Lovers of great streets: Better Broadway needs our help

Posted by on May 13th, 2016 at 1:31 pm

This is worth fighting for. Please take the survey and email the mayor and Commissioner Novick about it.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

I’ve been out on NE Broadway several times this week. And I love what Better Block has done with the place. The transformation of the street from auto-centric thoroughfare to a pleasant street that welcomes a mix of uses has been nothing short of amazing.

But I’m here to let you in on a secret: Not everyone is pleased. I’ve heard from several sources that the project is coming under fire by people whose hate equals my love.

Much of the anger is apparently coming from people think Broadway should remain a fast, crowded arterial mostly for driving on. While people out on the street are supportive and Better Block PDX has many fantastic neighborhood partners, there are some (who just so happen to have very powerful voices) who see this temporary street transformation as evil incarnate.

I feel their pain. Better Broadway isn’t perfect. The project looks like a construction zone and it can be confusing when things that have been the same for decades suddenly change overnight.

I also know that when the project was first installed on Monday morning the design still needed some tweaks. Thankfully those tweaks were made Wednesday night when volunteers shortened the project from 17 blocks to just five blocks. They’ve opted for quality over quantity. Now the project is even stronger as all the remaining blocks — from NE 11th to 16th — have the auto parking in the street instead of at the curb. This means the entire right side of the roadway is open — for comfortable biking, walking, playing eating, or enjoying a meal.

Remember the entire idea behind Better Broadway is to try something new. To see what works and what doesn’t. To learn and move forward. It’s a quick sketch, not a masterpiece. It’s a work of art we all get to help create — but if the City doesn’t hear more positive support for the project we’ll never get to see the final product.

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Volunteers have condensed the project and now the entire thing has a functioning parking-protected bikeway.

As we’ve said all week, Better Broadway is a big deal. It’s the first major commercial corridor that Better Block has been given permission to transform. It’s also exactly the type of street where we have to created protected biking space if we want our city to thrive in the future. And that’s not just a passionate activist talking. Did you see Steve Duin’s article in The Oregonian this morning? The one where he opines about Portland’s growth struggles and looks for lessons from Manhattan? When he thought about Better Broadway and even the traffic diverters on Clinton Street, he came back with a shocking take (emphases mine):

Yet change is more necessary and less intimidating than some might think.

If we want to strike the right balance in the daily commute, we may not need that inbound passing lane on Northeast Broadway. We may need the traffic dividers on Southeast Clinton, even if they simply divert auto traffic a block or two south onto Woodward.

If we hope to see our parents and children age gloriously in the neighborhoods where we live, we may need zoning changes that support new triplexes and duplexes in Buckman. We may not be able to afford the three-car garage.

Like the planet, we may thrive if we walk to work with our neighbors, seek our community on the sidewalk rather than our laptop, and consider change an opportunity, not an affront.

The tide is turning folks. Portland has embarked on a new open streets era (more on that later) and it’s very exciting. But change is not easy and political momentum can shift in an instant. We need to make sure our friends at City Hall and in the City of Portland building hear loud and clear that we appreciate their willingness to try new things.

Please take a few seconds and share your feedback on this Better Broadway survey.

Also please send an email to Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick (novick@portlandoregon.gov), Mayor Charlie Hales (mayorcharliehales@portlandoregon.gov), and the Better Block PDX crew (betterblockpdx@gmail.com).

If you haven’t been over their to experience it, you’ve still got a few days. You can check it out and then come back to this post to take the survey and send those emails.

If you want a guided tour, take a walk from Better Naito to Better Broadway tonight. The event is hosted by Better Block volunteer Gwen Shaw and it’ll end on Broadway for Karaoke at Chen’s Dynasty — one of the many businesses on Broadway that has stepped up to support the project.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

33 Comments
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    dwk May 13, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    I Don’t think it got a fair assessment because the temporary “better Broadway” was done so poorly. No knock on the volunteers, but they clearly bit off more than they could do and lacked supervision.
    I went down Tuesday night and the cars did not know where to park and parked on the curb.
    Pedestrians seem confused and I saw a couple of bikes almost get right hooked.
    The whole thing looked like a confusing construction zone.
    They should do it again, but just a couple blocks.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 13, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      You’re right dan. I agree. Better Block is a tiny all-volunteer organization that bit off a whole bunch this summer. Now it looks like maybe it was too much at one time…. But I don’t think that’s a good reason to know leave them hanging in the political winds without our support! Even if you have quibbles with the project and the design… This is about showing the City of Portland that we the people want more of this type of thing and that —— when done right with ample resources and investment — it will truly transform our city for the Better.

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        dwk May 13, 2016 at 4:11 pm

        I think the reason it should be a city project is because the street is better suited to become a pedestrian mall than a bike route. I live in Northeast and I would not take Broadway even if they gave me a lane! The freeway on ramp traffic (and that is what inner Broadway is) is a bike death waiting to happen and the whole vibe is bad. The closure would be goof for business and the general public, the cycling community, not so much….

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          Robert Burchett May 16, 2016 at 8:48 am

          Hey, I kind of agree with you about NE Broadway, as it is now (before Better Block) I’d take a group ride eastbound over the Fremount, zero traffic conflicts, before I’d take them up 15 blocks of NE Broadway past 90 parked cars and 20 chances to get right hooked.

          Beg to differ on ‘leave it to the city’. Better Block may be punching above their weight but they are out there doing stuff and if there are glitches they are willing to wear it. The city’s plans may bear fruit in the long run, but as somebody (Keynes?) said, in the long run we are all dead.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. May 15, 2016 at 10:28 pm

        What I don’t understand is why the city can’t take this initiative, like what Janette Sadik-Khan did in NYC. If the city is involved in design and implementation, you get a much higher quality and better engineered project than what a group of volunteers would be able to produce unassisted. This translates to a much higher chance of success. Instead, the city is taking the low road here, offloading all the responsibility to Better Block — taking credit if the project succeeds while blaming them if it doesn’t.

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      Bradley Ling May 13, 2016 at 8:01 pm

      I think it was much improved as the week went on. Thursday and Friday the project was shortened, parking was well labeled with tape, and cars were parking where intended (to the left of the bike lane). It was cool to see how a temporary project allowed daily tweaks to improve the situation.

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    Tom Hardy May 13, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Whatever it takes to get the motorized vehicles to park NOT against the curb, or in the bike lane, or the MUP. and to direct the right turn vehicles to turn at the corners with their signals rather than turning in into the bikepath, stopping, then turning.

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      Tip Oz May 13, 2016 at 8:28 pm

      Regarding the turning into the bike lane and stopping: With the bike lane separated from the traffic lane by so far, cars really do have to nearly come to a stop after turning part way, otherwise, it is not really possible for them to tell whether a bicycle is in the lane. I say that having ridden my bike, and driven, the length of the project many times.

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    Mark May 13, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    The challenge of showering praise on Better Broadway because it’s a good concept is that the execution was very much half-baked. I’ve said this many times on this forum. I live in that neighborhood and no one wants to see NE Broadway transformed more than me. Forget the cones, tape, etc. What the project needed, and what follows it needs, is strong, clear, consistent communication about what is going on and how it’s supposed to work. My last comment on this, after riding the full length of the project only to find it had been shortened to a few blocks, was one of confusion. I had read about it, understood it’s predecessor Better Naito (and I’ve used it a great deal), watched on Sunday evening as volunteers were working and I was still confused as were my neighbors. Yes, kudos to the volunteers who amended the effort mid-week. But, if you didn’t anticipate that lots of auto users were going to object, vehemently, to being slowed down and backed up, you don’t really know NE Broadway.

    Who are the “some with powerful voices” who oppose Better Broadway? If they are property owners, commercial and otherwise, along NE Broadway, that’s a problem. If they are neighbors trying to drive from Irvington into town, that’s a problem. If they are folks driving to town and using NE Broadway as an alternative to I-84, I’m not sure they matter.

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      RoseCity May 13, 2016 at 3:59 pm

      I would say anyone’ option who uses broadway, be it pedestrian, biker, or motor vehicle, matter a great deal in a situation like this. Broadway is a artieral connection to downtown, whether we agree that it should be or not. Future reworkings of the street are going require cooperation from all parties to be a success!

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        dwk May 13, 2016 at 4:05 pm

        It is actually an arterial to the freeways, that is the problem.

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        Beeblebrox May 13, 2016 at 5:08 pm

        Yes, but *should* it be a long-distance arterial connection to downtown, when I-84 is right there serving the same purpose? It seems to me that it just induces demand, by providing overflow capacity for times when I-84 is congested. We shouldn’t be making commercial streets feel horrible and dangerous just to provide an overflow valve for a freeway.

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          Tip Oz May 13, 2016 at 8:31 pm

          Neigborhood residents certainly do not want to have to go clear over across the freeway, to get on to the feeway, to go downtown. Hard to see how anyone could expect folks out to at least, what, 30th or so, to get on the freeway to go into town. It makes far more sense to use the streets.

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            Beeblebrox May 14, 2016 at 9:14 pm

            Yes, but if it were only neighborhood people using it to go downtown, there’s no way you would need three lanes. It’s currently configured like a freeway because people from all over NE are heading down Sandy or 33rd and getting onto Broadway instead of I-84. The result is an environment hostile to pedestrians and bicyclists.

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. May 15, 2016 at 10:22 pm

            There are plenty of buses that go downtown. No reason for residents to all drive.

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            KristenT May 16, 2016 at 12:41 pm

            Your comment made me shake my head– currently, pedestrians and cyclists are expected to take windy, non-connected routes to get to our destinations while people in cars get a direct, straight route to theirs.

            Sounds like the tables are turned, and now the people in cars have to take the windy, disconnected routes– and it’s suddenly unacceptable.

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      k1ndun May 14, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      I agree with Mark that this was a well-intentioned project with half-baked execution. And I say that as someone who joined Better Block as a volunteer. I was very excited to be part of it. Even though I joined late, only a few weeks before launch, I figured I’d just help out with whatever was planned.

      The traffic planning group had expert professional coaching and a solid plan; their main flaw was not recruiting enough volunteer help to fully execute such an ambitious plan.

      I tried to pitch in with the “street activation” group. That team had no expert coaching and extremely passive, inexperienced leadership. I was shocked to discover that just a few weeks before launch, they had no clear plan in place and were only beginning to seriously engage businesses. I volunteered for several weeks and felt increasingly embarrassed to be a part of it.

      This week I passed through the full length of the project several times on the bus and cringed. As Jonathan pointed out, there are a few highlights like the bus island. But they failed to create a complete corridor of parking-protected street activation space, and the “activation” amounted to barely anything… a few chairs, one or two tents, and I think I saw a foosball table yesterday. There were lots of businesses interested in participating, but Better Block failed to harness that energy.

      I think there is a leadership vacuum since the original founders of Better Block PDX left. It makes me sad and I worry that this project set the cause of “street prototyping” backwards.

      I’d love to be a part of making Portland streets better, but I won’t be joining another Better Block project until I see that the “street activation” side of things has strong, experienced leadership. It’s not enough to have a good traffic plan. The rest — street activation and business/community outreach — need to be taken seriously too.

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        dwk May 14, 2016 at 12:37 pm

        Thanks for you inside view and your efforts.
        You have clarified what was obvious. I have no idea who the folks behind Better Block are but they seem to operate in secret or something. I live in Northeast, there are hundreds of commuters like myself in the neighborhoods, perhaps some outreach through bikeportland or the local bike shops (there are a lot including Velo Cult) where you may have recruited people who know the street better.
        I do not think this effort was that big a setback since most people in the area never had a clue what was going on in the first place and it ended with a whimper.
        That being said, Better Block needs to do some outreach before it attempts this kind of thing again.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. May 13, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    It was great to meet all the volunteers and help out on this project. I still stand by my belief that the Better Block projects could be so much better with even just a little support from the city. By support, I mean not just allowing Better Block to do the work, but putting in actual person-hours to help with traffic control, parking enforcement, etc. I’m looking forward to helping out on future projects!

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      Chris I May 13, 2016 at 2:41 pm

      This is the root of the problem. In other cities, the projects have significantly more support from the city. Even having just a few city workers and trucks out there to put down paint and move things around would make a huge difference.

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        Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) May 13, 2016 at 3:31 pm

        I absolutely agree that it’s time for the City to step up and propose. They’ve had a very fun time dating Better Block but it’s time to make it official. BUT, I have decided to not spend too much time making that point because right now what’s much more important is to email Mayor Hales and Novick and Better Block and tell them that we support this project.

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          poncho May 15, 2016 at 11:14 pm

          Better Block PDX came about because the city used to be a national leader on creating great streets but has been stagnant for about 10 years (in that time NYC went from bottom of the pack to front of the pack). There is so much enthusiasm and energy in this city for great bike, ped, transit and yet almost nothing has come about in the last decade save for the Orange Line which was approved about 10 years ago. BBP has tried to harness that energy of active transportation advocates that show up to meetings but see no results from endless planning efforts.

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. May 16, 2016 at 9:15 am

            Thing is, there are so many people that work at the city (PBOT especially) that are very enthusiastic about biking and improving street design. Director Treat especially: she worked at CDOT in Chicago to implement protected bike lanes and other street changes.

            The problem is that our city leadership has been absolutely cowardly in pushing for these changes, and in some cases, actively working against active transportation by gutting funding. They want it both ways: to continue to talk up Portland as if we’re still the national leader in urban planning, while in reality, doing nothing to ensure we still deserve that title. They want all the money that increased tourism and city planning summits bring to town without actually spending that money on improving the infrastructure.

            Better Block’s existence and expansion is a symptom of this greater problem and not something we should be actively praising. While I love to see so many people actively working towards improving our city, ultimately, it is up to city leadership to take ownership, and so far, they have not done so. At this point, all we can to is hope for a shake-up of city council.

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              poncho May 16, 2016 at 11:52 pm

              I agree totally, and there are outstanding people at PBOT.

              I will say much of the ground work is in place, thanks to great leadership in the past that has attracted people from all over the US to Portland that appreciate the great things done to make Portland a great place. Policies, codes, visioning, plans, studies etc of the past are now being implemented by developers who are building the envisioned walkable bikeable mixed use urban city that many of us have championed. For years the policies were in place but the development wasn’t happening to realize it. I know its fun to slam developers (and there are some bad ones) but they are the other part of the equation in creating a bikeable and walkable city. The public sector is vital in the infrastructure but it is the developers that on their own create the new urban buildings that foster this vibrant urban lifestyle and replace suburban style buildings with pedestrian oriented buildings.

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    panda May 13, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Who created the survey? I didn’t see it linked on the Better Block website.

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      Ray Atkinson May 13, 2016 at 3:56 pm

      I’m wondering the same. Did the city or Better Block PDX create the survey?

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        Beeblebrox May 14, 2016 at 9:16 pm

        Better Block created the survey.

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    Beth May 13, 2016 at 7:24 pm

    I rode along Broadway on Monday, and thought the whole thing looked, well, sort of cheesy and amateurish. It was hard for me to figure out what was going on.
    Separated bike lanes are ideal, but I think you have to design them into a new road, rather than try to make them squeeze into an existing one — especially one that feeds onto a freeway.
    Maybe pick a different street next time?

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    Bradley Ling May 13, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    I answered the survey. My daily commute usually takes me on Broadway, so it was fun to see the change from normal, and how behaviors changed throughout the week.

    One observation I made this week, is it was much more common for cars and trucks waiting to turn right on to broadway to creep forward and obstruct the bike lane. I assume this was to better see the traffic on Broadway to make a safe right turn. I wonder how intersections could be better designed to minimize this behavior? How is it handled on Williams and other wide and protected bike lanes?

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    rachel b May 15, 2016 at 1:54 am

    I’m glad to see anything challenge the sacrosanct rights of drivers over all–even inexpertly executed. The more we do to educate folks away from that sense of entitlement, that lordly impatient huffiness and reckless behavior, the better. That this attempt was even allowed by the City heartens me that my little SE 26th in the Clinton neighborhood may not “need” (according to ODOT) to be thrown to the metal wolves after all. There is so much daily foot traffic and bike traffic already on this street, despite the unpleasantness. It could be a neighborhood paradise–it’s so close. The speeding, honking, huffy drivers of cars/motorcycles/trucks completely spoil it.

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    Kelly Francois May 15, 2016 at 11:19 pm

    I LOVED Better Broadway. I’ve lived in Sullivan’s Gulch for 2 years, and this was the first time I ever enjoyed riding on Broadway. I nearly cried when I saw the crosswalks on 22nd, 19th and 17th!! I attended the Charette on Saturday discussing the project, and for all the pluses and minuses, it really got a discussion going about transportation options, street safety, and use of our commercial district. That’s the beginning of change.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu May 16, 2016 at 6:24 am

    I rode Broadway several times during the project. In general, I thought the configuration worked well. I think PBOT should work with Better Block to repeat the project later this summer/fall, for a month. Then consider making the changes permanent.

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    Kelly Francois May 16, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Here is the letter that I sent to Hales, Novick, and the BetterBlocks email address provided:

    I wanted to thank you for the part that you had in bringing Better Broadway to my neighborhood. I’ve lived in Sullivan’s Gulch for 2 years now, having moved here from Louisiana. We could have chosen anywhere in the country to live, and we chose Portland. A big part of the reason we made this choice was because of the walking, biking and transit infrastructure here in this city. Imagine my surprise, our first walk in our new neighborhood, and we were faced with crossing Weidler and then Broadway at 17th, both unmarked crosswalks across what appeared to be an interstate in the middle of inner Northeast. I felt like I was back in Louisiana.

    Better Broadway really highlighted what Broadway could be. I thoroughly enjoyed the slower traffic, the marked crosswalks and the large protected bike lane. The floating bus stop was AMAZING! For the first time since we moved here, I could take my children on a leisurely ride on Broadway. I saw people using the extra space for gathering, chatting, playing ping pong. I could really see the vision of our next great district in Portland.

    So, thank you for bringing a glimpse of what this city is aspiring to be: a mecca for alternative transportation options, a leader in climate kindness and a place where people are willing to think outside the box and make changes. We started it with building the Max instead of new highways and taking back our waterfront for the people – we are currently extending that trend by protecting our Greenways with diverters, and wider/safer bikelanes on commercial corridors (N. Williams). Let’s keep it up and invest in what really sets this town apart from other places in this country, our walkability, bikeability and public transit.

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