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Fresh off my semi-exciting semi-adventures walking across the Morrison Bridge, I thought I'd take a crack at bigger game. Thus it was time to walk across the Ross Island Bridge, once again without dying at any point in the process, and also taking a few photos (the full Flickr photoset is here) and trying to have interesting impressions of the experience to share on the Interwebs. And for some reason this seemed like a really great plan.
There isn't a lot of info out on the Interwebs about walking across the Ross Island, primarily because it's a bad idea and an unattractive prospect. This bit at The Deuce of Clubs has a bunch of photos, plus a battered bust of Wagner. You know, the opera guy. So if, in the course of this post, you find yourself craving a fix of fancy 19th century Germanness and wondering why there isn't any here, you know exactly where to go. Or whatever.
I'd actually walked the bridge once before, around 15 years ago. I lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood at the time, a few blocks south of Powell. For the life of me I can't recall why I tried it. It wasn't so I could blog about it; I know that much at least. I did actually have net access way back then, but it wouldn't have occurred to me to post about such a mundane thing. No, the Internet was for serious, important stuff, like the previous week's Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. But I digress. I think I just wanted to go to Powell's or something, and it was a nice sunny day, and I thought I'd walk instead of taking the bus, or trying to find a parking place in the then-dodgy industrial neighborhood around the store, better known as today's glitzy Pearl District. What I remember of the experience was that it was hot, loud, windy, and dusty, with cars, trucks, buses, semis, cement mixers, etc., whizzing by just inches away. It wasn't fun. The return trip was by bus, if that tells you anything.
So with that in mind, I set out to do it again. I'm not sure what that says about me, really.
I'm not sure it would've occurred to me to do it if I hadn't just done a post about the Morrison Bridge. Walking across the Ross Island is not an idea that readily suggests itself. The areas around both ends of the bridge are not pedestrian-friendly, by any stretch of the imagination. Just cars. The surprising bit about this is that the bridge was built way back in 1926, and the present-day approaches to the bridge date to the 1940's. That's quite early to be planning for a car-only future, and I'd be intrigued to know why they did. On the other hand, the fact kind of cramps my style a bit, since I can't blame it on the 60s and riff (semi)amusingly about monorails and jetpacks and whatnot, like I did with the Morrison. Oh, well.
Regarding the pedestrian situation, unlike the Morrison I also can't say, well, thank goodness they're going to fix it in a month or two. ODOT worked on the bridge a few years ago, and among the improvements they added a metal guardrail to keep today's humongous SUVs and so forth from crashing through the old concrete railing. But crucially, they decided to put the guardrail just on the inside of the existing railing. Which not only fails to protect pedestrians from cars, it also makes the existing sidewalk even narrower. Contrast this with the walkway on the upper deck of the Steel Bridge, for example, which places the guardrail where it should be, between vehicles and pedestrians. There's probably some traffic-engineering reason why they did it this way -- perhaps the steel bridge style makes it more likely a vehicle will rebound into traffic, other lanes, other vehicles. And if they were basing the choice on existing conditions, not too many people would've been walking the bridge at the time, so no sense in going to extra trouble to protect pedestrians who aren't even there anyway. I guess. Or it was just cheaper to do it this way. Either way, it's a choice that probably won't be revisited for a long, long time.
The bridge is fairly photogenic, but that's all it has going for it. It's scary to walk across, and scary to drive across, and I cannot even imagine how scary it must be to ride a bike across it. The bridge ranks #7 at ThingsAboutPortlandThatSuck. It also figures in a funny rant at PSU's Daily Vanguard -- although I don't understand the Eminem and Insane Clown Posse references. (Kids these days...) Elsewhere, the short description at PortlandBridges gives some idea of the traffic weirdness and complexity surrounding the bridge. An even shorter description at Home & Abroad does mention one positive thing about the bridge: "Price: Free". So there's that, at least. There's also a photo of the Ross Island on a "Portland's Bridges" post over on JGaiser's blog.
Before we get to the practical bit, a quick word on what not to do: Do not place any faith whatsoever in walking instructions from the TriMet website. It's a recipe for disaster. Here, for example, are the walking instructions from an eastbound bus stop simply known as "Ross Island Bridge" to the westbound one at SW Kelly & Corbett, which you'll pass on your way to the bridge. Here are TriMet's official government-approved instructions, which are almost poetic in their terseness:
Walk a short distance west on SW Ross Island Brg-naito Pkwy Ramp.
Turn right on SW Water Ave.
Walk a short distance north on SW Water Ave.
Turn right on SW Woods St.
Walk a short distance east on SW Woods St.
Bear left on SW Corbett Ave.
Walk a short distance north on SW Corbett Ave.
Turn right on SW Porter St.
Walk a short distance east on SW Porter St.
Turn left on SW Ross Island Brg-kelly Ave Ramp.
Walk a short distance north on SW Ross Island Brg-kelly Ave Ramp.
Total walking is 0.23 miles.
Sounds reasonably straightforward, except that the underlined bits involve darting through traffic, and probably dying. You really, really, really don't want to do this. Ah, the danger and menace lurking in such innocuous words.
Anyway, let's get to walking. The problems with walking the bridge are threefold: The western approach to the bridge, the bridge itself, and the eastern approach to the bridge. In other words, the whole damn thing. I walked west to east this time, so we'll go that way. Before you can experience the wind, dust, noise, and grime that is the Ross Island Experience, you first have to get to the damn bridge. Let's start around SW 1st & Arthur. That's about the last point you can get to easily, and by following the normal city street grid. If you were in a car and wanted to go east, you'd follow the "Ross Island Bridge" signs -- the ramp up on to (or sorta on to) Naito for a couple of blocks heading south, then a tight curve through an underpass (sorta on Grover St., but not really), and finally a straight shot onto the bridge, albeit with traffic merging on from all directions. If you're walking, ignore the "Ross Island Bridge" signs. You can't go that way. It'd work out if there was a sidewalk on the south side of the bridge, but there isn't. There just isn't. So you basically need to go the way westbound traffic is coming from. If at any point the traffic closest to you is heading the same way you are, you're going the wrong way.
So at 1st and Arthur, you want to be on the corner with the LaGrand Industrial Supply building. Walk east, under the Naito overpass. Just past the overpass there's a corner with a ramp that lets westbound traffic from the bridge get onto Naito going north. Be careful. People who use this are going full speed coming off the bridge, and are expecting to keep going full speed for a while on Naito, and they aren't expecting you to be there. Wait for a nice big gap, and cross when it's "safe". If it's anywhere near rush hour, this may take a while.
Once you're across, you'll see the ominous north entrance to the Arthur St. Tunnel, which is a blog post in itself. Ignore it, unless you're up for an alarming side trip. Arthur becomes Kelly Avenue and makes a clean break with the city street grid, heading sorta-diagonally toward the bridge. So you head SE for a few blocks, crossing a few not-very-busy streets. Then you get to the next obstacle, the ramp where northbound traffic from Macadam merges onto Kelly. Again, watch out. Drivers aren't expecting you to be there, and the fact that you are is liable to make them surly. Once you've crossed that, eventually, you've entered the bridge interchange proper. Here you'll find the "SW Kelly & Corbett" bus stop I mentioned, the purpose of which I can't fathom. It's not exactly easy to get to, and doesn't really connect to anything. I have actually seen people waiting for a bus here, but I don't know where they came from or why. Possibly they were on a previous bus and got off here by mistake, and could only stand around and wait to be rescued by the next bus.
There's one more street to cross before the bridge, this time a curving ramp where westbound bridge traffic whips around and heads south on Hood Avenue, which eventually becomes the southbound lanes of Macadam. If it's close to rush hour at all, you can probably just give up and come back some other time, because there isn't going to be a safe gap in traffic. Note that due to the way the ramp's situated, drivers won't be able to see you very well until they're almost on top of you, and again, they won't be expecting pedestrians here. So be careful! There's no shame in deciding it's simply not worth it. I kept going, and I'm still not convinced it was worth it.
Still with me? Ok. Once you're safely across, you might notice there's a stretch of new sidewalk between the "crosswalk" and the bridge proper. I think this is due to Big Pipe construction a year or two ago. One peculiar thing about it is that the new sidewalk includes a ADA-compliant curb cut, to accomodate wheelchairs and vision-impaired pedestrians (see the yellow bit in the above photo). I realize it's required by law and everything, but getting to this spot is kind of scary even with 20/20 vision and running shoes. Putting it out there as a sort of invitation almost seems sort of cruel. At the very least it's shortsighted, blindly following the letter of the law. The sidewalk project ended at the curb cut, so I suppose whether people could actually get across the street safely was outside the scope of the project.
In any case, you're past the last traffic barrier now, and now it's time for the bridge itself. As I mentioned earlier, it's a long, long way across the bridge, it's uncomfortably narrow, and there's no barrier between you and the traffic whizzing by a few feet away. It's pretty noisy and windy too, also due to the traffic. You'll get used to all of that eventually, but you'll probably also start feeling a bit impatient, in an "are we there yet?" sort of way. I know I did, at any rate. At least there's an unusual view, so you can stop and look at that when you need a break from all the monotony and trudging.
The bridge is quite high up, to accomodate shipping traffic on the river (which for the most part no longer exists). So you'd think there'd be a pretty picture-postcard view of downtown from here, but the land below and just to the north of the bridge is derelict brownfield land, at least for the time being. Directly across the river is a riverfront cement plant. It's Portland, but not picture-postcard Portland. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advancing the usual PDX argument that industrial land, vacant areas, warehouses, and so forth all need to be turned into condo towers for the idle rich, just because I find the existing uses visually unappealing. I'm just telling you what to expect, that's all.
One interesting(?) thing along the west riverbank is a stretch of old pilings and planks, all that's left of a long-ago wooden dock along the river. Ok, it's not much to look at, but it's a rare remnant of the era when the Willamette was a working river this far upstream. When the powers that be get around to redeveloping the vacant land between the Ross Island and Marquam bridges, I'm sure they'll tear it all out, and put in some sort of overpriced public artwork that makes ironic reference to it. I know this because it's what always happens. So take a good look, and then get back to trudging.
One thing you won't get a good look at is Ross Island itself, because it's south of the bridge, and there's no sidewalk on that side. The photo above is about the best look you'll get. Unless, I suppose, you're in an eastbound vehicle, and you're stuck in traffic.
Here are a couple photos of the detailing on the bridge railing. You can't get that good of a look at it due to the new-ish guardrail. But hey, there's not all that much else to look at on the way across, so you might as well take a peek.
This is the "summit" of the bridge. It's all downhill from here.
Looking west from the "summit". You've come a long way, baby.
As you get closer to the east bank, you'll get a closer look at that cement plant I mentioned. I realize that the fashionable Portland thing is to insist that everything vaguely industrial is horrible and icky. But admit it: If you were ever a 3-8 year old boy, at some point this was your dream job. Or at the very least you wanted a playset just like it for Christmas.
It looks straightforward enough: Gravel arrives by barge, pushed by a bright yellow tugboat. Then something industrial happens to it, and then cement leaves in bright yellow trucks.
Eventually you'll get to the other side. No, really, you will. Seriously. At the east end of the bridge there's a dedication plaque to one Sherry Ross, a pioneer who settled on -- you guessed it -- Ross Island.
Ooh, look! Flowers!
When you get to the other side, you'll be hot, dirty, and sick and tired of trudging along six inches away from careening tractor trailers. It's time for a beer. Way past time for a beer. But you're on Powell now, and most of Powell's still part of the id-driven Portland, not the politically-correct superego-ish Portland that's all about following rules and being a "good citizen" and whatnot. So the first OLCC-licensed establishment you'll encounter on the east side, in fact the first structure of any kind, is a small sketchy-looking strip club. The place is currently named the "Lucky Devil", apparently without any trace of irony. I don't intend to moralize or be prudish -- to each his or her own, and all that -- I'm just saying that if the primary goal here is "not dying", it's be a shame to make it all the way across the Ross Island Bridge only to get shot or stabbed or worse inside the very first building on the other side of the river. That would kind of suck. To be fair, I haven't actually been inside the place, and it could be ultra-luxo-fancy inside for all I know. But the outside doesn't look too promising. Better to catch the westbound #9 bus back to "civilization". Or I suppose you could catch an eastbound bus out to the new Hopworks brewpub... come to think of it, I haven't actually been there yet... now there's an idea... Mmmm.... beeeer.....