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Seeing business upsides, Old Town retailers propose protected bike lanes on 2nd, 3rd

Posted by on July 9th, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Old Town Chinatown-2

Inspired by the changes on NE Multnomah in the Lloyd District, a new proposal would transform SW 2nd and 3rd avenues.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

A coalition of 30 Old Town bars, restaurants and entertainment venues is proposing adding a quarter-mile of planter-protected bike lanes and street cafe seating to 2nd and/or 3rd avenues.

Inspired by nearby projects on SW Ankeny and NE Multnomah, the six-month-old Old Town Hospitality Group sees their experimental road diet concept, which could narrow the streets’ car-oriented area from three travel lanes to one or two and might remove some on-street auto parking, as a way to make the neighborhood safer, more comfortable and better to do business in.

Dan Lenzen, owner of the Dixie Tavern at NW Couch and 3rd (“Downtown’s biggest party every Fri & Sat night”), said the recently redesigned Multnomah Street, which converted two general travel lanes to planter-protected bike lanes, is “our model.”

“I love that thing,” Lenzen said. “When I ran into that I was like, ‘Wow, this is an awesome multi-use street.'”

The proposal (see it below) is one of a buffet of proposed changes motivated by the anticipated end, this fall, of a different program that has closed Old Town’s entertainment district to all vehicle traffic late on weekend nights. If successful, the new plan could create a comfortable new bike route that might one day link the Steel and Hawthorne bridges. It’d also be consistent with early versions of the city’s West Quadrant Plan, which has discussed designating both 2nd and 3rd avenues as all-ages bike routes through Old Town.

3rd ave concepts

Above and below: three concept sketches by the Old Town Hospitality Group for a redesigned NW 3rd Avenue near Couch Street. On these maps, south is up. Click to enlarge.
3rd ave concept 3

Howard Weiner, chair of the Old Town Chinatown Community Association, supports the idea, which is seen as stretching from NW Glisan to SW Pine. He, too, thinks making the area less car-oriented could be good for business.

“I remember when they said they were closing down Ankeny and I was like, ‘Who cares? It’s an alley,'” said Weiner, who also owns Cal Skate Skateboards at NW 6th and Davis. “Now look at it. It’s thriving.”

Howard Weiner in Old Town-1

Howard Weiner on SW 3rd earlier today.

Weiner said the concept is in “very, very preliminary conversations” with the city and others. But he’s enthusiastic.

“We will be turning in recommendations in September or October” to Mayor Charlie Hales’ office, Weiner said.

Both the new hospitality group that Lenzen helps organize and the broader community association that Weiner leads are somewhat dissatisfied with the current situation in Old Town every weekend: police-enforced barricades on Friday and Saturday nights that block all car and bike traffic in a six-block area that includes eight late-night clubs, bars and event spaces.

Both Lenzen and Weiner said that operation has successfully reduced conflicts between people walking and driving, but that patrons have complained about the heavy police presence, the frequent need to tow cars from the area and the difficulty of navigating the barricades.

Instead, businesses are looking for a “24-hour solution” that would calm traffic permanently rather than banning it two nights a week.

vancouver planters

A planter-protected bike lane in Vancouver BC might have some similar elements to the concept floated by the Old Town Hospitality Group.
(Photo: M.Andersen)

Lenzen thinks that using protected bike lanes and street seating to narrow the wide pavement on 2nd and 3rd streets would do the trick. Meanwhile, the bike lanes would make it easier for people to get north and south across Burnside, a longtime goal of local businesses, and converting auto parking spaces to street seating would let more restaurants offer outdoor cafe seating.

He thinks businesses would be happy to cover the maintenance cost for planters that might separate bike and car traffic.

“I think we’ve got a heck of an opportunity to beautify that area,” he said. “I would buy a planter myself.”

Lenzen said he’s proud of the amount of consensus that’s emerged for the idea so far among Old Town hospitality businesses.

“It’s a start, and we’re going to keep on fine-tuning this thing,” he said. “And I’m going to lead the charge and try to manage the speeding train.”

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  • Clem July 9, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Bizzarro world.

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    • q`Tzal July 9, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      I’m stunned but optimistic.
      But mainly just stunned.

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  • Kari Schlosshauer July 9, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    I can’t like this enough.

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  • GlowBoy July 9, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    About freaking time a business group saw the light. Awesome!

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  • Carl July 9, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Great example of the power of a good pilot project! Hard to imagine this happening if Ankeny and Multnomah hadn’t happened first.

    So…what else can we pilot?

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  • Tim Davis July 9, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Great comments, Kari, GlowBoy and Carl–agreed on all counts! Plus, like Mr. Lenzen and Mr. Weiner say, it’s a much better solution for ALL users than what they’re doing now in Old Town.

    I can’t tell you how enjoyable it was to be in Montreal a couple weeks ago, where I enjoyed **endless** protected cycle tracks and sometimes saw four street seat installations on a single block. Cars (other than parked) were definitely outnumbered by people on foot and bike out enjoying nonstop restaurants and hundreds of outdoor seats on every block, for mile after mile. It felt like a real city. 🙂

    The more popular a street is in Montreal for dining out, the more street seats there are. There was even a superblock (two blocks long) that contained fully ten street seat installations–in ten different styles. It was a thing of beauty. Granted, their situation is a little different, because the main retail streets were fairly lousy for biking. But there was always a parallel street a block or two away in which you could cruise down barrier-protected two-way cycle tracks for miles. Heavenly!

    I mention Montreal because it’s by far the North American gold standard, and we need to study what they’re doing, modify it in certain Portland-specific ways that I’ve been thinking about, and *match* (and ideally exceed year-round) their levels of cycling. Proposals like this in Old Town are a small step in the right direction! It’s all about getting the entire 8-80 crowd to start biking and enjoying what city life is all about!

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  • encephalopath July 9, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    But… but… LOS?

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  • Dwaine Dibbly July 9, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Finally some businesses that get it!

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    • q`Tzal July 9, 2014 at 9:21 pm

      Gotta assume that these sort of improvements would reduce the likelihood that a bar could be liable for a drunk patron driving simply by making driving there much less convenient.

      My guess is that there is some accounting line item that covers the costs when bar employees aren’t able to catch every drunk driver: insurance, a legal slush fund… something.

      By reducing the number of bar patrons that drive the need for such a cost sink diminishs. It really is in their best business interest.

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      • Chris I July 10, 2014 at 9:12 am

        As we have seen in other parts of town, many bar owners are fighting for street parking so their customers can drive after drinking. Some family friends of ours lost their bar after a DUI fatality lawsuit. Seems it would be prudent for bar owners to discourage driving whenever possible.

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        • q`Tzal July 10, 2014 at 11:01 am

          Tradition is the act of doing something that you or others have done before only for the sake of nostalgia or inertia; by design it requires no active thought so it’s easier.

          The least irrational argument for traditional thinking is “that’s the way we’ve always done it so it must be right.” This precludes the reality that everything is changing all the time.

          But thinking is bad, mmmkay. So don’t do it.

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  • Craig Beebe July 9, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Great to see. Would love to see a protected bikeway extend from the Hawthorne to the Steel. I’ve long thought 2nd (for a two-way) or 2nd & 3rd (for a couplet) would be ideal routes.

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    • Reza July 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm

      2nd and 3rd lose their usefulness south of Market because of the superblocks. If you want a continuous route all the way through downtown from PSU, 4th is the street.

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      • Noah July 10, 2014 at 11:09 pm

        Or 1st, which has a lot more room for bike facilities from Clay to Harrison, so as not to cause a big outcry over removing auto lanes on the heavily used 4th.

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  • Matt July 9, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    If this happens maybe the business owners on NE/SE 28th with finally wake up.

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  • Anne Hawley July 9, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Exciting and promising! As a regular Multnomah user, I’m really glad to see that it has spurred this kind of thinking in the business community.

    One tiny nit to pick: I wonder if these enterprising folks would consider changing “Traffic” their graphics to “Car Traffic.”

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  • mikeybikey July 9, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    Long overdue. I hope it gets done. Would be nice if PBOT would do the extra leg work to at least connect it to the bike lanes on stark and oak and perhaps something to connect it to waterfront park at the north end.

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  • Champs July 9, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    Yes, please. I’d been thinking on this very thing last month, and the only problem was figuring out the Broadway Bridge connection—which IS kind of big. Naito and the waterfront are lousy northbound alternatives to 2nd, and at the right time of day, 3rd is much better than Broadway.

    Good news that Old Town wants to end the prison camp, too! That’s not my scene but I do find myself needing to squeeze through there and your only choices are dismounting or riding around it with drunk and/or confused drivers.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu July 10, 2014 at 7:29 am

    The cynic in me suspects some of the businesses like this idea because it converts one or both of the public sidewalks to “street seating” – i.e. more room to seat their customers.

    Meanwhile, the city loses parking meter revenue and the public may (unclear from drawings) lose the use of unobstructed sidewalks. Also unclear: who bears the cost of installing, sweeping, cleaning, and maintaining the seating, planters, and bike lanes?

    Will the seating will be handled under the existing “Street Seats” program (dedicated to specific businesses, who pay a fee per linear foot) or will be genuinely public seating (no doubt welcomed by the homeless in the area)?

    To be clear, I generally like the idea. I think the proposed street will be more attractive than it is currently, better for businesses and cyclists, and we need more north-south bike routes.

    I just want to point out that many commenters here are quick to say the public right-of-way shouldn’t be freely used by private citizens to freely park their cars, so let’s reconcile that with gving over that same public right-of-way to private businesses to freely seat their customers. Or do we automatically support anything that includes a bike lane?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) July 10, 2014 at 8:25 am

      According to Lenzen, this would be modeled on the existing Street Seats program, which requires businesses in paid parking areas to compensate the city for lost revenue when they’re using it themselves. I asked if he thought business owners would be willing to pay that (as they do on SW Ankeny … though in that situation businesses have essentially been handed the rest of the alley’s ROW for only the price of the adjacent parking spaces). He seemed to be saying so, but I’d be surprised if everyone on the committee has priced that out.

      If this concept doesn’t work, I suspect the parking changes are more likely to be the sticking point than the travel-lane changes. It depends whether owners think the placemaking aspect of all of this will outweigh the reduced storefront parking.

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  • Brian July 10, 2014 at 9:10 am

    I will make the trek across burnside to start eating lunch over here in support of you guys making this happen

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  • Chris I July 10, 2014 at 9:15 am

    I think a modified version of option 2 that preserves one side of the street for metered street parking would be the most viable option here. We can’t just get rid of all street parking, but we should definitely charge the market rate for it. It can be a good revenue source for the city.

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    • spare_wheel July 10, 2014 at 9:32 am


      “We won’t just get rid of all street parking”

      There many large cities with essentially no on-street parking in their urban core. There are better ways to raise revenue that parking meters. Parking meters make driving to the urban core convenient and, IMO, merely a lesser evil than free parking.

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      • Reza July 10, 2014 at 1:33 pm

        The need to pay already depresses car mode share in downtown. If drivers are willing to pay a market rate, what’s the harm? I’ll let people pay to park all day long if it will fund some useful transit/bike/ped priorities.

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        • spare_wheel July 10, 2014 at 1:45 pm

          I am not opposed to making people for parking. I simply disagree that it’s not possible to eliminate parking.

          In Europe the goal is “Traffic Evaporation in Urban Areas”.


          In portland the goal is to evaporate a few parking spaces.

          *rolls eyes*

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  • sean July 10, 2014 at 9:31 am

    If we want to send a letter of support to the Old Town Hospitality Group or Lenzen, who do we write?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) July 10, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Old Town business owner Ryan Hashagen of Portland Pedicabs, who also sits on the OTHG, writes:

      “I would say that writing to the Old Town Community Association, the Mayor’s Office, and PBOT would be the appropriate audience.

      “While the proposal is currently just NW Glisan to SW Pine, there seems to be group support to extend to SW Madison/Hawthorne Bridge or at least to Oak Stark buffered lanes. Now would be a great time for PBOT or the Mayor’s office to hear support for a urban greenway pilot project extending all the way from NW Glisan to SW Madison.”

      In PBOT, since there’s presumably no project manager yet, director leah.treat@portlandoregon.gov might be the best bet.
      for the OTCA, probably Howard Weiner: chair@oldtownchinatown.org.

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  • RJ July 10, 2014 at 9:41 am

    This is low-hanging fruit that PBOT should be picking with impunity. The ADTs on these streets are pretty low between Burnside and Alder/Washington. A road diet should be a no-brainer. More public space + a protected bikeway = win.

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  • Craig Harlow July 10, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    “all-ages bike route”

    I want to start seeing that phrase really, really often. I think it has a stronger appeal than “8-to-80”.


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  • maccoinnich July 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    I would love to see this happen. The lack of bike-specific infrastructure in downtown is one of Portland’s biggest failings as regards cycling. For instance, there’s no great way at the moment to get on or off the Burnside Bridge for anybody other than the most confident cyclists.

    From an urban design point of view, it would also be a huge improvement. As Brian Libby wrote at Portland Architecture (http://chatterbox.typepad.com/portlandarchitecture/2013/08/old-towns-hasty-half-baked-pedestrian-zone.html) the existing “entertainment zone” really isn’t a great environment. By investing in street furniture, plants, lighting, paving etc it could be made a lot better.

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  • Reza July 10, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I bike through here on my daily commute and I have to say that I think 4th is a more useful northbound bicycle street – not just here, but throughout downtown. 4th goes all the way to Glisan (which is the most direct route to NW) and is never very crowded north of Burnside, so how about a buffered or protected lane here?

    But regardless, I’m interested to see how this turns out.

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  • Tim Davis July 10, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    “All-ages bike route” – nicely put, Craig! “All-ages bike route: repeat after Craig!” 🙂

    I just wrote a long note to Leah Treat, encouraging PBOT to jump on this while we have a little momentum–and to greatly *expand* this proposal. I mentioned some of the great ideas many of you have shared. BikePortland is the best… 🙂

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  • Dan Lenzen July 10, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    This proposal as was stated is in it’s infancy. The OTHG is a very dynamic group of professionals all committed to the district. Thank you for your comments. Any support we can get is greatly appreciated. We welcome ideas to modify or bolster the plan.
    Thanks Again!!

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