Portland names new carfree bridge after The Simpsons character

(Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, Springfield Mayor Sean VanGordon, and Travel Oregon CEO Jeff Miller at today’s press conference. Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“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.”

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(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 jonathan@bikeportland.org
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J_R
J_R
9 months ago

I’d rather that the money and the effort of naming the bridge, creating and mounting the plaque, and holding the event had been spent on providing useful and safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

PATRICK
PATRICK
9 months ago
Reply to  J_R

Don’t be a diddilo dodo grumperoo!

Bozo The Clown
Bozo The Clown
9 months ago
Reply to  J_R

4 more sharrows would have some utility, no?

Torridjoe
Torridjoe
9 months ago

The “the Black lady said it was OK” response is a little awkward as justification; he could have simply gone with the other, substantive reasons they thought it made sense. And really, Ned Flanders is a) not a white guy, he is a drawing, and b) even as white guys go in theory it would be harder to find one more benign.

joan
joan
9 months ago
Reply to  Torridjoe

Ned Flanders is absolutely drawn and coded as white. Just like we know that Apu is Indian (there was an entire documentary about Apu!) and Carl is Black. And the Simpsons only made a move to stop white actors voicing non-white actors in the past year or so. Which is to say, the creators of this show are telling us Ned is white, too.

Torridjoe
Torridjoe
9 months ago
Reply to  joan

He is still not a white guy. He is a fictional character.

soren
9 months ago
Reply to  Torridjoe

joan made the valid point that Ned Landers is coded as white (e.g. depicted as white in a work of fiction). Torridjoe’s strange non-sequitur repetition of Ned Landers fictional basis in response to joan’s observation is probably an example of white male grievance, (ATMO).

hamiramani
9 months ago

I like the levity and quirky nature of the name. I also agree with keeping with the Alphabet District nomenclature. I think PBOT should do more fun things like this and maybe even hire local artists to paint a Simpsons mural on the bridge.

Bjorn
Bjorn
9 months ago

Missed opportunity to have the band Okilly Dokilly play a set at the celebration announcement.

David Raboin
David Raboin
9 months ago

For all you haters: tourist dollars and Portland’s brand identity are how we pay for improvements. Also, if this publicity stunt means more people go home to their car-centric suburban lives having enjoyed biking, walking, or scootering in our city, all the better. You’ve got to capture people’s imaginations somehow. I’d like to see people going home from Portland as budding bike advocates.

Clem Fandango
Clem Fandango
9 months ago

It’s a little try hard isn’t it? We can still pretend we’re fun and whimsical! As long as you don’t step on a needle or roll through some human poop anyway.

plm
plm
9 months ago
Reply to  Clem Fandango

yes I hear you, Clem Fandango

FDUP
FDUP
9 months ago

I would hardly call this naming another bridge after a white man, it’s a cartoon character; not everything has to be deadly serious and come with racial overtones!

K'Tesh
K'Tesh
9 months ago

“PBOT missed a huge opportunity by naming the bridge after another white man, the third time in the past year they’ve done that.”

Ned is not a “white man”…. He’s a yellow cartoon character.

Starbreaker
Starbreaker
9 months ago

Stupid sexy Flanders!

qqq
qqq
9 months ago

I like it. Next can we name the Morrison Bridge after Jim Morrison?

Torridjoe
Torridjoe
9 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Or Toni

Tad
Tad
9 months ago

Love it! Portland needs to get a bit Austin though to keep tents off the Ned Flanders bridge.

https://www.austintexas.gov/news/dozens-homeless-encampments-visited-part-camping-ban-implementation

oliver
oliver
9 months ago
Reply to  Tad

I believe the ban on being houseless is statewide and we should no more emulate Texas than we do Hungary or Brazil.

Because —- Texas, that’s why.

Yuki F.
Yuki F.
9 months ago
Reply to  oliver

oliver,
Nope, no ban as long as you can offer shelter. Seattle has an initiative to ban public camping as well.

The Dude
The Dude
9 months ago
Reply to  Yuki F.

The new rule under the Boise case is the opposite: The city can ban camping if they make a bed available. If no shelter space is available, camping cannot be punished because it violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment by criminalizing something that the person cannot control (having nowhere to sleep on private property).

This decision is great because it puts the onus on the cities to do their damn job. Build the shelter space necessary to house your population, then you have a clearly legal and humane way to clean up the public space so it can be returned for public use!

No doubt Wheeler and other do-nothings will continue to whine and find excuses. But the responsibility and fault for this situation is all on them.

Roberta Robles
Roberta Robles
9 months ago

Less we not forget who Mr. Burns is… Van Brocklin on the OTC. And there are 2 Smithers… Travis Bauer and Mike Strickland. Both Smither twins.

joel
joel
9 months ago

leave it to portland to not do their background check work…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQSmvmzO-Nk

The Dude
The Dude
9 months ago

I’m surprised there wasn’t a rundown of all the other Portland streets that Groenig named characters after. Sideshow Bob Terwilliger, Mayor Quimby, Reverend Lovejoy, etc.

The Dude
The Dude
9 months ago

Ok, one more. There is an “Evergreen Terrace” high up in the West Hills, not far from the Zoobomb route. There is no number “732”, but I understand there was one before Oregon went to five-digit address numbers. It’s a short cul-de-sac across the steep slope, so there aren’t many choices as to which one Matt … I mean, Bart, grew up in.

I paid a visit one day. It doesn’t look much like Bart’s house, but I’m pretty sure I found it. I have an Easter Egg for it in my book. And I must say, a skateboard would be quite a wild ride from there to school each morning.

Bob
Bob
9 months ago

My mother was born on the north side of Flanders Street right about in the middle of the bridge in 1925. This was before they dug the huge trench that is now I-405. Her eight other brothers and sisters were also born in the house. Her parents were Chinese immigrants. At the time, few immigrants went to the hospital to give birth.
Several other Chinese families lived on this street back then. My mother turns 96 on Monday. She has watched with interest as the new bike bridge was installed. Her family name is Lee and we toyed with the idea that the bridge should be named the Lee Crossing. Naming it after Ned Flanders is just another disappointingly weird Portland thing. My mother did go to Lincoln High School (when it was in PSU’s Lincoln Hall), so I guess she has something in common with Matt Groening.

SERider
SERider
9 months ago

Hens love roosters
Geese love ganders
Everybody else loves….. Ned Flanders!

Sigma
Sigma
9 months ago
Reply to  SERider

Except for self-loathing “progressives” hell bent on ensuring that no one has fun or enjoys anything, ever again.

The Dude
The Dude
9 months ago
Reply to  Sigma

What’s it called when you do exactly what you’re complaining about others doing?

Bozo The Clown
Bozo The Clown
9 months ago

Naming just about anything after clowns or cartoon characters is perfect for Portland. They should name the building where the mayor and city council work in the same manner. Should we start a naming contest?

Lying Politician
Lying Politician
9 months ago
Reply to  Bozo The Clown

The state capitol is already known as the Marble Nut House – a perfect fit!