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Should the I-205 path be named after onetime Portlander Woody Guthrie?

Posted by on May 9th, 2016 at 4:11 pm

I-205 Path Ride - Pedalpalooza-45

The not-so-memorably named I-205 Multi-use Path.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

There’s an intriguing idea at the bottom of The Oregonian’s nicely written piece today about folksinger Woody Guthrie’s ties to Portland.

The article (which is actually the last from former transportation reporter Joseph Rose, who’s headed to a job on the East Coast) focuses on the 30 intensely creative days the Oklahoma-born folksinger spent in a 400-square-foot apartment in Lents in spring 1941. It’s two blocks from the trail, and still available for rent today.

Guthrie was visiting for a one-month gig with the Bonneville Power Authority, which paid him $266.66 to write 26 songs promoting hydroelectric power on the Columbia. They turned out to include some of his enduring classics about the people who helped win World War II by industrializing the West Coast: “Roll On, Columbia,” “Grand Coulee Dam,” “Oregon Trail” and “Pastures of Plenty.”

Here’s a recording of his Grand Coulee Dam:

Now in Washington and Oregon you hear the factories hum
Making chrome and making manganese and white aluminum
And there rose a flying fortress now to fight for Uncle Sam
Spawned upon the King Columbia by the big Grand Coulee Dam

Late in the article, Rose quotes ROSE Community Development Corporation director Nick Sauvie, who sees an opportunity for commemorating Guthrie’s visit by naming East Portland’s most important north-south bikeway in his honor.

Sauvie hopes the city or the state renames a street or landmark in Lents to recognize the neighborhood’s role in the Guthrie legacy.

For years, he has lobbied the Oregon Transportation Commission to change the name of the car-free I-205 Multi-use Path a couple blocks from the apartment to Woody Guthrie Trail.

The state has been resistant, saying it rarely names transportation routes after people and, besides, those people must have made a lasting and significant contribution to Oregon. Guthrie’s wildly productive 30 days in Portland don’t fit neatly into that criteria, the bureaucrats say.

Sauvie disagrees.

“A lot of people already call it the Woody Guthrie Trail,” Sauvie said. “The ‘I-205 Multi-use Path’ doesn’t exactly drip off the tongue.”

Just last week, a friend of mine who works in Lents (a few blocks from Guthrie’s old place, it turns out) said he didn’t want to use the 205 path to get there because it’s close to the freeway. That’s true enough — but I’ve never heard him talk about avoiding the east-side MAX lines because of their equal proximity to freeways. (Not to mention avoid driving on a freeway because of its proximity to a freeway.) So it’s easy for me to imagine that a biking-walking path named after an Interstate highway might have a branding problem.

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I called Sauvie to learn more.

“There was actually a push maybe four years ago,” Sauvie said Monday. “I actually talked to a couple people like Jefferson Smith when he was in the legislature and Randy Leonard when he was in city council. There wasn’t a lot of interest in kind of carrying that ball forward, and I got busy with other stuff. But I’ve got a pretty good list of people who were interested in that idea.”

Among the potential backers, he said, are labor leaders, who respect Guthrie’s role in the Depression-era labor movement; local researchers studying Huntington’s disease, the neurological disorder that would kill Guthrie in New York City 26 years later; and Peter Yarrow, the frontman of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary that drew on and covered Guthrie’s music.

The Woody Guthrie Trail, in fact, already has a Facebook page with 800 fans.

That’s enough to make it 40 times more popular (on Facebook, at least) than Interstate 84, whose namesake Thomas Harry Banfield is remembered today mostly for having run the Oregon Department of Transportation just before the freeway era.

Sauvie forwarded an email from Shelli Romero of the Oregon Department of Transportation, which controls the I-205 path. She said the state can only name one of its transportation routes after a person in a situation that meets all four of these criteria:

1. The person must have been deceased for at least a year
2. The facility is long enough with defined endpoints
3. There is demonstrated statewide support
4. The person made a lasting and significant and historic contribution to Oregon

Sauvie, whose nonprofit develops affordable housing in the Lents area, thinks the case can be made.

“It was really amazing work in a month’s time to write 26 songs, and I really think the songs are some of the best things I can think of that really evoke the Northwest,” he said. “It’s really striking how some neighborhoods get a lot of attention and have a lot of assets and investment. There’s conversely a lot of neighborhoods that don’t get a lot of attention and what attention they do get is bad. I think it’s really important to celebrate the history and the contributions that all of Portland have brought to the community.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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gutterbunnybikes
Guest

It would be more appropriate for the Columbia River Gorge bike route.

dwk
Guest
dwk

Absolutely!

Jason
Guest
Jason

But it doesn’t actually follow the CRG.

ricochet
Guest
ricochet

THE REALLY GOOD NEWS HERE IS THAT JOE ROSE IS GOING AWAY! ONE YEAR AND 3 DAYS AFTER THE U-LOCK INCIDENT!

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

I don’t think it’s Joe Rose that is a problem- I think it’s The O, which consistently represents a very conservative viewpoint. Their slow demise has intensified that, strangely enough.

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

It’s ironic that conservatives think the O is a liberal newspaper and liberals think it is a conservative one.

9watts
Subscriber

It is only ironic if you elide the fact that these sorts of things can be assessed objectively. Calling the Oregonian (by which we tend to mean the editorial side of things) a liberal paper doesn’t pass the laugh test.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

The culture wars can effect businesses too – like newspapers with falling subscriptions and revenue.

Kittens
Guest
Kittens

Joe had already been sort of demoted by the O a year ago or so.

Not a fan of his decidedly ham-fisted style and penchant for stirring the sh**.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

I hope this marks a trend where we stop naming things for historical figures whose main contribution was pushing multilane highways through quiet human scaled neighborhoods (Jackson), or killing native americans (Fremont).

Spiffy
Subscriber

the 205 path is a horrible thing to associate to such a fun person…

I too avoid the path and would rather bike on 82nd as I have multiple times… it’s hilly and loud/smelly from freeway traffic… there’s nothing to look at except the freeway since they built most of it on the freeway side of the sound barrier wall…

ok for a short trip, but when I need to go north for miles you’ll see me on 82nd ave before you see me on the 205 path…

Terry D-M
Guest
Terry D-M

We need to name it SOMETHING. I will support any locally preferred option.

Robert Burchett
Guest
Robert Burchett

Name it for Dan Quayle, he was kind of significant for Oregon, more fun than the 205 bike path, and I’m OK with pretending he is dead.

daisy
Guest
daisy

I get it, I do, but do we really need another piece of infrastructure in Portland dedicated to a dead white guy? He lived here a month. One! And in a part of town that’s home to a growing population of people of color. And in a region that was, until a few hundred years ago, the home of indigenous people whose history has been nearly erased.

Why not name it for working people or some such?

9watts
Subscriber

This could cut so many ways.

Romero says:
the state can only name one of its transportation routes after a person in a situation that meets all four of these criteria:

1. The person must have been deceased for at least a year
2. The facility is long enough with defined endpoints
3. There is demonstrated statewide support
4. The person made a lasting and significant and historic contribution to Oregon

which is funny given the recent kerfuffle over renaming SE 39th after Cesar Chavez. I realize that 39th/Chavez isn’t a state route, but the case for Woody Guthrie seems stronger to me than the case for Chavez (though I think having renamed 39th after him is fine).

dan
Guest
dan

How long did Cesar Chavez live in Portland?

daisy
Guest
daisy

Renaming 39th to Chavez street was a City of Portland decision. The I205 path is controlled by Oregon DOT.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

The same amount of time as MLK, Washington, Madison, _____other dead presidents, etc. who lived here…actually President Grant is likely the only dead US President with a Portland street name that also lived in the Oregon Territory (Vancouver).

F
Guest
F

Wow, complaining about Woody Guthrie for being white. I’ve heard some pathetic stretching at attempts to put down people but that’s pretty out there.

anna
Guest
anna

it’s not about woody guthrie specifically, it’s about the erasing of the histories and exclusion of communities of people of color in the area.
it’s not your turn. listen to the frustrations of folks who live outside of the portland bubble.

daisy
Guest
daisy

Thanks, Anna. This was brilliantly stated.

BB
Guest
BB

I’m not white and I don’t live in portland, I just have a hard time staying quiet when people are more willing to point fingers in any direction blaming others instead of taking initiative on their own. Thanks for your assumptions though, they fit right in line with your talking points.

Cora Potter
Guest
Cora Potter

Yep. There’s white (my skin is white but that’s about it) and then there’s White (my skin is white and I’ve never had to subvert my own needs or desires because of economic disadvantage or other social constraints – and in fact I, regularly and with self awareness, use my advantages to secure more social/political/economic capital).

Woody Guthrie is not the latter.

Cora Potter
Guest
Cora Potter
daisy
Guest
daisy

I’m definitely not complaining that Woody Guthrie is white. I don’t understand what that means.

I am concerned about lionizing a non-local white man above others, including women and people of color, who might not be as famous but have contributed a great deal more to Portland.

“Yep. There’s white (my skin is white but that’s about it) and then there’s White (my skin is white and I’ve never had to subvert my own needs or desires because of economic disadvantage or other social constraints – and in fact I, regularly and with self awareness, use my advantages to secure more social/political/economic capital).”

White privilege isn’t something we can choose not to have. It’s dangerous to think that, for example, being poor and white means you have no more advantages that someone who is poor and a person of color.

Cora Potter
Guest
Cora Potter

Sure enough – but I also think it’s important to recognize that Guthrie was the definition of an ally before an ally was even a thing.

Cora Potter
Guest
Cora Potter

And – in this case, he lived right by where the 205 path was eventually built, and contributed significantly to aspects of Oregon culture that are shared, positive, cultural resources – regardless of race.

It’s not a zero sum game. We can start naming other streets and bridges and parks and places for local Portland POC too. It’s just that, in this case, the geography and history of the communities near the 205 path point to naming it for Woodie Guthrie.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I really don’t like renaming things without a good reason. Naming things after me is probably a good reason, but that’s where I draw the line. (Well, I might rename Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People, because I find that name a little too short.)

daisy
Guest
daisy

This isn’t really about Guthrie’s views on race, but it seems a lot more complicated than him being an unabashed ally. His dad was in the Klan and he was openly racist himself.
http://www.laweekly.com/music/little-known-fact-woody-guthrie-was-a-big-ol-racist-2412272

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Do we deem people worthy by the best of what they accomplished, or the worst of their character flaws? Is there anyone pure enough?

daisy
Guest
daisy

That’s a strawman argument. I wasn’t arguing Guthrie is terrible and nothing should be named for him, but, rather, that he wasn’t necessarily a lifelong ally to people of color. But his allyship isn’t the issue anyway. I get that folks love Guthrie and his connection to Portland. I don’t think naming that bike path for him would best serve our community.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I think we should name it after someone who rides bikes. I vote for Rev. Phil.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Should race be an explicit consideration when naming infrastructure?

daisy
Guest
daisy

It’s always been an implicit factor. So why not make it explicit?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Chavez, Rosa Parks, MLK, Naito… which was the white man?

daisy
Guest
daisy

Really? Okay… Couch, Marquam, Burnside, Fremont, Morrison, Lincoln, Grant, Harrison, Everett, Ankeny, Davis, Thurman, Marshall, Lovejoy, Flanders, Glisan, Reed, Upshur, Overton, Pettygrove, Raleigh, Savier, Vaughn, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kearney, Irving, Johnson, York, Chapman, and so on.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

To me, those are a bit different… when you’re building a new frontier city, it kind of makes sense that you’d name your local streets after the local “important” people of the day.

In any event, all the recent names I know of (which the ones I posted) seemed to have removed the implicit requirement of being white, if that was in fact the explanation for those earlier names.

daisy
Guest
daisy

This seems to presume we are starting from neutral. I see those earlier names as being part of historical practices which excluded recognition of people of color and women. It’s not just that they had limited opportunities to contribute, but when they did, those contributions weren’t recognized.

So I don’t think we’re starting from neutral.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Your argument seems to be that because of past racial injustice (which is undeniable), we cannot name things after people descended from Europeans (unless their ancestors were from Spain). I am not sure what you mean by “starting from neutral,” but I think if someone has contributed to our culture or our city in such a way that we want to name a piece of infrastructure after them, their family ancestry should not be a consideration. In the past it may have been a factor (though I would argue an indirect one), but that doesn’t mean we should continue the practice.

I don’t like naming things after people in any event… I like boring but functional names like “Broadway Bridge”, or historically interesting names like “Steel Bridge”.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

It is also easier for land division and development…and it may have been a later renaming process that Portland did when unifying the street naming conventions of the streets of annexed cities.

Adam
Subscriber

Hey now. I’m pretty sure Flanders, Lovejoy, and Kearney were yellow, not white. 😉

Isn’t there also a Simpson Street somewhere in town?

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

quimby, montgomery park, burnside.

Adam
Subscriber

Don’t forget Van Houten Avenue.

Jason
Guest
Jason

How about the off ramp to homelessville?

Al Dimond
Guest

… which could very well be the title of a Woody Guthrie song…

Mark Coy
Guest
Mark Coy

Seems fitting to name the Springwater trail aka “the homeless hwy” after Woody Guthrie.

“One low-point must have been his arrest on charges of vagrancy in Portland, Oregon, a town he was never too fond of”

Maxadders
Guest
Maxadders

I’d prefer we don’t encourage the destruction of our public resources. When Woody Guthrie was around, being homeless was about wanting to work when there was none. These days it’s about mental health and substance abuse problems, and the “travelers” who choose not to work. Squatting on paths, drinking, stealing and harassing the working class neighbors is not likely something Woody would have wanted to be remembered for.

Beth H
Guest

How about we take the money we’d spend on re-naming this thing — including signage, map reissuing and more — and use it to actually address some of the real problems of homelessness? I know it’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s too easy to throw a small amount of money and energy at something like this, feel good about ourselves and take a break from the real, far more demanding work at hand.
Sorry. I’m wearing my grumpypants and I’m tired of symbolism and window dressing.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Bravo, Beth, our region’s politicians are addicted to crap like that. I grew up in a California family in the 60’s, we boycotted lettuce, grapes, etc., and our parents told us that Cesar Chavez was one of the good guys–but what on earth did he have to do with Portland? Maybe not even as much as Woody G. It would be good to hear someone in office declare that symbolism is no longer affordable!

Maxadders
Guest
Maxadders

How about we take that money and use it to enforce the laws that protect our public resources from abuse? It’s offensive that we’ve caved to the demands of activists who are using an unwitting homeless / transient squatter population to push their own agendas.

I want my parks and paths back!

Jason
Guest
Jason

Actually, I like the name Butte view path or Parkrose to Gladstone path. Nothing wrong with a geographical name.

daisy
Guest
daisy

Hey, let’s name it after Minoru Yasui! Do you all know about him? He was from Hood River, went to U of Oregon, and briefly practiced law in Oregon. Most significantly, he found the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and was recently awarded (posthumously) the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minoru_Yasui

canuck
Guest
canuck

“he found the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II”……I think he fought against the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII

daisy
Guest
daisy

Yes, thanks!

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

How about cleaning up all the trash, illegal camps, and broken glass before renaming it?

daisy
Guest
daisy

Here’s my next suggestion: Marie Equi!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Equi

David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC
Guest
David Hampsten, now in Greensboro NC

Senator John “Bluto” Blutarsky, a completely fictional character from “Animal House” (played by John Belushi 1978). The Blutarsky MUP.

Rolls off the tongue, never was alive, well-known in and outside of Oregon. True, Animal House was filmed in and around Eugene, but who cares?

Joe Adamski
Guest
Joe Adamski

Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy IS a native son.. and has been dead for decades, thanks to Big Nurse.

J_R
Guest
J_R

Wait. Wait. Haven’t we decided that the BPA and its dams are evil because they had severe detrimental impacts on salmon and on Native Americans? How could we possibly rationalize naming something for someone like Woody Guthrie who took money from the WPA and was complicit in this environmental disaster and near genocide?

Angel
Guest
Angel

THIS

flightlessbird
Guest
flightlessbird

well this pokes the bear

Doug
Guest
Doug

I have a couple names for the 205 bike path but I like Woody Guthrie and would involve him in my vulgarity.

Not very thoughtful of them to place it in between the fast lanes on the bridge. About as close to HELL ON EARTH as one can get on a bicycle. I guess I’m glad they allow us on the bridge at all. Going into Oregon it’s as little fun as you can have going downhill; metal plates were put on the path by people who have never ridden a bicycle apparently.

Bottom line 205 bike path is a shit hole and I would name it after anybody I liked.

Dave
Guest
Dave

The Lars Larson bike path?

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

Just look at any of the streets that have been renamed (and at great cost to taxpayers). Has anything improved because of it? How about just leaving things alone. Stick your new names on new infrastructure. The 205 bike path is just that. A bike path. We don’t need some dumb “feel good” name.

Brian
Guest
Brian

I vote for Jerry A., a nod to the front man for Poison Idea. The 205 is way more punk rock than folk. \m/

SE
Guest
SE

Doug

Bottom line 205 bike path is a shit hole and I would name it after anybody I liked.
Recommended 1

205 path from Stark to CTC is OK. Don’t paint the entire thing with the same vulgarity.

but naming it for Woody is just naming things just to be naming things OR to generate web hits …NOT based in reality.

Brian E
Guest
Brian E

We sang “Roll on Columbia” in our 5th-6th grade Choir in the 70’s. Along with “This Land is My Land”. Now there’s some History. Guthrie’s influence lives on in his songs.

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

The effort to name the 205 trail for Woody actually started with local folks in Lents. The late Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul, & Mary) heard about it during a trip to Portland and put her name in support of the idea just before she died. She wanted to return to help dedicate it as the Woody Gutherie trail. The only supposedly public monument to him in Oregon at the moment is at the BPA HQ building in the Lloyd Center area. It’s located right behind the security check at the front door. Homeland Security regulations prohibit photographing it. A photographer from the Oregonian found out about that a few years back. When folks in Lents heard about that, they came up with the idea of putting Woody’s name to the 205 trail as a more suitable way to recognize him.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Why do we think it’s an honor to give someone’s name to our crappiest facilities? MLK? Chavez? Hello? If we want to honor Guthrie, let’s rename the Springwater in his honor, not some concrete trail alongside a major highway.

Besides, I want to call the I-205 bike route “The Hello, Kitty Bicycle SuperMax.” I like the way that rolls off the tongue.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

…and you are pure! “Enough.”
😉

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Pure enough for the Supermax? Probably. Possibly. I think so. Maybe. Sure, what the hell?

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Oh, I wasn’t challenging! Only affirming. 🙂

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

If not Woody Guthrie for 205, give him Springwater. As for the 205, Obama ensured the trail was well lit as part of the stimulus package at the time, something that would sure be welcomed on the Springwater. So it would have to wait for 30-40 years because of his relative youth and good health, but Obama Boulevard might be on option. I know I remember him for the lights every time I ride the path at night.

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

Why don’t we just stop renaming things? It’s never felt awkward for me to say “the 205 path”

Matt
Guest
Matt

I’m still waiting on the “Working” Kirk Reeves Bridge.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

And do not forget I-205 Bridge is a bi-state facility so do let us Washingtonians into the voting process.

Though I have to support Woody for the Gorge bike route…a much tighter nexus and likely a bigger boon for bike tourism in those rural areas he sang about vs. the Plaid Pantry or traffic on 82nd Avenue.

Tom Howe (Contributor)
Subscriber

ROSE Community Development has built an affordable housing complex called Woody Guthrie Place near the house where he lived, and it’s about ready for occupancy. Puddlecycle will have ride there on February 23 with Nick Sauvie giving us an overview of the complex:

https://www.facebook.com/events/396353000927579