If you're at all interested in the discussion around more-livable streets—or just like riding and walking in urban areas where cars aren't given complete priority—check the stretch of NW/SW 3rd from Davis to Ash this weekend. Since very early this morning, volunteers have been lining the block with small "planters," traffic cones, and fresh markings, in an attempt to find out what a more-accessible Old Town looks like.
What is typically a miniature three-lane highway cutting south through downtown Portland is open to just a single lane of car traffic through Sunday. Those other lanes are being used for an ultra-wide semi-protected bike lane and a pedestrian plaza.
How's it look? At 8:40 this morning, sort of like a construction zone, complete with backed-up car and truck traffic.
That's going to change a bit. Better Block PDX, the group spearheading the project, is planning ping pong tables and balloon animals later today. Local businesses are going to offer seating (and there are hay bales scattered in the former traffic lanes for you to lounge on until that happens).
Even with all that, though, this project is going to look a little rough around the edges. That's sort of its beauty.
What Better Block is doing, with the help of thousands in donated money ($3,000 from Metro alone) and Old Town business owners, is experimenting in new ways for improving some of the city's more unwelcoming stretches. Rather than traversing the typical route toward permanent changes—endless planning meetings, the hardscrabble search for funding—Better Block got permits, marshaled its volunteer base to build dozens and dozens of "planters" in a very short time, and got to work showing Portland what a more-livable 3rd Avenue can look like for the weekend.
The idea is that a short-term project gives us a notion—and video evidence—of what works, what doesn't, and how the public responds to a more-welcoming Old Town. That's something not only transportation activists care about. Old Town business owners and community members tell the Mercury they're curious what putting 2nd, 3rd and 4th avenues on similar "diets" could do for making the long-downtrodden neighborhood more attractive. (It's a good bet people prefer the temporary, makeshift crosswalk at Ankeny Alley to Froggering their way across three pitiless lanes in pursuit of a donut phallus at Voodoo.)
Check this project out. Maybe this afternoon, before the bar-going masses decide it'd be funny to "break that wooden shit in the street."