Saturday, April 30, 2022

Madison Street Plaza mural

Ok, here are some photos of yet another painted intersection, once again in downtown Portland. If you aren't familiar with this mildly weird local thing, the previous one of these that I covered back in January tries to explain a bit. The current one we've visiting is another twist on the usual theme in that it's an official city government project by the Bureau of Transportation and painted by hired artists, not at all a community volunteer thing. Madison St. Plaza here (which is just across from the Portland Art Museum) is one of at least four new 'plazas', all painted as part of a wider effort the city calls "The Green Loop", which is a bit hard to explain. It's sort of an official bike loop around the central city -- that's downtown plus the central eastside -- enhanced with things that are either trendy here right now, or were trendy before Covid, or at least were cool sometime in the last 15 years or so. So, occasional "everybody ride the Green Loop today" events, complete with obscure local bands you probably haven't heard of playing along the route; food cart pods; street paintings like the one here; that sort of thing. I was all ready to snark about this; I figured the city was trying to create a Disney-fied version of the real things, aimed at tourists and rich developers and conveniently close to upscale hotels downtown and around the Convention Center, and routed past the front doors of sponsoring businesses.

Eventually I realized what the city was really up to. Despite our heavily cultivated reputation around being the perfect bike & pedestrian city, we still have a really high rate of traffic fatalities and serious injuries here, and the numbers keep increasing, which leads to people asking the city how they're going to fix it. The city seems to think that one quick and easy, if partial, mitigation would be if people would stick to side streets more and avoid riding in heavy traffic and darting around 18-wheelers and gigantic SUVs from the 'burbs. You can even put together a network of these safer routes around town and give out maps. The city's done that for years now, and some people pay attention to that sort of thing religiously and others... don't. A lot of other people respond badly to safety-based appeals; they see it as victim blaming, or at least being told to eat their vegetables instead of just gobbling glucose gel packs all the time. So the plan, as I understand it, is to take the existing safer routes and make them look cool and trendy, so people will sort of gravitate to them of their own accord without any safety lectures. At least I think that's what the plan is, unless I'm giving them too much credit.

Whether the execution on the street murals and the curation of food carts and so forth is good enough to pull this off is a whole other question, obviously. And of course there will be cynics out there who see right through what the city's trying to do and reject it out of hand, and if too many people start thinking that way the city will have to come up with an alternative (but still safe) route that isn't 'corporate', but without anyone clueing in that it's another safety campaign. But hey, that's why city bureaucrats make the big bucks. Or at least why they have a good pension plan. I mean, I assume they still have a good pension plan, I dunno.