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Steve L

So the sidewalks crossing I-405 are too “narrow, dull and bleak,” but they are better than having no sidewalks, as is the case in many parts of the city. We should add sidewalks to our major arterials throughout the city before we pour more development money into this well-off area.

Due to the hardy plantings along the freeway, I find crossing 405 in this area better than most freeway crossings. The success of establishments like the Hotel deLuxe show that this “rupture” is not too unpleasant to walk and should not be a top priority to improve.


There are hundreds of thousands of sq ft empty in pdx , and you want to make some of the most expensive real estate in the region... How about heading down to your freeway overpass of choice with some hot soup for your neighbors 'living' there.


I wonder if this is a case of applying a frame from one problem (i.e., the freeway in Columbus) to another case that appears the same but is, in reality, different.

In my experience, crossing I-405 on foot is not dull, bleak or unpleasant. I find the rupture in fact to open up unusual views and exciting contrasts of speed, mode, and place. The shoulders of I-405 are beautifully planted, virtually every downtown street crosses the freeway, and with the important exception of Burnside, sidewalks are adequate (in the case of the MAX streets, humane and generous.)

Many freeways are damaging to the urban form-- the Marquam Bridge and Eastbank Freeway are prime examples-- but to me, I-405 is a model of embeddedness. It's an asset - let's work with it!

This isn't to say that there's no value in thinking about caps, but they should respond to real problems.

Walter C

Good thought provoking article -- thanks for posting it.

I was quite attracted to the idea (which I think was floated back in the 90's) to cap much of I-405 in the way Boston's big dig covers I-93. Of course, this Columbus model would be much more economical, and we could choose the few places where it would have the most impact.

If we were to only have one of these, Morrison does seem like a pretty good place for it. But I think a few others could work too.

Philadelphia also has some pretty intruiging ways of capping I-95. There are three very nice pedestrian bridges that bring you from some of their historic areas to the riverfront. I have been on them, and for the most part you have to be a bit of an urban sleuth to know you are crossing a busy highway when you are on them.

A strategic mix of the Philadelphia model and Columbus model really could help knit together our downtown area neighborhoods.

I do agree with Steve L. that crossing I-405 is not really all that bad, as far as crossing highways go. And it's design (or lack thereof) probably does not prevent that many people from crossing it if they have to. But, if you dream of a more vibrant downtown (like I do) then I think that ideas like the one presented here can help get us there.

By the way, I would hope that the actual architecture of this kind of bridge in Portland would not have to have the kind of "styling" that we see in the Columbus picture, but if that is what we have to have to sell it then I guess I could live with it.


An interesting and successful case study for dealing with overpasses, but a closer comparison might be a proposal to 'cap' the Burnside bridge. High Street is the major north-south connector in Columbus, and it serves a similar function in that city which Burnside does here.

Is there really a 'disconnect' between the pieces of downtown divided by 405?

A more interesting discussion would be whether something like this could help stitch together the areas east of 205 with the rest of the city.


All I can say is I want it, and if it pays for itself, what are we waiting for, do it already. It looks awesome


Count me among the (apparent) few who agree that walking across the freeway is a drag, particularly on a rainy day. I think the plantings look fine from the freeway itself, but from the sidewalks, well, I'd prefer something I could actually access, be it a park or coffee shop or something inviting to human traffic. There simply shouldn't be such a wide swath of land in the center of town that doesn't allow legitimate entry (not to begrudge those who enter these off-limit areas for their own purposes). 'Nice landscaping' just isn't enough to convince me that this area is being put to good use. The "unusual views and exciting contrasts of speed, mode, and place" argument is valid, but could be accomplished by a variety of capping methods (i.e. a park) used here and there.

I also want to say that while 405 may not be the most pressing issue facing Portland (obviously), in terms of making downtown a more pleasant and cohesive place, it is a major player and deserves more attention.

That said, caps are not the first issue relevant to 405 that should be addressed. The first issue is pedestrian access. For decades now, pedestrians have been legally forbidden to cross W. 14th Street on the north side of Burnside. Why? Because cars are given top priority, that particular stretch of street being considered a pre-on-ramp instead of a city street. This is totally ridiculous, and offensive in a city that takes such pride in its level of walkability.

A pedestrian should never have to acquiesce to auto traffic to this extent, particularly in the city center. There are tons of other intersections like this all around Portland, and they are equally absurd and degrading (yes, degrading; if you identify as a pedestrian, as I do, it's a slap in the face). I think one way to draw 405 into a larger discussion of changes that would be beneficial not only to downtown but to the entire city would be to address the issue of pedestrian access in the face of freeway access. I can't think of any place where crossing the 405 is worse than the particular indignity of being forced to cross the street in order to cross 405. This should be addressed first, at the 405 and elsewhere. Caps can wait.


I think the original idea back even when Katz was studying it was that at some point real estate prices in downtown Portland would reach a point wherein as long as ODOT didn't charge ridiculously for its airspace, that the private market could build a cap itself, including sidewalks.

So, while sidewalks would be great, they'd take public money (and strangely are ODOT's purview, not Portland's) where, at least in concept, the full cap would not.

Now, about those dropping real estate prices...

Gabriel Amadeus

Nice article, I fully support this type of pedestrian enhancement. Duluth MN is a really good example of capping and connecting downtown with the shoreline parks and retail areas.


I also appreciate this article and would fully support capping, or partially capping, 405. However, I think if we are going to compare the rupturing effects of local freeways, the East Bank of I-5 would take the cake and be more of a priority. Many will disagree with me, but, to my mind, that stretch of freeway is *one* of the primary things holding Portland back from being a truly great city. It prevents us from fully embracing the Willamette which, as I and others have said before, should be the "central boulevard" of the city, with plenty of housing, commerce, and ferry transit in addition to parkland, trails, and joggers (Brad Cloepfil had great things to say about this idea during one of the Bright Lights events last year). And, of course, removing the ugly Marquam from the skyline would do wonders for returning a sense of scale to that landscape just south of downtown.


I am all for capping the 405, but I do think it should not be a high priority. There was a studio project that addressed this idea at PSU's architecture department and this would be an excellent point for the city to think big with and make this idea into something almost destination like.

But at its current state, I see nothing really wrong with the 405, it is almost like a small river that has a crossing at every block. Is it inconvenient to have little to no sidewalk on one side of the bridges? Sure, but it has never stopped me from being able to cross, plus unlike Columbus, this freeway is much less of a burden to its surroundings.

Steve Casburn

As a former Columbus resident, I can attest that the I-670 cap has transformed the neighborhood it was built in. It's hard to describe the difference between pre- and post-cap if you haven't experienced it. And I agree with a couple of prior commenters that the Burnside @ 405 accessibility issues should be fixed before changing Morrison -- like High Street in Columbus, Burnside is a major thoroughfare, and the break at 405 is confusing and inconvenient for pedestrians and breaks up the continuity of the retail offerings.


Full or partial capping of a depressed freeway such as 405 through downtown is an excellent approach to mitigating the negative impacts of highways. One of the reasons it's a good idea for this location is that the grade already makes it relatively easy to accomplish, opposed to any similar solutions for I-5 on the East Bank.

It may come down to a matter of economics, as one person above already suggested. It's viable airspace in the city. When land values are significantly high enough to justify, it will become more an more attractive.

Yes, there are miles of suburban arterial roads that desperately need wider sidewalks, and redevelopment of their accompanying suburban retail strips. Allot of investment is needed throughout Metro's suburban strips in order to accommodate the region's future growth, and foster more pedestrian/bike/transit -oriented communities. Nonetheless, healing the rift that 405 caused decades ago, is a worthy effort.

You mentioned the CNU gave the Columbus project a Charter Award. The next three days there is the CNU's Transportation Summit taking place at the Nine Hotel. Folks should drop in and check it out.


Laurence you says, “There are miles of suburban arterial roads that desperately need wider sidewalks.” There are miles of arterials that have NO sidewalks.

If my children want to bike to school there isn’t even a bike lane on Taylors Ferry for miles! My children may not be “major players.” like the people living in Goose Hollow, but they need to be safe more than the people crossing 405 need to be spared from an unpleasant view.

Where are our priorities?

Why did I buy a home in a neighborhood were we have to use Taylor Ferry to bike to school? I didn’t. PPS, with the help of the “Real Estate Trust,” closed the exceptional, well-attended school to which my children could walk and bike, and now PPS is adding sub-standard portable trailer classrooms to neighboring schools to handle all the unexpected children. Great family friendly planning Portland.

Is there a shortage of retail space in downtown?

Allan, when you say “if it pays for itself” are you referring to a TIF scheme that pulls tax money away from schools and public safety to finance private development?

Do we want to be known for our liveability of shopability?


I can understand where you are coming from Earl and I do agree as I mentioned before, capping the 405 should be an idea, but a low priority idea. With the schooling issue, I have been in the understanding that the child population in Portland has been in somewhat of a decline, which has it pluses and minuses.

I do agree, the PPS does need to stop playing developer and start focusing on education. Again, this is all getting off topic, but that comes back to my low priority point of view with this.


Sorry about the long off-topic comment, but in regard to often referred to falling student population in Portland. What is never mentioned in the press is what PPS had to do to accommodate students at their population peak.

1) Some schools had two shifts of students sharing the same classroom, a morning shift and an afternoon shift.
2) Many schools added portable trailer classrooms, like my neighboring school Maplewood, these sub-standard classrooms have been maintained in the face of dropping populations when they should have been closed before any brinks and mortar classrooms were closed. Now they are adding a new trailer to Maplewood alongside the old trailer.
3) Many schools added hastily built sub-standard annexes, like my neighboring school Markham. These annexes are still maintained to justify the closing and leasing of my neighborhood school to our “friends” from Riverdale.

PPS didn’t really have a bunch of schools that were half empty. Vicki Phillips wanted to change the configuration of elementary schools from 200 to 300 student “neighborhood schools” to 400 to 600 student “community schools” to “free-up land” for development (see Real Estate Trust) so she used the “falling population crisis” in an improperly rushed “shock doctrine” manner to close needed schools. Now we are stuck with too few schools and almost nobody willing to pay for the multi-billion dollar capital improvement plan to super-size the remaining schools. That is why PPS is now spending 9.6 million dollars on 30 new portable trailer classrooms.

The overall population in PPS is now rising, which should not be a surprise since the population of critical lower grades has been rising for several years now. As well, I heard dozens of people give anecdotal evidence to Vicki Phillips and the board of the mini-baby boom and effects of infill they were experiencing in their neighborhoods.

If you look at a graph of student population in PDX in the last 10 years, you will see it was actually leveling off in 2005 when, in my estimation, the school closures and all the dooms-day crisis talk caused student population to further drop as effected students left PPS for private schools and neighboring districts. That is what happened on my block.

Portland’s population has never stopped growing; won’t we need more school lands in the future?


I see I-405 caps as a major engineering challenge, but probably doable. It makes sense to reclaim land that a cap could provide between downtown and SW/NW Portland.

Peter's right about the banks of I-405 being beautifully landscaped; the pink and white roses were excellent this spring, looking down from the Jefferson overpass. That doesn't really make up for the roar of the traffic and the pollution it produces, rising up to meet you as you cross. Then of course there's the lovely wire fence to look through for a view...put up to try defeat morons that enjoy throwing crap down on hapless drivers.

It would be a lot of money to do it, but probably worth it. Schools are a priority, but so is quality of the city's livability. Covering up I-405, could...with thoughtful planning, allow the parts of Portland it passes through to gain a vast improvement in livability. A cap over the highway might even be a good place for a new school.


Vacant retail space, whether on his cap or in the Pearl, does not make a good school site. A proper school site has acres of flat open space for children to play team sports and study the natural environment.

Another point seems to have been overlooked here; does anyone care about the people that would be suck under this cap during traffic jams? I know everyone hates cars, but far more people would experience the ugly underside of this cap than the exclusive “neighborhood transforming” retail topside.


Actually Earl,there is plenty of land to build a school on those caps seeing they are 200x200 blocks and if NYC can build an urban school, I think anyone can. Also, the land that is needed for fields and such would come from the current schools land that would be adjacent to the caps, then allowing the west end of the school's property to be sold off and blended back into the urban fabric of Goose Hollow. Though I still agree with you that it is an expense that I dont see as a high priority, especially when there are more pressing issues.

As for cars sitting in a tunnel during traffic...that happens every day, all over the world. Portland would not be the first to do that and the people sitting on 405 would not be the first to crawl through a tunnel in traffic. Your statement about that is equal to wanting to have pristine views from the freeway for the drivers. Or as I once heard recently an out-of-towner complain that we gave lanes to buses and trains which over cars.


Being stuck in a traffic jam, especially in a tunnel with a lot of internal combustion motors running does 'suck'. If on a wide basis, power sources for single occupancy vehicle cars successfully transition to those that are less directly polluting, such as battery or hybrids available now, that experience would likely improve.

Cars really shouldn't need a big engine running to move them along at speeds of 5-25 mph.


I think capping the 405 is a GREAT idea. The noise and wind it produces is insufferable. It absolutely kills what would otherwise be integrated parts of Downtown and Goose Hallow. I would prefer a combination of some greenspace along with some retail.


With ALL the civic improvements focused on downtown and adjoining neighborhoods like Goose Hollow, NW Portland, S. Waterfront and the Pearl, these neighborhoods should be mindful about alienating the rest of the city that is impacted by the financing their "urban renewal," before worrying about further idealistic integration with downtown or rebuilding what already is the finest high school facility in Portland.



RE: Your argument that the majority who enjoy the view are doing so from the freeway. One of my ideas has been a glass cap of the freeway. I think it could be dually beneficial. The cars are no longer in a dark cave, rain and snow are kept off the highway, and the noise, wind, and smog are still contained. It would also be cheaper than covering it with dirt or buildings. My idea would probably be some glass cap that you could actually walk on and some greenspace. It would turn an armpit into something of an attraction. Granted, the interior and exterior would require maintenance cleaning. I think the benefit would outweigh. Finally, I have to say that the view from the Freemont Bridge is one of my favorites in Portland. However, once you're into the part that would really be capped, you're just looking at cars and concrete walls. Tunnels are just as fun to drive through.

On another note, I was touring the new 12 West tower the other day. Do you know what I thought was the biggest drawback to a nearly perfect building? The noise from the freeway on the west side. Cap it!


I do like the idea of letting light down into the tunnel. I am also concerned about the glass looking dirty and needing cleaning; have you seen the new bus shelters in the downtown bus mall?

A better way might be light-wells that don't have horizontal glass caps, or glass block that could be frosted, colored or patterned.

If the glass wells were large enough to support plants hanging down inside the tunnel all the better.

But please, first support a citywide sidewalk program to bring the joy and practicality of walking and biking one's neighborhood to everyone.

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