Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Portland's funhouse mirror, part 2

"The Grid" is another way that Portlanders suffer from a chronic inability to see Portland clearly. Zinester's Guide to Portland discusses PDX's "beloved grid" several times and most Portlanders seem to take for granted that their streets are (for better or worse; this being Portland, there naturally is considerable debate about this) laid out in a perfectly square pattern.

Here's the problem: There's no freaking grid!

Look at this figure from a scholarly analysis of whether Portland's grid is "worthy of adulation". (Really!) The middle illustration is what Portlanders think their streets look like:

Now look at a Google map. There's no freaking grid!

Okay. A tiny section of Northwest has alphabetized streets and the numbered streets count up from the river. But:

1. Broadway runs vaguely northeast where I live, then turns straight north, then turns northeast again and becomes a bridge, then turns straight east across the river. South of my apartment Broadway twists west into the Southwest Hills.

2. The streets in Ladd's Addition form an "X" that jumps out at you on a map like a crop circle.  Admittedly (and weirdly), this is said to upset some people considerably because it violates "The Grid," but if they are upset about this, they should be also upset about the other parts of town that violate the grid. Like 90% of our streets.

3. South of my apartment, SW 6th becomes either Jackson Park Road or twists around to become Terwilliger, which then follows a snakelike path through Southwest Portland.

There are numerous other examples. Coming from a town where all the streets pretty much did run straight north or south this consensual hallucination of a grid is just about the weirdest thing I've encountered about Portland so far. And that's saying a lot.


  1. I hope the street sign placements have been improved. When we were there, unless you already knew where you were going, it would take a couple of passes to find the street you were looking for.

    Who's bright idea was it to run streets N/S - E/W. It really sucks during the equinox. Can't see a damned thing at sunrise or sunset if driving the E/W streets.

  2. That's hilarious. I don't know _exactly_ how bad the signage was when you were here, but I'm guessing it's no better. I hardly drive now, and when I do drive it's to somewhere like our storage unit that I know very well how to get to. I did drive around some when we first arrived to kind of learn the layout, and, yeah. There's one street close to UP where a tree has grown over the stop sign (it's also right after a hill) so the city helpfully put up a "Stop Ahead sign in the previous block. And they put THAT sign right behind a tree! I only barely caught it out of my peripheral vision. You really have to pay attention if you choose to drive here. Texting or trying to do multitask at all is REALLY dangerous. And gods help you if you DO miss a sign. At our end of downtown, if you try to get on I-5 or the 405, it's super easy to miss the turnoffs and if you do so, you're pretty much all in until Beaverton.

  3. There's also a lot of cryptic white-paint notations on the streets that can only be derived from occult symbols. They're helpful, but you only know what they mean if you've read the _Oregon Drivers Manual_ cover to cover. I did, and a good job, too, because that test was frakking hard.


Creative Commons License
Upside Down on Mars by Barry J. Cochran is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.