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Impressions, photos of carfree SW Ankeny

Posted by on August 10th, 2011 at 10:30 am

With the entire roadway roped off, foot traffic (and the occasional person on a bike) crowds onto the SW Ankeny sidewalk.
(Photos © J. Maus)

I finally got a chance to see the newly carfree SW Ankeny in action this past weekend and my impressions were mixed.

Pushed by businesses on the narrow street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues and buoyed by support from PBOT Director Tom Miller, City Council voted to make one block of SW Ankeny carfree.

The ordinance turned the Ankeny roadway into a de facto “sidewalk cafe,” allowing cafes on the street to serve customers in a space that used to be taken up by on-street parking and vehicle traffic.

View of newly carfree SW Ankeny looking east from SW 3rd Avenue (people in foreground are waiting in line for Voodoo Doughnuts).

Didn’t take long for the bike parking to fill up.

I had visions of the cafe owners creating an inviting and open space (remember, they are leading this project, not PBOT), similar to what I’ve experienced in carfree plazas in Europe. Unfortunately, what they’ve done is completely roped off the roadway, pushing all through foot traffic onto the narrow sidewalks. Instead of elegant chairs and tables, clunky wooden picnic tables (about 20 of them) dominate the street. Square wooden posts with rope strung between have been placed up on the already narrow sidewalk, keeping people from freely accessing the tables. (*I’m aware that this was done likely due to mandates from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, but I have yet to confirm that.)

Square posts and rope control access to seating areas.

I was there on a sunny Saturday morning when the surrounding area (Saturday Market) was mobbed with people and the tables were about half full.

While I’m a bit disappointed in some aspects of this project (and it turns out PBOT Director Tom Miller is too), I’m happy that PBOT and the business owners came together to make this happen. Nitpicks aside, having a street where Portlanders can eat and walk without inhaling car exhaust or playing second fiddle to parked cars, is something to celebrate. Surprising as it sounds (given all the kudos Portland gets for livable streets), this is Portland’s first attempt at a carfree street, so growing pains are to be expected. Hopefully we’ll learn lessons here and make the next one even better.

And hopefully, City Council votes to make this pilot project on Ankeny — which is set to turn back into a standard street on October 21st — permanent.

Have you checked out SW Ankeny yet? What do you think? Are there ways we could make it even better?

UPDATE: Reader Mike S., who’s “pretty disappointed in how Ankeny turned out,” sent in this image of a similar street in Lyon, France. “It’s what I thought that Ankeny would look like. Plenty of room for folks to walk and each restaurant gets some, but nowhere near all, of the street space.”

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Dave
Guest

I agree with your assessment largely, I think. It would be nicer if it was more of an open plaza, and less of a roped-off seating area. There can and should be seating there for the restaurants, but I feel like the whole space would be nicer if it weren’t JUST exclusive seating.

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

I concur that this is not what we should be doing with street closures. Not even close.

So much more to say, holding off.

Please put the street back how it was.

Rick
Guest
Rick

I agree! Smaller, round top cafe tables would be nice, and the space would benefit from strategically placed hanging flower baskets and/or plants. Someone who specializes in that should contact the local business owners. And the ropes hafta go!

Dabby
Guest
Dabby

“And hopefully, City Council votes to make this pilot project on Ankeny — which is set to turn back into a standard street on October 21st — permanent.”

After pointing out the obvious issues, and stating you are disappointed by it, you still hope it becomes a permanent thing….

Doesn’t the top of the fence hurt?

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

“… Unfortunately, what they’ve done is completely roped off the roadway, pushing all through foot traffic onto the narrow sidewalks. …” maus/bikeportland

Wonderful. The ‘car-free’ street, which from the get go, was in reality, ‘car-free-bike-free’, turns out also to have become ‘pedestrian-free’.

Note also in the top shot, that amongst the people crowding the sidewalk adjacent to the Oyster Bar the person on a bike isn’t walking their bike…they’re riding it. Aren’t there signs at the entrance to the street reminding people with bikes that they’re required to walk them?

gee
Guest
gee

What it is with Portland restaurants’ predilection for picnic tables instead of cafe tables and chairs with backs?! Ugh.

was carless
Guest
was carless

Regardless, I still think its an improvement.

However, this isn’t the first carfree street in Portland. That would go to the PSU Park Ave (8th) next to Newberger, Smith and the library buildings that were closed off to cars long ago (70s?). Well, except for the occasional delivery or construction vehicle.

Indy
Guest
Indy

It is an ugly street and not my idea of a test project.

I personally feel that SW Morrison/Yamhill are great candidates for permanent car-free locations, as they have minimal car traffic now, or car traffic that routinely is stopped due to timing with the MAX that gets precedence. They have numerous restaurants and public spaces that compliment a car-free street.

On the North side I find NE/SE Couch a great [future] opportunity to be bike/Ped heavy, say by cutting half the parking spaces and adding a full-time bike lane. I have a friend that lives on the SE Couch and bike traffic is quite frequent, quite dangerous due to dooring risks.

Steve B
Guest

I don’t understand why there can’t be a “beer garden” type of area the businesses could share, roped off for whatever OLCC regulations, and then have an all ages area at the other end.

At the very least, they should move the posts INTO the street so they don’t take away another 15 inches (yep, I measured) from the sidewalk.

I’ve also noticed there doesn’t seem to be room for a public seating area. Maybe the Voodoo Donuts section could serve this purpose?

Nick V
Guest

The space is not inviting AT ALL. It’s as if the restaurants are saying, “Nothing to see here, inconvenient pedestrians. Unless you’re one of our paying customers, kindly move along.”

I like that it’s car-free. I don’t like that it has become private space.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

Reader Mike S., who’s “pretty disappointed in how Ankeny turned out,” sent in this image of a similar street in Lyon, France. “It’s what I thought that Ankeny would look like. Plenty of room for folks to walk and each restaurant gets some, but nowhere near all, of the street space.”

Dave
Guest

Yeah, that was more what I had in mind originally too. Streets like that are all over Europe.

Adron Hall
Guest

I just found this in San Francisco recently too. A totally human focused street or alley way. Absolutely spectacular, great place to hang out, eat, and talk.

PDX & SEA would be advised to get multiple streets like this put together. IMHO.

DT
Guest
DT

Not surprised about the picnic tables, but I agree that they are kind of an eyesore. However, in that part of town, I can see little cafe tables and chairs quickly disappearing. Perhaps picnic tables were the obvious choice because they are heavy and clunky… and will stay put?

Paul Souders
Guest

I work at Mercy Corps about a block away. Ankeny was a major thru-way for me on foot or bike. I was excited for this closure to happen and pooh-poohed naysayers like Sisters of the Road.

I am disappointed with the results, for pretty much the reasons Jonathan outlines. It doesn’t feel like a public space any more, ironically it felt more “public” when it served mainly as subsidized private car storage. I don’t even walk through now, let alone bike through.

Big bucket of win for those businesses though.

Mike Meade
Guest
Mike Meade

I walked through here last week and had similar thoughts. I would hope that the furniture could be upgraded if this is ever turned into a permanent car free street. It’s possible that business owners didn’t want to invest in the best infrastructure for something that may well disappear soon.

Not only was it tough to see the main space roped off, but the tables themselves are separated from each other. It looks like a real land grab situation. I would much rather see the tables be different colors or types for each business rather than a see of ropes containing the tables dedicated for each business.

If the tables could be moved to the sides and the two sidewalk areas combined in the center, the whole street would work a whole lot better.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Why can’t they rope off the sidewalk and leave the street open? And use velvet rope–that would really class up the place.

birdsong
Guest
birdsong

This doesn’t look like what I had in mind either. If this were made permanent, the sidewalk and street could be built to the same level so that tables could be on the outside and a walk-through down the middle. As it is now, there’s no room to put the tables except in the middle of the roadway. Perhaps making it permanent can improve the design?

Dillon
Guest
Dillon

There are hundreds of restaurants/bars in Portland that have outdoor seating on the sidewalk. What’s the difference between those not being required to rope off.

Michael M.
Guest

Well I’m pretty much on record — here, at City Council, and elsewhere — with being concerned and disappointed by the lack of public seating, and I tried to alert Jonathan, BikePortlanders, AROW and others about exactly what we were getting here, which is anything but the welcoming, open, inviting space people somehow were hoping for. (Not trying to say “I told you so,” I’m just saying my impression all along has been that people’s ideas of what SW Ankeny would be like did not mesh with the reality of the plans.)

OLCC and several of the business’s desire to serve alcohol outdoors is certainly a big reason for this. Another reason is that, because it is only a pilot and not a permanent installation, there’s a limit to how much money the businesses can sink into something that has to be taken down in a few months. That’s especially true because they are compensating PBOT for lost parking revenue. If PBOT eventually agrees to make this permanent, it could all be much nicer. Duncan’s original conception of the street is, I think, much closer to what most people here would like to see, and certainly closer to what I’d like to see because it incorporated public seating for everyone, not just customers. The current implementation is very much a compromise on every level and from all quarters, except perhaps the OLCC, which doesn’t compromise much. I’m not sure how much leeway the OLCC could be persuaded to give, but it the area remains relatively trouble-free it’s possible that, eventually, we’ll get a street that many more of us (including the business owners) would be happier with.

All that said, I like the lighting and I think it all looks better at night. In daylight it’s a little harsh and there’s no shade, so it gets pretty toasty.

patrickz
Guest
patrickz

Years (and YEARS) ago, I came back from Spain hoping I’d see here streets like those, where people eat, talk, argue and laugh taking all the room they need and want. Maybe we’re getting near that…

pdx2wheeler
Guest
pdx2wheeler

I don’t think these would work on a permanent basis in Oregon, without adequate cover. What happens when our 8-9 months of rain begin? I for one won’t be sitting out there “sipping” a beer in the rain. Maybe these areas should be opened on a seasonal basis? Open them starting around the beginning of Rose Festival and close them when the rainy season really starts in late October / early November?

KC
Guest
KC

It looks like one of the most charming little street in downtown Portland got privatized.

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

Damn. I hadn’t considered this (enough). I try to be measured in my anti-governmental rhetoric, as I rarely meet a regulatory agency I don’t like at least a little, but the OLCC has always been a menace and should be disbanded.

One might as well put up a chain link-fence.

Very disappointed. Are we ever going to get over our neurosis with drinking?

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

FYI – for anyone interested in Carfree Portland, there is a Facebook group:
https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=4940683060

Things have been quite on the carfree front but perhaps now is a good time to restart discussion and organizing to improve this street and see others established.

My thoughts on Ankeny: People underestimate the power of a good example, but unfortunately I’m afraid Ankeny is a powerful example of what *not* to do. Someone with a sense of aesthetics needs to find a cheap way to fix this street, and fast.

Alex
Guest
Alex

I love the idea but it needs to implemented better. I imagined it looking like the picture of Lyon as well and was disappointed to see the roped off tables in the middle of the street, not being directly connected with the eateries. This gives the street a foodcourt atmosphere as opposed to a sidewalk cafe atmosphere and lacks character. The design isn’t more pedestrian-friendly than a normal sidewalk since there’s no added space to walk. If the tables were against the walls, then could they get rid of the ropes and let the peds walk in the middle and maybe even allow bikes through? I realize that the sidewalk will need to be leveled with the street first. In the meantime, there need to be umbrellas for shade in the daytime. I haven’t seen how it is at night yet but I like the lights strung overhead, and again, I like the idea in general.

Tony H
Guest
Tony H

My wife and I went to check out the street, and we thought that it was awful. The roped off part squeezes everyone into sidewalks too narrow for the resultant flow (during busy times, such as the saturday market). Want to stay for a beer? If an umbrella isn’t available, you’ll bake in the sun. The amount of people leaving (without being served) was sad. This project is a disaster.

Ovrdbrs
Guest
Ovrdbrs

This is awesome. I don’t think trying to emulate the Parisian cafe scene is the solution. I like the Portlande feel of this street. I agree it is not perfect but what a great starting point!

Ted Buehler
Guest

Folks — I don’t think this is all bad.

It is an experiment. It was set up on the fly. It was put together at lightening speed. Sure it has problems, but its not an abject failure.

Portland closed a street, and now you can have a beer on it.

If you want things to always be “perfect” on the first attempt, you need to spend way more time and energy planning and reviewing and deliberating. This, naturally, limits the number of new things you can try out.

I say congrats to the city and businesses for going out on a limb and doing a “proof of concept” trial. Conceived and implemented in the same year. Not conceived in 2007 and deliberated until 2013 and built in 2015.

Now, there’s things we don’t like and want to do differently next time. But that shouldn’t put us in a position where we are punishing the city for experimenting and acting.

Ted Buehler

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

This is pretty much the worst case “tin foil hat” scenario where public space would be co-opted by commercial interests and public access would then be restricted to what was otherwise a public area.

If these private companies are going to be allowed exclusive and excluding (see ropes) control over public space I expect them to pay full market rates for the real estate and pay back taxes for every day they have been utilizing it.

Laurence Qamar
Guest
Laurence Qamar

Laurence Qamar
I am perfectly happy to see private businesses using the public realm to create a (potentially) lively civic space. Sidewalk cafes, plaza cafes and shops’ sidewalk displays happen all over, and create the most vibrant street places, or “outdoor rooms”. The purpose of streets of all kinds should firstly be for gathering, and then mix in various forms of circulation and transport.
Those who previously suggested decking over the street to level it with the sidewalks, and then pushing the tables to the building edges got it right! The center of the street should be for circulation, and the side edges should be for sitting, and entering the shops. The French photo shows it perfectly.
Recommended 0Comment awaiting moderation.

Justin Morton
Guest

Considering it is the first attempt, I like it. Looks like a fun little street.

I agree with everyone that hopefully it will be developed into something a little more European. But to do that, I think they need to make the car-free change permanent, and then they significantly need to widen the sidewalks. Or repave the street so it acts as just one big sidewalk. Currently the sidewalks are too narrow to accommodate tables and chairs conveniently,

Again though, good first effort.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

maybe if they do it long term the curbs can be removed which would allow the seating to be on the edges and the walkway down the middle. The biggest annoyance for me was that if you are on one sidewalk you have to crawl over the ropes to get to the other side since it all seems to be roped to either one side or the other.

The OLCC should be disbanded these arbitrary rules are ridiculous.

Laurence Qamar
Guest
Laurence Qamar

I was thinking the street could be leveled with the sidewalk by building a thin wood deck like at Jameson Square, which would be cool to hear shoes walking on. But I also like the idea of sand with pavers, as long as the drainage would work.

I don’t see a problem with rainy winters, if the tables are lined up along the walls under awnings. Like basic sidewalk seating anywhere.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Noticing at this point in the day, a lot of people have commented that instead of in the middle of the street, (where logically on a ‘car-free’ street, people would be allowed to walk and slowly glide through on bikes), the tables for dining and having beer, wine or mixed drinks should be located on the sidewalks next to the buildings.

Though it would perhaps be nicer, eliminating the curbs to allow room to place tables isn’t really necessary. I can’t exactly tell from the pictures, but those picnic tables might be 6′ long, meaning they’d just fit on the sidewalk if an end was placed against the building. No big deal if the tables are 8′. Just stick a 2 by 4 under the end hanging over the curb. Custom seating…the person with long legs gets to sit there.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

As it is now, Ankeny looks like the way they’d do it back in Florida. It isn’t any more livable than the way it was before. For the love of all the is good and decent, I hope this gets completely redesigned if it ever becomes permanent.

Laurence Qamar
Guest
Laurence Qamar

I was in the neighborhood, so I just stopped by and checked it out in person. wsbob is exactly right: the sidewalks are exactly 6′ and the current tables are the same dimension. They could easily test out both arrangements by just picking the tables up and butting them up along the walls. No need to level the street with the sidewalks.

The Lyon photo is really worth carefully studying the details. There are only three people on that street, but you can just tell it’s a great street to hang out on. The little things like cafe chairs and tables, a planter box, a menu sign board, and roll-out awnings along the sides of that clear, open central walkway all come together to make it an inviting and habitable place.

kittens
Guest
kittens

I think it is a very Portland solution: cheap and quick. Kinda wild west. And it is better than just parked cars. gets very crowded down there on Fri/Sat nights., all those bars need more sidewalk area. Shame the 20′ sidewalks are all on 5th and 6th Ave’s

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

here is an idea, the city should make the street a park, and pass an ordinance legalize drinking there, that way businesses can serve outdoors without ropes and without the OLCC getting in the way. The OLCC might change their tune if they were about to lose their iron grip.

jim
Guest
jim

Are there bus boys coming out to all those tables to wipe them down with bleach (as per health dept. regs)

Chris Shaffer
Guest
Chris Shaffer

I don’t really understand why the ropes are required for OLCC approval. There are lots of bars in town with un-roped sidewalk seating. The Basement Pub at 12th and Taylor is an example.

Hart Noecker
Guest

Speaking of car free streets, here’s a quickie vid on Michigan’s Mackinac Island: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFYITMNg-ds

Duncan
Guest
Duncan

I dont get the OLCC thing- I mean I can have a drink in front of the the bagdad on Hawthorne (or a thousand other places) without a rope, why not here?

Rick Hamell
Guest

Has anyone noticed how the disenfranchised population in the area is reacting to this? Do the ropes serve to “separate” them from the customers? Have there been any altercations between the aggressive street kids and patrons?

I have mixed feelings in general about this street. It’s always been a bit of an eye sore in my opinion. Lined as it tends to be with trash cans, trash and unidentifiable, and frequently sticky, stains on the sidewalks and roadway. So closing it up and hopefully cleaning it up is a good thing.

But I’m not sure that a small handful of businesses should profit so heavily from it’s exclusive use as it stands. On the other hand, as other’s state, I’d be concerned with adding to much in the way of cafe style seating due to it’s tendency to walk off. Which would be needed to make it more friendly and open to the public.

Perhaps railings along the side walks, with cafe style chairs and tables close to the businesses would fit both people’s needs, plus a few concrete planters or large flat boulders to sit on for those who’re not patronizing the businesses nearby.

Jim F
Guest
Jim F

Good idea. Horribly executed.

Skid
Guest
Skid

All I know is that I used to be able to ride a bike down that street and now I can’t. Fail.

Bill Stites
Guest

The turnover of public space to private enterprise is still very disturbing, irrespective of how ugly it is.

Aaron
Guest

I presume at least some people here have seen/read J.H. Crawford’s Carfree Cities or seen his website info?
http://www.carfree.com/

Mickey
Guest
Mickey

My take:

Even if temporary, there needs to be solid obstruction between potential vehicle intrusion and the unwitting pedestrians. See Santa Monica Market accident: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Russell_Weller#Santa_Monica_Farmer.27s_Market_incident

The generic tables in the generic table corral make the whole thing…generic. It’s lost a lot of its quaintness.

They definitely have the seating inside-out. On our visit: Servers have to cross through the often dense line of sidewalk traffic (maybe they should make it one-way?) to service their customers. They were constantly fending off potential Joe-Public-seeks-public-restroom types and staring down existing customers unrecognized by other servers. And my food gets perused by the drunken masses (hey, I was one of them…) as it comes out the front door. I should note that this was on an evening of a beer fest at Waterfront. But it would seem like a typical crowd given the numerous events throughout summer.

I would also say that the customers of each establishment are not necessarily of the same ilk and maybe shouldn’t be seated so close to each other.

And lastly, bike parking near each business.

At least they’re trying, and I hope they make it successfully and permanently work.

Aaron
Guest

I agree completely that it’s a failed project. I drink regularly at a nearby bar. When I heard about the street closure, I was excited, because I hate cars. But it’s a mess: last night I had to weave in and out of tables and climb over a rope to pass through the area. It’s a heavy-handed mess of clutter.