North Portland

What's that on the Broadway Bridge? Oh, just a little yarn bombing

What's that on the Broadway Bridge? Oh, just a little yarn bombing
Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman,

PORTLAND, Ore. - In case you haven't noticed, the 100-year-old Broadway Bridge was recently yarn bombed.

Four giant, colorful hand-knitted banners (they are 18 feet by 21 feet) are now hanging from the bridge's spans on both sides.

They've been there for just over a week, but where did they come from?

They are part of this year's celebration for the bridge hitting the century mark. Local artist Tyler Mackie and a team of 150 volunteer knitters created the pieces.

Alright, but why knitted banners?

“I just thought that a ‘wind in the sails’ piece would lift people up even a little more on their bike ride, run or walk over the bridge from one side of town to the other,” Mackie said.

And the banners will be helping out people in need. You see, once this year's festivities wrap up for the bridge's 100th birthday, the yarn art will be split up into 42 afghans that will be donated to local warming centers. They'll get a good cleaning beforehand, of course.

The knitted canvases, which are part of a project called Bridge for Blankets, will remain on the bridge through August 15. Watch the video (by Portland State University student Kimberly Brady) to hear from the artist - find out what her inspiration was, the materials she used and much more.

As far as the centennial goes, this weekend is the last big blow-out for this year's PDX Bridge Festival to honor the Broadway Bridge. A block party is being held from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday.

The Broadway Bridge in the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of the City of Portland archives.

About the Broadway Bridge

At 1,613 feet long, the Broadway Bridge is the longest Rall-type bascule bridge (a type of draw bridge invented by Theodore Rall) still in existence.

The bridge first opened on April 22, 1913 and cost $1.6 million to build. Today, around 30,000 vehicles cross the Broadway bridge each day.

Crazy about bridges?
Don't miss this month's Big & Awesome Bridges exhibit at the American Institute of Architects at 403 N.W. 11th Avenue.

The Broadway Bridge sits about 90 feet above the river and rarely lifts for boats - maybe a couple of times a month. Lift operators are on call now instead of sitting on the bridge around the clock.

If the bridge does go up, you can expect to wait a while for it to go back down. An opening can take 20 minutes or more to complete because the bridge's lift system is a complicated one.

But to bridge mechanic Mitch Hamel, it's a beautiful thing.

"It's like an orchestra when everything is working fine, in tune and everything - the ballet that it performs when it's going into the open position," he said.