A Walk Across the Burnside Bridge in Portland


I recently returned from a cross-country road trip that originated in Jackson, MS with two other friends, a Camry and a 26-foot moving truck, and ended with being dropped off in Portland, OR on foot. What made this travel so interesting is the macro to micro scale of exploration and movement across the country which led me across ten states into a city which I had never been.  I went from the company of two of my closest friends, switching out the responsibility of driving  the truck to the car, traveling for 7 to 12 hours each day, using multiple means of geo-coding and smart phone technology to find a place to stay each night, utilizing two-way radios to communicate to each other, to being dropped off in Portland to explore the city independently on foot.

The ease at which this transition can occur in 2011 is amazing.  Due to the reputation of the City of Portland being completely accommodating to a pedestrian (more true in July perhaps than other months of the year), and my smart phone, I felt completely confident that I would have no trouble finding my way and means for moving around the city.  As an Urban Researcher, I experience a city hyper-sensitive to my ability to move, find food and shelter, and the quality of these experiences.  Of all the experiences had on this journey, one struck me as pertinent to my role in the JCDC.  A walk across the Burnside Bridge in Portland.

On the 6th day of this trip, I needed to get from my hotel to meet a friend in the city.  It was a sunny day, and I wanted to walk.  I looked at the Google Map on my Iphone, and thought “there is no way I can walk over such a big bridge,” but I started walking regardless knowing that I would find a bus if the walk truly deemed to be impossible.  Seven blocks into the mission across the city, I was pleasantly surprised, not only could I walk across the bridge, there were spacious side walks on either side.  Not only could I walk, I could have used the blatantly green bike lane, ridden the bus, ridden a skate board (which also have their own routes indicated throughout the city), or driven a car.  My senses were completely heightened during this part of the walk.  I could hear cars buzzing by, people waived and were friendly, and I made it across happy and healthy.

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It occurred to me that was is so remarkable about Portland is that it’s not that remarkable at all.  What is unique is not necessarily its architecture or it’s industry, but the city allows for options and lacks oppression.  It shouldn’t be so shocking that I can WALK where I need to go, but most would find it surprising how much this concept can seem like rocket science in a municipal or Department of Transportation meeting.  This is the case in most of the cities that I traveled through in the 10 states on my route to Oregon.  This condition of a river or interstate dissecting a city has created an impermeable barrier in so many cities across the country.  This was apparent by the dozens of design concepts and presentations that occurred during our symposium, FORMCities in the fall of 2010.  So it was refreshing to see such low-tech solutions to literally “bridging” the divide.  The people of Portland remind me that this condition of free pedestrian and cyclist movement is only really comfortable during the summer months.  The cities location between Mt. Hood and the Pacific Ocean unfortunately leads to rain and cold weather for many months of the year.  So, how unfortunate is it that cities with more mild or predictable climates, and smaller footprints, don’t see the importance of this phenomenon, a walk across a bridge.

2 Responses to “A Walk Across the Burnside Bridge in Portland”
  1. msrevival says:

    This is fantastic commentary, however, I must say that after living in Portland for two years, the life of a pedestrian really is accommodated year round. You get used to the rain. 🙂 And invest in hoodies.

    • Yeah, I figured that was really the case. I lived carless in Providence, RI for a year and made it just fine. My main point is that in Mississippi, the heat is our excuse, but many trek through rain and snow and make it just fine. Maybe the Portlanders I talked to were the lazy ones :).

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