DAVID F. ASHTON - First-time visitors enjoy the view from deck of the new Rhine-Lafayette Pedestrian Overpass. It’s probably no big deal for folks who don’t live, work, or go to school in Brooklyn. But, a trip across the old Lafayette Street footbridge across the Brooklyn rail yard, originally built in 1943, was a harrowing experience for students and adults alike.

On September 2, the new – and, community members say, vastly improved – Rhine-Lafayette Street pedestrian overpass opened with a ribbon-cutting.

“The new bridge improves connections for people biking and walking in the Brooklyn neighborhood to and from Cleveland High School, Winterhaven School, Fred Meyer headquarters, and the S.E. 17th Avenue and Rhine Street MAX Station, and nearby bus stops,” said TriMet’s Mary Fetch, ready to try out the bridge herself, with her bicycle.

The $3.9 million bridge replacement project split its costs between the TriMet Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project, which put up $2.2 million, and Union Pacific, which spent $1.7 million.

The new bridge is vastly different from the former overcrossing. “The old bridge felt really rickety, and many neighbors felt unsafe on it,” commented Brooklyn Action Corps Chair Eric Wieland.

There were few options for those who didn’t want to make the crossing, Wieland added. “Our students, for example, otherwise had to go to Holgate or Powell Boulevard, which presented their own challenges. Some chose to go across the railroad yard itself.” In one case, with fatal results.

The new bridge, Wieland said, gives the Brooklyn neighborhood a safe, central crossing. “It’s key to building more of a community feeling here.”

Officials at the brief ceremony pointed out the new amenities – including glass elevators, a twelve-foot wide walkway, eight-foot wide stairways, good lighting, and bike gutters that make moving bicycles up and down the stairs easier.

The new public art project installed with the new overcrossing is a tree-like sculpture by Anne Storrs entitled “Along These Lines”, and which was inspired by the adjacent rail tracks, she said.

Those at the bridge opening admired the words, engraved in a metal band ringing the tree sculpture on the west side, and a “medallion” on the east side, with verse by Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita Paulann Petersen, a Sellwood resident.

With a snip of the ceremonial ribbon, the bridge was open. Both officials and neighbors boarded the elevator and walked up the stairs, and safely crossed over the railroad tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad Yard below.

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