Naming the Transit Bridge – how we got here


Many people are advocating that the new Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Bridge be named for certain individuals, beyond the one (Abigail Scott Duniway) proposed by the citizens’ committee to name the bridge. With so much interest in naming the bridge, I want to take a minute to review the naming criteria, and how, in particular, the committee looked at individuals vis-a-vis the naming process.

First and foremost, this has never been a popularity contest.  We are not naming a bridge merely by numbers.  The naming committee (10 volunteers from across the tri-county region) applied specific criteria—garnered from national and state guidelines—to the suggestions submitted to it. Again, here is the criteria used to review all names and to narrow down the list:

  • Origin of name
  • Meaning of proposed name
  • Is it inspirational? If so, why?
  • Does it reflect how bridge connects people? If so, how?
  • Historical significance (if any)
  • Biographical info (if commemorative)
  • Any special cultural meaning?
  • What will it mean 100 years from now?
  • Spelling
  • Pronunciation
  • Sound/ring/flow
  • Regional perspective (being Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah counties)

The vast majority of individual’s names submitted simply did not meet all the considerations. When it came to individuals, the committee members asked themselves and each other such questions as:

  • Has the individual substantially influenced the life of the regional community in such ways that their influence and actions will continue to be felt and recognized far into the future?
  • Did the individual accomplish things of substantial-enough weight and substance to continue to influence life in the community—region-wide—for the future?  The committee demanded to know these accomplishments.
  • Can people throughout the region clearly understand how the individual’s accomplishments have positively and substantially affected their lives, throughout the region?

Yes, there were several individuals and couples whose accomplishments met the committee’s rigorous regional criteria.  In the final analysis, however, the 10 citizens on the committee unanimously agreed that one individual—Abigail Scott Duniway—and her many accomplishments not only met the criteria but rose above the others, and their own accomplishments, in terms of historical and lasting significance.

Several people advocated, for example, that the bridge be named after Kirk Reeves.  For those of us who were familiar with him, Kirk’s name is closely associated with the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland.  Do people living in Tualatin, Tigard, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Aloha, Gresham, Oregon City recognize the name now and what it means? What will be Kirk’s historical and cultural significance to all of us in our region in 25, 50, 150 years?  Yes, he may have represented a certain type of individual—artist, independent soul, etc.—that we like to recognize.  But, so was the case with all the other individuals and couples the committee considered.   I, for one (and writing as a former Regional Arts and Culture Council commissioner), would love to see Kirk’s memory celebrated with a piece of public art, perhaps a sculpture of him near where he used to play, with music emanating from it. That would manifest his memory and relate to the particular place within the city where he made his own impact.

But, when it comes to naming such an icon as a regional bridge, I believe we want a name that represents, in substantial and substantive ways, something to us all, historically, now, and in the future.

We look forward to your feedback on the final four names. Give us your comments at or mail them to 1800 SW 1st Avenue, Suite 300, Portland, OR 97201. The deadline for input is 5 p.m. March 1, 2014.


Chet Orloff,  Historian

Manager, Pamplin International Collection of Art & History
Adj. Professor, Urban Studies & Planning, PSU
Adj. Instructor, School of Architecture, UO
President & Director, Museum of the City
Principal, Oregon History Works
Director Emeritus, Oregon Historical Society
P.O. Box 10829  Portland, Oregon 97296-0829
tel  503.805.5461 / fax  503.725.8770