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Lovers of great streets: Better Broadway needs our help


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

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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