Tour de Lab September 1st

Comment of the Week: The car-free destiny of NW 13th Avenue

Posted by on May 27th, 2016 at 5:40 pm

Sunday Parkways NW-39

Northwest 13th Avenue during Sunday Parkways, 2011.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Curb-protected bike lanes are cool and all, but they’ve got nothing on building-protected bike lanes.

That’s roughly the position from BikePortland reader Andrew, who added the first comment to Tuesday’s post about possible downtown protected bike lanes with a very different vision for one of Portland’s most unique streets: Northwest 13th Avenue.

Here’s what Andrew had to say:

I’d love to see something done with NW 13th. It’s an awkward street to drive on, walk on, and cycle on. I use it frequently and have stopped to observe what happens on the street with the different modes tangled together. There are no sidewalks, parking for cars is a free for all, pedestrians are often times in the middle of the roadway, and it’s just generally a mess.

Closing 13th to cars entirely would be awesome, it would remove the primary part of what makes the street a mess. Removing some of the stop signs for bikes and peds on 13th would allow people to move through quicker if their destination isn’t on 13th. It connects with Johnson and Overton quite well, and it isn’t too tough to connect to the Broadway bridge either. Just my 2 cents.

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This led to an excellent discussion about whether and how this might work. (In particular, check out the “yes” case from maccoinnich and the “no” case from Jason H.) But Jonathan and I were happy to see the issue come up at all. One of the posts we never got to from this spring’s NW Portland Week was Jonathan’s opus, years a-brewing, about how wonderful a pedestrianized (or partially pedestrianized) 13th Avenue could become.

If I know the boss, Jonathan’s full thoughts on this issue are likely to see the light someday. For the moment, the old industrial loading docks that (as reader Matti pointed out) once opened onto freight train tracks will continue to push people walking into the middle of the street, claiming the space that will, we’d be willing to bet, eventually become theirs.

Yes, we pay for good comments. This regular feature is sponsored by readers who’ve become BikePortland subscribers to keep our site and our community strong. We’ll be sending $5 and a little goodie bag to Andrew in thanks for this great addition. Watch your email!

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@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

50 Comments
  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley May 27, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    I happened to be over there just this afternoon, and made a point of riding on 13th for a bit. It has a woonerf-y, Euro feel and a pleasant atmosphere, and yes, people were walking basically in the middle of.

    The little section I rode on was really nice, and only the presence of the odd, head-in parking (with dangerous backing out of parking spaces into the middle of the street) detracted from the experience.

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      Gerald Fittipaldi May 28, 2016 at 1:12 pm

      Yeah, but during rush hour it is clogged with cars. For it to feel woonerfy throughout the day, cars would either have to banned or somehow greatly reduced in number. I’ve only biked through there a half dozen times or so, but mostly during rush hour. It was not fun to say the least.

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        Social Engineer May 29, 2016 at 6:37 pm

        Every street in downtown is clogged with cars during rush hour. Even the Park Blocks. The downfall of a dense street grid where traffic is dispersed and little intervention measures by PBOT.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. May 27, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    The city has a design guideline that forbids sidewalks on NW 13th in favor of the loading docks. That’s why you see this even on the new buildings around 13th and Quimby. If the city is insistent on not having a sidewalk then the least they could do is close the street to cars.

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    maccoinnich May 27, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    I believe that the 2011 Sunday Parkways shown above was the last one to have been held in NW.

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      Social Engineer May 29, 2016 at 6:38 pm

      Correct. Only eastsiders have the pleasure of Sunday Parkways nowadays.

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    Mark Smith May 27, 2016 at 8:25 pm

    Why does the PBA still hold on to the outdated notion that somhow…a 1950’s world will save the day in Portland? When..in reality people are flocking downtown because it is becoming a people’s paradise?

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    q May 27, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    13th could become a true linear piazza–a public space surrounded by buildings, without the buildings being cut off from the space by streets.

    Pioneer Square has a fatal flaw because the space is cut off from the surrounding buildings by streets. You can’t get to it except from the corners, and you can’t walk out into it from the surrounding buildings. The North and South Park Blocks–same problem.

    If you can’t walk freely across the space from building to building, or have some seating spilling into the space from the edges, it’s a compromised space. 13th could be more like Occidental Ave. S. (south of Occidental Square) in Seattle, but with its own unique character.

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      lop May 28, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      Piazza with food carts, events, pop up shops, tables and seating etc…in the middle of the ‘road’ where people can walk and wonder about freely? Or car free/car light bike road for through cyclists?

      http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/02/pedestrianization-without-adverse.html

      “However, this is not a through route for cyclists. Cyclists whose destination is elsewhere, and who wish to get wherever they are going faster, will take other more convenient, faster routes rather than riding through here. This is important as it makes no sense at all to have a pedestrianized area which is also a major through route for cyclists.”

      Where is the more attractive through route for cyclists near NW 13th? There isn’t one right now. If you don’t build one then the car free/car light 13th will naturally attract through cyclists. Just like the waterfront does, even when crowded with people on foot.

      I see three options.

      1) Throw out the illusion that this could be a piazza/pedestrian space, and put a ~ten foot road in the middle for through cyclists and delivery/emergency vehicle access, effectively creating sidewalks.

      2) Build bike facilities elsewhere that everyone who wants to ride more than walking/jogging speed would prefer to 13th.

      3) Don’t build bike facilities elsewhere, let through cyclists gravitate to 13th while designing it as a pedestrian space to inevitably produce conflict that will lead the ”pedestrian advocates”/”walking elite” referred to below to complain about cyclists and push to ban bikes from the area.

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        q May 28, 2016 at 10:20 pm

        When I wrote, “some seating spilling into the space from the edges” I definitely didn’t mean “Piazza with food carts, events, pop up shops, tables and seating etc…in the middle of the ‘road’ “, I just meant, well, ‘some seating spilling into the space from the edges”, similar to what thousands of public outdoor spaces have, and that still allow bicycles and even vehicles to very successfully travel through the center of the space–which ISN’T filled with shops and seating.

        And no, there may not be a good, nearby through route parallel to 13th now, but that’s fine–13th itself would be the street that accommodates the heavy, through-route bike traffic, per the article. And of course that would mean more restrictions on pedestrians than if another street accommodated that through traffic. If another street WAS changed to do that, then 13th might look more like your example, with greater freedom for pedestrians possible.

        There are countless examples of streets elsewhere in the world that don’t restrict pedestrians to sidewalks, or prohibit crossing from side to side mid-block, but also work fine for bikes, and even some vehicle use. On 13th, such a design might look similar to the photo illustrating this article. It’s something much less than a free-for-all, but with much more freedom for pedestrians than the typical Portland street with narrow sidewalks and no mid-block crossing allowed. Occidental Ave. that I mentioned is another example.

        I agree it’s not practical to expect 13th to be both a through route for heavy, fast bike traffic plus a pedestrian space filled with seating, etc. in the middle of the space. That’s not what I was envisioning, and yes, thinking that would work would be an “illusion”.

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          lop May 29, 2016 at 9:09 am

          Clinton st. doesn’t have to be car free for it to be a great place to bike. But it can’t serve a lot of commuter through traffic and remain a great place to bike. Accommodating that through traffic with a separate facility on clinton isn’t feasible, and neither is building a better facility nearby. So the alternative is diverters to try to force through traffic elsewhere.

          Can you give some examples of Piazzas and places ‘people love to walk around most’ that also serve as high volume commuter routes for cyclists? Unlike with autos on clinton, there are alternative options for bikes on/near 13th. Bike road on 13th, significant bike upgrades nearby, or the people you deride below as ‘pedestrian advocates’ will call for banning bikes/ticketing cyclists etc…in the shared space on 13th.

          Your vision of 13th functioning as pleasant place day to day the way it can for sunday parkways isn’t realistic. Commuters of any mode aren’t a considerate bunch.

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            q May 29, 2016 at 1:16 pm

            lop–I think it’s pretty simple. If 13th were closed to most or all vehicles, it would become better for pedestrians and bikes. If no other good parallel routes for commuter bikes are made, and they come through 13th, then that limits what can be done for pedestrians. But it would still be a far better pedestrian space than the typical downtown street.

            If another nearby street or streets are developed as better commuter bike options, which seems possible to me, then 13th can be more pedestrian-focused.

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              JeffS May 29, 2016 at 10:57 pm

              You want the one without sidewalks to be the pedestrian street?

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                q May 29, 2016 at 11:27 pm

                Yes, if you’re thinking of “sidewalks” in the conventional sense, raised several inches above the street, with curbs, and pedestrians confined to the sidewalks with no right to be in the middle of the street except at corner crossings.

                I’d prefer 13th to keep the existing raised walkways, then add some striping that directs pedestrians walking up and down the street to stay towards the outside portions of the street, and bikes into the center. There’d be either no curb or grade change between the pedestrians and bikes, maybe a pavement change, or only a shallow, rolled curb and minor grade change. Pedestrians would be able to cross legally anywhere along the block.

                I also think 13th has pedestrian possibilities that other parallel streets don’t, so it could make sense to develop another nearby parallel street for commuter/fast bike through-traffic, if needed to allow 13th to function best for pedestrians. But I don’t like the idea of 13th with no bikes at all. That would feel dead, and wouldn’t be needed for safety.

                Sidewalks can be very anti-pedestrian. It’s not a popular idea here, but people are understanding it elsewhere. Many of the best pedestrian streets in the world do not have sidewalks. The street is the pedestrian space.

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            q May 29, 2016 at 6:14 pm

            lop–I never said I have a “vision of 13th functioning as pleasant place day to day the way it can for sunday parkways” as you claim. I said that a street design for 13th that doesn’t restrict pedestrians to sidewalks or prohibit midblock crossings, but also works fine for bikes, might look similar to the photo.

            The photo shows striping that encourages pedestrians to use the sides of the street, and bicycles to use the middle. It doesn’t have the typical street’s narrow sidewalks set higher than the street, and it looks like pedestrians wouldn’t be prevented from crossing mid-block.

            And of course it wouldn’t have the recreational bikers and pedestrians like a Sunday Parkway crowd, but it would be quite pleasant for both bikes and walkers–certainly more so for both than other typical streets.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. May 29, 2016 at 12:07 am

        People cycling on 13th should expect to ride at a slow pace.

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          lop May 29, 2016 at 5:47 am

          Some will expect to ride slow. Some won’t. It will function fine for some people. Horribly for others. Put in a bike road on (13th or nearby). Or the pedestrians it works horribly for – derided below as the “walking elite” and “pedestrian activists” will call for bikes to be banned from 13th; just like they do on the waterfront.

          The waterfront functions fine for you. Roads with lots of cars and no bike lanes function fine for some cyclists too. Doesn’t mean the people either work poorly for should have to go without.

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    TonyH May 28, 2016 at 8:29 am

    I would very much like to see a car free NW 13th! Like others, I think that it would be a wonderful public space.

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    Caesar May 28, 2016 at 8:30 am

    It should be closed to cars. But we are forgetting about the freight deliveries. Many bidnesses that front on NW 13th depend on big trucks to deliver their wares, whether they be beer, beef or boots. Asking truck drivers to park around the corner (blocking major arterials) and then dolly in the goods by foot will piss lots of folks off. Not saying it shouldn’t be done, but there are other considerations at play.

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      q May 28, 2016 at 8:37 am

      You’re right, it’s something to accommodate. But they can come in the morning, or any of a number of other solutions that work well, that people have been doing all over the world for years.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. May 28, 2016 at 10:12 am

      Deliver in the morning before the businesses open to the public. This is what’s done in Europe.

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        Mike Sanders May 28, 2016 at 1:44 pm

        In South Korea, many cities have streets closed to cars from 10 AM to 10 PM daily. Deliveries take place in those streets at night. Streets like NW 13 could work the same way. In Korea, such streets are usually signposted quite prominently, often with overhead signs at cross streets.

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          Chadwick F May 28, 2016 at 7:20 pm

          In much smaller trucks, to boot.

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    Wells May 28, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    NW 15th is the corridor I think could handle a protected bikeway. There’s less traffic and street parking is a little too isolated. We should still base most street layout arrangements on multi-modal models. Pedestrian safety, especially at intersections, is likewise important and affects bike access. Moreover, transit still doesn’t serve as many people as it could and should. We need a new model paratransit vans – all low-floor with hybrid drivetrain. GM and Ford are still selling us saps 1970’s technology. Seniors and disabled need better rigs, and some regular bus routes could run these vans instead of the 4 mpg rattletraps transit agencies consider good enough.

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      maccoinnich May 29, 2016 at 10:43 am

      NW 15th is on the very periphery of the Pearl, and so couldn’t do a great job at getting someone to any of the destinations in the Pearl that they might be going to. Much like our greenway network doesn’t do a great job of serving the commercial corridors it parallels, NW 15th would do a bad job of serving the Pearl.

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        Wells May 30, 2016 at 12:22 pm

        I live in the Pearl and bike through every N/S street often. NW 9th seems the worst for bicyclists, but all other N/S streets seem okay. 14th is an exit of I-405 with consequently faster traffic through and faster turns east and west. 15th Ave has the least traffic, therefore the most able to dedicate width for bikeway trips completely through the Pearl.

        I’m trying to maintain the principle of multi-modal access. In that regard, removing parking spots near crosswalks helps pedestrians see vehicles approaching and motorists see pedestrians there and reduce speed.

        Removing parking spots may not deter motorists who habitually exceed speed limits anyway, but slowing traffic is one of the few aspects of autonomous vehicle technology that seem justified – computer controlled speed limits. In other words, motorists can slow down further but cannot exceed a standardized safe speed limit controlled by computer.

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      Social Engineer May 29, 2016 at 6:41 pm

      The city has plans for NW 15th to improve bike and ped conditions but maccoinnich is correct in that it doesn’t do a very good job of connecting destinations in the neighborhood. For one thing, it’s discontinuous once you get south of Hoyt and has heavy freeway-destined traffic between Everett and Glisan going northbound.

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    Mark smith May 28, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    10 bucks says as soon as they bam cars, the Walking elite will want to ban bikes.

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      q May 28, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      I believe you. There really is a contingent of “pedestrian advocates” here who think highly of their credentials (and make sure you know them all) and advocate “best practices” that all seem to center on the belief that the only safe pedestrian is a separated-from-all-other-modes-of-traffic pedestrian.

      The fact that the places all over the world that people love to walk in most often look nothing like what these people advocate doesn’t seem to make an impression on them.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. May 29, 2016 at 12:12 am

        Modes should be separated for commuting routes but spaces to be rather than to travel through work fine as a shared space between people walking and people cycling — as long as people cycling expect to ride slowly. Waterfront Park works fine as a shared space, whereas the Esplanade is more of a commuting route and could use clearly defined spaces for each mode. NW 13th would work fine as a shared space once the cars are gone.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu May 28, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    Won’t a ped-and-bike NW 13th simply end up like Waterfront Park? A lousy place to ride, to the extent that we’ll soon be clamoring for a bike route on an adjacent street?

    I think NW 13th should be ped-and-bike (with truck loading as needed) but don’t imagine that it’ll be a useful bicycle route.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. May 29, 2016 at 12:15 am

      I personally think Waterfront Park works perfectly as a shared space and purposely ride there rather than in the Naito bike lanes. The only reason Better Naito is needed is because of the festivals monopolizing the space.

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      • John Liu
        John Liu May 29, 2016 at 10:54 pm

        So from your point of view, there is no need for a better Naito bike lane? Well, that’ll save us $1.5 million.

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        • Adam H.
          Adam H. May 29, 2016 at 11:10 pm

          No, there should still be a Naito cycleway but given limited funding for downtown, there are better streets to spend the money on.

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            Wells May 30, 2016 at 12:45 pm

            My suggestion for the seawall walkway is to add a 4′ concrete strip and designate the west side for bicycling, the east side for pedestrians. Waterfront lamplights would divide the bikeway. The benches would be relocated to reduce interaction between bikes and pedestrians. The benches have become uncivilized hangouts anyway. This seems less expensive than the official proposal to create a separate curving bikeway through the lawn.

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    Jason H May 28, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    I’d actually LOVE a car free 13th as well, my original point was just about the feasibility of it. I totally agree that we should dream large, but let’s start the discussion from a rational point of view that it may be a process. The point I raised about the new signal lights on 13th was minor, if the city doesn’t mind them for peds and bikes only after paying for full auto and ped traffic signals that’s great. The bigger issue that realistically nullifies having no cars all the way from Burnside is the two large parking garages that have mid-block access on 13th between Couch and Davis. That said, a Davis to Lovejoy car free zone could be workable. The large surface lots for 24 hour fitness and Across from Keen could be accessed via Glisan and Irving. There likely would be a need to be commercial vehicle access to for businesses on 13th, but many pedestrian zones in Europe have already worked something out with limited access.

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    Ohamerica May 29, 2016 at 8:20 am

    NW 23rd is also a car free candidate, or at least a significant portion of it. If the primary reason people are visiting these areas of Portland is essentially to walk around, we should modify them to be what we desire them to be deep down inside our souls: car-free

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    q May 29, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    lop
    Some will expect to ride slow. Some won’t. It will function fine for some people. Horribly for others. Put in a bike road on (13th or nearby). Or the pedestrians it works horribly for – derided below as the “walking elite” and “pedestrian activists” will call for bikes to be banned from 13th; just like they do on the waterfront.
    The waterfront functions fine for you. Roads with lots of cars and no bike lanes function fine for some cyclists too. Doesn’t mean the people either work poorly for should have to go without.
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    What does this mean?

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    Social Engineer May 29, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    As I mentioned in the previous post, Jason H’s premise is wrong (that the signals were installed to improve conditions for motorists on 13th), so it’s a shame that Bike Portland is perpetuating that inaccuracy in this post. They were installed to improve pedestrian crossings, and full signals can be coordinated with the 12th and 14th Ave signals to reduce prevailing traffic speeds (through signal progression) and allow for better flow on Everett and Glisan.

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      JeffS May 29, 2016 at 11:00 pm

      You think mis-timing the lights to purposely waste people’s time is a good thing?

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. May 29, 2016 at 11:16 pm

        “Purposely wasting people’s time” is a funny way to describe improving traffic safety.

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      Jason H May 30, 2016 at 10:16 pm

      Already clarified that above thanks,and no, you’re still wrong. Besides that was a minor point in my argument for the feasibility of it. You apparently had no critique of my main point, so I’ll assume you’re in agreement.

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    Social Engineer May 29, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    There’s a lack of north-south bike routes in the Pearl and the city doesn’t seem to have a clear vision of where to invest in facilities. I love the idea of a 9th Avenue facility that removed all parking to distribute bike traffic to the numerous east-west routes as far south as Hoyt to connect to the Park Blocks or Broadway, but that means there is still a need for something to the west.

    14th Avenue is an obvious candidate for improvement. There’s already a (substandard) bike lane, but it only goes northbound. How do you get south? 16th Avenue has a lane that’s buffered north of Johnson but it’s discontinuous to the south so it would need to be completed, and it’s just across the freeway so access is an issue. 12th Avenue is on the city’s plans but it would require removing parking to at least accommodate a southbound lane and it doesn’t look like the city is enthusiastic about that option.

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      Beeblebrox May 29, 2016 at 11:21 pm

      Drop a car lane and some parking on 14th and make it two-way.

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    Mark Smith May 30, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    I don’t think any road should be car free. Just car normal/bike normal/people normal. I have no problem riding around slow moving cars. Cars have their place, people have their place as do bikes. As soon as you bring the ban hammer to cars, it falls next on bikes and then the place is dead.

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      q May 30, 2016 at 11:03 pm

      Ah, the old “slippery slope” argument…

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      q May 30, 2016 at 11:18 pm

      Think of it the opposite way. Clearly there are places for cars that don’t allow bikes or pedestrians (freeways). There are places for bikes and pedestrians that don’t allow cars (trails) and places that only allow pedestrians (sidewalks, plazas).

      Each of those would work worse for the groups they’re designed for if they allowed all three groups.

      13th might work far better for bikes and pedestrians if cars were banned or restricted. If the hangup is that it’s a “road” and road should serve all three, then label it something else.

      The advantage of restricting a group from one place, to make it better for another group, is that the restricted group then has strong justification for getting a place that works best for it. Often, all groups benefit when they’re not all placed together on the same facility.

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    TJ May 31, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    I have always thought 13th is a wonderful mess of tourist, folks looking for parking, pedestrians, cyclists, and delivery trucks doing what they should do in city.

    It is not as if cross traffic and deliveries would be removed. Rush hour would be an even uglier mess though.

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      q May 31, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      TJ–“wonderful mess” describes exactly why it’s my favorite downtown street to walk on now. And based on the pedestrian traffic and shops locating there, lots of people feel that way.

      So changes can make it even better over time, but in the meantime the pedestrian experience there is a welcome relief from the sterility of most of downtown’s streets. I’d hope whatever changes happen err on the side of “wonderful messiness”.

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    peejay May 31, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    If this street had been de-carified in 2005, I might not have moved out of Irving Street Lofts back then. This is a no-brainer, PBOT! Do it.

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