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.
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…
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…
And here’s how it looks south of Burnside…
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).
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.
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.