- Portland Tribune - News
Every Friday in Stumptown Stumper, the Portland Tribune offers a trivia question and answer to help you boost your Rose City IQ.
Q: One of Portland's few pedestrian underpasses, near the Southwest Naito Parkway overpass at Arthur Street/Kelly Avenue, has a steep stairway leading underground to a long, dark tunnel. Who uses it, and why is it still around?
A: A recent trip to the location revealed that several pedestrians preferred to dart through the rush of two-way traffic on a blind corner above ground rather than use this sketchy-looking tunnel.
'I'm a big guy, and I don't trust it,' said one of those passers-by, Gerald Haynes, who crosses the street six days a week between the 7-Eleven and the Labor Ready agency, where he goes to find work.
In so many words, Haynes said he has seen vagrants urinate and defecate, have sex, use drugs and drink alcohol in the tunnel, protected by the darkness since the tunnel isn't lit at night.
By day, the tunnel is lit by natural light; on a recent day, after Haynes saw a sheriff's cleanup crew visit, the white subway tiles were grimy with traces of vomit and other filth on the walls, but the tunnel was otherwise empty.
So what's going on? Steve Yates, a maintenance engineer for the Portland Office of Transportation, filled us in.
This particular pedestrian underpass, he said, is the only one of at least five in the city that is still used by the public. The entrances to the others - near the Ross Island, Morrison, Burnside and Broadway bridges - have been closed for 25 years or more.
As for the Kelly Street tunnel, Yates said it was built in 1942 by the state of Oregon, in conjunction with the Ross Island Bridge project.
There also are two other pedestrian underpasses at the western edge of the bridge ramps, he said. One is more of a walkway since its sides are not enclosed; it is the walkway near the bridge ramp with steeple-shaped windows cut into the concrete.
The other is a narrow tunnel leading to Naito Parkway, which probably is not used because there's no sidewalk on Naito Parkway, Yates said.
Why did the state build so many of these structures? 'Before the city had controlled and signalized intersections, many streets were too dangerous for pedestrians,' he explained. 'In addition, significant grade differences at some locations made pedestrian access impossible except through tunnels and stairs.'
Yates said he's aware of the vandalism and crime that occurs in the Kelly Street tunnel, and recalls a discussion in his office about a year ago about closing it. But a small group of pedestrians who use the underpass shot it down, he said.
So for now, it stays open, even though he guessed that on a good day, perhaps a total of 50 people use it.
'We advise everyone using these facilities to be extra cautious,' Yates warned. 'Visibility is poor in a narrow dark stairway, one finds oneself isolated in the stairway, and conditions are often unsanitary.'
Next week's Stumper: Where can you find one of the first homes in Portland to have an elevator and centralized vacuum system installed?