Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Crosswalks as lipstick

Six of us from the Hillsdale business community took a one-hour whirlwind trip across the Willamette to Milwaukee this morning.

One of our number had been impressed with the way the city had installed crosswalks with some kind of inlaid surface design.

“They make you feel as if you have arrived,” he had reported enthusiastically.

I curbed my enthusiasm. Whatever we saw in Milwaukie, there is little likelihood we could replicate it in Hillsdale.

Milwaukie, unlike Hillsdale is an incorporated town. It has a mayor and a city council. It has money to hire people to get things done, like the $4.7 million McLaughlin Project completed less than a year ago. The crosswalks were part of the project.

Hillsdale, a part of Portland, is an all-volunteer effort that floats in the periphery of Portland’s governmental bureaucracy and pocketbook.

Milwaukie’s crosswalks were interesting, as crosswalks go. We crouched down to see how the attractive patterns were made. Some kind of rolled out impression in the surface mimicked a colored, inlaid brick mosaic. It was a far-sight more interesting than the, well, pedestrian, pedestrian striping on our crosswalks.

Still, to say that the mosaic pattern would somehow dignify one’s arrival in the Hillsdale Town Center was a stretch.

But Milwaukie did impress for another reason that I quickly and repeatedly pointed out to our little delegation. The town has undergrounded most of the utilities in its refurbished commercial area.

We could see the sky without wires criss-crossing overhead. No poles or transformers loomed over us. The young trees along the curbs had the sidewalks to themselves.

With the amount of time and energy I have to spend on trying to coax the City of Portland into improving our Hillsdale, I’m not wasting it on glorified crosswalks — not until we deal with the utility blight along Capitol Highway.

I hate to say it, but gussying up the crosswalks strikes me as being like the old saw about putting lipstick on a pig.

Why bother?

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