With 2015 as the year of being Less Lame, January was a good start. I made sure I had some sort of “adventure” on at least one of my days off. So this meant a ride, walk, and even a camping trip for every week in January. I decided to finish off the month with something a little different: a walk to St Johns, Portland’s most far-flung North neighborhood, a place that feels divorced from Portland proper, almost a town of its own. (And for good reason, it was its own town before it was part of Portland!)
After some more epic adventures, I decided that this one would be on the less epic side. St. Johns is only 5 miles west of my house, and it’s pretty flat the whole way. Easy to do as an afternoon adventure, which is what I did!
But what really made this walk interesting was the street: Lombard. Part of the federal highway system (US 30 Bypass), Lombard is the primary traffic artery running west-east through the northern reaches of North Portland. Since I primarily travel by bicycle, I’ve rarely biked on this street. I know some parts of Lombard because of travelling to it for various things, but I have rarely traveled its length from the heart of St. Johns to its intersection with NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd (Oregon route 99E). I may have been in a car down it a few times or on a bike once or twice during the late hours when traffic is light, but I have never walked it.
The closest section of Lombard to my house is obviously the most familiar. This consisted of a mile through the Piedmont neighborhood, mostly modest older homes (1920s-30s) with a smattering of businesses. It would be much more pleasant if it were not for all the traffic! But then I had to cross Interstate 5 and use the dreaded spiral ramp over one of the on-ramps. A relic of 1960s freeway design, while it looks sort of cool, this ramp feels cold and uninviting and is also not up to modern ADA requirements. (Sorry, wheelchair users.)
Now Lombard divided the neighborhoods of Kenton (to the north) and Arbor Lodge (to the south.) The next mile or so was much more commercial, with lots of small businesses. But unhip business. Lombard hasn’t seen the gentrification that other commercial arteries have seen. (For example, between my house and St Johns, there is only one true coffee shop. That’s remarkable for Portland.) Maybe this will change, but Lombard still feels a bit too far flung for true gentrification to happen. Not only that, but the traffic volume on Lombard doesn’t make it a pleasant walking affair, so that would have to change. (It’s similar to MLK: While the city has spent a bit over the past 20 years to “dress it up”, it still feels like an anonymous speedway where one doesn’t want to hang out.) And in my wandering down the street, I saw few other folks walking.
After I passed N Wabash, the street once again grew predominately residential and I passed by one of North Portland’s jewels: Columbia Park. Formally the City of Albina’s only park, the park was purchased in 1891 and then patterened after an (unknown) park in Berlin. Lots of Doug Firs make it a shady spot in the summer.
After Columbia Park, Lombard became a mix of residential and commercial, a big mix of min-marts, bars, doctor’s office, restaurants, a big Eagles lodge, and auto repair shops. This part of Lombard was the part of the street I was least familiar with. And it felt oddly disorienting, like I didn’t know where I was, though I have biked a few streets over many a time in the years I have lived here! It’s just that the area felt so nondescript, so not in Portland. Though at this point Lombard had narrowed from four lanes to two, so the traffic level was more bearable.
I crossed the giant St Johns Railroad Cut, which cuts the St Johns (and Cathedral Park) neighborhood off from Portland, both physically and in a sense spiritually. And the character of Lombard changed too. After passing Fred Meyer, the street became much more “neighborhoodly” than before. I feel like I’m on a street belonging to a neighborhood rather than one speeding through it. And then I was in “downtown” St Johns with all of its funky-homey businesses. I took a pause at Signal Pizza than wandered down to Cathedral Park under the beautiful St Johns Bridge.
It was now dark, so I had dinner at my favorite St Johns eatery, Proper Eats, then hopped a bus home. While it might have been fun to walk all the way back, I just didn’t have the energy.
It wasn’t a hike that involved walking through nature and catching great views. But sometimes urban walks are rewarding in another way. After walking its length, I now feel that I know Lombard a lot better than I had before. I don’t think I’ll be doing many walks down it, but there are other urban corridors worth checking out…