Downtown basks in Sunday Parkways spotlight

Portlanders jumped at the chance to enjoy sun and carfree streets.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Like a living concept drawing sprung from the pages of a visionary planning document, or scene stolen from a transportation activists’ dream, Portlanders got a taste of downtown’s potential at Sunday Parkways yesterday.

SW Naito Parkway, usually dominated by four lanes of motor vehicle traffic, became a peaceful extension of Waterfront Park.

In the Pearl District, NW 13th Street once again demonstrated that it’s one of Portland’s best candidates for a future carfree shopping plaza.

Director Park — a relative newbie in the Portland public space line-up — embraced the carfree limelight by turning SW Park Ave into the relaxing, strollable, carfree plaza that it should be.

This block SW Park Avenue throuh Director Park would be a great candidate for a carfree plaza.

For the second time in as many months, the weather fully cooperated with the City’s schedule and delivered a nearly-ideal day for the event. Northwest Portland neighborhoods boast some of the best trees and most beautiful homes in the entire city and Sunday was a great time to discover them.

The turnout was much bigger than last year (though still nothing like last month’s record crowds in North Portland), when grey skies kept some people at home and the route was constrained due to unrelated police activity. I saw a lot of families, many of whom rode into downtown just for the event if the heavy bike traffic back into the neighborhoods afterwards were any indication.

The high point for me was Salmon Street Fountain. It was as full of life as I’d ever seen it. And, to cap it all off, the Sprockettes kids campers performed for a big crowd.


Naito was another highlight. That street has so much potential; but I’m afraid it won’t be realized until make it more inviting for foot traffic. Having a direct north-south option for bicycling also reminded me how inadequate the Waterfront multi-use path is. Seeing Naito and Front split into car traffic on one side and two-way bike traffic on the other is a vision for the future I won’t soon forget.

One thing I was a bit surprised about was the lack of activity from many downtown businesses. With thousands of people spending the day downtown, I figured businesses would be pulling out the stops to get them in. Most of the carts at the pod at Washington and 9th were closed. Cafes that were open seemed to do well, but it would have been cool to see big sidewalk sales and “10% for Sunday Parkways!” deals.

I saw PBOT Director Tom Miller walking the route. He was in the park adjacent to Naito. “Walking gives me a different perspective on the event,” he said.

Miller and I chatted about how to get businesses more excited and engaged in the event. One thing I suggested was to brand the downtown edition of the event differently than the neighborhood ones. Instead of promoting the active, healthy, explore-your-parks message, perhaps PBOT should use a “Discover Downtown” message. The idea would be to encourage stopping and browsing at galleries, boutiques, and shops. PBOT’s Options Division could host clinics on shopping with your bike, how to not wear lycra, and so on.

Of all the Sunday Parkways locations, the downtown edition holds the greatest potential in terms of opening the eyes of Portlanders — and our elected and civic leaders — to the vision of what our City could look like if we put people first.

And finally, one of the reasons Sunday Parkways inspires me is that it proves if you give people a comfortable environment to ride in, it’s much easier to resist the “allure of the automobile”…

People don’t even seem to notice the Portland Art Museum’s latest exhibit.

Where you out there on Sunday? What did you see? What did you enjoy most? What could be improved?

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