OLD TOWN on a weekend night is a wild mess. As the hour grows late, the bars around NW 3rd and Couch get hopping, with popped-collared and high-heeled bar-goers clogging the neighborhood's narrow sidewalks—often spilling into the streets.
That's a problem, say Portland police, who have a special "entertainment district" detail. People crowding the sidewalks waiting to get into bars often get into fights, and groups that wander into the street have narrow misses with traffic. The fix? Get rid of the traffic.
Police last week proposed a plan that would shut down NW 3rd, NW Couch, and NW Davis to all vehicle traffic—including bikes—on Friday and Saturday nights from 9 pm to 3 am. The city already shuts down NW Couch between NW 2nd and 3rd (right outside, ahem, Dirty Pie) during those hours. Two sections of the closed streets would allow access for taxicabs and pedicabs.
There have been no serious car-pedestrian crashes in the bar-heavy stretch recently, but police note that in just six months they've responded to 533 calls within the few square blocks. The stretch includes bars popular with suburbanites and tourists, including Dirty, the Barrel Room, Dixie Tavern, and Tube.
"We've got narrow sidewalks in that neighborhood to begin with, then you've got the newstands, the bike racks, trees, and queuing lines. A lot of the fights tend to start with people bumping into each other," says Mike Boyer, city crime prevention coordinator. "You take the cars out of the equation, you allow police to have a better interaction with the security staff there."
Shutting down the street could keep down traffic crashes, but Boyer worries the plan could potentially attract more people to the bars, increasing noise issues for residents at the nearby Union Gospel Mission and the soon-to-be-opened Rich Block Apartments. Patrons would also need to park in lots outside the area, and walk to the bar district.
There is no timeline for implementing the plan, or even assurances that it will actually happen as police and the city meet with neighbors and business owners. But, so far, response seems mostly positive.
"Hell yeah! Totally support it!" says Thomas de Almeida, who's been pedicabbing with Portland Pedicabs for five years. "The street gets totally congested and there are dudes with muscle cars who will skid out and drive super fast down 3rd to try to impress people."