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Sunday, March 13, 2011

The birthday party

Stuff happens. Like the other night. The Mrs. and I head out to a birthday party for a friend of mine. He's turning 60. He lives over in a still-somewhat-wild portion of southwest Portland, and I haven't been to his place in about 20 years. The babysitter shows up a little early, all face-painted from a high school basketball game. The kids are amped. I get the directions from Google Maps, and off we grownups go.

Twenty minutes later, surprise! Google Maps is wrong. It thinks our friend's street is a through street, but in fact it dead ends and resumes just down the road from him a ways, and we're on the wrong side of the gap. And so we're way off, lost, in the dark and rain. I knew the directions seemed wrong, but hey, over 20 years that neighborhood could have changed.

Unfollowed instincts do us no good now. I'm fumbling with the infernal cheap iPhone waiting for AT&T to work its constipated magic, and I can't come up with their home phone number despite best efforts. So I drive a different way trying to find his house. Google still has the red dot and the blue dot going, so maybe there's hope.

You know what's getting really bad in Portland? The quality of the street signs. They're so old and they've lost so much luster, you can't read a lot of them at night any more, even with your high beams on. God forbid they should spend money on replacing them when there are streetcars to be built.

So it's a struggle, but we finally find the other way into the street. It's a dark little road and the house numbers are hard to see in the night rain, but we finally find the house.

Which doesn't look like there's a party going on in it at all.

In fact, that looks like a TV light flickering in a darkened upstairs room that's probably a bedroom. The rest of the place looks dark. It's not a surprise party, and there aren't many cars parked outside. We're not early -- the party was supposed to have started 20 minutes ago.

Should I go ring the bell? If this is the wrong night, they're still going to be stuck politely inviting us in for a while, which they secretly aren't going to want to do. And we'll have to go in and maybe eat a handful a peanuts and have a glass of wine, when really we're both hungry for what was supposed to be a dinner party. In fact, my blood sugar level is running low enough that it's not that easy to think straight about the situation. There might be an E-vite invitation buried in my inbox somewhere, but with the iPhone being so slow, it would take a long time to look for it. The Mrs. is being extraordinarily gentle as my head gets ready to emulate Fukushima.

I get out of the car and walk up the driveway to the foot of the front porch stairs. Nah -- turn around and walk back to the car.

Would you ring the doorbell?
No free polls

The rest of the story later today.

Comments (20)

I've figure out Portland's street signs.

Years ago, back when city council declared Portland was a Nuke-Free City and a Hate-Free City, the wise folks at the transportation bureau knew that the Soviets had nukes and hated us.

So, taking a page out of the Great War Playbook, a cabal of city staffers made sure that none of our street signs gave usable directions.

Ever see that sign on I-84 that tells you a Visitor Center is a mile away, but never actually tells you how to get there? Well, that was Portland's contribution to our Cold War victory.

Sam Adams and the rest of the city council have decided that the confusing street signs should remain as a tribute to Portland's valiant transportation warriors.

It also explains the bikelanes and bioswales. Sam has had several meetings with the DoD. Slide #267 of his presentation prepared by Roland Chlapowski shows Sam's genius, it reads: Tanks Don't Use Bikelanes.

When we survive the the next World War, turn to the closest bikelane and say a silent prayer to Sam Adams, the patron saint of potholes.

1. Didn't I read somewhere recently that there are new federal standards mandated for street signs that will necessitate replacement of ours?
2. It would be an interesting experiment to see whether the painted sitter or -- better yet -- one of the sittees can make out the signs in the dark and the rain better than your presbyopic self.

Actually, the City of Portland is starting the process of replacing its street signs. Unfortunately, the ones I've seen replaced perfectly good signs, not ones that really needed replacement.

The standard Portland street sign is a very old design - I've seen streetscape pictures from the 1940s and those signs looked identical them as they do now. The newer signs are slightly taller, have rounded corners, have the street name in both capital and lowercase letters, meet modern reflectivity standards and are flat metal (the old signs had a raised border, pretty typical for street signs until fairly recently).

Did you plug in the right address?

Heavens, we have enough money is this city to paint bike logos in the street so those bikers know which way to point their bikes. And since the city thinks they're not a bright bunch of folks, these bike logos must be painted on every block, in both directions, for 10-12 blocks at a time. What a waste of money! And they're not cheap!

But hey, signs that actually could be read by drivers . . .not no necessary! I mean, if we didn't drive, we wouldn't need the signs, so why encourage drivers by having readable signs.

Jack, when I switched to wearing glasses, middle-aged eyes I could read the signs a bit better.

The street gap issue you discovered with Google Maps isn't that uncommon, and the errors seem to be replicated when you check other map databases. I've also seen topo isocline lines that cross, streams that flow uphill over ridges, and the like. We've also heard of people blindly following their GPS's instructions and turning into front yards.

I suppose it all happened when analog map images were originally scanned and converted to lines without adequate resolution to see the gaps. And since the analog images probably haven't been kept up-to-date, were stuck with the map databases now being the master copies. I've often wondered what the process will be to get something corrected, and once corrected, if it will stick or not. Probably the answer to both will be "no process".

When I started reading the first part of this story, my friend commented that it sounded like the start of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. I do think that Garage Wine might be onto something though.

Portland's east side numbered streets are in perfect cadence, Except for NE 32nd Ave, NE 32nd Pl, and NE 32nd Ct. near Knott St. I tried to find an address in the rain recently and found myself muttering at the poor maintenance of the signs. Why, 20 years ago, those signs were in perfect shape!
And my flashlight was brighter, too.
Now I just bring a teenager to read the signs for me.

cool. this is like one of those choose your own adventure books.

On Google Maps, you can hit Report a Problem and notify them of the messed up street. The three or four times I've done it, they fixed the problem, but it took over a month. It appeared they even got the problem fixed in their upstream map data provider, back when they were using (I think) TeleAtlas. For most places they keep their own database now, and I noticed quality has fallen a bit. I wonder if the error you ran into is in Portland's GIS data too? That'd be pretty surprising.

There is a very crooked street in Seattle near Lake Washington and poor Ms Garmin has a really hard time with it...poor old soul she is "recalculating" a lot there!

when I switched to wearing glasses, middle-aged eyes I could read the signs a bit better

I wear glasses. I have 20-20 vision with my glasses on. It's not my eyes. It's the signs.

I agree, "It's the signs". Our sign has been bent over for over 4 years now with tree limbs obscuring the sign. People come to the SW intersection everyday and sit in their vehicles wondering where they are.
I could make a fortune for all the times I've helped them out. I've even had people look up the street and ask me "is that a driveway or street?" since it is full of potholes, hasn't had a street sweeper for over a decade and hasn't had coat seal for over 20 years.

Ah yes, wonderful Southwest PDX. Did your car disappear into a gigantic pothole? The streets over here are atrocious. Funny you should mention street signs...those are hard to read in this part of town because of the mold and moss flourishing on them. I say cut down some trees and let more light in around here. (Oh, right. That would be a hangin' offense.)

I feel you pain about the dead ends and bum directions from GPS, MapQuest,etc. All of those gadgets mislead deliverymen, repairmen and guests to our abode. It's a rat's maze in this neck of the woods.

I had a similar experience and in the same part of town, except it was a costume party and I came as a cowboy with a toy gun. So here I was lurking about with a gun in my hand at 7 at night peering into a window trying to figure out if it was the right place. Thank God a neighbor didn't come out with a real gun. Turned out to be the right house, but the party was in the back.

And you are right about street signs. My brother from NY called Portland a roach motel where tourists can drive in but can't find a way out. Every year the transportation department asks for money to fix sign and it gets shot down.

This may seem like a wacky idea but there are many street signs that hard to read because they are so dirty. It's the same green slime that's on them that gets on everything else that's out in the weather in this city. How about washing the things off? The aluminum signs should be easy to scrub clean if you have the right truck to reach them.Cutting some tree branches back would be great too.Look at the freeway entrance sign to I-405 on your left as you travel south on SW Broadway. I still never leave home without my Thomas Bros. guide. It's still the most accurate map around.

There is a federal rule on retroreflectivity that all states and cities must comply with by 2018.That may result in some old wood signs being replaced.Some older Portland signs are bad because each letter is an individual decal and they get old and the letters start to peel off. Portland is still better than Clackamas county because at least in Portland all 4 corners of an intersection have signs.In Clackamas county somtimes it's just one corner and if you are following a truck you can't see that right side street sign till it's too late.

at least in Portland all 4 corners of an intersection have signs

Wow, you really don't know what you're talking about there.

That may result in some old wood signs being replaced

If you see a wood sign, it's probably a Multnomah County sign dating from pre-annexation.

You really should only see those in East Portland (i.e. east of 122nd Avenue); and even then they should be pretty rare by now.

My beef with Portland is on non-90 degree intersections that have another intersection, the street signs will not make any sense. A good example is at S.W. Barbur Boulevard and Abernathy Street - the sign for Barbur says Water Avenue. (Which, is technically true, but most people would clearly see that Barbur is the street that you would turn onto from Abernathy - not Water Avenue.)

The transportation budget appears to cover new trolley tracks and pothole repairs.

Do they even resurface streets anymore? You would think they could (at least) spruce up the approaches/departures around City Hall and the downtown core: yet they are some of the worst in town.


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