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Meetup Thursday kicks off new push for land bridge over I-405

Posted by on January 28th, 2015 at 3:12 pm

(Image via ProspectPDX)

A downtown consulting firm is hosting a conversation tomorrow morning about one of Portland’s most persistent ideas: a cap over the Interstate 405 freeway.

The concept is intended to restitch the urban fabric that was destroyed by the freeway’s construction in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The host of Thursday’s 8-9 a.m. event is ProspectPDX, a local business consulting firm that presents a series of “future focused” ideas about civic life in Portland. Local writers Brian Libby and Dan Friedman, who have written about the concept twice on Libby’s Portland Architecture blog, are scheduled to speak.

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City planning officials are expected to be on hand too to talk about how the concept fits into Portland’s West Quadrant Plan. As we reported in 2013 (see item 6), freeway caps are a formal part of this long-term vision for the future of downtown.

The goal here might be to create something like this street in Columbus, Ohio, which believe it or not is on top of an urban freeway:

And the larger goal, of course, is to come as close as possible to recreating the continuous grid that downtown Portland had in 1955:

(City of Portland archive photo via Vintage Portland)

And let us not forget former Mayor Sam Adams’ plan to connect NW Flanders with a biking/walking bridge. Maybe these projects could become one and the same.

Does the idea appeal to you? Tomorrow’s event, at 434 NW 6th Ave Suite 302, is free.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • eli bishop January 28, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    This would be awesome. If nothing else, connect Flanders, for goodness sake!

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    • matt picio January 29, 2015 at 7:34 am

      Agreed – connecting Flanders would be awesome. There’s a few places along 405 which would benefit from a plaza like this. I mean, come on – metro Detroit built *3* of these over I-696 more than 25 years ago. What does it say when the car capitol of the USA has these, and the bike capitol of the USA does not? This is an idea whose time has come – reconnecting and literally bridging the gap between neighborhoods divided by decisions made in the 1950s.

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  • Jeff M January 28, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    And then do the same for I-5 from Tigard to Vancouver and I-84 out to Troutdale.

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    • Alan 1.0 January 28, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      Seattle has a machine to sell you…

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  • Pete January 28, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Say what you will about the Big Dig, but the affected area in Boston today is revitalized – and more people-friendly – as a result. It’s a proven concept.

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    • Adam H. January 28, 2015 at 4:01 pm

      That was to bury a previously elevated highway. This would cap an already submerged highway, which I would think would be far cheaper.

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      • davemess January 29, 2015 at 8:22 am

        Though cheaper, it’s still going to be expensive, and this city has so many transportation and infrastructure problems is THIS really the thing to be spending so much money on?

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        • Matt January 29, 2015 at 9:24 am

          This project would effectively reclaim ROW in one of the most expensive parts of the city. The sale or rents from the property would go a long way to offsetting the project cost.

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          • Brad January 29, 2015 at 11:57 am

            Most of the blocks where 405 runs are nice, square blocks. Wonder what it would cost to build on them. Perhaps some incentives could be offered for mixed-use buildings. I’ve always thought the irregular shaped sections immediately north and south of Burnside would make nice parks and the square blocks south of Alder could host buildings.

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          • Spiffy January 29, 2015 at 2:33 pm

            I doubt they would build anything large over the freeway… they can’t even really plant large trees…

            they need to lower the level of the freeway to twice its current depth before they can put anything substantial on top of it… which would be great… I don’t want to see any freeways anywhere near downtown…

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    • jeff January 28, 2015 at 5:00 pm

      the land bridge in Boston is a great space.

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  • Adam H. January 28, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I can’t make it to tomorrow’s meeting – how else can I show my support for this project?

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  • Champs January 28, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I’d love to see the Flanders Gap closed.

    The Everett/Glisan couplet being what it is, now I just go west on Marshall and long for the days of taking the lane on Everett. Say what you like about the left-side lane on Williams, but there’s a lot more time to react at uphill speed.

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  • Paul January 28, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    How try great to see the grid without the 5 or 405, or even the Rose Quarter!

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  • pixelgate January 28, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    This would be amazing. Could bring *so* much additional housing/density

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    • rainbike January 29, 2015 at 4:43 am

      or open space.

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      • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 12:35 pm

        It won’t sell unless it will bring in tax dollars in the form of property taxes. This basically rules out making even a large minority of it parks and open spaces.

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        • Spiffy January 29, 2015 at 2:35 pm

          any current examples of a freeway running under large commercial property? I can only think of true tunnels, like the 26 tunnel with lots of hill atop it…

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  • Reza January 28, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    As long as Flanders Street isn’t bridged across I-405, this vision is mostly a distraction. Ever since Flanders Street showed up on the Street Fund project list, the local neighborhoods have been figuring out how to get it implemented without relying on a contentious new transportation fee. For example, there is a pot of local system development charge (SDC) money that is well-suited for projects such as the specific bridge crossing. But additional funding would be needed to upgrade the length of Flanders Street to neighborhood greenway status. And then you have the conundrum at Naito/Steel Bridge…

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  • Barney January 28, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    This has always been a great idea. To me it is not about adding density but about improving connectivity. Sure, some additional commercial/residential development on the fringes could help offset the cost but the real benefit would be in creating more open space. It is almost impossible to create open space in a developed city these days. Best of all it could be phased in over a period of years so you wouldn’t have the same financial impact of a “big dig” type project. When a “phase one” was completed the public would surely see the benefit and support further progress. Start with the Everett – Glisan section first!

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  • Anne Hawley January 28, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Anything, anything we can do to effectively erase freeways from the urban surface would be a boon to life here. Freeways are a hideous blight. I’m not able to make this meeting, but I’m very interested in hearing about it. Will BP be reporting?

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  • sw resident January 28, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    Yet another project benefiting: developers, central Portland, and (increasingly) only affluent whites.
    How about some reclaiming of freeway space where the African American neighborhoods of this city were destroyed? Portland’s racism, classicism, and allocation of resources is pathetic.
    Learn something about this City’s sordid history and say NO to the increasing inequality of this City.

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    • maccoinnich January 28, 2015 at 8:19 pm

      Yet another post that reflexively complains about anything proposed for the central city.

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    • Jeff January 28, 2015 at 9:27 pm

      says the person from SW portland, where all the affluent whites live.

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      • davemess January 29, 2015 at 8:23 am

        Can I say it if I’m from outer SE?

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        • jeff January 29, 2015 at 5:12 pm

          sure, its just not quite as funny.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 29, 2015 at 1:47 pm

        As I’ve recently failed to fully address myself, this is far from true of everybody in Southwest and it’s certainly not the only place in Portland where rich or white people live. So it’s probably not a very good reason to dismiss this opinion.

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    • JAT in Seattle January 29, 2015 at 7:53 am

      Interesting observation, but don’t let cynicism be an excuse for doing nothing. Here in Seattle we have experience with a few lids.

      One, freeway park over I-5 – right in downtown is a product of 70s concrete design and is a fairly uninviting place (and creates a bit of traffic flow problem for cars driving into the darkness and constrained feeling of the place – not that that’s our concern here).

      Another, the lid park in affluent Mercer Island was the result of rich neighbor extortion: you widen the freeway through our suburb, you’re going to give us a park, is late 80s technology and it feels like a park, with regular streets running through it and playgrounds and ball fields (and the bike/ped trail, of course).

      And the last, the lid park on I-90 through the central district minority neighborhood of Rainier Valley, is also late 80s technology and it too, feels like a park. There used to be surface streets leading to the tunnel through the hill; when they connected the freeway they cut a loud swath of concrete through the neighborhood but were able to cover some of it. It has ball fields and basketball courts and a playground and an elementary school right next to it. (and the bike/ped tral of course…)

      Of course that was when there was federal money – probably harder now, but it can be done well.

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    • dachines January 29, 2015 at 8:43 am

      If what you propose is pursued, does it then suddenly become gentrification?

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    • Pete January 29, 2015 at 10:16 am

      From my knowledge of Portland’s neighborhoods, I don’t see another area where an already-submerged freeway could be relatively-easily covered with improved connectivity as a primary benefit. Is this really about race?

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      • davemess January 29, 2015 at 2:42 pm

        i think it’s more about spending the money on other things in other places (not specifically this proposed cap).

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        • Pete January 29, 2015 at 5:53 pm

          Totally agree with you, but from what I’ve seen working with county budgets (and their draw from the state level) common sense doesn’t apply. There really is a “spend it before you lose it” mentality with a lot of the funding programs I’ve seen (from the outside – several hundred thousand for a [useless] curb installation on an expressway due to potential loss of underwriting from an insurance company at the federal level, for example… no sidewalks, mind you), though I’m certainly not directly involved in these processes. Basically, what you and I would probably agree is “common sense” doesn’t apply to budget allocations that I’ve been exposed to. An idea like this is big enough to be considered on larger ‘radar screens’, yet small enough to maybe even make it to a level of grant-matching. I wouldn’t actually argue that other areas of the city, or applications, really ‘deserve’ it, but in a cost/benefit analysis someone, somewhere might actually think this makes sense.

          IMHO, It’s always worth trying! Someone, somewhere has to have the [intestinal fortitude] to say “this makes sense” for change to happen…

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          • davemess January 30, 2015 at 9:33 am

            Didn’t some here recently comment that federal funding for things like this are drying up though?

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            • davemess January 30, 2015 at 9:34 am

              And many times there is some kind of requirement for either matching or at least some local funds.

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      • paikiala January 29, 2015 at 2:44 pm

        I-5, Fremont to Lombard?

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    • Huey Lewis January 29, 2015 at 9:05 pm

      Let’s just hang ourselves over all the wrongs of the past. That will cut down on future injustices and I for one welcome those brighter days .

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  • 9watts January 28, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    The thing I always wonder about when any big investment in transport infrastructure like this is being contemplated is whether the folks involved are including any prospective decline in our reliance on the automobile, on fossil fuels, as a possible scenario in their vision, their forecasts. I’m assuming not. This seems like a huge omission.

    I’m all for doing anything to shrink the blight and noise and pollution from our inherited autos-first infrastructure, but I’m also for spending our dollars wisely, and if we decide that (in five or ten years) two N-S freeways through Portland are way too much capacity, this possibility would seem pertinent to this project. Spending a couple million to cover up a few blocks of it, only to abandon the whole freeway in ten years might not be the most prudent thing.

    You think I’m exaggerating?

    Maybe we should check with the folks in Norfolk, VA? Normal tides there have risen 1-1/2 feet over the past century and the sea is rising faster than anywhere else on the East Coast.
    The following excerpt is from the May 31, 2014 Washington Post:
    “Clearly, we’ve got more work to do,” said Ron Williams Jr., Norfolk’s assistant city manager for planning.
    Options for dealing with the water are limited, and expensive. The city could protect itself with more barriers. Williams lamented, for instance, that a new $318 million light-rail system — paid for primarily with federal funds — was built at sea level. With a little foresight, he said, the tracks could have been elevated to create a bulwark against the tides.
    As it stands, the new rail system could itself be swept away, the money wasted. “Nowhere do we have resiliency built in,” he said.
    A second option calls for people to abandon the most vulnerable parts of town, to “retreat somewhat from the sea,” as Mayor Paul D. Fraim put it in a 2011 interview, when he became the first sitting politician in the nation to raise the prospect.
    (emphasis mine)
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    • Chris I January 28, 2015 at 8:11 pm

      If we abandoned a freeway in Portland, the east bank segment of I5 would be the logical choice. I405 would be capped and used as the only north/south freeway.

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      • Chris Anderson January 29, 2015 at 5:08 am

        A short term win/win could be dedicating the east bank segment of I-5 to freight. This would cut down on single occupancy vehicles in the city and also make commercial and bus traffic super efficient.

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        • q`Tzal January 29, 2015 at 12:58 pm

          That only works as well as cars not using the “truck route” as a shortcut past backed up car traffic.
          Which means it doesn’t.
          Not in LA, San Francisco nor Seattle.

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  • Mossby Pomegrante January 28, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    This sounds like an excuse for another tax.

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    • Chris I January 28, 2015 at 8:13 pm

      The adjacent property owners should form a Local Improvement District to fund a project like this, as they will be the primary benefactors.

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  • georgie-kun January 28, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Lents might have something to say about this….

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  • Chris Anderson January 29, 2015 at 5:15 am

    There was also talk of putting a lid on I-5

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  • meh January 29, 2015 at 7:09 am

    Funding funding funding. Not just to develop, design, and implement, but ongoing maintenance. We can’t maintain our streets, are we going to have the funding to maintain, what is basically a very big bridge?

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    • matt picio January 29, 2015 at 7:38 am

      Metro Detroit has had no problem maintaining 3 of these for 25 years, I think Oregon would manage it. Your argument isn’t really applicable here – you’re talking about local streets (city-managed), and this would have to be an ODOT project since it deals with a state highway.

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      • davemess January 29, 2015 at 8:25 am

        Does ODOT have some huge surplus of money that we don’t know about?

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        • matt picio January 29, 2015 at 10:14 pm

          No, but they’re not exactly paupers. The highways are paved, the bridges aren’t crumbling, and if they channeled some of the cash they used on the so far disasterous Hwy 20 project, something like this is totally doable. In any case, it’s worth exploring.

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      • J_R January 29, 2015 at 8:37 am

        After all, Detroit is a booming city with lots of employment opportunities, a budget surplus, and ….

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        • matt picio January 29, 2015 at 10:08 pm

          Metro Detroit, not Detroit. The Metro area is 5 million people. The 696 plazas are technically in the suburb of Oak Park. And actually, the area does have lots of employment opportunities, and a pretty decent economy. It’s not 2008 anymore, and neither metro Detroit nor metro Portland is at the bottom of the employment barrel anymore.

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      • meh January 29, 2015 at 12:29 pm

        I’m talking about streets, highways, bridges and all manner of infrastructure at all levels. Because ODOT is doing a bang up job maintaining state roads. Driven 82nd lately, otherwise known as OR-213?

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    • Pete January 29, 2015 at 10:21 am

      Lots of people said that about the Big Dig when it was proposed, and as a project it went RIDICULOUSLY over budget, but a great deal of the money came from federal budgets (just like California’s water system). If the money is there at the federal level – even when it isn’t, really – then somebody somewhere in the US will spend it. If it can be spent in Oregon that tends to be better for you guys.

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      • Pete January 29, 2015 at 10:24 am

        And believe me, there were plenty of other places where the money could have been much better spent in Boston at that time (but they wouldn’t have gotten it from the federal gov’t for those purposes… my point is we’re not talking about logic here).

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  • Lester Burnham January 29, 2015 at 7:24 am

    There looks like some excellent potential for future bike chop shop locations in there.

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  • Geoff Grummon January 29, 2015 at 9:03 am

    AIA Portland held an ideas competition on this issue last year:

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  • Tom January 29, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Cover them all!

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  • paikiala January 29, 2015 at 9:23 am

    North Portland deserves this more.

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    • Pete January 29, 2015 at 10:26 am

      I’d (genuinely) like to hear your ideas.

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      • paikiala January 29, 2015 at 11:00 am

        I-5, Fremont to Lombard.

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        • Pete January 29, 2015 at 3:08 pm

          One can dream! Though I suspect we’re talking about a different scale of cost/impact. Boston’s project centered around a primarily commercial area, fringed with neighborhoods not unlike N Portland in cost-of-living demographic at that time. It was primarily intended to decrease congestion in its critical artery, basically because they’d run out of room to widen lanes on the surface, and just like stacking in cemeteries it makes sense on paper when land values are rising fast. It was also opposed with a tremendous outcry because of the (poorer) people it displaced, not unlike the Guadalupe Pkwy did in San Jose. (You’d also see that outcry with your proposal, of course).

          BTW for those unfamiliar with the Big Dig, look up the “South Station Connector Boston” in maps, and then follow the satellite imagery overlaid on top of Interstate 1. The network of parks was inspired by Frederick Law Olmstead who had also designed the Back Bay Fens (that Fenway Pahk takes its name from) and parks in our nation’s capitol. Plus I don’t believe you can build very high on top of an underground artery because of the underground infrastructure that goes into securing taller buildings these days.

          Come to think of it, your proposal would probably cost about the same as a CRC… 😉

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    • James Sherbondy January 29, 2015 at 3:54 pm

      And the parts or town without sidewalks, where people are getting killed, deserve sidewalks and safety measures even more than N. Portland deserves an aesthetic covering.

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  • redhippie January 29, 2015 at 9:24 am

    If this was a revenue neutral option, sure. If a developer wants to takcel it in return for putting a tower or as mitigation for something else, that would be great.

    If there is any public money involved, it would just be rediculous. We have a instestate bridge that will fail in the next quake, the roads are rapidly degrading, there are no side walks in parts of the city, etc. etc. How much civic good can be accomplished for what this boondogle would cost? The extra wide park overpass near PSU is almost never used. I suspect the same arguments were rasied when it was proposed.

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    • matt picio January 29, 2015 at 10:16 pm

      “the roads are rapidly degrading” – at the state level? This would be a state project, and state roads are in pretty good shape. City, County, and State roads have very different budgets. If this were to be built, it would be an ODOT project.

      That said, seismic issues with the existing Interstate bridges are a legitimate concern.

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      • davemess January 30, 2015 at 9:35 am

        As someone suggested above. Go take a drive on 82nd and get back to us with that statement.

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  • Gerik January 29, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    I enjoyed the event this morning and look forward to this community conversation. Anything we can do to stitch our communities back together around, over, under, and through the footprint of major highways is a worthy effort.

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  • Paul January 29, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Ok idea, but the main result is a noisy, empty grassy area with no trees and views of a pit full of moving cars. If they really want to close the gap with a bridge, consider something like the Ponte Vecchio in Italy (, where the bridge REALLY IS an extension of the city. Something with a cozy, sheltered, pedestrian-friendly and car-free area down the middle, with multi-story shops on either side to block the vehicle noise.

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    • davemess January 29, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      That’s not a high bar at all! All we need to do is duplicate one of the most historic and iconic bridges on the planet! 🙂

      It is an interesting idea though.

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    • Pete January 29, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      It is indeed a lovely experience, but I wonder if it would pass modern American seismology standards? I wonder how much can really be built given what’s needed (underneath) to shore up multi-storey buildings these days?

      I’m looking forward to hearing more about what was discussed at this meeting…

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson January 30, 2015 at 10:25 am

    The Broadway/Weidler/Williams/Vancouver intersection(s) is a prime candidate for some innovative overpasses over I-5. Several blocks along Streetcar could be created there for development if its done right. ODOT has a publicly vetted plan to add a southbound auxiliary lane between the Broadway exit and I-84, and retail, housing and commercial projects are following the Eastside Streetcar line, so there could be private sector participation in something creative there.

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