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On NE Holman, an intersection transformed by paint and neighbors

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

The largest street painting in Portland, as seen from a roof on the northwest corner of the intersection.
(Photos © J. Maus)

“The whole point was to draw people together, and already, there are people coming out here everyday, they stand around and start talking.”
— Eric Griffith, who lives on the corner

This past weekend, neighbors around NE Holman and 8th came together for an ambitious project that has brought the community together and improved traffic safety — and all it took was volunteers and less than $2,000 in donations.

What was once just a forgettable crossing of two residential streets is now home to a vibrant, expressive, massive street painting that is impossible to miss. There are several street paintings scattered throughout Portland, but this is the largest.

44-year old Eric Griffith lives on the corner. He told us this morning that the painting has had an immediate impact on his neighborhood.

“The whole point was to draw people together, and already, there are people coming out here everyday, they stand around and start talking — that didn’t happen before nearly as much. It’s also bringing people out into the street, so that’s been an interesting phenomenon.”

Eric Griffith outside his home on
the corner of 8th and Holman.

Another phenomenon has been slower traffic speeds. NE 8th has no stop sign at that intersection, and cars are known to travel at unsafe speeds. While I stood on Griffith’s roof (to take photos), I watched cars slow down considerably as they approached the intersection. This more cautious driving behavior might be due to the novelty of the paint, but if the painting continues to draw people onto the street, their presence could give it a lasting safety benefit (fellow neighbors in the street tend to be great traffic calming tools).

The design itself, created by local artist Zac Reisner, is a four seasons theme. Each leg of the street represents a different season and it’s all tied together by tree roots and a stream in the middle. The animals in the painting — a coyote, raven, raccoon — are all regular inhabitants of the street.

Other regular inhabitants of NE Holman are people on bikes. The street has recently been given the bike boulevard treatment by the Portland Bureau of Transportation. With its speed bumps, sharrows, and lack of stop signs, it has become a popular artery for east-west bike traffic. (PBOT is also working with neighbors on a “pocket park” that will span across Holman just a few blocks east at NE 13th).

Griffith says he and other neighbors want Holman to be “the best bike boulevard in the city.”

“Once we heard about the bike boulevard, we were really excited to be able to augment what’s already there… We want to do things — at least in this section of the street — that help build the bike culture even more. We’ve been here so long and wanting that, that seeing it finally happen is magic.”

While Griffith, who has one of the BTA’s “Build It” signs in his window, is excited about the bike traffic on Holman, he also understands that, “There’s so much more to it than just bikes.”

“I’ve lived in the Woodlawn area for 15 years,” he told me today, “and I’ve met just as many people through all that time that I’ve met in the past two months through this project.”

Over 100 people showed up over the weekend to help with the painting, the largest turnout ever (according to City Repair, the non-profit organization that makes these projects possible).

“The neighborhood was ready for something like this.”

— This project was done as part of City Repair’s Village Building Convergence which started last weekend and continues through Sunday.

— Along with Griffith and artist Zac Reisner, major work to envision and complete this project was done by Anne Tracy and Annie Vail.

— See more images in our photo gallery.

— To get approval for a project like this, the City of Portland requires 80% approval from all residents within a two block radius of the intersection.

— The cost for the permit (about $1,000) and for the paint was raised through neighborhood donations.

— Watch a time-lapse video of the creation of this mural below and learn more about the project on its Facebook page.

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