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Friday, December 21, 2018

St. John's Bridge

St. Johns Bridge, looking west towards Forest Park

Younger son bought a house in St. Johns this summer. St. Johns is also known as North Portland on account of it being due North of downtown. Hillsboro, where I live, is 10 or 15 miles due west of downtown Portland. Between Hillsboro and St. Johns there is Forest Park and the Willamette River. Forest Park is a large wooded area that starts near downtown and heads northwest along a range of hills. The hills continue for several miles. If you want to get from Hillsboro to St. Johns you have to cross them, one way or another. There are three prinicple routes across these hills. There is Cornelius Pass Road which heads due North out of Hillsboro. There is Germantown Road which branches off of Cornelius Pass Road and heads northeast, and then there is the Sunset Highway, also known as Highway 26, which heads due east towards downtown Portland and crosses the hills by going through the Vista Ridge tunnel.

Germantown Road

All three routes have their pluses and minuses. Cornelius Pass and Germantown roads are both windy, two lane blacktop which means your speed is constrained by the traffic. Generally it is pretty good, but you can often get stuck behind a truck on Cornelius Pass Road which can slow you down to a molasses like speed. Germantown Road is so windy that trucks don't use it. Except coming home yesterday afternoon I passed a semi going the other way as I crossed Skyline Boulevard (at the top of the hill). I thought sure I was going to read about the disaster this was going to become in the morning paper, but no sign of anything going wrong this morning. I'll bet that driver doesn't do that again.

I want to know what they do with the rest of the mole.

Germantown road is insanely windy. It would be perfect for one of those automobile commercials, except the vistas on the Western half are fields and suburban development, and there are no vista on the Eastern half because you are buried in forest primeval. It could be a very enjoyable road if there wasn't so much traffic, but there is and all these people are trying to get somewhere. They aren't interested in the road itself.

Highway 26 is a straight shot until you get within a couple of miles of downtown and then traffic generally grinds to a half and you get to play creepy crawly until you break free on Interstate 5 northbound, or, if you are perverse, Highway 30 heading northwest.
Sunset Highway, Fremont Bridge, I-5 North, Columbia Boulevard

When highway 26 comes into downtown Portland, you are presented with three choices: 405 North, Market Street into downtown proper, and I-405 South. We take 405 North and then over the Fremont Bridge and onto I-5 North until we get to Columbia Boulevard, where we head back west to St. Johns.

Cornelius Pass Road

All three routes take roughly the same amount of time, about 45 minutes, but they all depend on the time of day, traffic, and a large helping of luck. Germantown road is the shortest but most driver intensive. Cornelius Pass is my preferred route, not too much traffic, and not too windy. It is a little farther than Germantown Road. Taking the freeway (26 & I-5) is longer distance wise, but if you don't get caught in gridlock it doesn't take any longer. And long stretches are smooth freeway cruising.

Taking Cornelius Pass or Germantown Road, either way you end up using the St. Johns Bridge to cross the Willamette River. The St. Johns Bridge is old. It was built during the heydey of bridge building in Portland, back in the 30's. I suppose building it was something akin to putting a man on the moon. It was the longest and tallest bridge in Portland until the Fremont bridge was built 75 years later. Back then it was such an accomplishment that nobody minded any of the minor nuisances that came with it, like the west of end of the bridge dead ends into a mountain and the only access is through narrow little two land blacktop roads carved into the face of this wall of dirt. The east end isn't any better. It dead ends right smack into the middle of downtown St. Johns, which is desperately trying to be the center of St. Johns. This wouldn't be so bad except for constant stream of heavy trucks traveling through this otherwise bucolic small town center on their way from the dockyards in northwest North Portland and the northwest industrial district.

Back in 1931 these were minor inconveniences that were easy to overlook in the face of this giant accomplishment. But that was almost 90 years ago and no improvements have been made to the approaches. It's like city planners think we reached our peak when they made this bridge and no further improvements have ever been needed. Goes right along with the City Council's preferential treatment for pedestrians. Between the  blissfully unaware pedestrians, the bicycles and scooters, the limited parking, the lanes given over to buses and trains, and the constant road closures from construction, driving in downtown Portland is an odious chore to be avoided at all costs. You don't suppose that turning download Portland into an impossible-to-solve maze has anything to do with all the empty store fronts in the downtown area, do you?

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