‘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:

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

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:

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

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