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At just $20,000, Ankeny Plaza is Portland’s cheapest “bridge” project ever

Posted by on August 9th, 2016 at 4:12 pm

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Cheap. Fast. Popular. Now let’s do another one.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s the cheapest bridge project ever completed in the Portland region. For just $20,000, the city’s Bureau of Transportation has changed the face of an iconic and historic part of town. And they’re sort of bragging about it, which is awesome.

At the ribbon-cutting event for Ankeny Plaza today, City Commissioner Steve Novick delighted in how his Bureau of Transportation has radically transformed the streets between 2nd and 3rd Avenues in Old Town/Chinatown. “This is incredibly awesome,” he bubbled, before making a reference to Martha & The Vandellas’ classic tune, “Dancing in the Streets.”

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Commissioner Novick.

“We did a lot with a little bit of money,” Novick continued, after making a jab at Director Park (a Parks Bureau plaza project just a few blocks west) for being “expensive” by comparison.

PBOT Commissioner Leah Treat also showed confidence not only in Ankeny Plaza, but in what’s to come. “This represents a new chapter for open streets in Portland… and this is just the start,” she said.

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James Silviano, president of the Ankeny Alley Association, cuts the ribbon.

Two years ago, Southwest 3rd Avenue between Burnside and Ash was a wide expanse of road space where only people inside cars could go without feeling harassed. The cross-section was three wide standard vehicle lanes and on-street auto parking lanes on both sides. Then those merry souls from Better Block PDX got organized and staged a demonstration of what a public plaza here could look and feel like. Everyone loved it — including Mayor Charlie Hales and especially Commissioner Novick. Fast forward to last October when PBOT striped buffered bike lanes and then followed that up by the slow and steady build-out of the plaza as it stands today.

“Making it easier for people to explore the neighborhood with safer crossings and slower driver speeds… That is creating a bridge for both sides of the neighborhood.”
— Helen Ying, president of Old Town Chinatown Community Association.

Now instead of three lanes for driving on SW 3rd, there are two. Both on-street parking lanes remain, but the eastern-most one (near Voodoo Doughnuts) now floats in the intersection which has opened up 20,000 square feet of public plaza space. As we previously reported, the plaza has been remade with a walking zone, a new bike corral, a bike share station and cafe tables and chairs that are now along the edges (instead of in the middle) of the street to provide a promenade through Ankeny Alley. Additions in the last week have included dozens of large planter boxes filled with beautiful bushes and small trees from the Chinese Garden a few blocks north. PBOT says they also plan to use these planter boxes to create protection for the new bike lane on 2nd Avenue.

And we can expect more improvements to this area thanks to an $82,000 community livability grant from the Portland Development Commission that the Ankeny Alley Association plans to allocate for “long-term improvements.”

Taken all together — the new buffered lane on 3rd and the new Ankeny Plaza and promenade that connects to the nearly-completed protected bike lane on SW 2nd (more on that later) — we have formed a bridge that connects several of Portland’s oldest neighborhoods. Burnside, and to a lesser extent 2nd and 3rd Avenues, are the rivers in this analogy and they still require caution. But PBOT has slowed the current and has extended a helping hand for anyone who wants to cross.

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The view looking south from the other side of Burnside. (The truck belongs to workers who are renovating the Paris Theater.)
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Looking west from Ankeny Alley toward 3rd Avenue
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This is a transformation not only of a major downtown intersection; but of the politics that rule our intersections. What bike share has done to encourage and legitimize the use of bicycles, Ankeny Plaza will do to create urgency for more — and even better — street transformations in the future.

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Helen Ying is president of the Old Town Chinatown Community Association.

Speaking at the event today, Old Town Chinatown Community Association President Helen Ying said the changes to the streets are a key part to her group’s efforts to, “Make this neighborhood the best in the city.” One of the biggest obstacles to that has been what Ying refers to as, “The traffic patterns and Burnside Boulevard that has divided the north side of the neighborhood from the south side.”

“Making it easier for people to explore the neighborhood with safer crossings and slower driver speeds… That itself is creating a bridge for both sides of the neighborhood.”

From Better Block’s activism and the city’s official embrace of their vision, to the full-throated support and gratitude from neighborhood leaders and the execution of the plaza design itself, we can only hope this project is a template for many others to come.

Commissioner Novick put it best in his brief speech today when he said, “This is what Portlanders want from their government. They want us to implement great ideas, work with the community and implement them in the most cost-effective way possible. And here in Ankeny Plaza we’ve delivered. We’ve all, collectively, delivered.”

Check out PBOT’s new Portland in the Streets website where you can see all their livable streets initiatives.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 –

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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. Thank you — Jonathan

  • J.E. August 9, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Want to see more “open streets” and pedestrian- and bicycling-focused projects like this one come to fruition downtown and in other places around the Central City? Head over to the City’s “map app” and comment on their proposed projects. Let them know which ones need to be done ASAP, which ones are good but need some detail-tweaking, and which ones are giant wastes of money. This is part of the Central City 2035 Plan testimony, so the comments are due TODAY. (“Better Naito’s” replacement, “Best Naito,” only has four comments in favor so far!)

    (sorry for the slightly tangential advertisement)

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  • Allan Rudwick August 9, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    do you mean park project instead of bridge project?

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    • Jack G. August 9, 2016 at 5:18 pm

      From about halfway through the article:

      “…we have formed a bridge that connects several of Portland’s oldest neighborhoods. Burnside, and to a lesser extent 2nd and 3rd Avenues, are the rivers in this analogy and they still require caution. But PBOT has slowed the current and has extended a helping hand for anyone who wants to cross.”

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. August 9, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    I love this concept! The plaza would look so much nicer with a continuous surface, rather than a step-down into the roadway. Perhaps the Ankeny Alley Association could kick in the funds to beautify this space?

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    • AMA August 9, 2016 at 4:45 pm

      Also, I wish we could come up with something that looks nicer than those plastic wands….

      This is awesome, but it doesn’t feel done yet.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley August 9, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      The continuous surface is one of many things I love about Director Park. I agree, the same treatment would polish up this new plaza. Someday…

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    • Su Wonda August 10, 2016 at 8:24 am to the rescue!!!!!

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson August 9, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    With all due respect, when I think of the huge amount of money spent to make public space nice for motorize vehicles, I wonder why we can’t better honor other users with fine design and materials…like was done at Director Park…more often! Bicycle riders, pedestrians and transit riders deserve the best, not the cheapest.

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    • rick August 10, 2016 at 7:25 am

      Tigard is transforming trails with cheap projects.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. August 10, 2016 at 9:06 am

      The amount of money budgeted for car projects vs bike projects shows the true priorities of City Council. Plans be damned.

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      • Rob August 10, 2016 at 11:21 am

        Examples of similar “car projects” & “bike projects” please.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley August 9, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    I like the donut-box pink railings.

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  • rick August 9, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    More of SW Ankeny needs to become car-free like 4th Ave to 5th and also west of Broadway.

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  • kittens August 10, 2016 at 1:21 am

    You know, of all the places which need help with ped infrastructure, SW Ankeny would not be on my list. Sorry. Part of why people like these spaces is their raw quality. Think Alberta, Mississippi even Hawthorne have this energy which is exciting to people. If they wanted ped amenities they would all be flocking to Lloyd Ctr or 5th, 6th Aves. I just see this as yet another example of Disneyfication of Portland.

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    • rick August 10, 2016 at 7:24 am

      Ankeny just needs the bulldozing of the tower-tall parking garage by the Chevron by the US Bancorp tower.

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    • rick August 10, 2016 at 9:03 am

      I’ve seen a man walking across Burnside at 3rd and get hit by a pickup truck. The driver stopped, asked if the driver was okay, and then took off. The projects here lately around 3rd and 2nd and Ankeny have slowed the speeding auto traffic. Just ask the local businesses.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 10, 2016 at 9:35 am

      interesting perspective kittens.

      i love the plaza. and i love the “energy” you speak about. it’s just a different kind of energy and it attracts different kind of people. have you spent much time in the new plaza. i feel like it’s full of great energy. buskers playing music, tourists chatting and snapping photos, people passing through. Just like a real, grown-up city.

      and it’s a mistake imo to compare downtown spaces to n’hood spaces. central city is a completely different animal than Alberta or Mississippi and should have different expectations for change and growth.

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    • q August 10, 2016 at 5:52 pm

      Portland does tend to create sanitized versions of urban environments. However, I like this project, don’t think “Disneyfication” really applies to it, and hope others like it follow.

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  • eawrist August 10, 2016 at 6:02 am

    I’d rather PBOT multiply these projects all over the city NOW than have them look nice. Bollards and paint have transformed NY. The same can happen in Portland.

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    • John Liu
      John Liu August 10, 2016 at 7:50 am

      Saying you want more money spent on each project like this, is effectively the same as saying you want fewer projects like this.

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      • eawrist August 10, 2016 at 8:08 am

        Infallible logic.

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      • ethan August 10, 2016 at 8:49 am

        Or that I want more money (in total) going to bike projects.

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      • soren August 10, 2016 at 11:38 am

        Portland (and OR) undertaxes its whiny libertarian residents.
        More taxes are coming…

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      • q August 10, 2016 at 5:55 pm

        Actually, it’s just saying you want more money spent on each project like this.

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        • Adam H.
          Adam H. August 11, 2016 at 8:59 am

          Yes, this. I want more money dedicated to funding bicycle infrastructure and am willing to pay additional taxes for it.

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          • buildwithjoe August 11, 2016 at 1:26 pm

            People would give more taxes and private donations if the city would let activists and artists compete to design less expensive setups.

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  • John Lascurettes August 10, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    I just walked through this for the first time on my way back from lunch (and also saw the 2nd and 3rd street parking-protected bike lanes). I like it. Much more passable, which is a huge improvement over the previous “pedestrian alley” with it’s 3ft sidewalks underserving the amount of foot traffic going through there.

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  • Work Account August 11, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    You may be burying the lead a bit. Seems that you have captured photographic evidence of Bigfoot.

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  • buildwithjoe August 11, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    Love the project, hate the overpriced PBOT city methods to setup what local activists could do for 2-7 grand and a few good bike trailers and slightly more attractive and sustainable wood or modular planters.

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  • Hebo August 11, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    I’ve enjoyed seeing this improvement, and I have really appreciated the improvements to Third Avenue. It seems like traffic near the new plaza has slowed, and perhaps more importantly, there is less drifting and swerving now that drivers have two clear lanes rather than being puzzled by the vast delta of pavement that used to be there.

    I’m curious to see your coverage of the new Second Avenue bike lane. I rode part of Second Avenue yesterday and was surprised to see the changes, and mostly really disappointed in them. My reaction was really negative and full of questions. Why is the bike lane on the left? Why is it almost entirely a door zone (at least on the blocks I rode)? Being buffered by parking doesn’t really improve safety if the entire bike lane is a door zone. Because bikes behind all those parked cars are hidden until they pop out into traffic, it also increases the risk of collisions. Being on the left also makes it difficult for bikes to safely continue in the directions most cyclists go after Burnside, either over the bridge (requiring a tricky right turn) or straight into Old Town (requiring mixing with auto traffic to go straight through a left-turn-only auto lane).

    There are two problems with bad infrastructure like this. First, it creates a safety hazard for cyclists trying to use it. Second, for cyclists who want to avoid these risks, drivers who feel like they have lost space to bikes are even more displeased to have cyclists on the road anywhere but in that bad bike lane. This configuration creates aggression.

    I hope this is reconfigured before anyone gets hurt.

    Maybe I’m missing something. I haven’t ridden the whole street, just a section, but it looks all wrong to me.

    (Note that this isn’t a complaint about the changes to the pedestrian crosswalk at Ankeny – that helps narrow the delta effect, too, and I think will lead to better compliance by drivers yielding to peds at the crosswalk.)

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. August 11, 2016 at 4:31 pm

      No, you’re not missing something. The idea is sound (protected bike lane downtown), but the execution was half-assed. There’s no bicycle-specific signal phase, which increases the risk of left-hooks. The pavement is shoddy and over-banked. There are no physical barriers (though I hear planters are coming soon). The stripes in the crossbike marking are too far apart. And lastly, it’s on the left side, which breaks convention that bike lanes go to the right of the car lane.

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  • Mark Smith August 12, 2016 at 12:53 am

    Next up…ditch the race tracks..I mean…one way streets.

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