Fire under Steel Bridge sparks renewed push for skatepark

Steel Bridge Skatepark rendering by DAO Architecture.

“The revitalization of our community is needed now more than ever, and [the Steel Bridge Skatepark] is the perfect way to bring people back to spaces they know and love.”

-Push Movement

On a hot evening last July, a group of skateboarding advocates journeyed to the downtown Portland site they hope will one day be home to the halfpipes and ramps of the Steel Bridge Skatepark. Longtime Portland multimodal transportation advocate Ryan Hashagen roller-skated to the site while towing a wheelbarrow full of concrete, which skaters later laid down in a “ceremonial groundbreaking.”

Right now, the Old Town site where the skatepark would be located (a lot co-owned by the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Oregon Department of Transportation bordered by NW Naito Parkway, 1st Avenue, and Everett St) is an overgrown and neglected patch of grass in the shadow of the Steel Bridge. It’s not a spot most people would gravitate toward after a trip to the Saturday Market or a stroll along the riverfront.

This point was hammered home earlier this month when a fire broke out right near the site within the base of the Steel Bridge. It turns out that people had been living inside the bridge base for an indefinite amount of time — the fact that nobody noticed speaks to the derelict conditions in the area. Now there’s a sense among advocates and others that the skatepark could help activate the space in a positive way. (We reached out to Portland Fire & Rescue for comment on the fire and potential impact of the skatepark, but have yet to hear back.)

(Map: BikePortland)

“I am eager to learn more about what might be possible…”

– Dan Ryan, Portland Parks commissioner

After delivering a well-received testimonial to Portland City Council back in September, skatepark boosters are doubling down on their requests for political support. Last week, pro-Steel Bridge Skatepark organizations wrote letters to Commissioner Dan Ryan (who now oversees the Portland Parks & Recreation bureau — asking him to direct Parks staff to provide project management and find funding for the skatepark.

Their work appears to be paying off: though it’s still early days, we have reports that Ryan’s office is taking the initial steps to make this happen. Though Parks funding is in flux right now, the bureau is looking for solutions to fund the $10 million skatepark.

The city’s economic and urban development agency, Prosper Portland, will grant $250,000 to the skatepark for preliminary engineering and design. This money comes from the Community Livability Grants Program under the Old Town Action Plan. Advocates hope will get the skateboard wheels turning while the bureau looks for the rest of the funds.

Because of silos in Portland city government, insiders worried inter-bureau divisions could interfere with progress, and they realized it would be crucial for the new PP&R bureau leader to cheerlead the skatepark to help it kick-flip over administrative obstacles. Luckily for supporters, it seems like Ryan is willing to be their guy.

Just to make sure, advocates have written Ryan’s office more testimony asking for his help. In a letter from transportation advocacy nonprofit The Street Trust, Planning and Programs Manager André Lightsey-Walker detailed requests to the commissioner for the park that he hopes will “serve as a nucleus for human connection” and a “place of community intersection, creativity, and personal growth.” These requests are as follows.

Push Movement, a Portland organization that promotes addiction recovery through skateboarding, also expressed their support for the project. Their letter puts a fine point on why access to public space is so important for building healthy communities and how these kinds of positive environments can have a ripple effect on everyone in the area.

“While the Steel Bridge Skatepark will be an incredible place to skate, in all seasons, it’s also designed for everyone in the neighborhood to enjoy, whether a skater or not. A genuine place for a diverse crowd to feel welcome. Its central location allows for people from everywhere to come and enjoy downtown Portland,” their letter to Ryan’s office states. “The revitalization of our community is needed now more than ever, and [the Steel Bridge Skatepark] is the perfect way to bring people back to spaces they know and love.”

In an email statement to BikePortland, Commissioner Ryan wrote: “I am eager to learn more about what might be possible in partnership with Prosper Portland, and current property owners PBOT and ODOT as well as community partners.  I expect a briefing on this in the coming weeks.”

This is just one plan in the works right now to reinvigorate public space in downtown Portland. A few blocks southwest of the skate park site, the O’Bryant Square rehabilitation is underway thanks to the Portland Parks Foundation. Boosters for both of these projects are excited about the potential to reimagine what our central city looks like, offering more free spaces for people to safely enjoy all Portland has to offer.

According to Prosper Portland, we should have more information about the skatepark plan in April.

Taylor Griggs

Taylor Griggs

Taylor was BikePortland's staff writer from 2021 to 2023. She currently writes for the Portland Mercury. Contact her at taylorgriggswriter@gmail.com

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Racer X
1 year ago

How many “skateparks” does an anarchist punk non-tax paying demographic need? 😉
[Just priming the discussion pump…like yelling “damn kids get off my lawn!”]

rick
rick
1 year ago
Reply to  Racer X

as many skateparks as there are metal studded SUV and car tires in Oregon.

Ray
Ray
1 year ago
Reply to  Racer X

Nice stereotyping there. Hope it was meant sarcastically. Bummed that it’s been said at all.

Racer X
1 year ago
Reply to  Ray

Yes it was sarcasm…thus the added wink emoji and the reference to a crazy old person yelling a kids playing.

Maybe Ray, you need a sarcasm safety word for you to make it clearer?

Ray
Ray
1 year ago
Reply to  Racer X

“It’s not sarcasm, it’s a speech impediment,” is a joke I say frequently to coworkers, friends, and strangers. I’m very adept at finding it in speech patterns. The wink emoji did tip me off, I was more saying that putting it out there will just give people who didn’t find the sarcasm something to latch onto. There are many people who agree with what you said…with no sarcasm.

I might liken that to a sarcastic statement of “Cyclists don’t pay for the roads! Why should we give them any of it?”

I don’t need a safe word…others might.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago

This would an incredible resource and a huge improvement to this site- I hope it can be accomplished! This seems like a great opportunity to fix a couple gaps in the bike network at once: Naito to the Steel Bridge and Flanders to the east (Naito, Waterfront, Steel)

Screenshot 2023-03-21 175649.jpg
joan
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

Better Naito does go to the Steel Bridge, pretty much to right where the red lines on your illustration are. It’s a bit of an awkward turn, and I’d love for it be fixed up, but the connection to there is quite easier, and easier than riding over the cobblestones a bit further south.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  joan

I am familiar, but the design of the path is for a bike traveling west from the bridge/waterfront and heading north on Naito/Front. If they make a connection to Flanders, I hope PBOT doesn’t take their recent tact of simply connecting to a the existing path that was not designed to turn south on Naito or cross it and and actually create a well-designed, functional bike intersection. All the ad hoc garbage over town significantly degrades the overall quality of the network, PBOT needs to seize these opportunities to make high quality infrastructure. If they connect to the existing path, and don’t rebuild it correctly, it will not be touched for 10-20 years. The details matter.

Charley
Charley
1 year ago

Sounds awesome! Gitterdone!

David Hampsten
1 year ago

PBOT, Parks & Rec, ODOT, UPRR, & TriMet all on one spot. Who’s missing?

Charley
Charley
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

I think we’re going to have to run this by the California EPA.

PS
PS
1 year ago

The same parks department that can’t replace light posts that exist currently in our parks is going to find funds for a $10MM skatepark in an area of downtown that needs “activation” because it is so awful and vacant that there were people living in the bottom of the Steel Bridge? Is the Burnside park so over run with skaters that this is in need?

maccoinnich
1 year ago
Reply to  PS

1) Parks has a large SDC fund built up, which can only be used on expansion of Parks capacity, not maintenance of existing assets.

2) At some point in the future the Burnside Skate Park is likely to be closed for years while construction of the new Burnside Bridge happens.

jakeco969
jakeco969
1 year ago

What’s that song that goes “Pave paradise, put up a parking(skateboard) lot”?

Greatdane
Greatdane
1 year ago

“It turns out that people had been living inside the bridge base for an indefinite amount of time — the fact that nobody noticed speaks to the derelict conditions in the area.”

As a person who lives a block from here and rides by multiple times a day, I can guarantee you plenty of people noticed (and reported).

Like another commenter, I struggle with the idea that we can spend this kind of money for a skate park, but can’t keep lights on in some parks. On the other hand, this (and other similar areas) could definitely use some positive improvement and this would have great gap-fixing potential.

Unfortunately, unless the city is actually going to start enforcing laws about camping and begin helping those in need in ways which don’t enable the status quo, I don’t see how this investment will actually change anything in that location. It will just be a fancier (less muddy!) spot to pitch a tent.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 year ago
Reply to  Greatdane

Yep, when that photo was taken, all those blue dots inside and outside the circle are campers. Not to worry many are still there.
I work in the area and am amazed at the number of campfires I see burning from those areas. Maybe a few fire pits should be installed in the skate park to make the campers feel more welcome.

maccoinnich
1 year ago

Semi related: has there been any progress on Naito Crossing at Flanders?

Ben
Ben
1 year ago

This would be a great use for some of the $160 million in system development charges the bureau is hoarding like some kind of bureaucratic dragon.

Violet Aveline
Violet Aveline
1 year ago

I can only imagine the benefit this week have to the area based on the events at the Courts spot and other diy spots. I’d love for there to be other options to take my skate family besides Burnside. My youngest can’t really skate that spot and it would be amazing to have a covered outdoor spot to enjoy.

steve scarich
steve scarich
1 year ago

Throughout the reporting on the fire, it has been de rigueur for government officials, homeless advocates, et. al. to act as if they did not know about the cave. I call BS. Having done the homeless count for the U.S. Census in Downtown Portland, I can guarantee you that many, if not all, of those that claim ‘they had no clue about the cave’ have known about it for years. This is a community, and, by that, I mean the homeless, the city bureaucrats not truly tackling the problem, and the advocates/service providers who have monetized the homeless problem ALL knew about it. They cannot admit that publicly, of course, because they invite questions about their credibility and/or their legal liability.

Priscilla B
Priscilla B
1 year ago

I’m all for a skate park but don’t see how that would have prevented this fire that could have shut down the bridge for a year or more if it had been worse. They city is overwhelmed by street campers. It’s time we stop allowing this cruelty. Until we offer shelter and enforce no camping laws no amount of skate parks or human activity will stop the inhumanity we currently enable.

Mason Small
Mason Small
1 year ago

Fingers are crossed to see this continue to gain steam! Now more than ever, the skate community needs quality spaces in which to gather, thrive, and enjoy life.

As a skater of over 20 years, I’ve never seen the skate community in such an expansive, inclusive, and positive space. Let’s continue to cultivate that by building a place to gather on the waterfront!

Shane S
Shane S
1 year ago

Are there any engineers out there concerned what these fires are doing to our bridges? Yesterday there was another fire at the Broadway Bridge. I’m not a CE but it seems like extreme heat could damage the structure?

homeless-camp-under-roadway-burns-near-broadway-bridge-portland

Priscilla B
Priscilla B
1 year ago
Reply to  Shane S

Maybe the city will fund a few non profits to put a skate park under every bridges and overpass in the city? That will keep them safe from the homeless fires right? Here’s a shot of the Broadway Bridge fire this week. Not great.

DC1E6717-FD04-4D18-8A7A-9938EB008B28.jpeg
X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  Priscilla B

Without looking for it at all I’ve seen plenty of evidence that people camping are at huge risk from fire. The fire bureau is well aware because about half of their calls are to tent fires. But we’re not concerned until it’s an infrastructure hazard?

Don’t get me wrong, I use the Broadway Bridge about five times a week and it would suck if it were closed for the usual three years until my tax dollars, and yours, could repair it. I’m just pointing out that our ethical system generally values people over stuff and we’re well on the way to negating the humanity of people who are living on our streets and yes, under our bridges.

It is a quandary but in the open, sometimes with trash and fires, people are having ideas, talking, making art, loving, fighting, dying. There’s probably a restaurant of some sort in a tent, and sooner or later some baby will no doubt be born under a bridge. I doubt there’s a lot of voting going on because US mail won’t come if your address isn’t in their computer.

X
X
1 year ago

Wow there’s a lot to unpack here. I think skating is pretty cool and the Burnside is one of the outstanding things that put Portland on the map, in spite of being pretty much inaccessible to the great majority who lack certain skills.

My reservation about developing that space near the Steel Bridge as a skate park is that wheels need pavement. The green space that is there now has been impacted by camping, true, but paving it won’t make it better.

I’m in favor of turning one or more of the various nearby parking lots into a skate park. Also there’s a redundant facility at NW 2nd and Flanders that could well use some ramps and bowls in its face…

Count me as “will lay on the tracks” for Burnside.