Splendid Cycles Big Sale

The Portland that might have been

Posted by on February 16th, 2009 at 10:22 am

I recently came across this image again — it’s the map that might have sealed our fate, developed by Portland city planners in 1966 in response to freeway guru Robert Moses’ vision for the city.

Robert Moses’ freeway plan for the City of Portland

Moses was known for saying “Cities are for traffic,” and he dedicated his career to creating freeway networks inside cities, many of which cut across existing neighborhoods — often the poorest ones.

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This map is fascinating. The red lines represent freeways already built. The green ones were planned. Look at how North Going Street, which is slated to be part of one of Portland’s next bike boulevards, would have been a huge expressway. Can you imagine Alberta Street being what it is now if Prescott had been a freeway? And what would have happened to the neighborhoods around SE 20th and SE 52nd?

The green lines are planned freeways, and the Mount Hood Freeway was the first of these that would have been built. It was stopped by a strong grassroots effort, with the support of local political leaders. After that, none of the other projects got rolling, and much of the money that was appropriated for the freeway instead went into other transportation projects like the first MAX light rail line.

For more background on the Mount Hood Freeway fight, check out this Willamette Week story, and this Streetfilm on the topic. And there’s an overview on Wikipedia of the anti-freeway activism that was rampant in that era, with widely varying results.

We’re lucky to have escaped the fate of many other cities — but I hope we are not getting ready, with the Columbia River Crossing project and all the stimulus spending in our near future, to make some of the same mistakes that we avoided forty years ago.

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GLV
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GLV

That’s not Robert Moses’ freeway plan. He proposed putting what is now I-5 along MLK-Grand, to free up the waterfront for…wait for it…a park. His vision for the city included many parks that we now enjoy.

Moses was not nearly as evil as he is often portrayed. If you actually read his plans, instead of just media accounts of them, you would know that.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

You know the scenes in the movie “The Blob” when townspeople run screaming in terror from the advancing oozing monster?

That’s the reaction I feel when looking at this freeway map. We are eternally in the debt of the neighborhoods and Mayor Goldschmidt and his allies for changing course.

Donna
Guest
Donna

Can you imagine how much worse our state budget crisis would be if ODOT was responsible for the maintenance of all that freeway?

mac
Guest
mac

“Moses was not nearly as evil as he is often portrayed”…except when he was.

He was a guy who installed himself in a position of unassailable power, with access to incredible amounts of money who subverted the public process at every opportunity, who had an irrational hatred of public transit in all forms and would go to any length to undermine even the possibility of its use.

But he wasn’t that bad, for a megalomaniac, a petty dictator; I mean he kissed his wife goodbye every morning and liked puppies.

ehhh gads.

Dan Kaufman
Guest

Say what you want, Moses’ legacy is not parks. It’s high speed motorways, which seemed like a good idea at the time and to most it still does.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Elly-

How about an updated map that has more current freeways in blue? That would show where we grew instead of the proposed green.

In response to your post, are the readers to feel relieved that the city planners did not get their way? As the proposed freeways do not exist, are we to assume that Moses did get his way? That would support GLV’s (thank you) comment about the waterfront park. Your second paragraph seems to portray him as the bad guy, but the evidence supplied indicates otherwise.

I guess I am at a loss as to what I am to take from this.

Dave
Guest

I’ve also heard that originally I-205 was planned to run along 39th Ave on the East side, but the money in Laurelhurst pushed it back to 52nd, then by the time they actually got to planning it, the city had expanded past 52nd, so they moved it to 92nd, where it actually got built. Can you imagine SE Portland if I-205 had been built along 39th? Ugh, shudder, etc.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

Destroying the east bank of the Willamette, tearing out the heart of old Albina, digging a huge trench where Minnesota Ave once was, removing –with the helping hands of the PDC– most of South Portland… more than enough!

Indeed, it could be argued that the car nearly killed Portland.

Joe Rowe
Guest
Joe Rowe

Thanks for this article and the discussion that will follow.

I lived in Houston with 3 huge freeway belts. 610,8,1960 by name. The more you build, the more they clog up, a lesson for our Columba River Bridge. And the Houston solution: Keep adding lanes. In 2004 they added a 14 mile parallel tollway when interstate 10 ( East-West) filled up.

It is essential we all keep poverty awareness in this discussion. People with less income have no time to build websites, blog and unite to stop freeways or whatever from destroying their community.

I applaud Ms. Blue and Mr. Maus for their caption

“many of which cut across existing neighborhoods — often the poorest ones.”

adventure!
Guest

Re: #9, the path of I-205 was moved east from its proposed 52nd Ave alignment to approximately 96th Ave due to a few factors: neighborhood opposition, lower cost of acquiring land (96th Ave was outside of the city limits in unincorporated Multnomah County at the time), and also because of federal prodding. They wanted I-205 to be a true “by-pass” route and they felt the 52nd Ave alignment would be too close to town. (Please correct me if I’m wrong on any of this!)

And to toot my own horn a li’l bit:
I’ll be leading another Dead Freeways Ride on Saturday April 11th: http://shifttobikes.org/cal/viewmonth.php?month=4&year=2009#11-534
This time I’ll be sticking to the Eastside so we can go into greater detail on things like the 52nd Ave Freeway.

steve
Guest
steve

Ms Blue wrote-

“Can you imagine Alberta Street being what it is now if Prescott had been a freeway?”

Perhaps the freeway would have kept the yuppies and hipsters at bay. No gentrification. Sounds better to me!

John
Guest
John

I don’t have to imagine what it might have been like: During my life, I’ve seen what I-205 did to east Vancouver.

brettoo
Guest
brettoo

Let me endorse Shawn’s Dead Freeways ride. I went on the last one and there’s nothing like actually seeing in person what’s there now and then imagining (with his informed assistance) what might have been. Or to see highways that are there and imagine what it might have been like if they hadn’t been built. Seeing this stuff on a map is powerful in its own way, but seeing it in person, with historical context supplied, really opens your eyes. I hope to be on the next ride, too.

Peter
Guest
Peter

everything i’ve ever read about Moses suggests pure evil. dude displaced tens of thousands of poor black people so white people could drive into and through the city (even though he didn’t drive himself), and poison anyone who lived near the highways.

Robert Moses was to highway expansion as Ariel Sharon was to settlement expansion.

he deserves to be front and center in the livable streets hall of shame.

a-dub
Guest
a-dub

Here’s the interesting thing about the map, the red lines are the freeways that are in existence today, but some were not in existence in 1966 and others were planned. For example. I205 and the Fremont Bridge were not complete in 1966 and the Mt. Hood Freeway was still very much alive. So, while I’ve seen this map before, I’m not sure that it hasn’t been altered since 1966. Elly, where did you get the map from? My guess is that someone added the red lines in after 1966 to show which of the freeways ended up getting built.

Spencer Boomhower
Guest
Spencer Boomhower

52nd Ave Freeway

Eep, that’s my street. I have to say, I much prefer it in its non-freeway state.

a-dub
Guest
a-dub

I-205 wasn’t completed until the 80s with the building of the Glenn Jackson Bridge across the Columbia. The route through Clackamas County was completed in the early 70s but a similar grassroots movement was started to stop the I-205 through what would become East Portland delayed construction until the late 70s.

http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/REGION1/I205/generalinfo.shtml

Matt, any additional insight on the map and the colored lines?

a-dub
Guest
a-dub

PS. As for already being in the pipeline in ’66, there would have been no difference between the Mt. Hood Freeway and the East Portland Freeway (I-205). Also, I love map and the discussion and really wanted to partake in the last Dead Freeways ride, but am just trying to clarify so as not to spread any misconceptions (not that I think you are trying to doing that).

a-dub
Guest
a-dub

Sorry for the multiple posts. Feel free to consolidate them. Here is the link to the original WWeek article:

http://www.wweek.com/story.php?story=6110

My guess is that they took the ’66 map and added the red lines. That’s it I’m done.

Michael M.
Guest

Moses was scary, because he wasn’t “pure evil.” He had the best of intentions from the get-go, dedicating himself to helping the impoverished. He didn’t so much seek power for it’s own sake as amass it as a means of enacting his vision, woe be to those who stood in his way. Were he South American, he’d be Chavez. Were he Cuban, he’d be Castro. He wasn’t exactly a megalomaniac like Hitler or Mussolini, but he was every bit as tyrannical. I wish Portland’s more belligerent self-styled “progressives” would learn a lesson from the trajectory of Moses’s sad career, because so many can be every bit as intransigent, with the same “good intentions” of course.

Along the way he destroyed numerous neighborhoods and communities, and devastated the Bronx so severely that it has really never fully recovered.

Highly recommended: “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” by Robert Caro. One of the best books ever about New York City and about American political power, its uses and abuses. It should be required reading for everyone, anywhere, who even thinks about serving on a municipal or county board, or running for office.

Portland is lucky it escaped.

SkidMark
Guest
SkidMark

Wow, it looks like you could have actually gotten around the city in an efficient manner by car, instead of passing your destination on the freeway and having to backtrack on surface streets for 3-5 miles. That’s why there’s so much slow moving traffic here, not enough freeways, with not enough exits.

Of course if there wasn’t so much slow moving traffic, I would have never parked my motorcycle and started riding bicycles again.

mark
Guest
mark

I grew up in Dallas, so to live somewhere that resisted the freeway build up is great. it is a bit annoying sometimes when you do drive a car to get around in this city. But I feel it is a small price to pay for what we have and it also encourages me to get around on bikes more and see the city in a way that I never would speeding by in a car.

brettoo
Guest
brettoo

” That’s why there’s so much slow moving traffic here, not enough freeways….”

Ah! I see now! That’s why traffic moves so fast and smooth in those other cities, like LA, that built so many more freeways than we did.

Also, ditto on The Power Broker, one of the great biographies of the 20th century. Then go read Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities to appreciate the real damage he did.

Pete
Guest
Pete

The worst traffic I’ve ever driven in was in Houston, as well as the most animosity and resistance to alternate-car merging. I drove my friend’s Mini virtually underneath a Hummer refusing to let me merge. My buddy who lives there now has lived and driven in many countries and says Houston’s the worst, and I grew up driving in Boston. I can’t imagine being a bike commuter in some of those Texas cities… you folks deserve a ton of credit!

Pete
Guest
Pete

brettoo (#28): Boston eliminated its traffic by adding lanes and burying them underneath the city to create lovely green parks. It was a quick and inexpensive project, as I’m sure the CRC will be.

😉

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carless in pdx
Guest
carless in pdx

They sure spared no expense when they built the 405, bulldozing dozens of blocks of some of the most expensive land in the state of Oregon and building a deep trench for the freeway to sit in. If you look at pre-1960s photos, there was no ravine between NW/Goosehollow and downtown.

Cost really wasn’t that big of an issue; moneyed politics was. You don’t piss off the wealthy movers and shakers in a city when you need to bulldoze a couple hundred blocks and make a few tens of thousands of people homeless. Much easier to eminent domain crappy tenements, as renters don’t have a say in their fate.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

The notion that one should be able to drive at 60 mph thru the heart of a city is absurd, if not criminal.
Time to start taking out some freeways…starting with the Eastbank Freeway and Marquam Bridge…and return the land to better uses.
I think the last version of the Porland freeway system map was from ODOT in ’69 when the air pollution as so bad you could not see Mt Hood on a clear day.

OnTheRoad
Guest
OnTheRoad

What about the Sellwood Freeway? That would have solved that bridge problem and Tacoma as a neighborhood street issue.

Re: the Mt. Hood, at least inner SE has a few pocket parks and community gardens that weren’t there before – where houses and land were acquired for the freeway.

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

You can read more about the Moses report here:
http://www.portlandonline.com/planning/index.cfm?&a=148065&c=44077

And on this page you can also download a nice summary the Planning Dept has prepared on Portland’s Great Plans (including, for example, Olmstead’s parks plan for the city). At the moment the links seem to be broken but they may be fixed soon.

Vance
Guest

Now, now. It’s not fair to discuss the impact transportation expansion has on poor people in Portland without also pointing out that the exodus from California, and the MidWest has impacted them in far more negative ways. North and Northeast Portland were thriving minority communities prior to their residents being displaced by mostly young, liberal, affluent whites, into the Rockwood, and Gresham neighborhoods.

Nothing is ever good enough for this crowd. Transportation sucks. The politicians are too conservative, blah, blah. I mean, then why the hell did you move here in the first place? We’re not talking about progress here. I’m not some aging white-male resisting change. This city has doubled in size in one decade. Quadrupled in size in two. That’s what you call extraordinary. Unprecedented.

I, for one, try to imagine what Portland would have been like without two million of the country’s most entitled, liberal, dilettantes living in it? At the very least, the traffic was lighter.

a-dub
Guest
a-dub

“This city has doubled in size in one decade. Quadrupled in size in two. That’s what you call extraordinary. Unprecedented.”

Huh?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau
Portland Population:
1990: 437,319
2000: 529,121
2007: 550,396
That jump in population from 1990 to 2000 was from annexation not immigration

http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=51673

If you are talking about the region as a whole your numbers still don’t add up:

Multnomah County:
2007: 701,986
2000: 660,486
1990: 583,887

Washington County:
2007: 522,514
2000: 445,342
1990: 311,554

Clackamas County:
2007: 376,251
2000: 338,391
1990: 278,850

Clark County (WA):
2007: 418,070
2000: 345,238
1990: 238,053

I’m not going to add in Yamhill, Columbia, Marion Counties

That gives you a core metro area population of:

2007: 2,018,905
2000: 1,789,457
1990: 1,412,344

That gives you a growth rate of:
13% from 2000 to 2007
26% from 1990 to 2000
42% from 1990 to 2007

matt picio
Guest

Elly (#20) – yep, that was me. Once I can figure out a way to reproduce the paper map (anyone have access to a giant scanner?) then I will post that particular 1966 Portland Development map. My map shows a few things that aren’t on this one, like the freeways up on the peninsula and the extra 3 bridges crossing the Columbia into Vancouver.

matt picio
Guest

Here are some pictures I took of the 1966 planning map I have (Elly, bikeportland is permitted to use any of these if you’d like to update the story to use one):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattpicio/sets/72157614018510290/

Whyat
Guest
Whyat

I’m sorry a-dub. When did your ancestors move to Oregon? When was the line drawn to stop new residents? What Native American tribe do you belong to?

People leave states when conditions there become unlivable. It’s happened over the entire course of our nation’s history. When Oregon becomes too unlivable for you, then please, feel free to move on.

a-dub
Guest
a-dub

Whyat, not sure what you are referring to? I was quoting Vance @36 who claimed the city had grown at such a rapid pace I was simply pointing out that it was actually a reasonably moderate pace.

Zaphod
Guest

Thank you Whyat (#41) for a little level setting. The complaint from long term Oregon residents about anyone arriving more recently has grown stale.

It’s surprising to me that, on a bike-centric blog, there are people commenting in the positive for more freeways. Have we learned nothing about urban design and livable cities?

We have piles of data that suggest more capacity generates more traffic while more multi-mode transportation reduces everyone’s commute while increasing quality of life. It’s perplexing why people fight this.

Erik
Guest
Erik

I think we should remove I-5 through the city, renaming I-205 as I-5. Freeways should run around/next to cities, not through them.

brettoo
Guest
brettoo

That’s the strategy Vancouver BC, practically alone among large North American cities, followed, and it seems to have done pretty well in spite of — or more likely because of — not having freeways carving up its central city.

browneyes
Guest
browneyes

I live on Prescott and sometimes it feels like a freeway. Cops like to use it to speed down. I guess that’s what happens when there are only two lights (and no stop signs) between MLK and 33rd.

“Freeways should run around/next to cities, not through them.” – erik

I couldn’t agree more. I-35 halves several big cities in Texas. Ask anyone who has driven it through San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, or Ft. Worth and they will tell you it’s a mess.

Peter
Guest
Peter

i used to live next to I-35 in Austin, right next to the uni, there. i would say it definitely contributed to my disgust for cars and highways and all things anti-human.

SkidMark
Guest
SkidMark

brettoo, ever live in So Cal? Coming close to downtown Los Angeles there is always going to be tons of traffic. In the outerlying parts and up and down the coast and accross the Inland Empire you can definitely get around faster down there than up here. I moved to Portland from San Diego, which is beautiful despite the fact that you are usually within 2 miles of a freeway entrance. You can get exactly where you are going most of the time with very little travel on surface roads. This means that there is much less traffic on surface roads, which is what I thought bicyclists wanted. Apparently you’d prefer frustrated drivers backtracking on sidestreets and jogging over a block or two every mile or so for “traffic calming”. Sorry, but Portland has some of the most ridiculous ideas about how to alleviate traffic, with the exception of riding bikes more. In fact that’s about the only way to get around here in an enjoyable manner, unless you enjoy waiting for people to find the gas pedal after the light turns green, only to stop again two blocks away.

shawn.
Guest
shawn.

So SkidMark, you’d prefer the destruction of neighborhoods for more freeways, just so that you can “get around faster”?

brettoo
Guest
brettoo

“Ask anyone who has driven it through San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, or Ft. Worth and they will tell you it’s a mess.”

I have. It is.
I’ve also driven more than I’d like in LA, Pasadena, a bit of O.C. though not San Diego. The freeways are usually jammed. And even when new ones come along, eventually, they jam up again (induced demand) as drivers modify their behavior to fill the (briefly) not jammed new roads.
As VAncouver BC has demonstrated, congestion can actually be a friend to mobility (and save billions of dollars), as drivers start taking alternative means of transportation, making it overall easier for people to get around — just not in SOV cars.
Also, in the few cases where inner city freeways have been taken out (like the Bay Area’s earthquake-damaged Embarcadero), nearby neighborhoods have revived. In town freeways strangle neighborhoods.