Hiking Burnside Street Between Portland’s City Limits
Thursday 7 April 2016 — Category: Outings
Last summer when I was still in the early stages of exploring, discovering and researching Portland, Oregon, I ran across a Wikipedia article about Burnside Street which informed me:
Burnside Street is a major thoroughfare ... and one of a few east-west streets that runs uninterrupted on both sides of the Willamette River. It serves as the dividing line between north Portland and south Portland.... The street runs from SW Barnes Road in Sylvan-Highlands to the Mount Hood Highway in Gresham, a distance of 17.6 miles (28.3 km).So, the Willamette divides the western part of the city from the eastern, and Burnside divides the northern part from the southern, as shown in this sketch.
Soon I was wondering how many of those 17.6 miles are within the city limits of Portland. Using the indispensable Google Earth app, I found that the length of Burnside Street within the Portland city limits is about 12½ miles. In the following Google Maps screen shot which shows the part of the city limits, I have highlighted in magenta the portion of Burnside Street within the city limits.
That got me thinking some more. Walking the entire 12½ miles of Burnside within the city limits sounded like an interesting way to continue my exploration and discovery of Portland. But 12½ miles seemed too long and time-consuming to walk and photograph in just a single day.
With Google Earth I also discovered that the halfway point along Burnside Street between the city limits is East César E. Chávez Boulevard — until 2009 known as East 39th Avenue. Therefore I made plans to traverse Burnside Street in two 6¼-mile sections on two different days.
After numerous other Portland photos outings during the summer of 2015, I finally put my plans into action on September 8th and 22nd. For various logistical reasons, both times I decided to start at one of the city limits, and make my way inward 6¼ miles to César E. Chávez Boulevard. Albany to Portland instead of driving as I normally do. From Portland’s Union Station I took a MAX Green Line train to the Gateway Transit Center, and then a MAX Blue Line train to Portland’s eastern city limits on Burnside at East 162nd Avenue.
All in all it took me about three hours to get from Albany to the beginning of my walk using mass transit. You can read all of the humorous details of those travels in Diary of a Portland Amtrak Outing. After wasting 20 more minutes trying to find a restroom around there without success, I finally started my 6¼-mile, 123-block photo hike west on East Burnside Street at 9:40.
It turned out to be not much of a photo outing because the scenery was pretty boring. Most of that stretch of East Burnside is residential — and fairly dreary housing at that. One of the most interesting things I saw was an old forsaken shoe on the sidewalk. Well, with a photographic eye even that can become art!
I didn’t find a restroom until 10:15, after reaching East 122nd Avenue and then walking north a quarter of a mile to a McDonald’s at NE 122nd and Glisan Street. What a relief! And in the heat of the morning, a cold Coke was a lifesaver as well. Even though the drink and toilet resulted in a half-mile detour, at least it led me past a marijuana dispensary where I took some beautiful mural photos. Bus 20 west on Burnside to downtown where there are plenty of restaurants.
As I shared last year in A Country Bumpkin in the Big City, from the very start of using Portland’s public transit (called TriMet), I’ve been buying electronic tickets through the TriMet Tickets iOS app. Every time I go on a Portland outing, I get a $5 all-day pass. Because I normally use MAX trains instead of busses, I’m used to entering the vehicle through any door, and not having to show my ticket to a conductor.
Unfortunately for this country bumpkin in the big city, the routine that works just fine on a train simply doesn’t cut it on a bus. Most of the TriMet busses have a door near the driver, and another door about halfway down the bus. My first mistake was trying to get on the bus through the wrong door.
When my Route 20 bus came to a stop, I was standing in front of the middle door, which was jammed with people getting off. Not knowing any better, I kept waiting for the coast to clear so I could enter by that door. Then one of the debarking passengers told me that I should use the other entrance, which seemed to be vacant. That sounded like a good suggestion, so I hopped over to the front of the bus. Little did I realize that if you enter by the middle door, you are a freeloader trying to sneak onto the bus without paying!
When I finally entered by the correct door, I simply breezed past the driver, found an empty seat and sat down, because I already had an e-ticket. After taking payment from a couple other passengers, the driver glared at me in the mirror above his head, and growled at me something like “Aren’t you going to pay!” Because I was startled and disoriented, it took a few moments to realize he was talking to me, and another few moments to realize what he wanted. Yikes!
So I leaped out of my seat, hurrying to the front of the bus while frantically trying to pull up the TriMet Tickets app and saying “Oh! I’m sorry!” over and over! After seeing my ticket, he grunted, shut the door, and got the bus moving, while I made my way back to my seat.
Sheesh! I was SO embarrassed! I had no idea the ticket procedure on a bus was different from a train. I felt so stupid! The country bumpkin in the big city strikes again! You can be sure that I learned my lesson, and now, when I take a bus, I always enter by the front door, with my e-ticket already displayed for inspection on my iPad screen.
Once I arrived downtown, I found a nice restaurant for an excellent lunch and refreshing beer. This was the first stop of an afternoon of touring various brewpubs in the Pearl District. You can read all of the tasty details in My First Portland Pub Crawl — In the Pearl.
In the end, I took about twice as many pictures during the afternoon pub crawl as I did on my morning six-mile photo-hike. But I guess that should not be too surprising — I think it would be accurate to say that the Pearl District is a lot more photogenic than the Hazelwood Neighborhood. The second half of my Burnside Street hike, on the autumn equinox, was a lot more adventurous than the first half — both physically and photographically. Because I wanted the sun behind me for better lighting when taking pictures, I arrived at Portland’s western city limit along West Burnside, at its intersection with SW Barnes Road, at 12:45 p.m.
It’s a strange intersection, where the major thoroughfare of SW Barnes Road suddenly becomes West Burnside Street, and SW Barnes Road branches off to the right and the left (see map).
This intersection area is a small triangle of the Portland city limits which extends 225 yards west from Multnomah County into Washington County. I was disappointed that there were no street signs marking the city limits nor the county boundary — bad photo op!
Despite my country bumpkin experience the previous time, I took a Route 20 bus to a bus stop that is situated almost exactly on the city limits border. Camera in hand, this country bumpkin was ready for a 6¼-mile afternoon hike east down Burnside Street.
For this stage of the journey, down is definitely the key word! It’s a 2½-mile walk down to the “civilized” region of Portland, which begins at NW 24th Place on the western edge of the city center. Although the road gains about 140 feet in elevation for the first half-mile or so from the bus stop, the next two miles has a steep 8% downhill grade, during which you descend from an elevation of 990 feet at SW Skyline Boulevard to 215 feet at NW 24th Place.
That’s not such a big deal. What makes this section of West Burnside really dangerous is that there are no sidewalks, and not even any room to walk alongside the road in many places. Three narrow, winding lanes, two uphill and one down, take up the entire width of the roadbed, often with bushes on both sides. The curvy road makes visibility poor.
Click on the picture to the right to enlarge it, and you will see that there is hardly any place for a pedestrian on the side of the road. The cars came close to the edge of the road, at high speed — it was very dangerous!
And no, I didn’t take this shot while standing in the middle of the street! I was on the extremely-narrow side of the road, but it looks like the cars were headed straight for me!
A few times I had to wait for a lull in the traffic, and then make a mad dash from one little spot of relative safety to another, a dozen or two yards down the road. Brian, playing chicken with cars on Burnside!
If I had realized ahead of time the potential deadliness of this section of West Burnside, I might have had second thoughts about attempting it. I can’t say that I regret it, because I really wanted to walk the entire 12½-mile length of Burnside Street between the Portland city limits. But I definitely would not encourage anyone to follow my foolhardy example!
I was extremely happy to have sidewalk under my feet again starting at SW Tichner Drive (which I’ve taken when driving to the Japanese Garden in Washington Park). In another half a mile I was also relieved to be out of the gorge and back into civilization, entering the western edge of the city center at NW 24th Place.
The remaining 3¾ miles of my hike along Burnside were less of a physical adventure and more of a photographic one. Block by block I made my way east, taking lots of pictures of all the sights of the big city. This country bumpkin’s eyes were wide in wonder!
During the entire two-part, 12½-mile Burnside Street outing, I took 310 photos. The best 144 have been collected into the new Portland Burnside East and West 2015 album.
Of those dozen dozen pictures, only 21 of them were taken along the entire 6¼-mile eastern half of the walk. Another 21 were taken along the dangerous 2½-mile section through the Burnside Gorge (I can’t find any official name for it). The remaining 102 photos were taken along the 3¾ miles of Burnside through the city center.
I have spent a good ten days researching accurate and detailed captions for all 144 pictures, which would have been impossible without the invaluable help of Google Earth as well as numerous Web sites about Portland.
I really don’t understand why it is so hard to find information on the Web about some of Portland’s historic buildings — it’s not like the identity of the original owners of these century-old buildings is new information! Too often it took quite a bit of time and effort to track down the details for just a single building.
As I explained recently in A Portland Google Earth Companion, I’m definitely not letting all my research go to waste. As with previous Portland outings, all the information I discover about buildings and locations are documented in my very own Google Earth locations file (click link to download).
By opening this file in Google Earth on your device, you can take advantage of all my research, both for this outing, and for all of my previous Portland outings as well. And if you download it again every couple of months, you will have the latest discoveries from the outings I will be going on in the future.
By 5:00 I had retraced my steps back to East 18th Avenue for a well-earned, awesome supper. I have shared all of the scrumptious gastronomical and libational details in a separate article: Portland Burnside Mini Pub Crawl.
As I mentioned above, I didn’t start my walk down Burnside at the western city limits and then proceed directly to the eastern city limits. Rather, I broke the route into two sections, and each time started at an opposite city limit and walked towards the middle point. A few times I had to backtrack a little bit, and so covered some of the same ground twice.
So when it came time to put the 144 photos in the album, I chose to not arrange them chronologically (in the order that I took them) as I usually do. Instead, I felt that it made more sense to arrange them geographically, so that there is a sequential flow of images along Burnside Street, as if you were travelling from the western city limits to the eastern city limits without any detours or backtracking. As previously noted, you can see all 144 photos in the Portland Burnside East and West 2015 album.
It took a fair amount of time, effort and money, and two trips to Portland, to finally achieve my goal of walking and photographing the entire 12½-mile length of Burnside Street between Portland’s western and eastern city limits. It was quite an adventure, and I definitely think it was worth it! So, when is the next outing to Portland, and which section are we going to explore? I can’t wait! Oh, and by the way ... happy National Beer Day!
For a list of all the articles and photo albums resulting from my exploration of Burnside Street, see Portland Burnside Adventure Wrap-Up.