Portland’s $134 million monument to me

Join us in welcoming lifestyle columnist Cathy Hastie to BikePortland. Cathy is a former contributor to Portland Afoot and we’re excited to bring her perspective to our pages. Her first article is about a certain local civic engineering project that still needs a name. And it turns out, Cathy has an idea…

lifestyle columnist Catherine Hastie
Lifestyle columnist Cathy Hastie.

The solemn elk in the middle of Southwest Main street; the diminutive bronze of former mayor Vera Katz smiling upon Eastbank bikers; the plaid-shirted effigy of Paul Bunyan at North Denver and Interstate: despite these few commemorative statues, many of them celebrating non-humans, Portland is not a city overflowing with monuments.

So would it surprise you to know that there is a new $134 million monument under development in our fair City of Roses as we speak? A massive landmark built to commemorate and celebrate a local hero?

You might cite the recent cacophony of commercial development as an excuse for missing it. But it is impossible to overlook, rising 180 feet into the heavens and stretching more than 1,700 feet long. Its skeleton is starting to fill a highly-prized spot of natural beauty on the Willamette River. Its massive foundation, like the hindquarters of a muscular sphinx, reflects the power and importance of the Portlander it honors. Its four elegant towers capture the heraldry of the offering, exalting this most revered citizen of our fine city. Who among us has tirelessly enacted feats of courageous and incredible ingenuity to merit this amazing, costly, time-consuming labor of love?

Humbly I will admit: it is a monument to me.

But I am willing to share.

After all, the monolith commemorates and celebrates my low-car lifestyle and I am but one of thousands of like-minded Portlanders who dedicate their lives, 15 minutes at a time, to cutting back on greenhouse gases, improving their own health and the health of others, and making ours a more interesting and enjoyable city with their two-wheeled transportation choices. Over 90,000 people here eschew the single-occupancy car as they move themselves from home to workplace. These people are no less than heroes because they are making a difference right now, today. Good intentions are a step in the right direction, but action deserves recognition – big recognition.

If you haven’t guessed by now, my monument is indeed an object both symbolic and functional, in the form of a bridge. It spans the Willamette River just south of OMSI, aptly connecting my inner Southeast neighborhood with all the cool places I want to experience in the South Waterfront district. This beautiful civil work is a testament to my lifestyle choices: biking and walking, riding the bus and commuting via transit. It is the largest bridge in the country dedicated to non-vehicular traffic. As a 20-year no-car commuter, I accept the honor of this giant tribute built just for me (and 90,000 of my no-car commuting friends).

My bridge will be the first new bridge across the Willamette since my birth (almost). Very fitting! Trimet calls it the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail bridge, but a permanent name has not yet been chosen. I’ll let TriMet know when I decide if I prefer the “Catherine Hastie Bridge,” or simply “Cathy’s Bridge.” We’ll fix the paperwork in due time.

In the meantime, I salivate at its majesty as I ride by the construction site each morning. I can’t wait to pedal across my bridge to some hot new future restaurant below the aerial tram, or to a doctor’s appointment at OHSU. The bridge will give me a direct route to Portland State University and my job in downtown Portland. It will carry the MAX Orange Line, TriMet buses, and hopefully the Portland Streetcar. A future MAX station at OMSI will even connect me to Clackamas Town Center – a place I might someday visit if I could get there without fighting 8-lane traffic and wandering lost through the ocean-sized parking lot.

Alas, I will be hungering for those bridge crossings for a few years – the bridge isn’t planned to be open for “traffic” until 2015.

I am proud to play my honorary role in this grand project. Our region is yet again on the cutting edge of forward-thinking transportation planning. This beautiful structure will not only add another connection between vital areas of commerce and recreation, but it will allow my two friends from Clackamas County to get to their downtown jobs cheaply, efficiently and without the stress of traffic jams and exhaust. Who knows? Maybe I will make a few more friends from Clackamas after it is built. “Build it and they will come” has never been more apt.

This connection will allow people to get where they need to go peacefully, breathing deeply and enjoying the loveliness of the sun reflecting off the water. I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting commemoration. I don’t mind being the figurehead, but really, the honor is ours, my dear biking, busing and walking friends. This bridge proves that our tenacity, our motivation and our dedication can make a difference! This monument is for all of us – from forward-thinking planners and elected officials in the 70s, brainstorming the very core of a smartly developing city; to sog-proof die-hards braving the wind and weather today; to 5-year old Lucy, the future face of Portland commuting, who, seated on the polished longboard seat of her mother’s cargo bike, rides to school every day.

I am magnanimous. After the ribbon-cutting, I will let you all ride your bikes across my horizontal obelisk. In fact, let’s have a big party! We’ll call it the Catherine Bridge. Everyone knows a Catherine, so we can all claim a little bit of this important modern-day pyramid in honor of livability and conscientious commuting. We’ll inaugurate it with a bipedal benediction of a million feet, anointing it in the sweat of grinding gears and creaking crankshafts.

Because of me and my world-class monument, Portland will never look the same again.

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