Tuesday, July 22, 2014

the new bridge

Couple of photos of Portland's new light rail bridge, which they've decided to call "Tilikum Crossing: Bridge of the People". I can't say that with a straight face. Maybe I'll get used to it someday. Besides the obvious double entendre, "Tilikum" is also the name of a homicidal Sea World orca. I don't claim credit for the name "Murderwhale Bridge", but I'll probably be calling it that a lot.

I stopped by because they've just opened the Esplanade walkway under the east end of the bridge. It's kind of an interesting spot because you get a good look at the attach points for the bridge cables. I suppose all cable-stayed bridges look like this on the underside, but I hadn't seen it before.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Desert Harvest

The next sculpture from outside the Portland Art Museum (since we still have a few of them left) is Desert Harvest by Native American artist Allan Houser. His Wikipedia bio claims he was influenced by Henry Moore (Upright Motive #9 & Reclining Connected Forms ) and Barbara Hepworth (Parent I & Young Girl) among other people. The Oklahoma History Center, Phoenix's Heard Museum, and the Oklahoma Museums Association have online exhibits about Houser's life and work.

Desert Harvest sits next to Coyote VI in the museum's sculpture court, forming a small Southwestern-ish section. I think this arrangement is the museum's doing, though, not one intended by the pieces' creators.

Weather Machine

If you've ever been in Portland's Weather Machine in Pioneer Courthouse Square at precisely noon, you may have noticed the square's Weather Machine. It's the tall column next to Starbucks, and at noon it wakes up, plays a fanfare, spins around a bit, and pops up a sculpture based on the next day's predicted weather. Its Smithsonian inventory page explains:

A tall pole topped with a sphere containing three weather symbols that represent typical weather conditions in the Portland area. Each day at noon there is a two-minute sequence of music and the weather symbols appear --Helia (A stylized sun, for clear sunny days); Blue Heron (For the days of drizzle, mist and transitional weather); Dragon (For stormy days of heavy rain and winds.

Apparently the weather forecast part involves someone in the square office calling the national weather service and asking. Or at least historically that's been the case; you'd think this could be automated. It's fun to imagine the phone conversations though. I imagine the same two people having a routine phone call every morning since 1986 or so. Maybe there's small talk, maybe they've become lifelong friends through the weather machine. Or maybe it's a brief cryptic conversation every day, a voice you've heard every day for 25 years and know nothing about. Or maybe they've grown to resent each other and this daily chore over the years, and it's an "Oh, it's you again" sort of conversation.

Will Martin, the square's overall designer, thought the place needed a whimsical "weather machine", but he died in a tragic plane crash before he could explain what he had in mind. The city got as far as designing the pillar here, and then held a design competition to decide what sort of weather contraption. to put on top of it. Here's a timeline, via the library's Oregonian newspaper archives:

Princess Ka'iulani Statue

In the middle of Waikiki, at the intersection of Kuhio and Kanekapolei, is a small plaza with a statue of Crown Princess Victoria Ka'iulani, a niece of Queen Lili'uokalani and the last heir to the throne of Hawaii. (Smithsonian Magazine and SFGate have good articles about her short, tragic life.)

The Honolulu city arts page for the statue has a brief description:

A Sculpture by Jan Gordon Fisher. Larger than life-size bronze figure of Princess Kaiulani with a peacock at her feet, eating from her hand. Located at Kaiulani Park.

The statue's location wasn't chosen at random, or for the convenience of tourists. A Hawaii for Visitors page about the statue mentions that the little park is on the site of ʻĀinahau, Ka'iulani's home, which was demolished in 1955 in the name of progress. Oddly enough the statue was commissioned by Outrigger Enterprises, a local hotel chain.

Fisher (an art professor at the Brigham Young Hawaii campus) also created the Duke Kahanamoku statue elsewhere in Waikiki; I don't have a photo of it because it's usually mobbed by tourists. Tourists seem to generally ignore this statue, but locals regularly adorn it with fresh leis, as a gesture of respect and remembrance.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Host Analog

Just outside the Oregon Convention Center's main entrance is Host Analog, a very large and very obscure public artwork. Unless you read the rather small signs around it, you may not even realize what it is. Here's the Smithsonian art inventory description:

Artist: Simpson, Buster, 1942- , sculptor.
Title:Host Analog, (sculpture).
Dates: 1991.
Medium: Sculpture: metal and fir; Base: red rock and brick.
Dimensions: Sculpture: approx. H. 11 ft. x W. 6 ft. x L. 70 ft.; Base: approx. H. 2 1/2 ft. x W. 35 ft. x L. 110 ft.
Inscription: (Three plaques located at 30 ft. intervals discuss the Portland Water Works Project and general and scientific information concerning the art work) unsigned
Description: A nurse log is segmented and arranged like a fallen classical column. Indigenous seeds and seedlings are planted in each of the segments. An irrigation line is incorporated into the work to keep the log moist and fertile for new growth.

I'm partial to conceptual work like this, and there really isn't much of it in Portland outside of gallery shows (unless maybe it's even more subtle than Host Analog and I haven't noticed it yet). The artist's website has a more detailed explanation of what's going on here:

Host Analog teaches us to see the beauty found in the order of chaos dynamics. Transposing phenomena into aesthetics, this sculpture creates an anomaly with new paradigms. This old growth nursing log, decomposing and nursing a new landscape, is a work in progress. For over 500 years, this Douglas Fir was nurtured in the same watershed which sustains Portland today. In the 1960s, this monarch fell to the winds and later bucked to determine if suitable for lumber. Not harvestable, the eight sections of the old growth trunk, measuring eight feet in diameter by eight feet long each, lay host in what became the Bull Run watershed. Rediscovered by the artist in 1990, the nursing log was moved to rest adjacent to the Oregon State Convention Center to continue its regenerative processes. Over the past nine years, the Host Analog has re-established itself in this new context, nursing both its original indigenous plants, as well as a new "invasive" plantscape from the adjacent urban landscape.

A "volunteer" Pin Oak now grows adjacent a Douglas Fir seedling, the willow, and birch roots between Western Red Cedar and Hemlock. Oregon Grape, salal, and other native ground cover commingle with imported groundcover, some perhaps hitching a ride at some time on the transcontinental railroad to Portland. During the ten years of this sculpture's nursing, the vegetation on and adjacent the sculpture has been un-hampered by human intervention. The sculpture has been prolific and informative as we become the observer of the juxtaposed phenomena, and the accommodation and expansion has taken place.

A 2011 Shockwrite article "Art in Public: Buster Simpson’s Philosophy" includes a mention of Host Analog:

It does not look like a typical public work of art, except for the signage included around it. If a viewer takes the time, they can read about many different elements relating to this idea. Simpson took this naturally felled log from a nearby forest, brought it to the city center (outside of the city’s Convention Center), to juxtapose the time it takes to cut down a tree to the time it takes to grow a forest. He included images of his daughter growing up over the years next to the tree, along with pictures of ancient Greek ruins that mirror the falling of a great column to the falling of a great tree, and images of loggers that eat from a great log table in a forest. In this seemingly simple design, Simpson incorporates art as idea and art as process for the viewer. He is able to entice both the art aficionado who revels in artistic complexity and the art novice who perhaps though contemporary art was only paint splattered on canvas.

A few other assorted items

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Columbia Boulevard Bridge

The final stop on our tour of Portsmouth Cut bridges is the one on Columbia Boulevard. It's the northernmost of the four, borders an industrial area, and carries a lot of commercial truck traffic. It seems to be in better shape than the others (at least from the standpoint of a non-civil-engineer walking across it), and it was widened to four lanes at some point. Its entry in a city bridge inventory says bridge 078 dates to 1909 and 078A dates to 1968, so I imagine that's when the widening happened. I couldn't find any news stories in the Oregonian database about that project to confirm that. I suppose it didn't merit one, as an unattractive bridge in an industrial area, bordering what was then an impoverished neighborhood. Ok, that or the database's search feature is a little substandard and misses stuff you're looking for, which wouldn't be the first time I've run into that. It also does't have Bridgehunter or Structurae pages, only an UglyBridges.com entry. That's usually a sign this whole bridge thing has gone a bit far down the rabbit hole.

This is probably a good time to point out that this entire bridge project got started because I got the notion to walk across the Morrison Bridge, back before they added the nice walkway it has now, and I realized I'd never done that before, and I thought it would be interesting to do the other Willamette bridges too and take some photos in the process, and it's sort of taken on a life of its own since then. To be honest, a lot of the motivation behind this, as well as the public art and city park things (which have long since gone down rabbit holes of their own), is that I don't travel as much as I'd like to, and I have to go to somewhat absurd lengths to continue playing tourist without leaving town. I keep thinking I'm bound to run out of material for these projects sooner or later and I'll have to go find a different silly hobby. Hasn't happened yet, though.

Fessenden Street Bridge

The third Portsmouth Cut bridge on our tour carries N. Fessenden St. over the ravine. It's about the same style as the others; same age, same designer, same disrepair. It's got the usual Bridgehunter, Structurae and UglyBridges.com pages, where we learn things like:

     Built 1909
     - Ralph Modjeski of Bochnia, Poland (Engineer)
     Warren deck truss
     Length of largest span: 89.9 ft.
     Total length: 164.1 ft.
     Deck width: 40.0 ft.
Inspection (as of 07/2012)
     Deck condition rating: Poor (4 out of 9)
     Superstructure condition rating: Poor (4 out of 9)
     Substructure condition rating: Satisfactory (6 out of 9)
     Appraisal: Structurally deficient
     Sufficiency rating: 49.7 (out of 100)
Average daily traffic (as of 2010)
I don't know if anyone particularly cares about bridge trivia sites, but those are often the only sources of information when a bridge isn't particularly attractive or significant. That's certainly the case here. Fessenden is not a major arterial street, or at least it's not intended to be. As one of only four streets that cross the Cut, and only six connecting St. Johns to the outside world (the others being Marine Drive much further north, and the St. Johns Bridge), it's gotten a share of truck traffic heading for the Rivergate industrial district or the St. Johns Bridge. Complaints by residents prompted the city to encourage trucks to use Columbia Blvd. instead, or else. The Columbia Blvd. route is apparently two miles longer and burns an extra 15 minutes of driver time, so I suspect compliance will be a bit spotty when nobody's looking.

The Cut bridges have a less visible role carrying utilities; the Willamette Boulevard bridge has what looks like a water main on its underside, and this bridge carries a natural gas pipeline. I suppose that would be an argument for not letting these bridges completely fall to pieces.

apparently there's a natural gas pipeline here

Friday, July 04, 2014

Lombard Street Bridge

Our tour of Portsmouth Cut bridges continues with the Lombard. St. Bridge, the next one north from the Willamette Boulevard bridge. It's a similar deck truss design and has the usual Bridgehunter and UglyBridges.com pages, for your bridge-geekery needs (if you have bridge-geekery needs). The city's 2002 St. Johns/Lombard Plan calls out this bridge (but not the others) as having high historical significance. The brief blurb about it just describes its construction and doesn't explain what's so special about it. The Portsmouth Cut itself only managed rank III, though it merited a longer description:

Railroad Cut 6929 N. Carey Boulevard The Portsmouth Cut is an approximately 6,600 foot long cut in the bluffs at St. Johns through which run two mainline and auxiliary railroad track.
Significance: Transportation. The railroad bridges, cuts, and tunnels of North Portland, all built circa 1907, were the result of competition between the principals of two major railroads: James J. Hill (Great Northern,Northern Pacific, and Spokane, Portland, and Seattle (SPSRR)) and E. H. Harriman (Union Pacific and Southern Pacific). The Great Northern did not have direct access to Portland, leading Hill to build the SPSRR to provide independent access to Portland. He built the bridge over the Willamette River, the cut through the North Portland Peninsula, and the steel bridges over the Oregon Slough and the Columbia River. On the other hand, Harriman wanted direct access to Seattle for his Union Pacific line, which passed through Portland. Around 1910, the railroads settled their differences and the Union Pacific built a tunnel through the peninsula to connect with the SPSRR at what is now called North Portland Junction.

The Lombard St. bridge has the same messy ownership & maintenance situation as the Willamette Blvd. bridge, and it seems to be in more or less the same state of repair. There's an added twist here in that Lombard doubles as US 30, an Oregon state highway, so the state transportation department is responsible for the road. The state's role regarding this bridge (if it has one) is unclear; at any rate they don't appear to have any more leverage over the railroad than the city does.

For a bridge the city thinks is an iconic landmark, I can't find much in the way of interesting links to share about it. What's more, a lot of the search results that do come up (like this city trail alignment plan) refer to an entirely different bridge, which carries Lombard over the Columbia Slough up near Kelley Point Park.

I did find an account of a 2012 protest on the bridge, in which environmental activists campaigned against coal trains running through the Portsmouth Cut. That's obviously a concern, since the cut borders residential neighborhoods on both sides. But as dirty and flammable as coal trains are, the latest controversy involves oil trains. The current North Dakota oil boom came with an infrastructure problem, in that there was no existing pipeline to get the oil out of North Dakota, and building a new one would be expensive and involve a great deal of bureaucracy and controversy. So instead the oil companies quietly began shipping oil by rail, and they aggressively lobbied state governments to keep all information about the trains private and confidential. I suppose they figured that in the wake of the Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster, running hundreds of oil tank cars through residential neighborhoods might be a tad... controversial. Some of the North Dakota oil is destined for export -- yes, the USA is actually exporting oil now -- and this oil travels by rail to an export terminal at Port Westward, OR, near Clatskanie. I didn't realize there even was an oil export terminal there; it turns out that it used to be an ethanol plant, built with public subsidies no less, and they're somehow reusing the environmental permits the plant received when it made ethanol. The route to Clatskanie takes oil trains right through the Portsmouth Cut, as many as three trains per week. The Oregonian dug this up in a rare (for them) bit of investigative journalism, despite the state's effort to shroud the whole business in total secrecy. This may seem surprising in a state with such a liberal, tree-hugging reputation, but in general the state government (and DEQ in particular) have always sided with corporations over public health and safety, at least when they think nobody's looking.

Willamette Boulevard Bridge

The ongoing bridge project takes us back to North Portland, for a different sort of bridge. You might recall an earlier series I did on railroad bridges in North Portland: The Burlington Northern railroad crosses the Columbia River on the Vancouver Railroad Bridge (and the smaller Oregon Slough Railroad Bridge), and crosses the Willamette on a bridge sometimes known as "Bridge 5.1" (meaning 5.1 miles from downtown Portland). In between, as it crosses the peninsula between the Columbia and Willamette, the railroad runs much of the way in the Portsmouth Cut, a wide man-made ravine up to 100' deep, since railroads like to avoid grade changes if possible. The cut forms a sort of artificial canyon between St. Johns and the rest of North Portland, and this gap is crossed by just four bridges, at Columbia Boulevard, Fessenden St., Lombard St., and Willamette Boulevard. We'll be visiting all four eventually, but our destination right now is the Willamette Boulevard Bridge. It has the usual Bridgehunter, Structuræ & UglyBridges.com pages, if you're interested in bridge-geek stuff; Warren deck truss bridges are not really the most visually exciting things out there, but this and some of the other Portsmouth Cut bridges were designed by Ralph Modjeski, a well-known bridge engineer who also created the aforementioned BNSF railroad bridges as well as Portland's Broadway Bridge. So at least there's a little historical significance here.

In a number of the slides you'll notice this bridge looks a bit... worse for wear. In 2007, the Oregonian sounded an alarm about this bridge, titling their article "10,000 cars a day on rusting hulk". This was the same bout of handwringing over sufficiency ratings that got us a new Sellwood Bridge (now under construction), but nothing's happened here so far. The Sellwood rated a lowly 2 out of 100, while the Willamette Blvd. bridge scored a 47. The fine print, though, indicated that the Sellwood rated so poorly due to carrying far more traffic than it was designed to handle, and was actually in better structural shape than the bridge you see here.

You might wonder how the city let it get so shabby, and why they haven't fixed it. It turns out that fixing it is not the city's job, or the state's job for that matter. Back in 1906 when the railroad line went in, the railroad needed a franchise from the city in order to dig the cut and run the rail line through it. The city noted that the dig would cut through 18 city streets, leaving St. Johns effectively an island. Some degree of haggling went on, and the resulting city ordinance required the railroad to build and maintain up to four bridges over the rail line. That arrangement continues today, and legally the bridges are the railroad's problem. They're not exactly revenue-generating assets, though, and they seem to be prioritized accordingly.

In October 1906, Mayor Harry Lane vetoed the proposal as not serving the city's interests. The four bridges had already been negotiated, but the proposed permanent franchise had no provision requiring the railroad to replace the bridges when they inevitably wore out. The 2007 Oregonian story indicated that the city council overrode Lane's veto. I can't find an archived news story about that, but I assume it must have happened that way since the Portsmouth Cut obviously exists. Here's a big excerpt of Lane's veto message, since I like his writing style:

There is no time limit placed upon this franchise, and the failure to set such a limit upon the life of its franchise is now claimed by the holders of the Fourth-street franchise to make it last forever, which, I here may remark, is an exceedingly long time.

I can see no harm in a franchise granted to last forever if at the same time it contains a provision allowing the people to recall it at any time such grounds of complaint against its further existence as would hold in a just court of law. There is no such provision in this ordinance.

No promise is made to build any new bridges when these wear out, and inasmuch as the franchise is for a cut 100 feet deep and two hundred feet wide, to last forever (if it does last that long), for that same length of time people are going to require bridges to cross the chasm, and for exactly as long as the chasm lasts, so long should bridges be provided.

Presume that lightning destroyed one or more of these bridges, or that some miscreant destroyed one or more of them with dynamite. From that day forth, so far as this franchise is concerned, they would go unbridged or the city would be compelled to build them at its own expense.

As there are 18 streets crossed by this deep cut, and steel bridges of the required type now cost, say $60,000 each, you must allow that it would prove quite expensive. I think that more specific terms should be used in regard to this matter.

In the near future many people will dwell and do business upon the peninsula, and it is within the bounds of reason to suppose that some day some other railway company will wish to enter the city there or thereabouts, and if so another 100-feet deep gash with more bridges would be necessary before it could do so. I think it not unreasonable to require that a common user clause on terms just to all be included in the franchise.

Construction was already underway in December 1906. They used much the same technology as was used to dig the Panama Canal: Steam shovels from the Columbia end of the cut, and hydraulic mining on the Willamette side. Hydraulic mining (which was also employed during the California gold rush) uses high pressure water jets to erode and wash away the land you'd like to be rid of. It's a highly efficient way of digging large holes quickly, so long as you don't really care where all the silt ends up. The Oregonian article about the dig claimed that tailings would be used to fill in low-lying areas around the Willamette River bridge, but I suspect most of the dirt just ended up in the river.

The next year, Lane also vetoed an ordinance authorizing a railroad tunnel under North Portland, on similar "perpetual franchise" grounds. As he'd predicted the year before, a second railroad needed a route through North Portland, and would be unable to use the Portsmouth Cut because the city hadn't insisted on a "common use clause" during the previous negotiations. The tunnel proposal claimed to have a common use provision, but Lane wasn't sold and saw a crucial loophole in the proposal. It's not clear to me sure whether this second veto was overridden as well, but tunnel was eventually built, and today connects Swan Island to industrial North Portland, traveling directly under N. Dana Avenue. In any case, Lane's veto message this time around had a distinct tone of I-told-you-so:

This franchise or grant has a common user clause which allows other railroad companies to use the tunnel upon payment of a just proportion of the cost of the same, but nowhere provides any right of access or egress to said tunnel. In other words, any other railroad company, upon payment of its proportion of the cost of the same, can use the tunnel, providing it can conjure up some means of getting into it, or out of it, which quite naturally it could not do unless it in some way secured a right to use the approaches to such tunnel, which is the right, in my opinion, that should be insisted upon by the representatives of the city before the grant is made.

Also, there is no time limit set upon the life of the grant so far as I can ascertain, it being a perpetual franchise with no restriction, of which grants this city has had experience in the past, and is now having.

The city's interests demand that as few bridges, tunnels and cuts through, over and under its property be made as possible, and in the event that another railroad should come to the city, ordinary foresight suggests that the provisions for the same be made as soon as possible. If the city, through its agents, had taken such a view of the matter when the deep cut across the Peninsula, now in process of construction, was suggested, it would not have been necessary to deface that section of the city with the deep gash which is both destructive to its beauty and its usefulness, nor would the present grant have been asked for.

Also it would have rendered it unnecessary to construct the bridge across the Willamette River, which is now being erected, and which, when completed, will forever be a bar to navigation and add to the cost of every shipment from this port in the future, to the detriment of the community.

The interests of the people are greater than are those of any corporation, and however much any particular company may have suffered at the hands of a most astute or canny rival, in its efforts to secure terminal facilities, the fact remains that we are but the agents of the people, and our duty is to them alone and to none other.

The ownership and maintenance situation apparently remains unchanged to this day. I ran across a 1986 incident in which a city water main broke and washed out two supports for the Willamette Blvd. bridge. The city and railroad fought over who had to pay for repairs. Reports at the time explained that the city technically owned the bridge, but the railroad was on the hook for maintaining it. The railroad argued that since the root cause was a faulty city-owned water main, the city ought to pay for repairs instead. This went on for a while and the bridge remained closed while the sides haggled. In the end, the city ended up footing the bill. Presumably they felt a bit more urgency about getting the bridge reopened than the railroad did. With a historical precedent like that, from the railroad's standpoint it's reasonable to assume that if the bridge gets bad enough, someday the city will either foot the repair bill again, or take it off their hands (and balance sheet) entirely.