“Who doesn’t need something to smile about right now? There’s nothing that says our infrastructure shouldn’t add a little joy to life as well.”
— Jo Ann Hardesty, PBOT Commissioner
In a move that shows Portland’s trademark weirdness is still in tact, City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty announced at a press conference this morning that the Flanders Crossing Bridge that opened back in June will henceforth be known as the Ned Flanders Crossing. The new name comes with an official proclamation (PDF) and the full blessing of Springfield (Oregon) Mayor Sean VanGordon and The Simpsons Creator Matt Groening, who was born in Portland and went to high school just a half-mile away from the bridge.
Ned Flanders is a recurring character on The Simpsons described on The Simpsons wiki page as the, “extremely religious next door neighbor,” and, “a genuinely well-meaning good-natured person.” The bridge’s old name (and the existing street that still bears it) comes from George Flanders, a ship captain and businessman who took over a land claim in northwest Portland in 1845. In a fun twist, the Ned Flanders character was named after Flanders Street to begin with, it’s just one of many ways Groening wove his hometown into the show.
In another twist, the new name was a total secret prior to this morning’s announcement. The Pearl District Neighborhood Association tweeted this morning that, “This is the first we’re hearing of this at all.” There’s also a debate among civic advocates on Twitter this morning that PBOT missed a huge opportunity by naming the bridge after another white man, the third time in the past year they’ve done that. In April 2019, PBOT named the forthcoming carfree bridge over I-84 after sitting U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer. And in April of last year, a railroad overcrossing in southeast Portland was named after Metro Councilor Bob Stacey.
At the press conference, Commissioner Hardesty said the new bridge on NW Flanders Street deserved a moniker that would have wide recognition. “[The bridge is] in short, a big deal,” Hardesty said, “And we need an instantly recognizable name that would also be a big deal.” It was clear from Hardesty’s speech that the Portland Bureau of Transportation was eager to inject some levity into our lives.
“When people think of bridges, roads, sidewalks and bike lanes, they don’t usually think of fun. They don’t usually smile as they’re sitting at a traffic signal or heading down a street. But why not?” Hardesty said prior to revealing the new name. “Well, who doesn’t need something to smile about right now? While we are hard at work on recovering from this severe pandemic? There’s nothing that says our infrastructure shouldn’t add a little joy to life as well.”
(2021 Ned Flanders Ride held on June 9th as part of Pedalpalooza. Photos: Rebecca Hamilton)
Springfield Mayor Sean VanGordon also spoke of the need for fun and normalcy in these trying times, and said he jumped at the chance to link his city more closely to Portland. “When I had this opportunity to partner it’s something I just couldn’t pass up. In the coming years it is truly vital that all of Oregon works together and commit ourselves to this collective mission as Oregonians.”
The Simpsons mural in downtown Springfield is a major community hub and tourist attraction, Mayor VanGordon shared. It’s unclear whether a bridge can attract as much attention. Right now the only visual change is a new plaque on the ground at the northeast entrance of the bridge. It’s a bronze cast with a bas relief of a waving Ned Flanders and his famous catchphrase, “Hi-Diddly-Ho, neighborinos!”
VanGordon also presented Hardesty with a key to the city that included the message, “To our friends in Portland from your neighbor-inos in the real Springfield! Wishing you years of smiles on the Ned Flanders Crossing!”
In a brief interview following the press conference, PBOT Communications Coordinator Hannah Schafer said there are no other plans to add more aesthetic elements to the bridge to make it more recognizable as a part of The Simpsons lore. “We wanted it to be subtle,” Schafer said. “But I’m looking forward to when the Google Maps will say Ned Flanders Crossing.”
Schafer said the idea to come up with a name began in 2019. An October 2019 story in The Willamette Week said the idea was floated at a Pearl District Neighborhood Association meeting and their co-chair Reza Farhoodi (also a member of the PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee who championed the bridge for years along with PBOT project manager Zef Wagner) put forward local author Ursula Le Guin or Oregon civil rights advocate Beatrice Morrow Cannady (a Black woman). Interestingly, Farhoodi is also a big fan of The Simpsons and has organized a Ned Flanders-themed Pedalpalooza ride for the past several years (in photos above).
As for concerns about naming yet another PBOT bridge after a white man? I didn’t ask Schafer or Commissioner Hardesty about that specifically at the event but have followed up and will update the story when I hear back. Schafer did say, however, that the Ned Flanders idea came from within PBOT and when they presented it to Hardesty, “She thought it was a great idea and was really on board.” Schafer also said they wanted to maintain the wayfinding benefits of the Alphabet District (where the streets are in alphabetical order). “We didn’t want to stray too far away from the name because we knew that folks who travel through here really rely on numerical and alphabetical nature of the neighborhood. And so it really just felt like a good fit.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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