Saturday, August 30, 2014

Burnside Median

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Our next thrilling adventure takes us to SW Broadway & Burnside in downtown Portland, specifically to the trees-and-ivy median strip down the middle of Burnside. It turns out this median is another spot on a list of very obscure places I bumped into on the city's website a few years back. Some of those places turned out to be reasonably interesting, so it became a project and I've tracked down quite a few of them in the last few years. The Burnside median didn't sound very promising, though, so I ignored it for a long time. But recently I was in the area anyway, and I figured I might as well take a couple of extra seconds crossing the street, snap a couple of photos, and check it off the list for the sake of completeness. So here we are.

The median project was announced in April 1975, and a variety of reasons were given for it at the time. The city and county claimed it would somehow alleviate traffic congestion and reduce carbon monoxide pollution, since they made room for the median by eliminating the 117 on-street parking spaces along this stretch of Burnside. At the same time it was also supposed to make the area safer and more pedestrian-friendly. I don't know what Burnside was like before the median went in, so maybe all of this is true; I just know that despite the median, this stretch of Burnside still has traffic congestion, and is nobody's idea of a nice pedestrian-friendly zone, much less the thriving district of cafes and small shops that the plan envisioned.

More recent ideas in urban planning suggest that fast-moving streets without on-street parking are precisely the thing you don't want if you're trying to create a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. Oh, and English ivy is now recognized as an invasive species, and the city prefers that you not use it anymore for anything ever. Although so far they haven't gotten around to ripping out existing plantings of the stuff along roads and in city parks, since that would involve spending money they don't have.

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