Monday, June 05, 2006

Slightly off the beaten path, downtown

The Arthur Underpass

Here's one of Portland's (thankfully) rare pedestrian underpasses. This is how you're supposed to get across busy SW Arthur St. / Kelly Ave., next to the Naito Pkwy. overpass, and near the Ross Island Bridge.

I assume the similar portal on the other side of the street (which you can see in the background) connects directly to this one. But I don't actually know that from firsthand experience. I've never actually gone down there, and I think I can live a long and happy life without ever giving it a try. For all I know, it might be fabulous and exciting down there, a maze of twisty little passages all alike, full of treasure and magical delights. But I wouldn't bet on it. I've never seen a single other person use it, and descending into the dank recesses of the earth just to cross the freakin' street is not my idea of a good time. Darting through traffic, Frogger-style, is probably safer. [Legal disclaimer: Don't!]

There's a crosswalk one block to the west at 1st Avenue, but I don't think you can walk along that side of Arthur very easily, what with all the eastbound bridge traffic turning right onto the Naito ramp. So if you don't want to spelunk, and you don't want to sprint for your life, your third bet, if you really, truly, sincerely need to get across the street here, is to take the crosswalk, go south a couple more blocks on 1st and then use the rickety pedestrian skybridge over Naito, and then cut north again once you're across. And voila, you've arrived, finally. Did I mention the place you've just arrived at is often called the Bermuda Triangle?

Suppose now you've wandered around the Triangle and seen and done everything there is to do there. Which is basically to glance at the handful of somewhat ramshackle Victorian houses, and wander the grounds of the Naturopathic College. (You think walking here was hard? See the college's valiant attempt at giving driving directions here. Getting back out of the Triangle is even harder.) If you look south, you'll see more gingerbread Victorians, not quite as run down, and you might want to go have a look, if that's your thing. But wandering over there is easier said than done, and it's not easily said. The right way to do it is to go back over the skybridge, go south on 1st again, and then take the scary pedestrian underpass under Naito. And voila, you're there, finally. Or you could just ride the #43 bus through the vehicle underpass. That would be easier. There's also a wrong way, involving SW Hood Avenue where it passes under the bridge ramps, but I'm not going to describe that in detail, just in case anyone's thinking about trying it. Just don't, ok?

In the near future you'll also be able to watch our shiny new aerial tram from your Triangle vantage point. But don't bother trying to walk to either end of it to get on board, because you won't be able to. Sure, there's talk of yet another pedestrian skybridge, this time over I-5, which you'd get to by crossing the first skybridge, taking the second underpass I mentioned, walking a couple of blocks, and dodging even more bridge traffic. They say they're building it to help the beleaguered residents of this area, so can they get to the lower tram terminal, and beyond it the $himmering tower$ of $outh Waterfrontland (a.k.a. the Shining City on a Floodplain). But I'll believe it when I see it. The thing was tossed in purely as a sop to the local neighborhood association when the powers that be were ramming the tram through the city council (ouch!), and I have this weird funny feeling the "value engineering" process will begin with the skybridge if the tram goes any further over budget. And to get to the uphill end of the tram line, your best bet would be to hop back on the bus, go downtown, and hop on a different bus that goes to OHSU. Or just call an ambulance. They'll even send the Life Flight helicopter if you're convincing enough. That tends to be kind of painful, so it's wise to be 100% sure ahead of time that you really do want to go up the hill that badly.

There used to be a similar underpass under Naito (then Front Ave.) right downtown many years ago. My mom would never let us go through it, no matter how much I begged, and then they put a grate over it and closed it, and now it's gone like it was never there. Now I don't even know where it was, exactly. I've looked, and there's no sign of it. They might have filled it in, but I bet they just bricked up the ends and left it for future archeologists to scratch their heads over, because that would be cheaper.


This next photo is of a funny parking sign on SW Baker St., between Water Ave. and Corbett Ave., a couple of blocks east of the last photo. The city sure does love its parking regulations. Does the city really send someone by every few hours to check that nobody's abusing these choice parking spots? Somehow that wouldn't surprise me.

You probably didn't realize downtown Portland has a Baker Street. It's the rutted little dirt road on the left side of the picture, and it runs for exactly one block, near where I-5 and I-405 meet up. This fair boulevard belongs to a part of the city's street grid where east-west streets are mostly named for Union generals from the Civil War, including Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Hooker (giggle), and Meade. I don't think they sell a lot of houses to Southerners in this part of town. We also have Grant, Sherman, and Baker counties in this state, if that gives you any clue which side we were on back in 1861. Gen. Edward D. Baker was also the first US Senator from Oregon and a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, and died at Ball's Bluff early on in the war. I've read somewhere that he was the only sitting member of Congress ever to die in combat. That's something we'll surely never see ever again, now that the chickenhawks rule the roost. Actual warfare, the dangerous kind, is now an honor reserved strictly for the toiling classes. Our wise and noble leaders are exceedingly clear on this point. Letting a blood relative of anyone rich or powerful go into harm's way just wouldn't be natural. And besides, in 21st Century America, daydreaming about how fantastic the next couple of wars will be is a full time job, and somebody's got to do it.

Updated: I'm reliably informed by Snyder's "Portland Names and Neighborhoods" that Baker St. is actually named after William W. Baker & Sons, an obscure local magazine publishing firm of the mid-1880's. Various Baker family members lived in the area of what's now Baker St. Baker County, however, is named after the general I was just going on about. So apparently this city does an even worse job at memorials than I thought.


Couple of additional pictures of the area. The first is of the old Greyhound bus garage down in the gully at Corbett Ave. & Sheridan St. There's a sign on the building saying it's going to be the home of a shiny new electrical substation. Well, sort of new -- I gather it'll replace the existing substation down near RiverPlace, which is inconveniently located on some rather valuable real estate. The current substation is maybe 20 years old, tops, as it replaced the original substation that dated back to when the area was a PGE electrical & steam plant. Someday someone will want to build fancy condos where the Greyhound building is now, and then the substation will have to move again. Anyway, I call dibs on the cool wheel design bits on either side of the Greyhound logo.

SW Water Avenue

The other photo is looking north & downhill from the corner of Arthur St. and Water Avenue. You can see the roof of the Greyhound building down the hill, a tiny bit of Baker St., some I-5 ramps, and the rising towers of the Strand condos in the distance, just across the street from the existing substation.

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