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In a post of mine from about two years ago, I wrote about the creepy old pedestrian tunnel under SW Arthur St., near the Ross Island Bridge:
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.
Possibly I've gotten dumber or more reckless in the last two years (and trust me, this wouldn't be the only piece of evidence suggesting that). Or possibly I'm just running low on blog material, which is also possible. In any case, this time around I thought I'd see if I could actually walk through the thing. While toting an expensive camera, no less.
I figured the tunnel would be nasty, so I set a very low bar for success: Go down the steps just far enough to see into the tunnel. If there's anyone else in there, or anyone approaching the tunnel from either end, or it smells bad, or it's full of garbage, or standing water (or any other liquid), or needles, or otherwise looks unsafe or doesn't feel right, declare Mission Accomplished and leave. Maybe take a couple of photos first if you don't have to run to safety immediately.
I seem to have checked it out on a 'good' day, though. The tunnel was empty, and about as clean as you'd expect a decrepit pedestrian underpass might ever be. So I walked through to the other side. Once I realized I couldn't get onto the Ross Island Bridge from the other side (my main goal for the day, and a topic for another post), I turned around and walked back through the tunnel again. So I've been through it twice and lived to blog about it. And quite honestly I think I'll quit while I'm ahead. Walking through the tunnel, I mean, not blogging.
At least the tunnel's straight once you're down the steps. If it curved around under the street and you couldn't see the length of it, I think I would've bailed. As it is, you can see the whole thing, and you could probably see shadows of anyone coming down the stairs on either end. So the walk itself is pretty uneventful, albeit kind of dark.
When I mentioned the tunnel back in 2006, I couldn't find anything at all about it on the interwebs. Now there's only almost nothing out there. The tunnel was the subject of a recent Stumptown Stumper at the Portland Tribune, which explains just about everything you'd ever want to know about the tunnel and several others like it that used to exist around town. It sounds as though the city almost closed the tunnel last year, and only relented when the public complained. Not because anyone particularly likes the tunnel. Far from it; I think there's near-universal agreement that a pedestrian tunnel like this is a really shitty way to cross the street (at times quite literally so). But the city proposal didn't include a good alternative or replacement for the tunnel. I can understand why the city didn't take a crack at that. I'm not sure how you solve this particular problem without untangling the vast Gordian knot of transportation problems in this part of town. The city spent much of the last century layering new half-baked transit ideas on top of the previous ones, culminating in the aerial tram. To wit: If you want a street-level crosswalk, it's a problem because Naito crosses Arthur in an overpass, not a street-level crossing. Even if you could convince the city to put in a light to stop traffic just for pedestrians, I don't imagine it would be very safe at all. So to make a crosswalk work you'll probably also want to replace the overpass with a normal intersection, which incidentally is something the local neighborhood's been lobbying for for decades now. To do that, you'll need to rejigger how cars (and pedestrians and bikes, hopefully) get on and off the Ross Island Bridge, which at present is an extremely confusing and overloaded jumble. Go stare at a map and think about this problem for a while and your brain starts to ache, without coming up with anything that resembles a good idea. If you take a step back and think about what proper connections between downtown, I-5/I-405/Sunset, Barbur, and Macadam on the westside; and the eastside's McLoughlin, Powell, Division, and points east and south... well, it seems (to me) like the real fix would be to build a new bridge over the river, which would be Very Expensive. They're planning to do that for the next MAX project, as it turns out, but they're quite adamant that it'll be for rail, bikes, and pedestrians only. I don't know if that's for financial reasons, or ideological ones, or some combination of the two. In short, the tunnel stays for now.
The only other link I encountered about the tunnel was my earlier post, as it turns out. A while back I submitted the photo in that post to the uber-cool "Entrance to Hell" group on Flickr. Apparently they turned it down as insufficiently hellish. Bastards. Anyway, it's part of my "Arthur St. Tunnel" Flickr set here. FWIW.
While searching the interwebs, I also bumbled across a post about various local underpasses (but not this one) at "PDX Pop Now!" on UrbanHonking. Seems the author's project is to hang around odd spots around town and interview passers-by. An interesting notion, certainly, although if anyone had so much as appeared, much less spoken to me, in the tunnel I'd have just run away. Perhaps not the bravest possible course of action, but hey. If to avoid being shot or stabbed or eaten by the natives, I must also avoid being interviewed by art students, that's a sacrifice I'm afraid I'll just have to accept.