‘Sneckdown’ at Broadway and Burnside reveals potential public plaza

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.

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Gerik
8 years ago

This is a fantastic idea!

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Reply to  Gerik

Thanks Gerik. Glad you like it. One thing I didn’t mention is that there are already several great eateries, food carts, and pubs within a block or two of this location. I think a plaza here would be activated by people almost instantly.

Clarence Eckerson
8 years ago

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
8 years ago

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
RH
8 years ago

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.

Adam
Adam
8 years ago
Reply to  RH

Seems like a No-PARKing event for Car-Free Day waiting to happen!

q`Tzal
q`Tzal
8 years ago
Reply to  RH

Have people donate potted flowers and place them inside the perimeter of the skeckdown as if they were orange road cones.
The more differences the better but they should all be at least 24″ tall for visibility.

By making it a “guerrilla beautification” of a public space it’ll suck in a lot more people that would never have noticed it before or will forget about it after the snow melts.

wsbob
wsbob
8 years ago

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.

scott
scott
8 years ago
Reply to  wsbob

“I wonder what Mary’s Club owners may think of such an idea.” – wsbob

I’m sure Mary’s Club owners would take a completely different view on it than any other business in the area. Level 10 sarcasm.

Mike
Mike
8 years ago
Reply to  scott

Agreed. I don’t think the owner would would be upset with this. Mary’s has been around for a log time and I doubt a slight change in traffic pattern is going to have any impact.

Carl
Carl
8 years ago
Reply to  Mike

I dub it “Roy Keller” square.

Adam
Adam
8 years ago
Reply to  Mike

With Big Pink only a few feet away, this area would be utilized by thousands of office workers.

i ride my bike
i ride my bike
8 years ago
Reply to  scott

Marys helps give it some Times Square flavor in addition to the plaza… Times Square 1978 meets Times Square 2014

Spliffy
Spliffy
8 years ago

Don’t forget the bike racks

Charley
Charley
8 years ago

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
8 years ago

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

dave
dave
8 years ago

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
Chris Smith
8 years ago

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

Adam
Adam
8 years ago
Reply to  Chris Smith

Whatever happened to that plan?

Chris Smith
Chris Smith
8 years ago
Reply to  Adam

The east side portion got built, the west side portion got shelved because the folks along Couch didn’t love it.

RJ
RJ
8 years ago

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
Adam
8 years ago

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
Rebecca
8 years ago

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
8 years ago

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
8 years ago

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?

wsbob
wsbob
8 years ago
Reply to  Taz Loomans

“…My questions is, how would you get to the island?…” Taz Loomans

When I walked there, traffic at Ankeny, Broadway, Pine, never seemed that tough to deal with. Bigger issue may be who would be going over to spend time there.

Run this idea past city officials…probably one of the big concerns they’ll have, is how to attract a mix of people whose sustained presence there will contribute in a positive way to the city.

RJ
RJ
8 years ago
Reply to  wsbob

I’d think that if the city were to turn that into a usable public space, you’d see the owner of the little surface parking lot just to the east start renting out some of their stalls to food carts in a heartbeat.

scott
scott
8 years ago
Reply to  wsbob

“… a mix of people whose sustained presence there will contribute in a positive way to the city.” – wsbob

Question: In what way can one “contribute in a positive way” to the city while sitting in an area like this?

Mossby Pomegranate
Mossby Pomegranate
8 years ago

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

q`Tzal
q`Tzal
8 years ago

Or crotchety old farts.

wsbob
wsbob
8 years ago

Maybe the city could make a place on this triangle that would resist being dominated by just one group or type of person that wouldn’t be beneficial to it being a positive kind of place.

There’s some good businesses, restaurants and hotels in the area. A commons space on this triangle could help to give their customers something to come to, providing more foot traffic in the area. If the city could somehow do this, without causing the area to become overly upscale-gentrified, o.k. . After business hours, currently, this is kind of a dark, desolate place…not so great, especially considering it’s just four or five blocks from the center of Downtown.

scott
scott
8 years ago
Reply to  wsbob

“… dark, desolate place…not so great, especially considering it’s just four or five blocks from the center of Downtown.” – wsbob

Which is also a dark and desolate place after dark. We do not have a bustling late night city center like NY, Chicago, or even Seattle.

Also, the fearful undertones you are putting on this area are odd. That it will be overtaken or dominated by some kind of nebulous and undefined “group” or type of person is ridiculous. That is your fear and is based in nothing. It is in the middle of the city and therefore can’t be any more or less dangerous than anywhere else in the city at any given time so if you are afraid of the city, these types of places in the city are not for you, but for the people who don’t apply fear and avoidance based on a visual assessment or preconceived notions of ‘troublemakers’.

Would you expect the city to place a hall monitor there or something? Who decides who is desirable and who is undesirable?

wsbob
wsbob
8 years ago
Reply to  scott

I didn’t say anything about, or imply that this area being dark and desolate after dark, was a reason for fear of being there. Point is that it being that way, doesn’t give people a good reason to be there. Potentially, something that uses this triangle to bring in some kind of vibrant, upbeat activity, could help to change the triangle’s current character.

Your claim that the center of Downtown, the blocks surrounding Pioneer Square, is similarly dark and desolate after dark as the Broadway-Ankeny-Pine St triangle after dark, is off. Center of Downtown has far more businesses open after dark, better lighting, with more foot traffic being the result.

The area around the Broadway-Ankeny-Pine St traffic triangle is a far more challenging location in which to establish good, vibrant activity, than are the blocks around Pioneer Sq. A couple reasons: After dark, street level on the south side parking structure has no businesses at all except parking. There is a tiny fast food spot on the north-east corner, but I believe that’s daytime only. Big Pink on the east, has no street level businesses. To the north, is of course, the barren roar of Burnside traffic rushing past.

Exactly who would visit or regularly frequent some kind of casual gathering place established on this triangle, is a good question, and would be due to how it’s conceived, put together and maintained. If you’ve got some ideas about how that may be done well, you’re most likely welcome to share them here.

scott
scott
8 years ago
Reply to  wsbob

“Exactly who would visit or regularly frequent some kind of casual gathering place established on this triangle, is a good question, and would be due to how it’s conceived, put together and maintained. If you’ve got some ideas about how that may be done well, you’re most likely welcome to share them here.” – wsbob

Thanks wsbob, but you missed the point entirely. This is unused space that could be made useful. That’s the point. Not to get hung up on fears of undesirables and worries that it will become something you don’t like. Just to take an area that is more or less nothing and make it something. That attracts business. That attracts activity.

wsbob
wsbob
8 years ago
Reply to  scott

“…Not to get hung up on fears of undesirables and worries that it will become something you don’t like. …” scott

Apparently it’s you that doesn’t get the point, or understand issues surrounding the development of a piece of land like this triangle, for a purpose potentially more useful than it currently is. You don’t seem to have any ideas to offer as to how this idea could be realized…at least, you certainly haven’t offered any such ideas to this comment section. Carping and complaining appears to be the limit of what you have to offer.

From the beginning of this discussion, Ive said I like the idea, not that my like or dislike of the idea matters so much, because it’s other people that would have to decide whether or not to make this idea an actual project to take on and maintain.

scott
scott
8 years ago
Reply to  wsbob

“From the beginning of this discussion,…”- wsbob

Did you jump straight to the discussion and begin airing concerns, wsbob? What were the concrete plans you put forth for implementation, wsbob?

“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.” – Jonathan Maus

There is the action plan, wsbob. The officials get to work out the details of materials and placement but that is a money thing more or less. Did you miss that in the article?

wsbob
wsbob
8 years ago
Reply to  scott

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.

Chris Anderson
8 years ago

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
dwainedibbly
8 years ago

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
Ian Tornay
8 years ago

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
Houston
8 years ago

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

MaxD
MaxD
8 years ago

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
AndyC of Linnton
8 years ago

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

pdx32
pdx32
8 years ago

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

Mossby Pomegranate
Mossby Pomegranate
8 years ago
Reply to  pdx32

Come on Charlie…no need to frown.

scott
scott
8 years ago

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.
Recommended 0

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?

scott
scott
8 years ago
Reply to  scott

I thought so.