revisualizing south portland

My thoughts on redesigning the transportation snarl from the Ross Island Bridge to the Vista Tunnels [click to enlarge]

The ongoing Central City Plan update is a blueprint for the next 20 to 30 years of Portland planning, and the city is taking great lengths to involve the public in how to shape that future. Recently, a draft version of the stakeholder committee’s plans for South Portland (pdf) has been published, and the biggest takeaway for me is the emphasis on correcting some of the 20th century’s biggest mistakes regarding transportation and urban planning. Long ago South Portland was home to a bustling blue collar neighborhood, that is before the city and state planners repeatedly had their ways with it. There is very little left of the old Victorian neighborhood, as the area was first divided by US 99W and US 26 highways, later Harbor Drive, and even later I-5 and I-405. What land was left was taken for either 1960’s style Urban Renewal or for Portland State University’s expansion. What remains is a piecemeal collection of single-family homes, repurposed schools, and soulless low-rise office buildings. Locally, the least favorite remnant of this haphazard landscape is the horrible transportation network of freeway ramps and highway traffic zigzagging through neighborhood streets.

The new Central City Plan looks to remedy some of those past mistakes. Namely:

-Reconfigure US 26, potentially eliminating the indirect route through the neighborhood.

-Cap the I-405 freeway to reconnect the neighborhood to downtown.

-Create a park-like connection from the river to the South Park blocks, the so called “Green Loop” project.

-Examine the possibility of removing the Ross Island Bridge ramps and circulation from the neighborhood.

The task force’s timeline calls for a formal study in 2-5 years, but there are plenty of ideas already circulating about how to tackle these issues. My own concept is a combination of transportation investments and redevelopment opportunities. In the map above, I propose moving all US 26 traffic to a direct route within the I-5 and I-405 freeway ROW, two direct access ramps and a surface-level couplet for traffic mixing in and out of downtown. The couplet will eliminate the dangerous and unneeded curved gauntlet that drivers have to navigate daily, and create vastly superior crossings and sight lines for those on foot or bicycle. In-between the two one-way streets, I propose building a freeway cap in order to remove the physical and psychological boundary which is the I-405 trench. The cap should be a combination of parkland and University athletics fields, adding approximately 8 blocks of open space to the Green Loop. With the commuter slog removed from the neighborhood, the old street network can be rebuilt and the vacated ROW can be used for new development and dedicated off-street bicycle and pedestrian paths. I suspect that a plan like this one could come with quite a hefty price tag, but I can’t imagine that any long-term fix will come cheap.

My proposed bicycle and pedestrian network [click to enlarge]

Reconnecting South Portland to downtown is extremely important as Portland continues to grow and strive for a livable and sustainable future. Removing the suburban commuter traffic from the neighborhood streets is by far the most important repentance the city could do for the last 80 years of “good ideas at the time.” In time, South Portland could become one of the best 20-minute neighborhoods in town with its proximity to the central city and remaining streetcar suburb assets.

Regardless, this post is simply my two cents.


4 responses to “revisualizing south portland

  1. Pretty good plan, I would also add what would probably be the easiest change to implement, “de-highway-ify” Front Ave through the neighborhood. The excessive wideness and traffic barriers are a relic of when it was the main highway leaving Portland to the South, which it hasn’t been since I-5 was built 50 years ago. Narrow the street, remove the side street barriers, and remove the overpass at Arthur and that would go along way toward taming the traffic, and potentially creating another great urban street.

  2. trimice, great idea, I look forward to the eventual design process to see what others have imagined for this area, I really feel we owe the neighborhood some investment after all that’s been done in the past…

  3. Pingback: a change of height | places over time·

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