[Updated at 8:02pm on 6/30 — see end of story.]
In a brilliantly ironic bit of activism, two strategically placed cars helped created a three-block stretch of carfree streets during last week’s Last Thursday event on Alberta Street.
The event was first reported by Stephen Upchurch, who shared what he saw on the Shift email list.
He noted that the cars seemed to be, “painted for the occasion,” and that they were stopped in the intersections of NE 24th and 27th streets. This, wrote Upchurch, “effectively created a three block car free zone.”
It didn’t take long for the busy Alberta Street crowds to take advantage of the situation. “The newly created space filled with people, enjoying the Thursday Parkways vibe.”
Calls for a carfree Last Thursday have bounced around the community for years.
In July of 2006, a group of concerned citizens took over a car parking spot on Alberta Street and asked passersby if Alberta had “outgrown the sidewalk.”
A few months later, I reported that there were so many people on the street that an impromptu dance party started.
Then, last April, another dance party that erupted in the street resulted in a bit of a fracas which was then reported in some media outlets (and treated by the police) as a riot.
In this most recent incident, Upchurch snapped several photos of the cars and the crowd they attracted before police and a tow truck arrived.
One photo shows a note taped to the windshield on one of the cars. The note (text below) explains much more about the motivation for this guerrilla action but says nothing about the identity of the individual or group behind it (besides an email address).
Here is the full text of the note:
“We’re blocking off the street!
As an act of advocacy for Last Thursday, we declare the NE Alberta Street is closed to all motorized traffic from 7pm — 10pm tonight (June 26)
Why are we doing this?
Last Thursday has become so popular that it is just not safe for cars and busses to coexist with vendors and the crowd of thousands…
Last year, TriMet voluntarily re-routed their buses during Last Thursday because they recognized it was just impractical to run bus service through such a large crowd. However, the City made TriMet resume their normal service as a method of crowd control. We believe this is absolutely the wrong direction to take, so we are taking the street back ourselves.
How will this work?
We will block the street on 15th Ave and 30th Ave to prevent East/West traffic. All side streets will be open to traffic going North/South.
Can I help?
Yes you can. Here are some suggestions:
— Enjoy Last Thursday in the same spirit of respectful community celebration you always do.
— Be responsible for your safety…
— Be polite to drivers and event attendees. If a driver comes onto the street, you might let them know the street is closed and suggest they take an alternate route like Killingsworth.
— Call it quits at 10pm. Last Thursday officially “ends” at 10pm. It is a weeknight after all, and people that live here need to get up and go to work tomorrow.
What do I do if…?
— A driver wants to know how to get through?
Tell them they can cross Alberta St. going N/S from 15th and below and 30th and above. All other E/W streets are open.
— A car refuses to turn away?
Let them pass peacefully. Most cars will find an alternate route.
— A police officer tells me to leave?
Follow their instructions.
So, what happens next?
We hope that this small action helps convince more people in the community and the City that not only does closing Alberta St. for Last Thursday not end the world, it makes the event safer, more enjoyable and encourages it to grow into an even more wonderful celebration on Portland’s cultural calendar.
[Update] The person behind this act of carfree advocacy was Alberta street property owner and self-described “founder of Last Thursday” Magnus Johannesson.
He says the closure was the culmination of two years of negotiations with the City that ended with a “strongly worded” letter from Commissioner Sam Adams’ office.
Johannesson claims that Adams wrote him a letter saying that PDOT has reviewed doing an Alberta Street closure for Last Thursday “on several occasions” and that, “unfortunately, no street closure has been authorized… and no street closure approval is planned for any time in the foreseeable future.”
I’ve got to follow-up with Adams’ office and Johannesson to find out more, but with the coalescence of the local carfree movement thanks to the recent Carfree Cities conference, the success of the Sunday Parkways event, and with existing efforts like this one, perhaps the time has come to finally make Last Thursday on Alberta carfree.