[Editor’s note: This story was originally posted on Friday 10/10 but has been re-posted after a server outage.]
According to an article by Amy Ruiz in this week’s Portland Mercury, Commissioner Randy Leonard is “intrigued” by carfree public spaces — something he saw during a recent trip to Copenhagen.
Ruiz reports that during the question and answer session of a forum sponsored by the Oregon Environmental Council on October 1st, Leonard brought up carfree spaces in response to a question about congestion pricing.
“Joking that his answer was “going to get me in trouble,” Leonard made a bold announcement: After visiting Copenhagen earlier this year, he has been “quietly looking at those cities” that have created public spaces by eliminating auto traffic on certain streets. While it’s not a congestion toll, Leonard’s “intrigued” by cities that have “opened up parts of their city to just pedestrians… and [I] would like to actually look at doing something toward that end in the next four years.””
Ruiz reports that Leonard is eyeing the South Park Blocks (around Portland State University) as a possible carfree area but that it’s all just talk at this point.
However, given the current and future make-up of City Council, and an Amsterdam native at the helm of PSU, I think a carfree South Park Blocks might be a real possibility.
The growing impact of Copenhagen and Amsterdam (another place with a people-first urban planning perspective) on Portland’s thinking about roadway engineering is worth noting.
In addition to Leonard, Transportation Commissioner and mayor-elect Sam Adams, (whom Leonard has sided with on issues like the re-use of the Sauvie Island Bridge as a bike and pedestrian-only crossing over the 405 freeway) took a trip to Amsterdam back in 2005 (that trip included Adams’ chief of staff Tom Miller and PDOT’s bike coordinator Roger Geller).
Adams also sent the City of Portland’s head traffic engineer, Rob Burchfield, on a fact-finding mission to Copenhagen and Amsterdam that concludes this week.
If Leonard and Adams are serious about seeking more carfree public spaces downtown, it shouldn’t be too hard to find one more council member to agree with them (thus having a majority). Commissioner Dan Saltzman is head of the Parks bureau (and his chief of staff is an avid bike rider), Commissioner Nick Fish has recently taken to biking, and the final Council seat will be filled by either Amanda Fritz (a nurse, and what could be more healthy that carfree spaces!?), or Charles Lewis, a regular bike commuter who swapped two car parking spaces for bike parking in front of his non-profit business.
2008 has been a banner carfree year in Portland. In June, we hosted a very successful International Carfree Cities Conference, we had our first major carfree street event with Sunday Parkways and more recently, the Last Thursday event on Alberta Street has gone 100% non-motorized. I have a feeling that in 2009, things will only get better for Portland’s carfree possibilities.
(For more on Commissioner Randy Leonard, read about when I joined him for his bike commute home back in May 2007.)