Highway☆ Released on the App Store!

Highway☆

We at CatSynth are excited to announce the release of our newest app Highway☆ for iPhone and iPad, available on the App Store!

This app comes out of long-term interest in highways and road travel, something we explore periodically on this site. It’s a sort of “Pokemon Go” for travelers and road geeks, where you can discovery and collect highways as you travel.

Highway☆ iPhone screenshot

It also has features for exploring new places on your device, and finding more information about the roads. You can also connect with other users and compete for the top scores.

It is completely free, so please download and have fun, especially if you are planning to hit the road this summer. And please let us know what you think or if you have ideas for new features 😺

And we are currently busy at work on an Android version, which we hope to share soon.

Lake Oroville and the Oroville Dam

We at CatSynth have been following the events at Oroville Dam here in California quite closely. While the worst of the crisis has passed for, we do send our thoughts to those in the along the Feather River and in the low-lying areas along the Sacramento River that remain in danger of flooding, especially during and after massive storm systems like the current one were experiencing.


[Click to enlarge]

Oroville, as the name implies, was an important trading town during the Gold Rush era. It sits at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada along the Feather River which cuts through the mountains. The Oroville Dam was built it the 1960s – it remains the tallest dam in the United States, and Lake Oroville is a rather deep lake – second to Lake Tahoe but a distant second. It also the second largest reservoir in the state.

The landscape in the area is quite beautiful as the water combines with the Sierra foothills as well as the human-made structures, like the dam, the hydroelectric plant and the Bidwell Bar Bridge. The original Bidwell Bar Bridge was the oldest suspension bridge in California. It was relocated when the area – including the town of Bidwell Bar – was flooded in the creation of Lake Oroville and still serves as a pedestrian bridge.


[Jet Lowe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

A newer suspension bridge replaced it over the lake.


[By Thad Roan from Littleton, CO, USA, http://www.Bridgepix.com (Bidwell Bar Bridge, Oroville, California) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Highway 162 crosses the bridge, and connects the town of Oroville to Highway 70 and the Sacramento Valley. Highway 162 continues westward towards the wide flat Thermalito Afterbay, a wide shallow reservoir that is part of the Oroville system, and serves both agricultural water delivery and regulation of the main lake and the power plant.

Highway 70 heads southwards towards Sacramento, passing the towns of Marysville and Yuba City , where it continues as a freeway towards Sacramento. Yuba City is interesting as the home to perhaps the largest Sikh community outside the state of Punjab in India. Many of the Sikh settlers in the area became farmers, in particular peach farmers. And the town hosts a large annual festival that brings in thousands from outside the area.


[By Jujhar.pannu (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons[]

The volume of water in the lake, its height, and the dramatic contrast between the foothills and fertile flat low-lying Sacramento Valley make Lake Oroville a “lynchpin” of the California water system, but also quite dangerous in the event of a dam failure. We should be clear that currently the main dam is sound, it is the main spillway and emergency spillway off to the side suffered damane rainstorms. But that could still send large volumes of water to flood large areas of the valley below. The original evacuation order (lifted before the current storm system) covered Oroville, Yuba City and other communities along the rivers. The danger in terms of a catastrophic event would also extend to the Sacramento River and the delta, where numerous “islands” exist below sea level and are protected by an aging levy system.

We hope everyone along these vital waterways remains safe. And as the Oroville Dam system is repaired and upgrade, hopefully this provides the state the proverbial “kick in the tuchus” to address the rest of our aging infrastructure.

California Highways 47 and 103, and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach

At the southern edge of Los Angeles County lies the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two largest and busiest in the United States. They are in some ways an entire separate city, with their own network of bridges and freeways beyond the regular network of Los Angeles and its environs.

California 103We begin our exploration in a quiet and somewhat industrial section of Long Beach along Willow Road. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we encounter the northern California Highway 103, the Terminal Island Freeway which is a major truck route to the port. It might be the heavy truck traffic that accounts for its being in rather poor shape.

CA 103 Northern Terminus

CA_47Heading south on CA 103, we pass through a flat, industrial landscape. It is a bit desolate, but beautiful in its way. There are only two interchanges, one of which is with CA 1. Continuing past the interchanges, the freeway transitions to California Highway 47 and crosses the Cerritos Channel to Terminal Island the ports on the Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Bridge. This is a massive lift bridge that can accommodate large ships accessing the port.

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It has an old industrial and dystopian feel to its architecture, particularly on the foggy morning when I visited. Since then, the bridge has been decommissioned and is in the process of being replaced.

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I left the freeway at New Dock Street to get a closer look and to take more photos of the bridge and other details of the ports. Photographing around the working port has its challenges with a great many areas fenced off, and a no doubt a heightened suspicion of odd people wandering around with cameras. I did get a few, some of which are shared here. They have also appeared in Wordless Wednesday posts (and will continue to do so).

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CA 47 turns onto the Seaside Freeway runs east-west and bisects Terminal Island. Heading east, the freeway (also known as Ocean Boulevard) the graceful Gerald Desmond Bridge, becoming I-710 heading north through Long Beach.

Gerald Desmond Bridge

You can read about our separate adventure along I-710 is this article.

Following CA 47 west along the freeway, one winds up and down between elevated and surface sections before ascending to the photogenic Vincent Thomas Bridge.

Vincent Thomas Bridge

Vincent Thomas Bridge

There is a small park on the west side of the bridge, which affords one a change to get out, walk, and view both the bridge and the channel. There are families and others here, many probably from the adjacent community of San Pedro. We have in an instant left the industrial landscape of the port and entered the residential landscape of greater Los Angeles. It is appropriate the CA 47 ends here and the freeway turns north as I-110, the Harbor Freeway. But that is a story for another time.

Concrete Plant Park and The Sheridan Expressway, South Bronx

The South Bronx still gets a bad rap. And I do remember what it was in the late 1970s and 1980s. But for us at CatSynth, it has become a place of great curiosity and surprising forms of beauty. A few years ago, I noticed some changes along the southern stretch of the Bronx River in Google Maps. In particular, there was a brand new park.

Concrete Plant Park and vicinity.

Concrete Plant Park is literally that, a park built around the ruins of an old concrete plant along the river’s edge. I had to see this for myself. And since 2013, I have gone to see it several times.

To get there via subway from Riverdale is a bit of a challenge. There have never been east-west subway lines traversing the borough, only north-south to and from Manhattan. So a subway trip from the western end of the Bronx to the southeast requires a trip into Manhattan and a few transfers (there is no crosstown subway in Harlem, either). Finally, one reaches the 6 IRT, which heads north into the south and east Bronx. It’s a long ride underground eventually emerging onto an elevated structure over Westchester Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares through the South Bronx. I alight at the Whitlock Avenue stop.

I-895Between the station and the park is the Sheridan Expressway (I-895). This is a strange little highway that hugs the western edge of the Bronx River from the Bruckner Expressway (I-278) north to East Tremont Avenue with connections to the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95) and the Bronx River Parkway.

Sheridan Expressway

Sheridan Expressway northbound

It is sort of a connector from the Bronx Zoo to the Triborough Bridge, though one that isn’t really needed given the other larger freeways in the vicinity. It only has one exit between its termini: Westchester Avenue near the Whitlock station and Concrete Plant Park. One can see the entry ramps leading down to the highway while walking towards the park.

I-895 from Westchester Avenue

Another ramp leads down from the street level to the park itself. It’s a flat piece of land with grass concrete paths dotted by the refurbished structures from the former concrete plant.

Concrete Plant Park

Although it seems to be a trend to incorporate reclaimed industrial elements into public spaces, the structures are still fairly unique for an urban park, and quite photogenic. Here are just a few of the photos I have taken.

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Regular readers might recognize these visuals from a past Wordless Wednesday. We also featured some of the park’s stark boundary visuals in a past new years post.

The Bronx River itself is an important element of the park’s identity and landscape. The section south of Bronx Park has long been more industrial, and the river and its banks still bear the visuals of that past. A major effort to clean up and restore the river has been underway for a while. And it is much cleaner than it was in the 1980s, though one can still see a lot of detritus collecting along the berms.

Bronx River

Looking north alongs the river towards the 6 Elevated and Westchester Avenue is quite beautiful with filtered lighting.

6 IRT over the Bronx River

Although I visit this park for its visuals and geographical placement, it is a local park enjoyed by the local community. On a summertime visit, I saw a lot of families and individuals there, playing sports, relaxing along the river, and even barbecuing. It seems that this park is a successful one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I visit again.

Ellis Street, San Francisco

Looking westward out from my office in San Francisco, I can see the entirety of Ellis Street, heading from downtown towards the interior hills of the city. Recently, I finally got a chance to walk the street from one end to the other.

Ellis Street downtown view from building

Ellis Street is a relatively modest east-west street, but like many others in this city it traverses a diverse cross-section of terrains and neighborhoods. It begins at the intersection with Market Street and Stockton Street, shown in the photo above. At the corner is the San Francisco’s flagship Apple Store. The large construction project that has taken over the intersection is part of the new Central Subway project, in particular, a series of tunnels that will connect the existing Powell Street BART and MUNI station to the new line that goes up Stockton Street.

At ground level, we can see the mixture of tall buildings, hotels, restaurants and tourist places that dominate the blocks around Union Square.

Ellis Street near Union Square

The street is an exercise in contrasts. As we move just a couple of blocks westward, the cityscape gives way to older ornate buildings house boutique hotels, lounges, dive bars, massage parlors, youth hostels, and apartments of long time residents trying to hold on in a changing and increasingly unaffordable city.

Ellis Street sign

Heading into the heart of the Tenderloin (“TL”) we cross Taylor Street, which we wrote about this summer. The neighborhood has its reputation for being sketchy and having among the last concentrated pockets of poverty in the city, but the diverse neighborhood contains beautiful architecture and a wide range of people and interests.

Ellis Street, TL

Friends live here. There are cultural institutions here, such as the “509 Annex” of the Luggage Store Gallery where the regular Outsound New Music Series was temporarily hosted (it is now back at the main LSG building on Market Street). A couple of blocks south is the new home of Counterpulse, an experimental performance arts organization. Glide Memorial Church is a veritable institution at the corner of Ellis and Taylor that serves many in the neighborhood and beyond.

The social and architectural landscape again changes dramatically as we approach Van Ness Avenue, one of the main north-south boulevards in the city. It is lined with both tall (and expensive) apartment buildings as well as quite a few car dealerships.

Ellis and Van Ness

Heading west from Van Ness on Ellis we continue up an incline to Cathedral Hill. Not surprisingly, there is a cathedral here: specifically St. Mary’s, a beautiful gem of modernist architecture. They also have a huge modern pipe organ and I have heard several concerts there.

St Mary's Cathedral

Several of the apartment buildings in these blocks are quite tall, and remind me more of 1960s/1970s New York City apartments than those typically associated with San Francisco. I particularly like this cylindrical building.

Apartment building on Cathedral Hill

Continuing westward, we enter a more low-rise residential neighborhood, and the first of a few continuity gaps in Ellis Street. It stops at block of schools anchored by Rosa Parks Elementary School before picking up again a block later.

Dead end at Rosa Parks Elementary School

This section of the street has quite a few gaps, actually, some of which are probably from the redevelopment of the Fillmore District. Indeed, Ellis is mostly pedestrian walkways at its intersection with Fillmore in the middle of the “Jazz Heritage District”. A block south is the building Fillmore Heritage Center that housed the ill-fated San Francisco branch of Yoshi’s.

Fillmore

It still has a restaurant and concert venue under various managements, as well as the larger-than-life photos on its facade.

When Ellis Street resumes two blocks to the west, it is a smaller, treelined residential street with pretty two-story residences of the classic San Francisco style.

Ellis Street residential block

The next large crossing is Divisadero. I have never quite figured out exactly what it is that Divisadero is dividing.

Ellis and Divisadero

In recent years Divisadero has been a destination street in itself. I have done a bit of photography here a few blocks south, and had one of my photos from that set displayed in a show at Rare Device.

Just past the intersection is the final uphill block that I had been able to see from the office window.

Final block of Ellis Street

It is the steepest block of the street, and the houses reflect that. This is a rather archetypical San Francisco street scape.

Iconic San Francisco residential block

Ellis Street ends at the top of the rise at an unassuming intersection with St Joseph’s Street.

Terminus of Ellis Street

St Joseph’s is one of several streets here that is confined to the small hill neighborhood of Anza Vista. Over a century ago, this area was a large cemetery. All the plots have long since been moved to Colma, and it is now a fancy hilltop neighborhood whose apartment buildings and houses look more like the Berkeley hills or Daly City than the traditional parts of San Francisco.

Anza Vista

The architectural dissonance is not surprising as Anza Vista was developed after World War II.

The walk was quite a nice one, not too long or strenuous and it was a lovely warm autumn day. But I was ready for a break, and caught a 38 Geary Express MUNI back downtown and plotted future walking adventures for the city.