Better Block’s 2016 street demos will reimagine Burnside Bridge, Broadway, PNCA

better ankeny explanation
Curt Fisher, left, explains the concept for a demonstration plaza at SW Ankeny, Burnside, Pine and Broadway to two attendees at Better Block’s volunteer appreciation meeting.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The streets-for-people group Better Block PDX unveiled four main projects for its “2016 season” Thursday night to a crowd gathered in a bike warehouse.

The proposed demos, conceived by Portland State University planning and engineering students as part of Better Block’s new partnership with the school, will be on the Burnside Bridge, inner Northeast Broadway, the Northwest Park Blocks and Southwest Broadway at Burnside.

All are in or on the outskirts of the central city; Better Block organizer Ryan Hashagen mentioned that the group hopes to broaden its geographic range in 2017.

Thursday’s event also included a short history lesson for the dozens of attendees from Better Block PDX co-founder Melissa Kaganovich (visiting from Toronto) and a view of its future from Gwen Shaw, the recent PSU engineering graduate who came up with the academic partnership that’s designed to carry it forward.

Gwen Shaw, the brains behind last year’s Better Naito demo of a multi-use path just west of Waterfront Park.

“This idea popped in my head: why don’t we make this a thing?” Shaw, who now works for Lancaster Engineering, recalled of the day she was putting her planning and engineering knowhow to work setting up last year’s Naito Parkway demo. “We got to do real stuff, do real work.”

After a video about the Naito demo, the people behind each of four projects spoke. Let’s take a quick look at each.

Better Burnside Bridge
A different use of the space is possible.

With Multnomah County preparing for a $30 million repave of the bridge in 2017, Better Block is planning to test a design that would upgrade the bridge’s bike lanes to protected bike lanes and add a dedicated eastbound bus lane.

Since the bridge’s streetcar line was removed, it has had two westbound lanes but three eastbound lanes. That extra room, combined with the width of the lanes, leads to a lot of speeding on the bridge: presenter Andy Kutansky said the 85th-percentile speed is 40 mph.

This proposed design was one of the options we floated here last year, after a man’s car veered onto the sidewalk and killed Ben Carlson while he walked across the bridge.

The main complication will be the right-turn lane and traffic signals on the east landing of the bridge, but the designers think they have a signaling plan that will work. A live test this summer will see if they’re right, while showing off the possible improvements for people walking, biking or taking one of the three bus lines that cross the bridge.

Better Northeast Broadway
Not ideal for anyone.

Presenter Kiel Johnson began his pitch for this plan by asking people where they go when they have out-of-town friends visiting.

“Raise your hand if you might take them to Hawthorne,” he said. “Raise your hand if you might take them to Mississippi or Alberta. Raise your hand if you might take them to Broadway.”

“OK, that’s what we want to change,” Johnson said after nearly all the hands dropped.

Broadway hasn’t seen as much economic success as other streets, Johnson said, because unlike those streets it has three lanes of westbound auto traffic, making it unpleasantly noisy and hard to cross.

Johnson, who lives just south of Broadway and serves on the district’s community association board, said he’s hoping to find three businesses between NE 7th and 24th Avenues that are excited about possible changes to Broadway. Each of those blocks could then be set up in a different way, to illustrate the various possible changes to the street: one with a parking-protected bike lane, maybe, or one with a planter-protected lane and no parking.

Better North Park Blocks
Lora Lillard, left, explains the concept for improvements to the parking lot immediately north of the North Park Blocks.

The parking lot just north of Northwest Glisan Street serves as an unfortunate front yard for the Pacific Northwest College of Art. As the block awaits likely redevelopment, PNCA students are working with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to do something more interesting with it for a few years.

The details for this installation aren’t nailed down yet, but it’d likely involve a spring demo of one week or so followed by a permanent paint job in August that would create areas for PNCA students, staff and others to spend time.

Inspiring ideas from elsewhere.

“The real opportunity here is placemaking,” said presenter Lora Lillard of BPS.


Better Ankeny + Southwest Broadway
Why not?
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

The expanse of pavement on Broadway just south of Burnside is one of the most visually dead spaces in downtown, and one of the most unpleasant to walk across for the 300 to 400 people who do so in every rush hour.

But every time it snows in Portland, an alternative future appears: it could easily become a public plaza.

Partly inspired by what PSU’s Curt Fisher called a “famous BikePortland photo” and wishing for a space at the heart of the city that could become Portland’s answer to Times Square, a team of planning students developed two concepts: one for a triangular space that’s currently unused for almost anything except walking:

And one more ambitious version that would take Broadway down to one southbound travel lane plus a bike lane to create a large parklike space with food carts and more:

Both plans also envision a new “Ankeny Alley West”: repeating the experiment of SW Ankeny Street between 2nd and 3rd, where a block once used mostly for parking has been rented by businesses to add outdoor cafe tables.

The schedule for this project is a little vague — maybe August? — and presumably depends on the capacity of volunteers and the interest of adjacent businesses, but the simpler version of this would probably be the easiest of all these projects to pull off, and the more ambitious version would probably be the most transformative of any.

If any of these projects excite you, Better Block would love to have your help: they’re recruiting people for communications, fundraising and installation committees. In the meantime, PSU students will be spending their spring terms developing traffic control plans and other details for each of these, with an eye to installments starting in late spring.

We’ll be eager to cover all of these projects in the coming months — and, if they’re successful, the permanent changes any or all of these could catalyze.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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