Monday, May 24, 2010

Echelon Place, Las Vegas

Echelon, Las Vegas


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A few photos of the unfinished -- perhaps never to be finished -- Echelon Place complex, on the north end of the Strip in Las Vegas. The Echelon was designed to compete with MGM's ginormous CityCenter complex further down the Strip, and the architectural renderings suggest it would be quite the modern ultra-swanky place, if only the nearly $5 billion price tag (and the end of the real estate bubble) hadn't interfered with the grand dream. Shame about the dumb name though; the complex was supposed to consist of a central casino-hotel surrounded by an "echelon" of trendy luxury boutique hotels (although Las Vegas is probably the only city on Earth where a 500 room hotel counts as "boutique"). This was more or less a clone of the CityCenter concept, except without the deep pockets and first mover's advantage. CityCenter opened in December 2009 and is the glitzy newest new thing in Vegas right now, but it's also saddled with a ridiculous amount of construction debt to pay off. So maybe it'll turn out to have been a good bet, and maybe it won't. It appears there was room for somewhere between zero and one CityCenter-style complexes, and Echelon was the second.

Echelon, Las Vegas

This site was previously occupied by the Stardust Casino, which was imploded in 2007 to make way for the Echelon. Construction began, but halted in August 2008 when the developer (Boyd Gaming Corp.) "delayed" the project. Construction was supposed to resume around the end of 2009. Then, last November, they announced a further 3 year delay, to no earlier than 2012. The very latest info I've seen is that the owners are profitable again, but their earnings release neglects to mention anything about the (mumble, mumble) Echelon. Meanwhile, rumor has it that the also mothballed, but much more complete Fontainebleau Las Vegas just north of here won't open until around 2015. So the Echelon may sit abandoned like this for a very long time.

On the other hand the Echelon's website is still up, so you can still go check out how sleek and fancy things might have been, if only the irrational exuberance had continued for another year or two...

Echelon, Las Vegas

Echelon, Las Vegas

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Morrison Bridge Revisited

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

After years of discussion, and a year of construction, the new pedestrian & bike path on the Morrison Bridge finally opened at the beginning of April. Back in March 2008, I did a long post about how to walk the Morrison Bridge and not die, probably. The "not dying" part was because the bridge was rather unpleasant to walk across, even scary at times, and biking across was flat-out illegal. With the new path opening, it was time to go back and take another look.

The first change you'll notice is that getting onto the bridge from the downtown side is no longer a bizarre and mysterious process. You just go to the corner of 2nd & Alder (as shown in the top photo), get on the path, and head east. This section of sidewalk didn't exist at all before. At one time you had to had to go another block east, down some steps, across the MAX tracks, through an ooky chain-link fence tunnel under one of the bridge ramps, and then up a flight of narrow stairs to get to the bridge. Some of the signs prohibiting pedestrians and nonmotorized vehicles are still present, or were when the photo was taken:

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

Another view of the start of the new path:

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

The old way to get on the bridge lies somwhere to the right, beyond the "To First Ave." sign:

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

And already, there's a photo angle that basically wasn't possible before now. The MAX tracks under the Morrison, as seen from above:

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

If you look more closely, you'll see that the old route to get on the bridge is marked on 1st, a diagonal stretch of brick among the cobblestones. Someday, some intrepid urban explorer will find it and do a blog post about it -- or whatever the replacement for blogs is circa 2030 -- wondering what on earth it was for.

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

There's also a better angle on the old path under the bridge ramp:

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

There's now a crosswalk where the new section of sidewalk joins the widened existing section. The part in the foreground spirals down to Naito Parkway. That part's actually been widened twice now, the first time a few years ago when the Hawthorne was closed for repairs and the Morrison hosted a temporary version of the current path. I remember at the time people suggesting the Morrison arrangement be made permanent, and the city insisting it was impossible. Apparently that word didn't mean what they thought it meant.

Note the couple of "No Bikes" signs here. These ones aren't leftovers from the old days. They're to indicate that westbound cyclists are supposed to take the ramp down to Naito, and not proceed straight to 2nd & Alder, as in the original design for the path. That design would've involved cyclists heading the wrong way into a busy one-way intersection, with an array of confusing bike boxes their only protection from traffic. Either the city realized there was no way this could be done safely, or more likely someone in the bike community pointed it out to them loudly and repeatedly and somehow convinced the city their original design wasn't divinely inspired, which almost never happens.

In short, these "No Bikes" signs are a good thing. Not that I think anyone's going to heed them.

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

So here's the new path in all its glory. Much wider, and a seriously heavy duty guardrail between you and traffic.

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

Another view:

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

And another:

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

Next up, here's the path on the drawbridge part of the Morrison. There's some sort of rubbery material on top of the bridge's metal grate surface for the bike portion of the path. I guess we'll see in a few years how durable that turns out to be, and whether it gets maintained properly when it needs replacing.

One thing I still haven't figured out is what the guardrail does when the drawbridge opens. I haven't seen it in action close enough to tell, and it's not obvious when you walk over the bridge. Looking at where the drawbridge joins the fixed part of the bridge, it's not clear how it accommodates the bridge being hinged at that point.

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

Mid-bridge, where the two leaves of the drawbridge fit together:

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

Another view:

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

A memorial plaque dedicated to two pedestrians who were hit and killed by vehicles (in separate incidents) while crossing the bridge.

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

The walkway at the east side of the bridge, which still only extends as far as Water Avenue. From here, the eastbound viaduct is still car-only, and (unlike the Hawthorne) you still have to make your way to Grand Ave. and parts east on surface streets. That's one limitation of the new amenities. The other is that nothing was done to improve the sidewalk on the north side of the bridge. The north side goes the full length from Grand to downtown, but with a couple of extremely sketchy underpasses that keep pedestrians away from the freeway ramps. There's certainly room to improve on that, but not at a price tag the city can afford right now. So maybe someday.

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

Looking west toward downtown. The spiral ramp down to the Esplanade, which starts here, is unchanged. Which is fine with me; it has a sort of late 50's - early 60's retro-futuristic feel to it, like something out of the Jetsons. I've never ridden a bike up or down it, but I expect it's rather exciting.

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

One other little improvement here: The old walkway inexplicably didn't take you straight to Water Avenue. Instead, it looped you around behind the bridge ramp you just came down, and dumped you off by the stairs up to the Great Bus Stop in the Sky. They look like stairs up to a continuation of the main walkway, but it's a dead end, like something out of the Winchester Mystery House. There's nothing you can do up there except wait for the next eastbound bus. And I've never, ever seen anyone do that.

So now, the walkway takes you straight to Water Ave., and they seem to have jackhammered up the old path. You can still get to the bus stop stairs if you need to, but now they look even more orphaned than they did before.

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

Looking back up the ramp. The traffic lane looks almost too narrow for cars, but I saw several SUVs drive it with plenty of space to spare.

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

And the area around the bus stop stairs, still a work in progress at the time I took these photos:

Morrison Bridge, Spring 2010

So that's the grand tour. I'd really like to complain and make snarky, cutting remarks about all the changes, and in truth I wouldn't be shocked if a friend of the mayor's opens an upscale bike shop / martini bar / doggie day spa in the ground floor of a new condo tower on Water Ave. right at the east end of the walkway. That's just how things generally work out here in Portland. But taken by itself (& ignoring who might be enriched by it), I have to say the new walkway is a huge, huge improvement.

So now if they could just do something similar to the Ross Island, then... well, then I'd have to find a new esoteric subject to gripe and be all pedantic about. Which I guess would be ok.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

eew, naked mole rat!

naked mole rat, oregon zoo

A naked mole rat at the zoo. Kind of an odd pose, but I did see it move, so maybe it was just pining for the fjords or something.

I realize they're highly unusual animals with a hive-like social structure, and it's fascinating how this behavior evolved independently multiple times in the animal kingdom. Although it's hard to think about that for too long without being reminded of Frank Herbert's creepy Hellstrom's Hive. Set right here in Oregon, too.

I often wonder, though, whether the zoo keeps naked mole rats around because they're pretty much the ultimate gross-out animal, something to keep bus loads of 8 year old boys entertained on field trips. I mean, I suppose it's practical to have a gross-out animal like this. It's not like you can get 8 year old boys to sit quietly in the aviary and watch the colorful birds. Even I wouldn't have done that at age 8. And maybe one kid in a hundred or so will be enthralled and grow up to be a zoologist, or maybe a horror film director. So maybe that's the zoo's educational mission at work, I dunno.