Walk the park, talk to yourself

Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Portland, OregonOn Sunday, the first truly fine day of Spring, Art Scatter found itself scurrying along Tom McCall Waterfront Park. We were in transit, not lollygagging or basking in the sun but not running or biking, either. The latter would have been difficult because so many promenaders were out, choking the walkway with clots of slow-moving homo sapiens.

None of this is remarkable: If you were out at all yesterday, you had company. (Later, we chatted with one woman who’d spent the morning hiking deep in the Gorge, and even SHE found fellow travelers.) But as we walked from the Hawthorne Bridge to the Steel Bridge, we had a couple of, ahem, thoughts.

1. Passing by the remains of the demonstration against the 12-lane, I-5 Bridge proposal was a reminder of what I like about Portland — citizens still think they can affect policy in the city. And sometimes they are right. The 12-lane proposal — and that’s not counting several lanes of ramps on either end of the bridge — has a lot of momentum right now, but there are enough natural hurdles, from the gigantic cost to Oregon at a time when there’s little money to spare to environmental appeals, that opponents are going to get some time to re-sell some of the alternatives, especially to the City of Portland and to Metro. I recently talked to someone connected to transportation planning at one of the riverside industrial areas in the city, and asked him if freight problems were driving the expansion. He replied in the negative, and has become an opponent of the bridge. So, ultimately the question becomes, why does Portland metro need a bridge on this side. And that one is going to be hard for proponents to answer.

2. Once I started thinking about bridges, I remembered the Willamette Transit Bridge, which is scheduled to become operational in 2015, in many ways the polar opposite of the freeway bridge over the Columbia. It’s all about light rail, buses, bikers and pedestrians, and on a great day like this one, it will be jammed. Unfortunately, getting an appropriate design for the tight quarters between the Marquam Bridge and the Ross Island Bridge is proving to be difficult, though a compromise design under consideration now is palatable, at least. We’re tracking this one at Portland Arts Watch.

3. Saturday Market was hopping
in its old stomping grounds, because the new space in Tom McCall Waterfront Park isn’t completed. There have been a lot of “incursions” into the green of the park, but this is the most dramatic one since the Salmon St. Springs fountain. This reminded me that a major re-think of the park is in order at this point, preferably one that bans the festivals that make it unusable on summer days when it should be packed with people — at that point, the Rose Festival fun center and its ilk have reduced it to a smelly dirt field. For example, the bowl south of the Hawthorne Bridge is a natural amphitheater for musical events.

4. The square around the Skidmore Fountain is getting more attention than it has in decades, thanks to Mercy Corps’ renovation of the building to its north. And I remembered that a deal was in place at one point to reclaim the fire station to the south of fountain for another development, but then it collapsed. Which right now seems even more regrettable than it did then.