Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Camp under Center St Bridge Shows Problems with Ramp Spaghetti

The ramp spiral under the Center Street Bridge
On Facebook there's a post about the camp on the spiral ramp under the east side of the Center Street Bridge in Riverfront Park. In less than 24 hours, it's gained quite a bit of traction, even gone fully viral. It successfully cranked up the outrage machine.

But the camp's been around for a while, and under the canopy of the bridge deck the area's always been attractive for camping.

The camp in early December 2017
The poster on Facebook says sarcastically, "thanks for letting them take over a pedestrian and bicycle path."

I'm not sure this criticism is offered in good faith. (Have they ever criticized any other blockage by cars of bike lanes or other problems with sidewalks and walking paths? It seems more likely that the blockage is merely a stick for beating on the campers. It's not important, however, to speculate more on the motives of this particular person or their criticism.)

It's certainly true that the camp effectively blocks a path, that there is a no trespassing sign right there, and that the City is apparently not enforcing it. This is a minor, but real problem.

The Center (bottom) and Union St Bridges on the bike map
(The purple weighs them equally, but one is much better!)
But since the Union Street Railroad Bridge is just two blocks north, and offers an aesthetically superior passage across the river, even if in distance it is also a little longer, the inconvenience to the walking and biking public is small relative to whatever problems the campers face. By comparison the camp itself is not a great problem. And it is not clear that this particular camp and blockage is by itself a barrier to meaningful numbers of people on foot and on bike. If it were swept, there's no great pent-up demand for walking and biking on it. (See bullet below.)

Back in 2012 there were campers and garbage on the west side, too
Rather than anger at the City for not conducting a sweep, or contempt for those resorting to the camping, I think there are more important conclusions to draw (some of the comments on the original FB post may touch on these, but it does not seem worthwhile to wade through them):
  • Bridges create pockets like this that offer shelter, but also harbor unwanted, even criminal activity. (The archetype of a troll is not merely fiction.) When we advocate for things like the Salem River Crossing, we are advocating to create more problematic spaces like these. Ramp spaghetti is bad.
  • We should be working on system solutions for those who lack housing, and be less hasty to criminalize or seek to sweep away those who find the gaps and seams where they can find shelter.
  • Those who are truly worried about connectivity for people who walk and bike should express support for slowing the cars and building better bike lanes and sidewalks. Even just at the level of clicks and views, it would be great if the City's own videos about the new light at Union Street on Commercial and about Open Streets events got more than 2.7K and 1.6K views, 1% or 2% of the audience for this video (and that proportion is getting smaller). Don't drag walking and biking into some other agenda if you don't actually support walking and biking more generally.
  • Low levels of appropriately slowed car traffic are useful. When we shunt walking and biking all to path systems far away from car traffic, there are fewer eyes and ears on the transportation network. The lack of eyes and ears lets minor crime and unpleasantness flourish. Zoomy cars, and our over-reliance on them are troublesome, but for people on foot and on bike car traffic has a useful place in the total transportation ecosystem.
  • While this particular camp is suddenly visible, there has been frequent camping on both sides of the bridge. There is a nice purple line for a separated path on our bike maps (see above!), but few people other than confident, adult men would use this path after dark. Many people would say this path system is not very safe. Parents wouldn't send their kids on it, few solitary women would use it. It should not count, therefore, as an effective, all-ages connection. (Personally, I loathe this path.) We need to connect the lines on our maps with actual, ground-level observation. Our theoretical network needs empirical verification, and too frequently there's a mismatch.
The path does not meet an all ages standard
NACTO "Designing for all Ages and Abilities"
Rather than talking about bad people, we should be talking about bad public space. Apart from the problems of affordable housing, the economic system, and delivery and affordability of mental health services, in our bridge spaghetti and spandrels we have a urban space problem.


Anonymous said...

Looks like the ramp is still part of the bridge/highway and is an ODOT facility. They've posted notice they'll sweep it later this month. Maybe a story to come in the SJ.

Anonymous said...

And here it is...