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First look: Better Block re-imagines 3rd Ave with protected bike lane, new crosswalk

Posted by on October 3rd, 2014 at 10:44 am

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-8

There’s a new protected bike lane on 3rd Ave!
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Early this morning, Better Block PDX took the wraps off its largest project yet: They’ve transformed three blocks of 3rd Ave from Davis (in Old Town) to Ash (near Voodoo Doughnut) from a bloated, auto-centric thoroughfare into a a more humane street with a protected bike lane, on-street bike parking, a new crosswalk and ample plaza space for sitting and enjoying a doughnut or three.

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-14

As we’ve been reporting, Better Block volunteers have created a real-life demonstration of a major street redesign that’s being pushed for by Old Town retailers but that the City of Portland isn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on.

I went out this morning to take a look.

First, a big shout-out is due to all the Better Block volunteers. They’ve worked extremely hard to pull this off and they’ve got a tough few days ahead of them. Downtown is not an easy place to do this. They’re managing a relatively large area and they’ll have to contend with big — and sometimes rowdy — crowds tonight and Saturday night. I caught one of the volunteers, Timur Ender, in a rare moment of calm…

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-7

Despite the hard work, the excitement for this project
exudes from Better Block volunteers like Timur Ender.

While the design elements aren’t exactly what I’d call elegant (orange cones, astroturf, and plywood blocks to act as lane separators), the spaces are being used as intended. Even though I worry the construction-zone aesthetic might confuse and/or turn off some people, I think the point will get across nonetheless.

As far as usage, the one standard lane that remains was bumper-to-bumper during the morning rush, while the new protected bike lane was pretty sparsely used. That’s not too surprising given that 3rd Avenue isn’t on most bike riders’ radar (and when some riders see a bunch of cones and other stuff in the road they simply opt for another route).

Here are some views of the protected bike lane north of Burnside…

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-1

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-2

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-3

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-6

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-10

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-18

Looking north for Ankeny at the intersection of 3rd and Burnside.

And here’s how it looks south of Burnside…

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-11

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-16

It’s amazing what a few cones, hay bales, and barriers can do. Over near Voodoo Doughnut, where the street is extremely, unnecessarily wide with three full standard lanes and two parking lanes, Better Block has maintained just one standard lane. In place of the other space usually taken over by drivers and their parked cars, the street now has a large protected bike lane, public seating space on both sides, and a new crosswalk at SE Ankeny (directly in front of Voodoo).

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-13

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-15

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-20

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-21

Bike parking near Ash St. Saloon.
Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-22

A crosswalk and a seating plaza in front of Voodoo is a complete no-brainer.

This section of the street, in front of Voodoo, has such obvious potential for a redesign and this demonstration effectively makes the point. The temporary crosswalk was busy while I was there and Voodoo customers sat and enjoyed their pink-boxed treats in the morning sun in what would typically be a lane of traffic.

Better Block demonstration project on 3rd Ave-17

It’s easy to see why Voodoo Doughnut is pushing the city to redesign the Ankeny intersection.

I highly recommend heading downtown and spending some time on 3rd Avenue today and through the weekend. Better Block will be bringing out ping-pong tables, Oregon Walks is leading informational tours, and there are other activities planned.

In the end, this is all about imagining what’s possible. The ultimate success of this demonstration will be measured in how quickly we can make it permanent.

BetterBlockPDX.org.

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39 Comments
  • Avatar
    SilkySlim October 3, 2014 at 10:52 am

    Super impressed. Biked across it this morning, and will be heading back for lunch.

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    Peejay October 3, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Cue the bloviating Oregonian editorial about the city catering to the bike lobby while good hard-working Portlanders are inconvenienced and businesses shut down because of lack of parking.

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    My Magic Hat October 3, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Looks great. As long as it gets you all the way to your actual destination:
    http://stevepatrickadams.com/if-roads-were-like-bike-lanes/

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    q`Tzal October 3, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Too bad they don’t sell those water filled plastic crash barrier segments in bike facility green.

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    Ted Buehler October 3, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Very nice!

    For all you folks that love to talk smack about the businesses that scuttled the NE 28th Ave bike lanes, here’s your opportunity.

    Spend all your free time and dollars in Old Town this weekend. Explore all the shops and restaurants. Bring your friends. Arrange your social meetups to all congregate in Old Town. Walk up and down the streets and see the architecture, shops and restaurants of Portland’s Chinatown.

    Tell all the businesses how much you love the redesign.

    Tip generously.

    Buy doughnuts, buy chinese food, buy anything else you need. Do your Christmas shopping at the Chinese Emporiums.

    I’ll be there too.

    Ted Buehler

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      Ted Buehler October 3, 2014 at 11:53 am

      & if you have never been to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, this is a great weekend to go. It costs a few $ to get in. But it’s definitely worth seeing at least once in your life. The wide variety of historic tea, served in replica historic teaware in a lovely teahouse is also pretty fabulous.

      Ted Buehler

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      spare_wheel October 3, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Mmmmmmm…donuts.

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      Andyc of Linnton October 4, 2014 at 10:32 am

      Just be wary of buying a christmas present for your son from a chinese emporium. It could be a gremlin.
      I will definitely be patronizing these businesses this weekend. Thanks to everyone making this happen.

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    Joe October 3, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    awesome so stoked.

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    Mindful Cyclist October 3, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    I was out of town and missed this original story, I think. On the ride in today, I was wondering what was going on as I turned off Burnside on 3rd. I have to say it was pretty nice. There is not enough auto traffic to justify three lanes to begin with so it would be great if that could be permanent.

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    Scott H October 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Love it. What’s stopping the city from pulling the trigger?

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      Adam October 3, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      Probably funding. And political pushback from the conservative Portland Business Alliance, who would apparently prefer downtown Pdx to be one giant parking lot to service their businesses.

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        Old Town! October 4, 2014 at 11:38 pm

        The Portland Business Alliance actually signed off on this plan. This project was approved the Old Town Chinatown Community Association, Old Town Business Association, the Mayor’s Entertainment District Advisory Group, The Portland Police Bureau, Fire Department, representatives of the Old Town Social Services, and PBOT.

        Please voice your support by visiting, shopping, and enjoying old Town and then let your elected officials and PBA that you spent money and enjoyed Old Town during this project.

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    Paul Smith October 3, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    Now if they’d take a cue from Mississippi Pizza and get people involved that have done awesome Park(ing) Day installations that would be awesome.

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    Fourknees October 3, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I can see a giant donut shaped bike rack in the future in front of voodoo. A series of circles in a circular patter that you can pull bikes into in all 365 degrees. Probably pink in pink too. Plenty of space there to do it!

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 3, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Looks very nice. I went by, had a beer, sat and watched.

    Couple thoughts:
    – Delivery people had a harder time. They had to park a block away and wheel deliveries to the businesses. A permanent installation should include loading zones.
    – Car traffic was necked down to one lane. This one lane, for the block south of Burnside (where Voodoo is), was often filled with stopped cars that had crossed, or turned off of, Burnside and were waiting for people in the crosswalk. I think there could sometimes be a problem with that traffic backing up onto Burnside. I’m not convinced it is necessary to neck auto traffic to a single lane. There is plenty of room for two traffic lanes, protected bike lane, and lots of street seating. The roadway there is very wide.
    – I wonder if there is a way to make the public seating, in a permanent installation, usable in winter/rainy season.

    So, here is my possibly-unpopular-but-necessary question. How do you prevent the public seating area that is carved out from the street from simply becoming a homeless camp? It is right there near the missions. Is anyone going to be responsible for, and empowered to, kicking out “campers”? Or will it become a flatter, more convenient alternative to camping on the approach to the Burnside Bridge?

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      Adam October 3, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      Does the current public seating on Ankeny Alley look like a homeless camp? (Not being snarky. I genuinely don’t know.)

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      • John Liu
        John Liu October 4, 2014 at 1:12 pm

        No, I don’t think it does.

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      Angel York October 4, 2014 at 2:12 pm

      I believe on complete streets, they typically include a turning lane for cars at intersections to prevent bottlenecks. And that works pretty great.

      As for your possibly-unpopular-but-necessary question, you solve that by creating more third spaces and a basic income.

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      i ride my bike October 5, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      The reason for the backup on 3rd Ave is the same reason there is a backup on NW 11th at the Brewery Blocks… thru auto traffic on Burnside is prioritized with long lightcycles and the avenues get short lightcycles. God forbid there be any backups on the West Burnside auto sewer nevermind thats exactly what that street needs to tame it.

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    Adam October 3, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    I like it!

    And unlike a lot of other roadways, where the excuse bandied about is, “We don’t have enough space to accommodate bike lanes / bike corrals / public plazas etc etc” – on this street, there is so much space, it is unreal!

    The street outside Voodoo Doughnuts is as wide as a football field. That’s just unnecessary.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu October 3, 2014 at 5:04 pm

      I was thinking how nice it would be if trees were planted . . . Trees draw people and provide shade.

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    Leif Warner October 3, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    When I came through this this morning, I went through the auto lane. Orange cones made me think construction, stay out of that lane – didn’t notice the bike sign til later. Oh well.

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      Angel York October 4, 2014 at 2:14 pm

      Yeah, I think it looks good enough that they could get rid of the traffic cones and people would self-sort.

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    Ted Buehler October 4, 2014 at 1:32 am

    I spent a couple hours there this afternoon and evening. Things were all very smooth, very comfortable for peds and bikes, and only a little congested for cars. PBOT’s Greg Raisman was enjoying himself on the streets all evening, I heard that PBOT Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield was there around rush hour, and mayor Charlie Hales walked the length of the 4-block project around 10:00 pm.

    Hats off to the Old Town folks and Better Block PDX for an experiment very successfully executed.

    Riding home with a friend, she noted that there were two important precedents set here.

    1) A 3 lane road went to 1 lane + party space. Traffic still flowed just fine.

    2) A trial event, quickly planned on a low budget, was all it took to prove that the concept would work.

    Hopefully we’ll see more trials and more lane diets in Portland. It’s about time to get some ballsy innovation going here again.

    Ted Buehler

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    Pdub October 4, 2014 at 11:43 am

    I can’t be the only one who is not a fan of segregating traffic this way. There are many problems with it, the primary one being you’re *reinforcing* the attitude that bikes are “special” and don’t belong on regular streets. The second, and maybe worse issue in terms of safety, is that you are confusing all road users by changing how they interact with one another depending on which street they happen to be driving/riding along. For instance, if I want to turn left somewhere along there I have to leave “my” lane. Or they expect me to go to an intersection and use a crossing? Well that’s not how I ride along any of the other streets in that area. It’s better than, say, Broadway along PSU, or Farmington west of 185th, but it’s still confusing to drivers who already (as a generalization) have difficulty with the rules of the road. All of these things reinforce the notion – with drivers and potential cyclists – that riding is inherently dangerous. That’s a very discouraging message.

    I’m pro-cycling in all aspects of life, but I object to trying to get more people on their bikes by trying to separate traffic. I think it would be much better all around to make sure *all* streets have enough room for cyclists and cars, and are designed for mixed traffic flows; then spend resources educating both drivers and cyclists about how to properly and safely share *all* of our roads. I know that’s more idealistic than realistic, but as the environmental unsustainability of our current lifestyle becomes more and more obvious, we have an opportunity to fundamentally change the way people think about cycling as transportation.

    I’m not trying to discourage the people who are working so hard to make cyclist better in Portland; I’m just asking if we are taking the right approach to enabling cycling as just another mode of transportation.

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    Angel York October 4, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    If they do this again next year, it might also be nice to see wider sidewalks. Though I understand the budget was limited, so maybe skinny sidewalks were more affordable for this project.

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    Paul Smith October 4, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    I’m here now, and have to say the setup by Voodoo is the most compelling. Never realized what a pot belly the road has there! It’s ripe to be reused in a different way.

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    Scott Batchelar October 4, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    As a former Pearl District Resident that regularly used third as my main route to work this is an awesome idea – I rode it last night around 10:30PM and it felt really good.

    I second the idea for having 2 lanes with turn lanes at Burnside and Davis Streets but overall this is far better than the “Old Town Entertainment District” that I would normally have to deal with on the weekends.

    My only concern – some of the crowd when I went through here was definitely slightly antagonistic – Probably didn’t like using their “entertainment district”

    Overall an extremely worthy idea – I can’t wait to see this become permanent.

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    Alan 1.0 October 4, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Playing ping pong in front of the Paris is priceless! The whole project worked great, I’d love to see it made permanent. It could use more activity in the freed up space; I was expecting more vendors, cafe tables, chess boards, and lounging in general. Very glad I came down to see it.

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      Paul Smith October 4, 2014 at 10:21 pm

      Agreed with Alan. It’s a great start and a bold move, but there was very little happening until Voodoo. Would love to have seen active use of the whole space.

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    Chris Balduc October 5, 2014 at 8:24 am

    I showed up at 3pm Saturday expecting to see a big crowd enjoying the freedom of a ped-and-bike only thoroughfare. Other than the predictable long line at Voodoo doughnuts and a few people milling about on the haystacks, there was a sad lack of happy smiling Portlanders. I was expecting 3rd street would be cordoned off to auto traffic for the duration of this event, and noticed the consternation of drivers forced into the narrow bottleneck.
    It was a bold idea and I fully support any plan of this type, but let’s keep the cars off the road next time and maybe we could get a better turn out. Maybe make an effort to attract people in from the Saturday Market as well. 🙂

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 6, 2014 at 11:06 am

    You can look at this through a bike lens or a business lens.

    Through the bike lens, downtown needs good north-south bike routes. There is the Broadway bike lane, which has its faults, and not much else. Can’t cyclists just ride among the cars on any street? For some, yes; I do; for many, no. 3rd and 4th would be good bike routes because they don’t get as much car traffic as other north-south downtown streets.

    Through the business lens, 3rd and 4th need help, especially north of Burnside. The area is run down and the merchants don’t get as much foot traffic as they should. Well-designed public space attracts people, routing cyclists to the street will attract more. Could the streets simply be entirely closed off to cars? Maybe, but I don’t think it is necessary. What will make this space work, or not work, isn’t if a lane of slow car traffic remains, but how well the space is designed. It will need lots of seating, some shade, some art, some greenery, lots of bike parking. The businesses will have to do their part with street seating/service. Public play facilities (game tables, big chess) would help. I wonder if there could be a fenced play structure/area for kids, and a fenced dog play area would attract dog walkers too (both with appropriate ground cover).

    I spent time there on Friday and again on Sunday. The demonstration was, I thought, successful.

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    GlowBoy October 6, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I checked this out last night. Seemed like a positive change. Even with two general traffic lanes it would be a massive improvement. 3rd Street is really wide here.

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