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‘Sneckdown’ at Broadway and Burnside reveals potential public plaza

Posted by on February 10th, 2014 at 11:52 am

Stormy roads 2-10-14-17

There is a lot of unused roadway space on SW Broadway between Burnside and Pine. Why not make it an official public plaza?
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

When snow falls on city streets it eventually melts and goes away thanks in large part due to the self-plowing effect of motor vehicle tires. But where cars and trucks don’t go, the snow remains as visual proof of unused roadway space.

This phenomenon was first noticed (or at least popularized) by none other than our friend Clarence Eckerson, a transportation activist and filmmaker for Streetfilms in New York City (learn more about the origins of the term here). Earlier this year, with the help of other activists via Twitter, Eckerson and his friends coined the term “sneckdown”. While Eckerson has covered this for a few years now, it was only in December that the term really took off. In recent weeks, with snowstorms in several major U.S. cities, sneckdown has been introduced into the mainstream via dozens of mentions by major news outlets including the BBC.

Since snow started falling here in Portland, I’ve been on the hunt for a good sneckdown candidate and this morning I think I found a big one.

The photo above shows the large paved area on SW Broadway between W Burnside and Pine (just a few blocks from the plaza recently created outside Voodoo Doughnuts on SW Ankeny). The leftover snow has created what could be a perfect place for a public plaza. As you can see from the Google Maps aerial view below, there’s already a median located here, but it’s only separated by yellow paint and it’s (obviously) not a place people congregate.

Blue triangle shows approximate location of remaining snow.

As the sneckdown photo shows, there is a lot of room that isn’t used by motor vehicles. All PBOT would have to do is grab a few buckets of paint, a few dozen chairs and tables, a few potted plants, and voila! A plaza would bloom in a dense and highly walkable part of downtown. A plaza in this location would be a fitting gateway into one of America’s most human-centered cities.

And if you think turning this unused roadway space into a vibrant place where people could talk and relax while enjoying downtown would be just another idea for a Portlandia episode, consider that this is exactly what New York City’s transportation department has done with great success and international acclaim all over Manhattan.

Check out the images I snapped on Broadway in Times Square when I was there in October 2012:

Broadway protected bike lane and plazas-35

Just paint, chairs, tables and plants has transformed the Broadway thoroughfare in Manhattan into something that even this senior citizen can enjoy.

Broadway protected bike lane and plazas-19

There’s no reason this same scene couldn’t
happen on Broadway in Portland.

And here’s another great little plaza in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood:

Pearl St. Plaza in Dumbo-2

What’s stopping Portland from doing this? All it would take is some initiative from PBOT and a bit of support from City Council. Or perhaps I’m missing something.

What do you think? Would you hang out in a plaza at this location if it existed?

— To learn more about sneckdowns, see The Complete Origin of the #Sneckdown via Streetfilms.org.

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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Gerik
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This is a fantastic idea!

Clarence Eckerson
Guest

I am bowled over. There have been dozens of blog posts and hundreds of #sneckdown photos out there. But this is right near the tippy top!

steph routh
Guest

Brilliant! Awesome, awesome post, Jonathan. And it would be great for food cart eating, since it’s located so near a cart pod (similar to the ped plaza in the Flatiron District in NYC).

RH
Guest
RH

Sooooo, how do we go about making something like this a reality in a reasonable timeframe? It’s a great idea. Seems like a pressure wash, paint, and planters is all that’s needed. Crowdfund this thing so it’s done this summer.

wsbob
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wsbob

That is a nice area that could work well as a relaxing place to pause between shopping, walking, doing business and site seeing. It’s almost directly adjoined on its east side, to the little park with a big sculpture fountain. To the south, is, as parking structures go, a nice looking one. Some good stores and restaurants in the area too. I wonder what Mary’s Club owners may think of such an idea.

Spliffy
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Spliffy

Don’t forget the bike racks

Charley
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Charley

Maybe some folks with extra plants in big planters should just go on down there and drop em in the snow. Bring some benches. Rogue park building, we could call it. I think it’d be good.

John Lascurettes
Guest

GREAT! This is also an intimidating area for pedestrians to cross. Having a safe place in the middle would rest many minds.

dave
Guest
dave

A significant portion of that is a lane this is normally used, so unless you’re proposing a road diet the resulting “plaza” will be pretty small. However, that’s also right where Broadway goes from two lanes southbound to three, so it’s not out of the question either.

It was once more delineated, but never a space anyone would “hang out” in:

http://vintageportland.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/parking-sw-broadway-pine-1949/

Chris Smith
Guest

If you dig out the old plans for the West Burnside/Couch couplet you should find some ideas for reclaiming this space.

RJ
Guest
RJ

The northbound and southbound travel lanes there are crazy wide, too. You could probably increase the amount of public space there pretty dramatically beyond what it’s currently striped.

Adam
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Adam

Sneckdowns are literally everywhere in this city. They are at most intersections in the Laurelhurst neighborhood, because the streets are so wide and curved there. There’s also a to. Of them on roads like Sandy Blvd. some gave been repaired, but many are still in place. The City will cite some BS about how wide turning radiuses are necessary for trucks. I think all the snow photos emerging from the city tell a very different story.

Rebecca
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Rebecca

That’s also right next to the Ankeny Street alley between Bailey’s Taproom and the Tugboat Brewery, which would also make a very nice car-free area.

Clarence Eckerson
Guest

As for trucks and such needing more space. True, but they only need some. If you see 6, 8, 10 feet of extra space, my guess is that unless under extraordinary circumstances, you could take back 4 or 5 feet no problem. For example, see this photo I took today of a sanitation truck making a turn with a robust sized sneckdown. On Twitter: https://twitter.com/Streetfilms/status/432944105409101825/photo/1

Taz Loomans
Guest

I like it! I think this little public square would slow down traffic and make that area way more human-centered, as you put it. My questions is, how would you get to the island? Some intermittent crosswalk signals?

Mossby Pomegranate
Guest
Mossby Pomegranate

great as long as it doesn’t get taken over by violent street kids.

Chris Anderson
Guest

An elevated glass roof larger than the plaza and high enough for trucks to go under (like at Director Park) would fit in with the sculpture at 6th and Pine.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

Lots of good suggestions here! Some sort of flash mob “test” might be a good way to see how practical this would be. Perhaps a “ride” is in order? The traffic calming effect is really needed, too.

Ian Tornay
Guest
Ian Tornay

This is one of the first choke-points during rush-hour traffic and a critical juncture for tri-met. I don’t see any reason to increase pedestrian traffic to this extremely small area.

Maybe it’s –designed– to be this way.

Houston
Guest
Houston

There’s a big part of an episode of Leverage that takes place right there.

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

IMO, to make this viable it should not be an island. Either remove the northbound lane on Broadway or move the existing lane to the west. Keep Broadway 2 lanes south and add a single northbound lane to the west of the proposed plaza. This would slide the ‘sneckdown’ area to the east and would allow the plaza to be fully connected to the existing sidewalk amking it very accessible and useable.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Great idea. This is a perfect place for a plaza of some sort.

pdx32
Guest
pdx32

All it would take it a Mayor that isn’t asleep on the job…

scott
Guest
scott

wsbob
That’s not your idea, and it’s not a complete idea.
Maus’s suggestion of “…a few buckets of paint, a few dozen chairs and tables, a few potted plants, …”, is o.k. for starters, but the actual nuts and bolts of making it work would likely be much more involved. Maybe he agrees on this, maybe he doesn’t…maybe he’ll offer some more thoughts about what he believes it really would take to get this idea to work well.
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I know it isn’t my idea, which is why I credited Jonathan Maus for the quote.

I guess this is where you lay out the nuts and bolts. No one else’s plan seems to suit you, so tell us how it should be done. Give us the nuts and bolts.

What is your plan to see this from idea to reality?