Monday, July 28, 2008

Tiptoeing across the (old) Sellwood Bridge

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I seem to have stumbled into a Project, without ever really intending to. It started when, on a lark, I thought I'd try walking across the Morrison Bridge, maybe take a few photos, maybe do a post about it. That turned out ok, in that I didn't die, so I figured, hey, the Ross Island Bridge is pretty close in, and nobody walks across it either, maybe I'll give that a try. So I did that, again without dying. If you're like me, which I guess is unlikely, the next logical step is to go, hey, what other bridges can I walk across and do a post about?

Downtown Portland from Sellwood Bridge

It's not quite as simple a question as it sounds. I figure it'd be kind of pointless to post about the Hawthorne, Burnside, Steel, and Broadway bridges. They all get plenty of pedestrian and bike traffic, so it wouldn't exactly be urban exploration. I'm not about to go blabbing on like I've just found the source of the Nile about bridges that host hundreds or thousands of daily bike commuters. That would be rather lame, even by this humble blog's usual standards.

Updated: Well, pointless or not, I went and did it anyway, hence the new links. Sigh. I'd get a life if only I knew how. I really would. Honest.

And the Fremont and Marquam are out too, seeing as they're vehicle-only interstate bridges without freakin' sidewalks. No, I'm not going to walk along the shoulder of a freeway bridge. This is all about not dying, remember? (Updated: Turns out this is doable during the Portland Bridge Pedal.)

So the remaining options are a bit further afield. There's the Sellwood Bridge down in, uh, Sellwood, and the St. Johns Bridge up in, you guessed it, St. Johns. A bit further upstream, I understand you can also walk across the old bridge in Oregon City, although the newer I-205 bridge is Off Limits. I'm pretty sure the I-5 bridge in Wilsonville is also Off Limits, but it seems that both the Interstate Bridge and the Glenn Jackson Bridge let you take a long walk over the Columbia. Oh, and the new Sauvie Island Bridge will be open to pedestrians, but not for a few more months yet. I think that probably covers the greater Portland area, unless you count bridges over smaller rivers, maybe the Columbia Slough, maybe stuff like the Vista Bridge (which technically does bridge something called "Tanner Creek", although said creek was diverted into an underground pipe many decades ago.) At least for the time being, I'm going to limit the scope of the project to Willamette bridges, and maybe Columbia bridges, if I feel like it.

Sellwood Bridge

The Sellwood seemed like a good place to start. It's not very big, not very far away, and may not be around for much longer, if the powers that be get their way. The one thing everyone knows about the Sellwood is that it rates a 2 out of 100 on some sort of federal scale of bridge sufficiency. Everyone figures this means it's liable to collapse any minute now. I don't know how accurate that is, but I figured I ought to go see it while I still can.

Also, unlike the Morrison and the Ross Island, I'd actually never walked over the Sellwood before, not even once, ever.

Sellwood Bridge

This may be a sort of golden twilight era for the Sellwood, where pedestrians and bikes are concerned. Due to weight limits imposed a few years ago, the bridge no longer carries buses and large trucks (or at least it's not supposed to), and I seem to recall they dropped the speed limit, and I imagine the remaining vehicles are driving a bit more gingerly than before. It's also more necessary than before -- since there aren't buses across the bridge these days, if you're in Sellwood and you want to catch one a bus on Macadam (to downtown or elsewhere), you're going to have to cross the bridge yourself and meet the bus on the other side.

In the last two installments of this apparent bridge series, one of the big challenges was simply figuring out how to get onto the damn bridge. It was a bit more straightforward this time, at least the way I approached it. Since the bridge is a bit out of downtown, and I figured I'd pop down there quick and take a few photos in the morning before work, I decided to drive there. There isn't much of anywhere to park on the west end of the bridge. There really isn't much of anything at all at the west end of the bridge. So I figured, I'll just drive across to the east side, park, walk back to the west side, turn around and go back, and then drive home, back across the Sellwood again. I guess I figured driving over the bridge repeatedly in a sensible midsize sedan would provide the pseudo-danger element this time around, it being heavier and thus more likely to make the bridge collapse.

So there's lots of parking at the east end of the bridge. You probably ought to be aware that, as with the Ross Island, the very first building you encounter on the east bank is a rather down-at-the-heels-looking, uh, "gentlemen's club", this one apparently with a country-western theme. It's not that I'm judging or moralizing or anything; it's just that if you park in their lot, and walk across the bridge because some guy on the Interwebs (i.e. me) told you to, and then your car gets towed, you may find it difficult to credibly explain the situation. Just sayin'.

Once you've found somewhere to park, then you just find the sidewalk on Tacoma St. and follow it across the river. Note that there's only a sidewalk on the north/downstream/westbound side of the bridge. The south side doesn't have a sidewalk, probably as an economy measure. The whole bridge was built on the cheap, at the tail end of Portland's bridge-building scandal back in the early 20th century, and it shows. It's a small, cheap, absolutely no-frills bridge

Not that the sidewalk on the north side is all that great. It's narrow, there's no barrier between you and traffic, and the light poles are on the inside of the guardrail, taking up precious sidewalk space. It would be a bad place to ride a bike while towing one of those fancy superwide stroller-trailer gizmos. Although I did encounter one coming the other way, and everyone survived the episode. It was a tight squeeze though.

You don't feel like you're in a big city on the Sellwood. It's not a very large-scale bridge, only two lanes. It feels like a bridge you'd find in a place the size of, say, McMinnville or Roseburg. There were a few other people crossing the bridge on foot and by bike, and there's a sort of small-town camaraderie about it. As if everyone realizes the bridge is a problem to get across, so we all need to say "hi" and work out ways to get around one another safely without tumbling into traffic.

Detail, Sellwood Bridge

Detail, Sellwood Bridge

The only annoying bit was when I was taking a few closeups of some decayed parts of the bridge. This involved sitting down for a minute to get a better angle. While I was doing that, some punk kid in his tricked-out punk kid car drove past, and he revved his engine as he went by, which was momentarily startling. The cheap-shot response would be to say that sort of thing is to be expected this close to Clackamas County. Ah, well. The things some people do for fun.

Pedestrian path, Sellwood Bridge

Pedestrian path, Sellwood Bridge

I really ought to have investigated how the Sellwood connects to paths and sidewalks on the west side a bit better. Around the time I got to that end of the bridge, my camera's CF card announced it was full, and I didn't have a spare handy. A more intrepid urban explorer might have continued on down the path to see where it went even without a working camera, but that's not what I did. So I don't know what this bit of path connects to. I can say this bit is a lot more inviting than the equivalents at the Morrison or the Ross Island.

Maybe I'm just all jaded and world-weary-like after the first two bridges, but the Sellwood wasn't too bad, overall. I started out just a bit apprehensive about it, but I warmed up to the bridge before long. Eventually I decided I kind of liked it. Possibly I'm just rooting for the underdog here, as I tend to do. I went into this thinking, ugh, it's cheap and crappy, tear it down before it falls down and build something big and new and expensive and ultra-luxo-shiny, a Calatrava if at all possible. But now I'm not so sure. I understand the worryingly unstable bit is not the bridge itself but the westside approach to the bridge. If you replaced that, and redid the road surface on the bridge, and found a way to extend the sidewalk out a few more feet (or alternately , added a pedestrian/bike deck inside the bridge truss, below the road ), and generally caught up on the bridge's deferred maintenance backlog, I imagine you'd have a perfectly serviceable bridge. It's hard to imagine a repair job being more expensive than tearing out the current bridge and building a fresh new one. This is especially true in this case, as building a new bridge will most likely involve condemning and demolishing condos and other buildings around the east end of the bridge, and that sort of thing always, always, always results in a protracted court battle.

In any case, that's a matter to be thrashed out between the county, local neighbors, the "design community", and various other interested parties over the next few years. And then they'll see if they can find any money to do whatever they decide on, which at present seems a bit unlikely. And eventually maybe something will happen, and maybe it won't. In the meantime, go ahead and check out the bridge the way it is now -- if you care, that is. You'll be able to tell the grandkids about it. And bore them to tears in the process, most likely. If you aren't completely bored yet, I have a few more photos of the bridge over on Flickr here. Enjoy, or whatever.

Actually I just had a really fabulous idea on how to pay for a new bridge. If you live in Portland, you're already aware, no doubt, that the key to getting a public works project funded is to tie it to the ultra-high-end blockbuster real estate dreams of some well-connected developer (*cough* South Waterfront *cough). And the key to getting the project rubber-stamped by the Proper Authorities is to convince everyone it's European. So my plan is to stack the bridge with a few floors of "market-rate" condos -- once the market improves, obviously -- on top of the inevitable bridge-level retail. It may or may not be a crazy idea, but it's certainly not a new idea. Check out the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the Pulteney Bridge in Bath, UK, and in Germany the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, and Die Brückenhäuser in Bad Kreuznach, to give a few prominent examples. You'd need a streetcar across the bridge, obviously, to look tres-European, and create a nice ambiance for the new residents of the bridge, and drive gentrification in the surrounding area, oh, and I suppose to transport a few people (mostly tourists) as well. Just imagine how the New York Times would gush and carry on if we had something like this. Also, Seattle doesn't have one, and we could say "neener, neener, neener" to their smug, Microsoft-worshiping, Frappuccino(TM)-swilling faces, which is the main thing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

At Broadway, Broadway, & Grant

Red Clover | Broadway, Broadway & Grant

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Today's excellent adventure takes us to a weedy triangular vacant lot near I-405, where SW Broadway, Broadway Drive, and Grant St all smoosh together. No, wait, come back! Where are you going? Bear with me here, there's a reason for all this. And besides, you're only really going there on the Interwebs.

If you live in Portland and own a car, sooner or later you'll be stuck in traffic next to the aforementioned weedy lot. And the odds are pretty good that you'll pay no attention to it. I mean, why would you? If you're of a cynical bent, as I am, you might've idly wondered why nobody's yet excreted a condo tower onto the spot. It's probably big enough, just barely, for a Vancouver-style "point tower", and they're already building in much more improbable locations (*cough* South Waterfront *cough).

unnamed park, sw broadway, broadway, & grant

So I was poking around on PortlandMaps the other day, partly because I was looking for new material, but mostly because I'm now a freshly-minted area homeowner and I kind of wanted to know who's responsible for this shabby little weed plantation and similar spots around the area.

If the owner was just some random individual or LLC or whatever, I wouldn't be posting this -- I'm not that much of a busybody, fresh homeownership notwithstanding -- but that's not the case here. I tracked down the place's PortlandMaps page, and the owner is a tad surprising:

Yes, kids, this here is a city park, sort of. PortlandMaps doesn't say what the place is called -- the triangle doesn't seem to have a name at all except for its city property ID, "R128726". If you know how to decode tax roll descriptions (and I don't), it's also known as "CARUTHERS ADD; EXC PT IN HWY 2151/583 SWLY FRAC BLOCK 32". "R128726" has more of a ring to it if you ask me.

Wildflower | Broadway, Broadway & Grant

But wait, there's more! It turns out that ol' R128726 was the subject of a grass & weed nuisance complaint last July. I can just see the faces of the code enforcement people at city hall, all ready to bust some deadbeat absentee slumlord, or maybe hassle a double-wide full of Okies about their pit bulls and rusting Camaros. And then someone checked the GIS system and went, oh, wait, we're the deadbeat absentee slumlord. D'oh!

The complaint was marked "closed" within a couple of weeks. It's not known whether closing the case involved any actual mowing or weeding, or whether the whole affair was just one of those Innocent Misunderstandings, resolved quietly and amicably over a few rounds of $30 fruity drinks at Bluehour, at taxpayer expense of course. We'll never know.

unnamed park, sw broadway, broadway, & grant

So we know the "what" part, but the "why" remains unclear. My guess is that it's a leftover bit from when the Powers That Be shredded the surrounding neighborhood and built I-405. They figured it wasn't buildable, so the city ended up with it by default. One clue is that there's another unnamed (but better maintained) park further north and west along 405, at 14th & Hall, a place I've mentioned before here Another possible clue is an old fire hydrant, strangely located away from the sidewalk in the middle of the, uh, park. And look closely at the property lines on the PortlandMaps page. Only the eastern half of the current weed farm is actually "park", and the other half seems to be city right-of-way, so it's technically part street too. The line between the parts seems to line up with where the hydrant is, so I'm thinking there might've been an actual street there at one point. It's a theory, anyway.

Back in 1913 there was an old disused city reservoir at the intersection of Broadway and Grant, and a proposal was, uh, floated to turn it into a municipal swimming pool. I haven't seen any subsequent mentions of a municipal pool here, so apparently nothing came of the idea. And in any case it's not clear whether the reservoir/pool involved the specific parcel of land we're concerned with at the moment.

Updated: Ok, I've learned a little more about this place, thanks to Vintage Portland. It seems this park is, or was once, named Coolidge Square. A square, you say? Yes, a square, bisected diagonally by SW Broadway, so there was today's triangle, and another triangle across Broadway where I-405 is now. I'd seen the name before, listed in a certain obscure city document that's resulted in quite a few blog posts here over time. (Check here to see which ones I've tracked down so far.) So they were still calling it "Coolidge Square" as of 1979, and it already wasn't a square by then. I kind of like the idea of continuing to call it a square even though it's a triangle now. Hey, if they ever build the long-discussed, never-funded cap over I-405, maybe we'll get the other half of the park back and it'll be a square again. So think of using "Square" as an optimistic gesture. Also, this way we don't have to rename the park from "Triangle" back to "Square" if/when the freeway cap happens, which hypothetically saves taxpayer dollars or something, so there's that.
Hydrant | Broadway, Broadway & Grant

Hydrant | Broadway, Broadway & Grant

So we do know the city's had it for quite some time now, and in all that time they've done nothing with it. I used to carp and complain a lot when I ran across something like this, but really, if you look at the Parks Bureau's list of current projects it seems to divide up between ritzy urban amenities for the Pearl and similar areas, and actual neighborhood parks with playgrounds and ballfields and so forth, out in the lower-income parts of the outer eastside. It's tough to argue with at least that part of the list. If the city had decided to gussy up "R128726" instead of building soccer fields in the Cully neighborhood, say, I'd have had to make fun of them. So I'm not actually complaining about urban priorities here. Still, it's kind of a shame the place looks like an abandoned vacant lot.

I can think of about 4 possibilities for what could happen with the place in the future. First, the city is kinda-sorta open to community-initiated projects, so long as they don't increase maintenance costs or generally cost the city any time or money or anything. They might let you build it if they're absolutely sure you'll do the maintenance yourself from then on. I'm not sure what you could do with the place; a playground is probably out, given the busy street next door. Maybe a large and amusing kinetic sculpture to entertain stressed-out commuters as they inch their way past the park.

Second possibility: I understand that TriMet hopes to eventually run a MAX line south out of downtown, generally along Barbur, down to Tigard or maybe Tualatin or so. If that ever happens, the line will probably run pretty close to "R128726". There'll be a big juicy bucket of federal transportation money to play with, and TriMet always likes to spend part of that money on public art projects along the line, so this would be an obvious place to plunk down one of their usual semi-whimsical installations of fair-to-middlin' quality. It's never what you'd call inspiring, or inspired, but hey. We're a net donor state, we pay a lot more in federal taxes than we get back in federal spending. If the feds send us a few hundred grand to put up yet another cheesy sculpture of Heroic Salmon Swimming Upstream or some damn thing, it's best not to mock it too much. If you want your fair share of federal money, it's either that or have an army base. Some years ago I used to live in a small Southern city located next to a huge army base, and all things considered I'd rather have Heroic Salmon Swimming Upstream, thanks.

Third possibility: Continue doing nothing for the foreseeable future. Hey, it's worked so far, and nobody's complained. Except for that business last year with the weeds, I mean.

Fourth possibility: Sell the lot to a well-connected insider who wants to put up a condo tower. Given the current real estate market, this has become far less likely over the last year. But it's a cyclical industry, and when it comes back there's going to be even more of those ultra-desirable rich Californian empty-nesters, all desperately looking for their second or third luxury pied-a-terre.

Sidewalk, SW Grant St.

At some point in a post like this, I tend to proclaim that there's no other mention of the place in question anywhere else on the entire Interwebs. And I suppose that's an achievement of a sort, in a way. But not this time, believe it or not. Once again I've been scooped by those meddling kids at the Urban Adventure League. They actually did an organized bike ride across town and held a picnic here. Seriously. I try to come up with original material, I really do, but I keep getting scooped by those UAL bastards. To wit:

And what's worse, far worse, is that they've covered a number of places I'd never even heard of before, like Stanley Park up near the new IKEA store.

If we're to be diplomatic about this, it can be argued that UAL and I exist in slightly different ecological niches. Where they're earnest and chock-full of hipster-esque bike-o-licious camaraderie, I tend to be snarky and cynical and occasionally pointless, although I also have a few good photos from time to time. Actually you'd be forgiven if you just came here for the photos, quite honestly. I expect you wouldn't be the first.

multi-floral holding pattern

geranium buds

Blah, blah, more flowers today, blah blah, nothing much to say about them, or anything else for that matter, blah blah, same as it ever was...

I really ought to be focusing on those posts glaring at me from the drafts folder, but tomorrow seems like just as good a time for that as today does.

flowers, south waterfront park

Failing that (which seems quite likely, actually), I could always indulge in some unoriginal griping about my broken refrigerator. The crib-note version: It broke down around the beginning of last week, and it turns out the repair guy needed to order the part, so it'll be at least Thursday before it'll be fixed. In the meantime, it's surprising how much of an inconvenience it is. It's uncivilized, living this way. If I had more readers at this humblest of humble blogs, someone would no doubt point out that not having a fridge is green and sustainable and saves on electricity and so forth, and that billions of people live without refrigerators (although probably not by choice), and that really I ought to feel unbearably guilty about my lazy corrupt bourgeois existence, and ideally we all ought to get by without any mechanical devices of any kind. Or something like that. To which I'll preemptively say an emphatic "Feh!" I could go on and on and try to justify why I would kind of like a working refrigerator, but this is the crib-note version, remember, and I'll reserve the full rant in case anyone hassles me.

bumblebee, south waterfront park

Since I'm not really posting about refrigerators either, I could instead post about my recent experiences playing hall monitor to keep an elderly person with Alzheimer's from wandering away. Alzheimer's is officially and indisputably the worst medical condition in the world, let me put it that way, and I think I'll leave it at that, because the more I think about it, the more I realize I actually don't want to talk about it very much. Or think about it, for that matter. So never mind about that.

geranium bud

On a rather lighter note, the Tour de France is on again. We're watching avidly, as usual, but as is usually the case with sporting events I don't actually have any profound observations to make about it. The scenery's sure nice, though.

So, um, I think I'm out of material for now. So here are a few more flowers, instead. Enjoy!


flowers, south waterfront park

flowers, south waterfront park


Monday, July 14, 2008

recent (mostly) floral activity

flowers, south park blocks

I recently asserted that it's been a bad year for flowers. I do think that's true, but that hasn't stopped me from taking photos, or from uploading a few of those photos. I just haven't posted too many here. Not for lack of material; I just sort of got out of the habit. Over time, the average post here has gotten longer and involved more research, and the old-style fluffy content-free posts full of flower photos have kind of fallen by the wayside. The last one was almost a month ago, and there've actually been only two posts here since then. I've got a few more in draft form that I'll get out the door as soon as I have time and feel up to it. In other words, not today, and probably not tomorrow either.

In the meantime, here's a supersized batch of pics taken over the last couple of months. Many were taken with old manual-focus screw-mount lenses, used on the ol' 40D via an adapter. I'd explain what was what and how I did it and why and so forth, but then this wouldn't be a fluffy content-free post, and it'd take longer to write, and I probably couldn't do it in one sitting, so it'd end up in the drafts folder, thus becoming part of the problem, not part of the solution. And we can't have that, can we? So here are the photos, without further ado:

daylily, o'bryant square

wildflowers, first avenue

lemon leaf

spider silk, strawberry leaf

tiny tree flowers


wildflowers, first avenue

flowers, lovejoy fountain plaza


cobwebs, tanner springs

flowers, tanner springs

flowers, tanner springs

Dandelion, Naito Pkwy

flowers, lovejoy fountain plaza



rose, sw broadway & burnside

irises, o'bryant square

tulip, nw pdx