Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ghost Highway: Mount Hood Freeway

It's fascinating to dig into some of the historical legacies that have existed throughout planning over time. Some seem like missed opportunities - while others show that perhaps sometimes cooler heads will prevail, and we think of the awfulness of what might have been. Nowhere in Portland's planning history is this more evident than the thankfully unbuilt Mount Hood Freeway, which would have literally chopped to bits the inner east side in the mid 1960s with a network of high capacity roadways.

It's also interesting to see the genesis of this idea, from none other than the infamous Robert Moses. From the Permatopia site on Dead Highways: "This map from the Portland Planning Division's 1966 development plan illustrates Robert Moses' vision for a city girdled by freeways. Red indicates existing freeways; green indicates freeways that were never built."

:: image via Willamette Week

From some older coverage on the WW site: "
The story of the freeway's demise is a tale of urban America after World War II and a lesson in what distinguishes Portland from other West Coast cities. It gave us strong neighborhoods, proud schools and MAX. It cemented the region's commitment to ecology and the reputation of a brilliant political leader. The murder not only saved 1,750 households in Southeast Portland from the wrecking ball, it also established Portland's philosophy of urban livability-the idea that cities are for people, not just for commerce and cars."

It may be difficult to comprehend, but the slice of the Mount Hood Freeway would have edge along was is currently Clinton Street, one of the hip neighborhood commercial pocket in southeast. An portion of a map shows the dashed line slicing down this street.

:: image via Permatopia

And a view down current Clinton Street @ 26th:

:: image via Portlandize

Taking a cue from the planning wisdom at the time, Moses planned Portland for auto-dominated greatness. From the Portland Mercury:

"Sixty-six Septembers ago, a Portland city commissioner invited the powerful (and, these days, infamous) transportation planner Robert Moses to come to Rose City and write its road construction plan. Moses, a freeway mogul whose most lasting legacy is the massive byways slicing apart New York's boroughs, brought a team of men and holed up for two months in a downtown hotel. After exploring the city and crunching numbers, the men whipped up an 86-page blueprint for Portland's future.

It was in this plan that Portland was first divided by the inky lines that would eventually become I-205, I-84, I-5, I-405, and Highway 26. It was Moses' men who first drew the Fremont Bridge onto a photo of Portland. In white ink, they imagined the freeway to be a suspension bridge running across the river and down into the current Overlook neighborhood. But they also imagined a lot more.

To modernize and meet the demands of a growing economy and expanding population, back in 1943 Moses argued that Portland must surround itself with freeways—an inner ring carrying traffic through the city with another freeway ring encircling its outer limits."
The other part of the legacy that is visible is the dead end off- and on-ramps that show up along many of the stems of this future highway system... a reminder of what might have been.

:: image via Portland Mercury

More of this legacy: "People can drive past on Division or Clinton streets every day and never know it’s there. Indeed, it wouldn’t be there at all, if supporters of the Mount Hood Freeway had had their way. The diminutive Piccolo Park (Southeast 28th Avenue between Division and Clinton streets, 503-823-7529) cuts a grassy swath through a residential block. The land was acquired by the state in the 1970s for a freeway, which would have roared through this historic neighborhood, but the freeway planning faltered and in 1989 the parcel was turned into a charming city park."

If the benefits aren't obvious, a video from Streetfilms highlights the result, in a study on the neighborhood left behind, versus that which was destroyed through freeway expansions. "Clarence Eckerson Jr., takes us to Portland to see the results and posits that his own neighborhood in Brooklyn might have benefited from similar forethought during the planning phase of the Robert Moses-designed Brooklyn-Queens Expressway."

1 comment:

  1. Please tell me you're kidding.

    If Moses would have built HALF of those freeways, we wouldn't have the nightmarish traffic in Portland that we now do. Public trans still would have been implemented (you cited Moses's work in NY) and NY still has the most extensive public trans in the nation, with tremendous ridership.

    Not everyone can be a bitchy little hipster and ride their bicycle to their $15/hr New Seasons job. Some of us have real jobs that require us to commute to different, sometimes distant locations.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all for being green, containing sprawl and sure as shit voted for Obama - BUT - anyone that has any kind of commute daily in Portland can tell you this beautiful city would benefit GREATLY from just a couple more highways. Namely another crossing the Columbia. Think of all the cars idling or rolling at 5mph that would no longer be pumping pollutants into the air, day after day, month after month, year after year.

    I'll part with a couple drug dealer infested parks and hipster hideouts for that. Amen. ~ Dave Taylor


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