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Ankeny Alley now has a promenade you can bike through

Posted by on August 4th, 2016 at 8:10 pm

Ankeny Alley and Plaza

The ever-evolving Ankeny Alley in downtown Portland.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

For the first time in over five years you can comfortably ride a bicycle through Ankeny Alley.

Prior to June of 2011 the short, one-block stretch of Southwest Ankeny between 2nd and 3rd avenues was a narrow street with auto parking on both sides. It wasn’t exactly a place you wanted to hang out and enjoy a meal, but if you were on a bike at least you could easily and safely pedal through it.

Then, when the City of Portland decided to ban cars from the block, they also essentially banned bicycle riding too. Instead of a true public plaza aimed at attracting everyone, they made a deal with the bars and restaurants on the street: You let us ban cars and we’ll give you a lot more space for your customers. Ankeny Alley was a huge improvement, especially if you wanted to sit down at one of the many tables and enjoy a beer or a box of famous Voodoo Doughnuts. If you wanted to pass through, you’d have to squeeze by on a narrow sidewalk (which is technically illegal in this section of downtown).

Here’s how it looked when it first opened in August 2011:

Carfree SW Ankeny-10

Carfree SW Ankeny-4

Now, as part of their effort to expand Ankeny Alley into a public plaza onto Southwest 3rd Avenue, the Bureau of Transportation has opened up the middle of the alley. This has been done to make the space feel and function more like a promenade and less like a string of private restaurant patios.

This is another example that PBOT’s street design policies are maturing. It’s all part of their new Livable Streets Strategy. In fact, PBOT is using Ankeny Alley and Plaza as the test-case for a new set of citywide rules that will govern public spaces. An interim version of those rules passed City Council (by a vote of 4-0 with Mayor Hales not present) on July 27th. The rules were modeled after existing policies used by Portland Parks & Recreation. And in case you were wondering, yes, bicycle riding is allowed in the plaza (just like it’s legal to ride a bicycle on a paved path in Portland parks).

Here’s the relevant passage from the adopted rules:

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B. No person shall operate any motorized vehicle or motorized wheeled vehicle or motorized wheeled device in any pedestrian plaza, except designated vehicle areas, or by permit. The prohibitions of this Section do not apply to authorized service or emergency vehicles or to the following electric mobility devices used by persons who need assistance to be mobile, and used in accordance with all applicable pedestrian plaza and traffic rules:

1. “Electric assisted bicycle” as defined in ORS 801.258;

2. “Motorized wheelchair,” “Mobility scooter” or “Power chair” defined as an electric powered transportation device for one person in a seated position, with feet resting on floorboards or foot rests, and incapable of exceeding a speed of 20 mph; or

3. “Human or personal transporter system” defined as a self‐balancing, electric‐powered transportation device with two wheels, able to turn in place, and designed to transport one person in a standing position, with a top speed of 20 mph.

C. No person shall operate an electric mobility device in a pedestrian plaza in an unsafe manner or at a speed exceeding 15 mph, or, when pedestrians are present, at a speed exceeding 5 mph, or fail to yield the right‐of‐way to all pedestrians.

Keep in mind you aren’t allowed to ride through the promenade with reckless abandon — even if you yell “on your left!” Treat the area like you would a crosswalk where Oregon law dictates that you only ride at a walking speed (a.k.a. use extreme caution when other people are present).

Another interesting part of the new rules says that the plazas aren’t open 24 hours a day. They’re technically closed between 12:01 and 5:00 am each day; but an exception to that rule says it’s O.K. to bike or walk anytime day or night as long as you’re just passing through.

Since our last report PBOT added pavement markings to delineate a walking zone adjacent to the floating auto parking and they’ve also added several decorative planters.

Ankeny Alley and Plaza

Ankeny Alley and Plaza

Ankeny Alley and Plaza

It’s great to see the alley and plaza evolve. We expect more tweaks and additions to the plaza in the coming weeks.

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

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34 Comments
  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley August 4, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    My head is spinning with all these great street improvements lately! For a while there, it seemed like all hope was lost. Love the planters. They help make the space attractive. I’d love to see planters used more widely in connection with bike-walk facilities.

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  • ethan August 4, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    Does the new table arrangement allow for patrons of the adjacent bars to drink a beer in the plaza?

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    • Spiffy August 5, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      it looks like the tables are now blocking the sidewalk and are up against the actual businesses so I think they’re allowed to drink there…

      I think the reason it was roped in before is because instead of being a sidewalk cafe it was more like a beer garden… now they’re back to being sidewalk cafe seats…

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  • Lance P August 4, 2016 at 9:20 pm

    This really is amazing to see all of the new open spaces here.

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  • Eric Leifsdad August 4, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    Does that mean this is an exception to the downtown sidewalk-riding prohibition? Fritz on an orange bike!

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  • Ted Timmons (Contributor) August 5, 2016 at 4:29 am

    FWIW, those planters are”self-watering” with a 50gal reservoir.

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    • Spiffy August 5, 2016 at 11:19 am

      they’re self-watering because: where else are you going to go while standing in line for donuts?

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    • Todd Boulanger August 5, 2016 at 5:14 pm

      Are they made by the Vancouver BC company?

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  • K'Tesh August 5, 2016 at 6:47 am

    Now if we could only get PBOT to install ADA compliant Storm drain grates around there… You know, since there’s things like Saturday Market n’ stuff going on there all the time, and… IT’S BEEN THE F******G LAW FOR OVER 20 YEARS NOW!

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    • K'Tesh August 5, 2016 at 7:08 am

      The grates in the photos linked here (https://flic.kr/p/5fHA25, https://flic.kr/p/9w56r1, https://flic.kr/p/9w24VM, https://flic.kr/p/9hJKeK, ) was replaced, but with something that could still trap a caster wheel of a wheelchair, and with gaps wide enough to eat high heals, canes, crutches, and small animals. There are grates like this all over that area where the Market is located at (and worse examples over at PSU (https://flic.kr/p/bUWmfd, https://flic.kr/p/dUviMd, https://flic.kr/p/dUviZL)(in that last one, the lady photographed has actually broken canes in the grates she couldn’t see).

      If anybody should be hurt by one of them, please tell your lawyer that I notified the city of Portland and TriMet nearly a decade ago in some cases (over 5 years ago in others). I’m currently in China, but I’d gladly testify to that in court. I’ll need airfare, and accommodations, as well as compensation for lost wages.

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    • Spiffy August 5, 2016 at 11:20 am

      I use the Portland City Reporter app to report non-compliant storm drains and they’re replaced fairly quickly…

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      • K'Tesh August 6, 2016 at 6:29 am

        There’s unsafe for cyclists grates that get replaced extremely quickly (sometimes), then there’s the Non-Compliant to the ADA Guidelines that it seems Hell will freeze over before someone will respond to them.

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    • Boris Kaganovich August 8, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      There’s actually an interesting way to do that cheaply as done here in Toronto. Take a look at StopGap.ca for tactical urbanism wheelchair ramps.

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  • Spiffy August 5, 2016 at 7:57 am

    “Treat the area like you would a crosswalk where Oregon law dictates that you only ride at a walking speed”

    Oregon law dictates that you ENTER the crosswalk at a walking speed ONLY if there will be a conflict with a motor vehicle…

    you don’t have to bike at a walking speed once inside the crosswalk…

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  • wsbob August 5, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Top picture with the red tables and newly opened promenade passage utilizing a major portion of the street: Definitely an improvement over the previous roping off of the sidewalks for through passage.

    With one end of the red tables in shadow, it’s difficult to tell exactly from the pictures, but it kind of seems like the red tables extend a bit far into the street. Were the ends a foot or so closer to the curb, that might allow a more comfortable distance from people passing through on the prom, for diners and service people coming out of the businesses, to find and move to and from tables.

    The language in the excerpted rules, reads pretty good, seems to cover the important issues. Wait and see whether there will be many people slow to grasp at what speed they need to keep their bikes below when using this one block Ankeny esplanade when people on foot are present.

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  • Adam August 5, 2016 at 9:00 am

    I like it! I agree, the sidewalks in the alley are miniscule. I love the plaza concept, but agree better balance of tables and walkway space are required.

    Of course, to make it a true plaza, they really need to remove the sidewalk to create continuous flow straight out the door of businesses into the space. Sidewalks here are redundant.

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    • ethan August 5, 2016 at 9:24 am

      If I remember correctly, some (most?) of the businesses are at sidewalk level. Getting rid of the sidewalks might be worse for mobility than raising the plaza.

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      • K'Tesh August 5, 2016 at 10:04 am

        How hard would it be to raise everything to the same level as the sidewalks? As long as the slopes are ADA compliant, they shouldn’t be any problem for bikes to mount/dismount.

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    • Adam August 5, 2016 at 12:12 pm

      Agree Ethan! I’m not sure the idea works on this particular street, as like you say, ADA access presents a problem. I guess I just mean that in general, plazas tend to be all one level. Most aren’t retrofitted roadways. In this instance, I’ll take what I can get!

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    • Bill August 5, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      I believe most renderings and talks about the space include a level area down the alley. While I like the concept in general, I am afraid of a few things: potential lack of public space or places you can sit and enjoy without paying anything; the alley way being uninviting to the public since it may feel like a service corridor the surrounding businesses; pedestrians being regulated to a narrow, busy, congested strip along third because most of the space will be consumed by voodoo and other businesses; and that is my biggest concern, I really do not want this to feel like” a string of private restaurant patios” again because of broken promises again. I say that last part because years ago it was never meant feel like a “like a string of private restaurant patios” and still did so I am nervous that the same thing will happen and those pictures do not make me feel any better.

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    • Spiffy August 5, 2016 at 1:43 pm

      the sidewalk is now a tripping hazard when they do these things… but I suppose you can just reclassify it to being a stair and it’s ok…

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  • Ben Schonberger (@SchonbergerBen) August 5, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Huge kudos to PBOT for doing what good organizations do, learning and changing. Remember when 1970s pedestrian malls were all the rage? And when many of them flopped (Eugene, Chicago, Raleigh NC) the amount of money and infrastructure invested made them hard to change, and left a crappy situation in place for decades. With urban streets, testing things out, seeing what works, and making small changes is a better model. This is hard stuff for old-line highway engineers, who traditionally dominate transportation departments. Then, when everything seems to be dialed in, that’s when you spend money to make it permanent. Well done!

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    • JeffS August 5, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      Fayetteville St never flopped. It was built during the era of downtown exodus and destroyed during the urban resurgence.

      The city spent hundreds of millions on a convention center, subsidizing countless hotels and eateries, and forced existing activities from Moore Square to Fayetteville. Paving over a pedestrian mall contributed next to nothing to the success of the effort.

      You couldn’t drive three blocks in downtown Raleigh without passing a parking garage. The idea that we needed ~60 more parking spaces to accommodate the (m)asses driving in from the burbs a couple times a year was always absurd.

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  • Adam August 5, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    I’d like to see the entire street cobbled! Or have some kind of distinctive
    “pedestrianized” paving that is attractive and more quaint and in keeping with the feel of the alley.

    Not going to happen anytime soon, I fully understand. But I can dream. Ankeny Street is as close to Diagon Alley as Portland is ever going to get! Now I’m off to Olivander’s…

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    • Bill August 5, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      Have you ever taken a wheelchair or stroller down cobbled streets? I really hope it never becomes cobbled even through I do like that look and destination.

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    • Spiffy August 5, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      sett stone, not cobble stone… cobble stone is bumpy and slippery…

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    • Todd Boulanger August 5, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      …actually there may be belgium block under the asphalt.

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    • maccoinnich August 7, 2016 at 3:19 pm

      It would be great to see the stone paving used at the Skidmore fountain extend further back along Ankeny. I could easily imagine a street that looks like many of the historic streets in Europe cities:

      Madrid: https://goo.gl/maps/yGTWUWkkdfD2
      Edinburgh: https://goo.gl/maps/836T2hDUe5M2
      Paris: https://goo.gl/maps/LCXudV6ztNK2

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  • RushHourAlleycat August 5, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    This is nice. I always hated that cut through

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  • BB August 5, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Nice to see the plaza evolving, but honestly I liked it better when there were more tables – it isn’t hard to ride your bike one more block to get around it. Now it just doesn’t seem like a comfortable place to go hang out, with half the tables gone, I’ve been seeing people sitting on the asphalt or just eating standing around. Maybe the evolution will continue and make it a more comfortable plaza.

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  • Todd Boulanger August 5, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    I have been torn by this issue since it first opened…lack of low speed bike access…now I will see if the new space is not too much of a compromise to vitality (or a pedestrian safety issue)…sounds like some necessary field research coming up (and a donut, beer, or coffee too…)

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    • Todd Boulanger August 5, 2016 at 5:21 pm

      The new layout looks like the fire bureau or waste management had a strong hand in setting the width of the “bike way”.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. August 5, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    This looks great! The plaza would look even better paved with Belgian block throughout.

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  • rick August 8, 2016 at 8:11 am

    SW Ankeny just west of Broadway should be closed to cars.

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