Rare glimpse of a car-less Northwest Portland

Posted by on December 19th, 2006 at 9:16 am

[Car-less Northwest Portland.]
Photo by Kate Gawf

Portland blogger Kate Gawf recently snapped some photos of a rare occurrence in Northwest Portland; car-less streets. Thanks to the annual “Leaf Day” clean-up, all cars in the usually “parked-up” and densely populated neighborhood vanish for just a few hours.

Here’s more from Kate, followed by another photo:

“Northwest Portland is the most parked-up neighborhood in Portland…it’s truly ridiculous. You go there in a car, you’ll spend twenty minutes (and who knows how much gas) circling to find a spot. On leaf day there were signs up everywhere saying Don’t park here between 7 and 10 AM. Somehow ALL THOSE PEOPLE managed to not bring their cars to this area for that whole block of time.

These pictures are not possible except on the two leaf-days a year. At no other time can you get full elevation photos of these buildings, many of which are gorgeous. Not only that, the feel of space and un-clutteredness was absolutely liberating. This is what it would look like if we could only get rid of most of the cars. If they can make this happen for three hours, why not longer?”

[Photo by Kate Gawf]

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bethlianaganCarladamChris in NW Recent comment authors
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“You go there in a car, you’ll spend twenty minutes (and who knows how much gas) circling to find a spot.”

Hmm, that sounds like complaining about traffic, when you ARE traffic.

Just sayin’

Chris in NW
Chris in NW

There are two reasons why NW Portland is the “most parked-up neighborhood in Portland.” First, most housing between 20th and 23rd is large apartment buildings, few with off-street parking. Second, there is a large influx of visitors to 21st & 23rd streets, PGE Park, etc. This combines to create lots of cars parked on the street. It’s not that there are more cars here (I’d even venture that many folks who live around here use alternate methods of transportation), but rather that they are more visible. If you go down to the Pearl, Beaverton, etc, I’ll guarantee there are throngs of vehicles all tucked neatly out of view, but they are still there and that’s what we should be concerned about. If anything it is good that the cars are so visible here and parking is such a hassle, maybe it will make visitors think twice about driving down here.


wow! great pics. sometimes, it feels like we can win and really change things.

sometimes, you just have to accept that the cops and the mayor could care less about you(ok, maybe I am just talking to myself here).

anyway, a better world is ours for the taking but I think we have to take it because the power structure is mostly interested in maintaining their power…


I’ve been getting pretty involved with carfree activism here in Portland, but I’ve got to say, the photographs above are far from inspiring. Huge, empty streets like these seem impossibly hard to fill with enough life to make them feel inviting and energized. Maybe it’s because I’m drawn to clutter and I love the narrow tangled streets of Boston, where I grew up.

Portland, in my opinion, suffers from having insanely wide streets, especially in residential areas. This lack of density discourages walking and contributes significantly to speeding. Without parked cars, as we can see in the photos above, even “dense” NW Portland’s streets look like wastelands. It’d be cool to see sidewalks and planting strips widened or something but before such an expensive endeavor happens, bring on the parked cars. At least they take a crack at populating the space and calming traffic.

If you really want to envision the beauty of carfree streets, WALK your bike down the following streets:
-SE 36th between Stark and Alder
-SE 33rd between Hawthrone and Main
-the alleyways of Ladd’s Addition.

Don’t laugh. In Europe, I’ve walked down bustling commercial streets narrower than those.

Am I trying to superimpose a tight organic street system on a new gridded city…and isn’t that a little silly? Probably. Regardless, the expansiveness of Portland’s streets is a sore point with me and seeing them sans parked cars just freaks me out. Parked cars, ironically, are great tools for narrowing streets and making them less attractive to moving cars. My car’s parked about three feet from the curb…with a FOR SALE sign on it.


Well, that explains why bikes seem to rule the road anyplace you go by bike in residential Vancouver, B.C.: narrow streets with parked cars on both sides combined with lots of traffic-circle islands. My first reaction was apprehension, but I soon got used to the bike-friendly atmosphere created by the necessary slower car speeds. It was a claustrophobic experience, but nice to see so many people out on bikes and friendly as well.


Terriffic pics. However, you should know that the first picture includes a large synagogue which has some parking restrictions next to that building; so it’s possible to see fewer cars in that spot on other days as well. Still, it’s a potent and inspiring glimpse. Thank you for capturing it.