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Portland's car-free bridge named Tilikum Crossing

Apr 16, 2014


By STEVEN DUBOIS
Of the Associated Press

PORTLAND — A car-free bridge that's nearly ready to span the Willamette River just south of downtown Portland will be named Tilikum Crossing.

A banner revealing the identity was unfurled Wednesday along the side of the cable-stayed bridge, following a brief snafu in which nothing happened after a crowd on the riverbank counted down from 10.

The bridge is named for a Chinook word that means people, tribe and relatives.

Historian Chet Orloff, who chaired the bridge-naming committee, said Tilikum has conveyed the meaning of community for centuries, and it was chosen because it had the “most promise to connect the people of our region today with the long past of people who have been here on both banks of the river for thousands of years.”

The $135 million bridge scheduled to open next year will be Portland's 12th across the river that divides the city's east and west side. It's the first to be built since 1973 and only the fourth since 1931.

Tilikum Crossing is unique to Portland and the United States because it will carry light rail, streetcars, buses, bikes and pedestrians, but be off-limits to the automobile.

The naming process has been a hot topic in Portland as the TriMet regional mass transit agency invited citizens to submit suggestions. After getting almost 10,000 recommendations, the committee arrived at four finalists: Wy'east, Cascadia Crossing, Abigail Scott Duniway and what was initially spelled Tillicum Crossing.

The committee chose names that have historical or geographical significance and bypassed whimsical suggestions that had public support, such as the Lisa Simpson Bridge. It also opted against naming it for popular Portlanders who recently died, including famed door-to-door salesman Bill Porter and street musician Kirk Reeves.

Orloff emphasized to disappointed residents that it was never meant to be a popularity contest or an election.

David Lewis, a historian for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde who was on the naming committee, said it's important for the tribes to “re-establish our presence here” after being removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation in 1856.

“I didn't really do much selling,” he said of his discussions with others on the committee. “I just kept on pushing this issue that we were removed from this place, and a lot of our place names were changed. And that we wanted to return some of those names back to our lands.”

Lewis said Tillicum was switched to a different native spelling to lessen the opportunity for vulgarity.

The crowd who attended the unveiling seemed slightly surprised by the choice. Duniway, who fought for women's voting rights, would have become the first woman to have her name on a Portland bridge.

“I didn't want something that was about a person,” said Anne Weaver, the co-owner of Elephants Delicatessen who wanted Wy'east. “You need to have something that's bigger than a person.”

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Follow Steven DuBois at http://twitter.com/pdxdub

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