Mo Betta Block
As people that care a lot about public space and street safety, it’s been exciting to watch Better Block PDX put together major street reconfiguration demo projects in our fair city. We were proud to be a part of the 3rd Ave project last October, and had a chance to volunteer with them during Better Naito last month. It’s inspiring to see such a resourceful and proactive group of people come together with a vision to transform dangerous and underperforming streets into vibrant thoroughfares that further enhance the quality of life in our rapidly evolving city.
The 3rd Ave project has already resulted in motion toward a permanent redesign of the street that was recently endorsed by the 3rd Avenue Stakeholder Advisory Group. The configuration favored by the group is not as progressive as that tested by Better Block (which was, by the way, a huge hit, see photo at left by Greg Raisman): instead of cutting car traffic down to one lane and removing all parking to make space for outdoor dining and pedestrian plazas, the current plan simply replaces the right-side car lane with a buffered bike lane. A complementary effort to realize another feature of the Better Block project—turning Ankeney Alley into a pedestrian plaza—is also moving forward. These are significant steps in the right direction, and a good example of how cooperative advocacy can spur relatively rapid change.
If 3rd Ave seems ripe for revision, Naito Parkway pretty much screams for it, especially during the summer when various festivals fence off the adjacent Waterfront Park. So Better Block spearheaded Better Naito, which commandeered a northbound car lane for bikes and pedestrians. (Shout out to FPS Alum Yelena Prusakova for the excellent graphic she created for the project.) The demonstration clearly showed that there is a lot of pent-up demand for space for people who aren’t driving cars. Bike counts were as high as one every 18 seconds (not counting the thousand that rode through on the Pedalpalooza Kick-off Ride, photo by Yelena Prusakova at left), and there were many instances of pedestrians filling up the lane entirely. When I toured Better Naito as part of a WTS group, I was especially impressed by the coordination effort that cut through all sorts of bureaucratic red tape to bring the project to fruition. PBOT staff were enthusiastic partners, installing temporary bike signals and adjusting traffic signal timing to smooth out the flow, while volunteers used chalk paint and duct tape to put markings on the asphalt.
PR for the project was uniformly positive, so I’m optimistic that permanent changes are ahead for this stretch of auto-oriented Portland as well. Better Naito showed definitively that Naito Parkway should make safe space for bikes and pedestrians, but we still have to use our imaginations for how it might look and what kind of place it might be. Orange bollards and plywood planters (sans plants) only give the gist of how a more complete street might work. They only hint at how a holistic design could elegantly handle different modes of transportation and enhance the experience of all who linger or pass through. That physical potential is hard to simulate in a demonstration project, so it would be exciting if future Better Block efforts included a visualization component that could really inspire people— perhaps a design competition is in order?