(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Nine months after a three-day event that tested a single southbound lane of auto traffic on a few blocks of NW and SW 3rd Avenue, a group of stakeholders on the street has endorsed a middle ground: two lanes.
“It builds on a future expanded plaza for locals and visitors at Ankeny Alley that will become a regional destination.”
— Old Town Chinatown Community Association
The proposal endorsed unanimously this month by the 3rd Avenue Stakeholder Advisory Group would replace most of the rightmost travel lane with a buffered and possibly green-painted bike lane for six blocks from NE Davis to SE Stark.
That’s the word from Ryan Hashagen, chair of the advisory group, which is a subcommittee of the Old Town Chinatown Community Association. In a letter to the city delivered yesterday, the OTCTCA wrote that the proposals “stemmed from community demand for a safer, more walkable Old Town Chinatown for residents, visitors, locals and tourists. It builds on a future expanded plaza for locals and visitors at Ankeny Alley that will become a regional destination.”
Sarah Stevenson, executive director of nonprofit Old Town housing provider Innovative Housing Inc., said the plan would preserve people’s ability to turn left onto Burnside from 3rd while making the neighborhood “less noisy, less traffic-y.”
“I think it’s a great plan, because there’s a little bit of something that makes everybody happy,” she said. “I have never seen a plan that has had the support of every Old Town Chinatown stakeholder, and this seems to have hit that sweet spot. It’s going to make everything safer, more pedestrian-friendly, more bike-friendly, which is good for everybody.”
For people who want to get to the area by bike, the proposed changes would create a new, relatively low-stress southbound route from the Steel Bridge area to the painted bike lanes on SW Stark and Oak streets, starting to build the first connected network of bike lanes in downtown Portland.
“We’re seeing a lot of pedestrian traffic down in this particular area and a lot of bike traffic,” said Chad Stover, a staffer for Portland Mayor Charlie Hales who has coordinated the project. “We want to make the flow of all traffic as smooth as possible and as safe as possible. … If you’re a pedestrian right now when you go across the street you can sometimes be taking your life in your hands because you have three lanes of traffic coming at you.”
“It’s very strange how many lanes there are,” said Lisa Frisch, downtown retail development manager for the Portland Business Alliance, a regional chamber of commerce. “It doesn’t make sense going from three into two into three into five.”
Hashagen said a city transportation analysis concluded that two lanes on 3rd Avenue were enough to handle all of 3rd Avenue’s auto traffic with no additional delay, even during rush hour. The changes would also preserve parking on both sides of 3rd Avenue. (A plan endorsed last summer by a different group of retailers would have eliminated auto parking on 3rd Avenue in order to add in-street seating and planter-protected bike lanes.)
The Portland Business Alliance supports the plan because its members in the area do.
Frisch, who sits on the advisory subcommittee and who made the motion for the group to endorse the two-lane redesign, said that like Stover, Hashagan and many local business owners, she would love to see retail shops in Old Town Chinatown’s entertainment district “open during the day and not just at night.”
Frisch said she believes the number and nature of traffic lanes on a street has “zero impact” either way on whether people are more likely to shop or spend time in the area. But she said the PBA supports the plan because its members in the area do.
Helen Ying, chair of the community association, said she thinks walkable street design is one of various factors involved in retail health.
“I think by promoting safety and transportation, what we’re doing with 3rd Avenue is going to help with bringing foot traffic and bringing more people into the area, and that’s part of the revitalization plan,” said Ying.
Adequate on-street auto parking is also an important ingredient, Ying said, especially if the area wants to do without surface parking lots.
Ying alluded to discussions over the last two years about whether the wide roadway in front of Voodoo Doughnut and Ankeny Alley could eventually evolve into a “Times Square type” area.
“We’re not there yet, but I think this is helping to make steps closer to that,” Ying said. “I think the design with incremental improvements is really the way to go. It’s baby steps.”
(Image: Ankeny Alley Association grant application)
Next week, a proposal to use bollards in the roadbed to pedestrianize some of the plaza at Ankeny and 3rd will go before Portland’s Historic Landmarks Commssion. According to the commission’s agenda, “Phase II (not yet designed) anticipates new paving, new curb lines, lighting, and other permanent site fixtures.”
The city has prepared a possible rendering of the possible 3rd Avenue redesign and presented it to the Old Town Chinatown Community Association, but said it won’t share the image with the broader public until more stakeholders had seen it.
“We don’t want to put anything out there in print that would overcommit or make it seem like things are firmer than they are,” city transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera said Monday. “We’re excited that the community’s excited.”
From here, the city plans to talk with more businesses on SW 3rd before developing the plans further. Stay tuned.
Correction 4:40 pm: An earlier version of this post reported that Hashagen said the proposed bike lane would be colored green. He says that is only one option being considered.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.