing only New York City's Five Boro Ride.
From 1997-2004, only eight bridges were included in Providence Bridge Pedal. We did not find a safe and practical way to include the Sellwood Bridge in the ride until 2005. The walking event, Providence Bridge Stride, was added in 1997. About 1,000 people participate in the 6-mile walk each year. In 1998 we also included a running event crossing the Fremont and Marquam bridges.
KPTV Fox 12 Oregon became a media sponsor in 1997. The station and staff have provided valuable support for Providence Bridge Pedal every year since.
As Bridge Pedal approached its second year, three things occurred that have had a profound impact on the success of the event.
- Providence Health & Services became Bridge Pedal's title sponsor. Their generous, unwavering commitment has provided the stability, creativity and resources that have helped Providence Bridge Pedal grow into such a special event.
- In 1996 Bridge Pedal was held in May. As the event grew, the City of Portland required that we change the date to not conflict with Rose Festival activities. So in 1997, Providence Bridge Pedal moved to the second Sunday in August. Wedding planners take note: It has not rained on the morning of Providence Bridge Pedal since making the move to August 18 years ago.
- Hamilton Events, Portland's best event management company, was hired in 1997 to manage the event, a role they filled with distinction for the next eight years.
We added a couple thousand more participants from the previous year as 8,500 people biked the bridges on Sunday, Aug. 10, 1997.
The gestation period for Bridge Pedal was about as long as an elephant's, nearly two years. Representatives from Metropolitan Events (now Metropolitan Group) and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Rick Bauman – Bridge Pedal's founder and current director – negotiated with representatives of the city of Portland, Multnomah County and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) to create a great community bike ride on par with New York's Five Boro Ride and Montreal's Tour de l'Ile.
Two months before the ride was scheduled, ODOT announced there was an administrative rule that only allowed the closure of portions of Interstate highways for weather, repairs or accidents. This was a huge stumbling block since it was essential to include the Fremont and Marquam bridges in the ride. It took a hurried, Herculean effort in Salem to get a waiver approved so Bridge Pedal could move forward.
On a gray but dry Sunday morning during one of the rainiest Mays on record, 7,500 enthusiastic cyclists showed up to bike the bridges, almost half of them registering on the morning of the ride. On the cover of the 1996 brochure we had the audacity to call it the "first annual" Bridge Pedal. It is also worth noting that KINK-FM was a sponsor that year. KINK has continued their unwavering support for 20 years.