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Wednesday, May 09, 2007
A more progressive freeway
It took me a few years but I finally made a trip down to the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. Like many of the civic improvement ideas that floated through City Hall in the late '90s and early '00s, it must have looked fantastic on the drawing board. A walkway along the east side of the Willamette with picture postcard views of the river, Waterfront Park, downtown and the West Hills? Sounds great, doesn't it?
But then you head down there and find that millions of tax dollars went to build an elaborate, partially floating sidewalk littered with public art (the one pictured below is apparently a tribute to all the trash and random objects that have been tossed into the Willamette) juxtaposed between a roaring freeway, a river that's best viewed from a distance and underneath a series of congested bridges. Is the Esplanade picturesque? Sure, provided you keep your eyes firmly planted on Portland's skyline instead of I-5 or all the muck in the water. Is it serene? Nope.
While it might not be as popular as its westbank cousin, the Esplanade seems like a big hit among joggers and bikers. It's not something that would or was probably ever intended to cater to people more inclined to have a picnic or lounge around. It's less a park than an elaborate bike and jogging trail, a freeway for people who don't commute in vehicles powered by combustion engines.
It's goofy, it probably cost a lot to build but it works- mostly, but not as well as it could or maybe should. The Esplanade is a great place to bike or jog, provided you're willing to suck down exhaust fumes. Instead of chain link fences, a long, tall sound buffer wall, much like those you can find on the sides of freeways near residential areas, might do wonders down there.
Vera Katz's reign as Portland mayor was littered with projects like these. The streetcar, the Civic Stadium/PGE Park overhaul (what else am I forgetting?) along with proposals to cap I-405 and place a cover over the Marquam Bridge, both of which never made it far. PGE Park has its downs and occasional ups and the streetcar, depending on who you ask, is either wonderful or the worst thing ever. The projects that became a reality: mixed successes, just like the Esplanade....
...and this bronze statue, which makes Vera look like Zira from Planet of the Apes.