Monday, March 30, 2009

Vista Bridge

Vista Bridge, March '09


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I haven't done anything with the ongoing bridge project for a while, mostly due to it being winter (even if it's technically spring). I figured I was overdue, then, and I seem to recall there's at least one Gentle Reader out there who actually likes my bridge stuff, believe it or not.

So today's thrilling bridge adventure takes us, well, just over to the West Hills, and the sorta-famous Vista Bridge. Ok, so it's technically called the "Vista Avenue Viaduct", as it carries said avenue over SW Jefferson St., but I still count it as a bridge for somewhat anal and pedantic reasons I'll get to later on. Over time I've learned not to lead off with pedantic crap that nobody except me cares about.

vista bridge, march '09

This post has actually been in the works for a while. I dropped by last fall to do the bridge thing, and realized my camera battery was totally drained, so no photos. Then a few days back I stopped by to try the bridge thing again, took a few photos, but ended up with a drained battery again before I had all the shots I wanted. So I charged the thing back up and went back again. In short, many Bothans died to bring you these photos, so I hope you're happy.

Vista Bridge, March '09

Vista Bridge, March '09

vista bridge, march '09

Walking the bridge isn't a big deal, and I only mention it because that's part of the ongoing theme. The sidewalks are fine, and there are a couple of bays with benches if you're inclined to stop and enjoy the view. Parking can be a problem, in the unlikely event you're driving to the bridge in order to walk across it and back. And waiting for a gap in traffic so you can cross the street is very mildly annoying. I'm kind of grasping at straws here trying to find something bad to say. Maybe biking across could be sketchy, if it was a rainy night and there were a bunch of aggressive cokehead rich twits in enormous luxury SUVs speeding along while yapping on their mobile phones, too busy daytrading or sending somebody's job to China, to notice you there on your bike, especially if you're being a proper tragically hip Portland cyclist and you're wearing all black, you don't have any lights or reflectors on your bike, you aren't wearing a helmet, your trendy fixie bike has no brakes, and you're riding around town aimlessly after chugging a few PBR's. Under those circumstances, the bridge could be on the dangerous side.

Vista Bridge, March '09

Which sort of brings us to the one thing everyone in town knows about the Vista Bridge. The bridge's common nickname is the "Suicide Bridge" due to its supposed popularity with jumpers. Apparently the stats bear this out, and it isn't just an urban legend. I usually work the phrase "not dying" into the titles of bridge posts, but due to the Vista's reputation I figured it would be kind of crass this time around. Not that I'm above crass, mind you; it just seems like a shame to offend people and drive them away before they've read any of my semi-sparkling prose.

Before anybody goes off on a keep-Portland-weird, home-of-the-world-famous-Suicide-Bridge smugness thing, I ought to point out that most cities of a certain size have a suicide bridge; Seattle has the ginormous Aurora Avenue bridge, for example. If this humble blog had more of a travel budget, and I had more free time, it might be an interesting project to go around profiling the world's "suicide bridges". Although in practice that would probably get depressing rather quickly. And when you told people why you were visiting their fair city, they'd look at you funny and nervously edge away.

Actually I get that reaction a lot, even when I'm not pursuing a ghoulish-yet-dweeby project for the interwebs. Can't imagine why, though.

Vista Bridge, March '09

So I'm not really an expert on the relative merits of various Suicide Bridges, nor do I particularly care to be, but ours does seem as though it's more suited for people who are all gothic or pre-Raphaelite about the process, and who intend to jump for philosophical, aesthetic, ideological, or romantic reasons. People who want to end it all because their hedge fund cratered may want to explore other options.

Around the sightseeing bays, the bridge railing is covered in decorative metal spikes, made of iron and painted green to look like copper. Over the years many of these spikes have been bent over or even broken off. It's easy to imagine that this is the work of generations of distraught jumpers, although garden-variety vandalism is more likely (obviously combined with decades of deferred maintenance). Still, it's kind of an evocative sight.

Vista Bridge, March '09

Vista Bridge, March '09

Vista Bridge, March '09

vista bridge, march '09

I'm not sure why it's so popular. (And it really is, at least according to this 1997 DHS study.) It's not that being over land instead of water makes the outcome more certain, really; above a certain height, water is not appreciably softer than land. Maybe it's that one ends up on a busy street instead of in a river, and one is afraid of drowning or something. Or maybe it gets more attention this way; if one took the plunge and nobody noticed, that would kind of defeat the point, wouldn't it? There's an added bonus here, in that one stands a good chance of plummeting onto a test-driven BMW from the nearby dealership. Which certainly makes a statement, of a sort. That's the problem with BMW's -- I'm sure they're excellent cars in a strictly technical sense, but you become the enemy of all things good in the universe if you even consider buying one, and you're practically begging goth-emo failed-poet types to fling themselves through your windshield.

Speaking as a software engineer, which I rarely do, the one thing I do kind of like about the whole suicide thing is that "Vista Bridge == Suicide Bridge" implies "Vista == Suicide", which makes perfect sense if you've ever used Windows Vista. Microsoft even has something they call Vista Bridge, which is some sort of stopgap widget to make Vista and .NET play evilly together.

So can we stop talking about the suicide angle now? Please? Awesome, thanks.

vista bridge, march '09

vista bridge, march '09

vista bridge, march '09

vista bridge, march '09

vista bridge, march '09

vista bridge, march '09

Now let's get pedantic! I think I've mentioned the bridge vs. viaduct issue before, where the difference is whether the structure crosses water or not. If you look down off the bridge, you don't see any water, and you go, oh, wait, I'm on a viaduct. Or maybe you don't. The bridge also has "viaduct" in the official name, so it would seem like it's a settled matter, and I'm being uncharacteristically imprecise in insisting on "bridge". But really I'm not, and there really is water down there somewhere. This is the spot where Jefferson St. becomes Canyon Road (named for obvious reasons), and in this part of the world there's no such thing as a dry canyon. Buried somewhere beneath the roadbed is half-remembered Tanner Creek, which skulks out of the canyon it once carved, turns north, flows directly under PGE Park, and eventually empties into the Willamette somewhere around the old Centennial Mills building. It flows the entire distance deep underground and mostly forgotten. (A post on Platial shows streetcars tumbling into a sinkhole at 18th & Alder that was caused by Tanner Creek -- which was already flowing in a pipe way back in 1904.)

Back when the Pearl District was just a gleam in greedy developers' eyes, there was some discussion about daylighting the lower reaches of Tanner Creek, at least for the stretch where it flows through Tanner Springs Park. As it turned out, the land was too polluted to dig into safely, so daylighting was regretfully dropped.

As I see it, it's not the creek's fault that people shoved it into a culvert. And as modern, eco-pious West Coast types, we really ought to give a nod to the genuine natural landscape now and then. That's my argument, and I'm stickin' to it.

vista bridge, march '09

I haven't found a great deal of history about the bridge, but there was a previous bridge here before the current one. The current bridge replaced the earlier Ford St. Bridge, which I understand was a notoriously rickety wooden structure. There's some debate about the origin of the "Ford" in Ford St., some arguing that it honors Henry Ford and the Model T. Others argue the name predates the automobile, and some speculate it refers to fording Tanner Creek. Both of those arguments make way too much sense to actually be true; I suspect the name honors some unremembered minor pioneer or inconsequential real estate baron, this being the West Hills and all. There's an intersection right at the south end of the bridge, and the side street on the west side of Vista is "SW Ford St. Drive", which I guess is a remnant of the old road. Ford St. Drive is gravel most of its length, and it winds around for a surprising distance before dead-ending into a barbed-wire fence near where US 26 goes into the tunnel, at what looks like some kind of utility co. facility -- although that may just be what They want you to think.

vista bridge, march '09

Couple of historical images to pass along: An artist's rendering of what the then-proposed bridge would look like; and an old photo of streetcars on the bridge.

vista bridge, march '09

Other items from around the interwebs:
vista bridge, march '09 Vista Bridge, March '09

6 comments :

Michael said...

Excellent post!

FYI, your link to Seattle's Aurora Avenue bridge points to the Wikipedia entry for NYC's/NJ's GW Bridge. I guess people do use that one for suicide, too, though the Empire State Building gets more mindshare on that front.

Vistamister said...

Hey, I live in the Vista St. Clair apartments on Vista between SW Park and Main. Great details on all your photos. When I moved into a new apartment in the building, I mentioned to maintenance the lovely view of the Vista bridge from my kitchen window. A nosey "upper floor" lady neighbor had wandered into the apt. to make sure she wasn't missing out on anything. Upon overhearing my comment, she just HAD to tell me, "Yes, well, I'm not so sure about that. It has a history, you know." I've been meaning to upload some video I took of kids throwing snowballs. - Vistamister

BoonesFerry said...

WOW! Fantastic pictures. Thank you so much for this.

BoonesFerry said...

I watched a movie a couple weeks ago called "The Bridge". It's about the Golden Gate Bridge jumpers.
Movie Info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0799954/
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zwl-Pa_QT0M
Its a slow and somewhat depressing documentary which was just my speed and mood at the time. It's not for everyone but I liked it.

Anonymous said...

Your photos are beautiful. I have an office directly below the Vista Bridge aka Suicide Bridge. There are many people who have jumped from the bridge over the years. Sadly, the city has no Suicide Hotline Signs.
I have called numerous people and organizations to try and get them installed.

amybuffaloe said...

awesome post. i was there today and found your blog through looking for stats on the exact amount of jumpers. any info on that?