Steel rectangular section columns with stiffened plates are commonly used for elevated highway bridges in the urban areas of Japan. The seismic design of bridge piers is usually performed by dynamic analysis in the horizontal direction using various independent directional seismic acceleration data. However, this simple treatment does not reflect the effect of bilateral loading as a structural response to inelastic interaction. In this study, unidirectional and bidirectional loading hybrid tests were conducted to examine the seismic response and performance of square cross-sections of steel bridge piers subjected to bidirectional seismic accelerations. Comparison of the results of unidirectional and bidirectional loading tests revealed that the maximum load is the same as the average of unidirectional loading in the NS and EW directions; however, the maximum response displacement and residual displacement increase in proportion with hard to soft ground types. Moreover, a modified seismic design is proposed considering these bidirectional loading effects. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.