Northeast neighborhoods shine in Sunday Parkways spotlight

Sunday Parkways Northeast 2009-52
A cul-de-sac near Fernhill Park saw a lot of
action Sunday.
-Slideshow below/Gallery
(Photos © J. Maus)

On Sunday, thousands of Portlanders got a chance to explore Northeast Portland in a way they’ve never done so before. From the gorgeous homes on the Alameda bluffs to the outskirts of the Alberta Arts district, they walked, jogged and biked like they owned the street (and for six hours, they did).

The second of three Sunday Parkways events planned by the Bureau of Transportation this year, the Northeast edition boasted nearly seven miles of carfree streets. Three parks (Alberta, Fernhill, and Wilshire) were connected via a steady stream of Portlanders of all shapes, sizes, and colors.

My family and I connected with the route on NE 17th. A few blocks later we were being anointed with holy water (hose with a mister attachment) by Pasture Ted of the Bike Temple. Ted and his cohort Deacon Amos had taken over an intersection. There was also a pew bench, a harpist, and volunteer Joe Adamski was dressed in a robe to bless bikes as they passed by.

A bit further up the road we came upon a street performance by local band, Keep Your Fork There’s Pie. The band was fully mobile, thanks to a massive Dutch cargo bike (where the drummer sat and played) and several locally made bikes from Metrofiets.

Big crowds, on bikes mostly.

The turnout was very high and many of the streets had steady traffic in both directions. On more narrow streets, this meant a bit of congestion. With the vast majority of people on bicycles, local blogger Jack Bogdanski has wondered if the popular event can remain pedestrian friendly.

I didn’t notice any particular problems (of course, I was on a bicycle), but there was one thing that comes to mind. While biking down NE 37th en route to Fernhill Park, a woman and her small child on a tricycle were trying to cross the street. I watches dozens of people stream by without noticing them. When I stopped (and made sure everyone behind me stopped) to let them by she smiled in thanks and let out a sigh of relief.

Local transportation expert and citizen activist superman Chris Smith wondered on his blog this morning about how over-popularity might impact the event:

“But I wonder if there were not almost too many folks out there? … Could this event go the way of Bridge Pedal and choke on its own success? Perhaps the answer is to do them every Sunday, and take the pressure off just three days a year!”

The crowds might be getting thick, but for me, that’s a very small price to pay. With each Sunday Parkways event our city becomes more connected — not just through people-friendly streets, but through face-to-face interactions and through the magic of human-powered neighborhood explorations.

What these crowds show us is that Portland has a severe, pent-up demand for carfree streets (been to Last Thursday lately?). The answer is more of them, more often, in more parts of the city.

The last Sunday Parkways of the year is slated for August 16th in Southeast Portland.

See more scenes from the streets in the slideshow below or browse the photo gallery.

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