Impressions, photos of carfree SW Ankeny

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.”

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