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Free and easy: Portland loosens rules for carfree block parties

Posted by on May 4th, 2017 at 5:18 pm

From a PBOT email sent out yesterday.

Streets are not just for driving on. This is a fact that the City of Portland’s transportation bureau is embracing wholeheartedly these days. A few new tweaks to the City’s rules for neighborhood block parties is the most recent example.

With spring weather finally here after one of the darkest and wettest and coldest winters on record, Portlanders are ready to party in the street — and PBOT just made it much easier and cheaper to do it officially and safely.

Starting this year PBOT no longer requires block party permit applicants to get signatures from all the residents on the block. All you have to do is share a flyer about the event with your neighbors. Also new this year is the ability to do the entire application online.

In another new policy twist, if you live east of 82nd Avenue you can get a block party permit for free. Typical permits cost $10 for a one-block party and $5 for each additional block (the permit gives you permission to put up barricades and prohibit driving on the street). PBOT will also provide free barricades and signage (with the pink “Portland in the Streets” logo) that can be picked up at several locations in east Portland. In another step toward encouraging more Portlanders to party in the street, block party applications are now avilable in Spanish, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Somali and Russian. Check out PBOTBlockParty.com for all the info.

These new block party rules are part of PBOT’s Livable Streets Strategy, which City Council gave its blessing to last summer. The initiative will encourage more public space projects — like block parties, intersection paintings, parklets, demonstration projects, plazas, and so on — into city policy. A stakeholder and a technical committee have been meeting monthly since October. Those meetings are set to wrap up this month and PBOT is due to come up with a final report and list of pilot projects in June. If all goes according to plan, the Livable Streets Strategy will be passed by council in July.

Learn more at the city’s website.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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55 Comments
  • Adam H.
    Adam H. May 4, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    Still not allowed to have a block party on my street. 🙁

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    • Spiffy May 5, 2017 at 11:34 am

      same here, because I’m a block from a signalized intersection…

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    • SE Rider May 5, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      You live on an arterial/neighborhood collector, right?
      Makes sense to not allow streets that more people use to be closed randomly.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. May 5, 2017 at 1:55 pm

        My street is technically a “local service” street, but it has over 6,000 daily motor traffic volume, a traffic signal and a bus route.

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    • daisy May 6, 2017 at 3:59 am

      We’re a greenway with a signalized intersection at one end — no bus routes though — and we can’t have a block party either. 🙁

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  • Steve Scarich May 4, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    So, unclear to me; if you notify your neighbors, it doesn’t matter if they all oppose your block party, you still get to have it? No appeal process?

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    • Kyle Banerjee May 5, 2017 at 6:36 am

      I noticed that too. Presumably local access is allowed. Otherwise, this could get pretty funny.

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      • q May 5, 2017 at 4:52 pm

        Is local access allowed? I couldn’t find anything that said it was.

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    • Kyle Banerjee May 5, 2017 at 8:11 am

      This opens up some interesting possibilities. Since it takes only one person to set up block party, someone could theoretically close a section of street all year for about four grand including some dough to buy flyers and barricades. For someone who can afford to live on these blocks, that sounds like a very accessible number — particularly if they don’t waste loads of money on car transportation. Get multiple yahoos together, and the cost drops quickly 🙂

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      • Kyle Banerjee May 5, 2017 at 8:36 am

        Hесk, I’d be willing to plunk down the dough in exchange for peace and quiet. People don’t need to drive by where I live.

        Plus, this could serve other objectives as well. Setting parties up on garbage day will encourage less wasteful behavior and it will also help local businesses by hampering noisy, fast trucks servicing internet orders. The more I think about this, the more I like it…. 🙂

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      • paikiala May 5, 2017 at 9:31 am

        Block parties are one day events that only occur on weekends and have to be disassembled by 10 PM. Loud music also requires a different permit.

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        • Kyle Banerjee May 5, 2017 at 10:19 am

          Well crud, the streets are mostly empty on the weekends anyway. To really have impact, they’d need to be peak hours during the week.

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        • Brian May 5, 2017 at 10:56 am

          I have never heard that they must occur on a weekend. Can you provide a link?

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        • David Hampsten May 6, 2017 at 12:00 pm

          There is no weekend requirement and there hasn’t been one for at least a decade, nor will you find any such on the PBOT web pages and forms. I’ve attended many fully-sanctioned weekday Portland block parties, complete with food and a police car or fire truck on display (always popular with kids.) Most are in the late afternoon or evening, presumably based upon the hosts’ workday schedules. In general, weekends ARE more popular, but that’s again based upon when hosts can do them, rather than regulations.

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  • Monkey see May 4, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    Finally good news! Love a block partaaaaay !

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    • Kyle Banerjee May 5, 2017 at 6:48 am

      You realize these won’t have any booze?

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      • Brian May 5, 2017 at 7:40 am

        Good one.

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      • mh May 8, 2017 at 12:56 pm

        Ones on my street in the past have definitely had beer. Perhaps they mean hard liquor…

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  • Kittens May 4, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    I never attend block parties, but I can tell my neighbors do. Much nicer listening to people having fun in the streets than some janky car revving his/her engine or car alarms going off each our of the day.

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  • rachel b May 5, 2017 at 2:18 am

    Can we cordon off a street and just all quietly read books? 🙂

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    • Kyle Banerjee May 5, 2017 at 6:25 am

      I would suggest the library, but that place is such a madhouse I can see why the street would seem much more attractive.

      Though seems like people enjoying virtual reality via gizmos, books, etc. would be better served in a private environment.

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      • rachel b May 5, 2017 at 12:10 pm

        I sense you’re being facetious about libraries, Kyle–but have you been to one lately? “Madhouse” is about right! They’ve zhuzhed it up for the hep happenin’ Now! More like a kaffeeklatsch /Chuck E. Cheese and free wifi cafe for citizen porn needs than a library. 🙁 I mourn quiet libraries. Which is why… I want a Quiet Readers Block Party!!! p.s…I have prepared the couch for Brian. And K. Taylor–you are welcome!

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        • Brian May 5, 2017 at 12:19 pm

          Perfect! I’ll bring my fancy pillow.

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          • rachel b May 5, 2017 at 8:21 pm

            …I have to ask… What makes it fancy? 🙂

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        • daisy May 6, 2017 at 4:01 am

          Larger libraries often have quiet areas! For example, the PSU Library has three quiet floors. I’m guessing Central Library has some areas that are quiet, too.

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          • rachel b May 6, 2017 at 2:52 pm

            I had heard that about some college/university libraries, daisy, and it does my heart good to know of it! I really hate the new reality in public libraries. Bleccch. Someone one of these days will make a mint off a restaurant or lounge or reading room that offers pure, unadulterated quiet.

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        • Steve Scarich May 6, 2017 at 8:34 am

          Last year, I went to the librarian to complain about the multiple ‘companion dogs’ for the street people in my local library. The dogs were undisciplined, wandering around, out of control. The librarian sympathized with me, but pretty much said ‘welcome to the new reality’. I now get all my books on Kindle.

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          • rachel b May 6, 2017 at 2:54 pm

            Ugh. I am so very tired of just rolling with everyone’s personal chaos. Amurrican individualism (“i got my rights!”) run amok. I want to punch that librarian. I really want to hunt down and punch in the gonad whoever thought it was a good idea to make libraries into Chuck E. Cheeses. We NEED our quiet places–now more than ever! When did all the world become an extrovert? Gah!

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            • rachel b May 6, 2017 at 2:55 pm

              (I don’t really want to punch a librarian. I like librarians)

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            • GlowBoy May 8, 2017 at 7:36 am

              Huh. Haven’t been in a MultCo library recently – didn’t realize things had gotten so out of control. Here in MN the libraries are calm, quiet places. At least in the huge Hennepin County system every library I’ve been in – big or small, urban or suburban – has a security guard on duty (on each floor, in the downtown library). The guard promptly talks to anyone eating, arguing, having a loud cellphone conversation or sleeping (lounging is OK, but actually falling asleep apparently is not allowed) and ejects them if they don’t comply with the rules. No muss, no fuss. I guess this costs money (which our libraries have a lot of), so maybe it’s just a budget issue.

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              • rachel b May 11, 2017 at 12:16 am

                It’s a budget issue, sure, but it’s more an issue of will. The national trend has been to make libraries “gathering places” and more attractive to the coffee swilling, ever-yaking Amurrican mobs. I want to move to your land! RULES! ENFORCEMENT! Happy sigh!….

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              • rachel b May 11, 2017 at 12:17 am

                Er…yakking.

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    • Brian May 5, 2017 at 7:43 am

      I’m in if non-neighbors are invited. Just takes someone to lead the effort.

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      • Kyle Banerjee May 5, 2017 at 8:03 am

        According to the site, it’s specifically only for people who live in the affected area.

        The new lightweight process allows you to organize a community party without the hassle of dealing directly with the community.

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        • Brian May 5, 2017 at 8:11 am

          Looks like I just rented a couch-space in rachel b’s basement. In all seriousness, I helped get an annual block party established in our neighborhood. We invite the two or three blocks in all four directions from our street. We also invite some friends and family members, and always be sure to invite (and feed) the local police officers and firefighters. It’s a great time and we’ve never had an issue.

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          • Kyle Banerjee May 5, 2017 at 8:40 am

            I’d be surprised if there are any issues, and if there are, I’m sure they’ll be isolated. I used to live in a area that would do these parties. Not my thing, but there are many reasons getting people together is good.

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    • K Taylor May 5, 2017 at 11:30 am

      Yeah! That is my kind of party! 🙂 I actually would really love to see someone do this.

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    • q May 5, 2017 at 4:57 pm

      Novel idea.

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      • rachel b May 5, 2017 at 8:21 pm

        HAR! q. 🙂

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  • Evan Manvel May 5, 2017 at 6:52 am

    This is fabulous! Glad to see a strong effort to occasionally use the huge amount of public space we devote to car movement to build community.

    I wonder how much the required barricades cost to rent, and whether there’s room for a nonprofit to make some dough or build constituency delivering them (by volunteers on cargo bikes?). Probably not, but it would be nice.

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  • rick May 5, 2017 at 6:57 am

    Very glad to hear this. Very happy.

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  • armando May 5, 2017 at 9:50 am

    pedalpalooza block party!!!

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    • David Hampsten May 6, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      Daily, all of June.

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  • dan May 5, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Hmm, I live on SE Lincoln, wonder how it would be received to shut down a block of Lincoln to car+bike traffic (obviously, bikes could be walked through).

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    • Brian May 5, 2017 at 10:16 am

      I live on Davis and it’s not an issue. Bikes take the sidewalk for that block.

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    • Spiffy May 5, 2017 at 11:37 am

      from the site: “The street closure permit is issued to restrict motor vehicle access only.”

      so it looks like bikes are still allowed..

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  • Todd Boulanger May 5, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Good job PBoT / CoP!!!

    [I remember the struggle of discussing similar disconnects at the CoV between traditional street use permitting requirements (for $1,000,000 insurance etc.) and administrative policy promoting similar social street livability events / street mural painting / Intersection Renewal activities…]

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  • q May 5, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    I don’t know if other people are as devious as I am, but if they are, this could really be abused. For a few dollars, you can cause substantial irritation and inconvenience to any neighbor you don’t like. Just close off the street when they’re moving, or getting their house remodeled, or…

    And, now my illegal airbnb party house neighbors who have big, illegal events in their house can now close off the whole street and expand their parties. They may have only three guest rooms, but now they’ve got party/event space for 300 people for 1% of the cost of renting an appropriate venue.

    The loose regulations seem naive, written around a kumbaya-everyone-let’s-eat-potato-salad-and-love-each-other view of human nature–actually much like how the original gutless short-term rental rules were written. Anytime I see regulations stating what the “intent” is, without anything that limits people to that intent, I see regulations that will be abused.

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    • rachel b May 5, 2017 at 8:26 pm

      🙂 “kumbaya-everyone-let’s-eat-potato-salad-and-love-each-other”
      That’s a very Lutheran potluck idea of getting cozy with the peoples. 🙂

      These are some good points, here. You’re right that it is typically Portland-hazy and completely ignores the idea that not all of us living here are festival (and potato salad) -lovin’ extroverts, though it seems that at least 99% of the people who move here now are… And gah, but your airbnb neighbors sound dreadful.

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    • David Hampsten May 6, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      However, the system has long been abused by folks parking their cars on the street, without a permit in most parts of Portland.

      Want to create a traffic-free temporary community bikeway? Have a block party!

      Want to have a large civil rights march against police brutality? Have a block party!

      Local streets are not meant for through-traffic, they are meant to be an extension of you and your neighbors’ front yard, a “commons” if you will, a shared space you all own and manage. PBOT can only do so much, and much less of that these days, so by all of you taking increasing “ownership” of your local street, you’ll more likely maintain it.

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      • q May 6, 2017 at 3:58 pm

        I understand the arguments for limiting or charging for on-street parking, but since it’s currently legal without permits in most of Portland, I wouldn’t call on-street parking (if that’s what you mean) an abuse of the system.

        And no, local streets are not be meant for “through-traffic” in the regional sense, but they certainly ARE meant to serve local traffic, which except for dead ends means more than just the people whose property abuts them.

        I’m a big fan of woonerfs, streets as shared spaces, etc. And I agree–people taking increased “ownership” of their local streets is good. But that’s the thing–the old system required residents of a block to AGREE to close their street for a block party. The new rules, as I understand, open the possibility of an individual getting a permit to close a street, without consensus or even discussion with neighbors.

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  • Kyle Banerjee May 7, 2017 at 10:55 am

    I’m in the nation’s heartland right now and discovered that my hometown closes several blocks every month in the center right by the courthouse. Streets are blocked to traffic so only peds can get through (bikes also need to go around). It’s quiet and you see lots of kids. Turns out it’s super popular with the locals… https://www.instagram.com/p/BTx3HoGgWxx

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    • q May 8, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      It can be almost magical when you can walk on a street that’s usually busy with cars. The one I remember most is when Seattle closed the express lanes on the freeway for one day, and it was filled with people biking and walking, seeing some of the best views of Seattle for the first time from outside a car, and right up at the railings.

      Your example also reminds me of one reason I think shopping malls became popular as a place to walk–people like the freedom of walking down the middle of the street, stopping to talk, crossing wherever they want, etc. It could even be one reason some malls (Bridgeport Village, etc.) stopped covering themselves several years ago–when you make the “street” space indoors, you lose a lot of the street feeling, and you’re just walking down a wide hallway.

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