BikePortland

A carfree opportunity for SW Montgomery near PSU


SW Montgomery between Broadway and 6th.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Yellow square is the block in question.

Next week Portland State University will officially re-open their business school after a major renovation of the Karl Miller Center on SW Montgomery between Broadway and 6th. The small street adjacent to it has been closed for nearly a year during construction and there’s an idea swirling around to keep it that way. Forever.

The blocks of Montgomery on both ends of this section adjacent to PSU’s business school are already carfree. To the west is the PSU Park Blocks — a designated “Clean air corridor” and “Pedestrian zone” that PSU proudly proclaims (via signs attached to bollards) as a “Space free of smoke, pollution, and emissions.” To the east is the PSU Urban Plaza, a legendary petri-dish of carfree urbanism bisected by the streetcar.

To Tim Davis, a Portland civic booster (his Facebook page is “PDXFan”) and author behind PlacesforEveryone.com, this is a golden opportunity to create more carfree space downtown. Last week he posted the idea to the Bike Loud PDX Facebook page.

“Everyone I’ve I talked to, from every conceivable walk of life, agrees that it would be ridiculous to see this block opened back up to cars,” he wrote. “This key block can (and must) provide the only pedestrian corridor between two already permanently car-free places… It’s literally the only potential east-west corridor of its type and access that this formerly “commuter” and increasingly urban campus will ever have.”

And Davis continued:

“The block would make a beautiful and natural extension of the business school and its dramatic new corner entrance, as well as a space for events and countless other activities that we can’t even dream of today. Just imagine the potential for placemaking, speeches, events, celebrations, etc. That fairly wide block provides 5000 square feet of space that can be used in limitless ways!”

Looking east from SW Montgomery at SW 6th and the Urban Plaza.

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Looking east at SW Montgomery and Broadway from existing carfree plaza on PSU campus.

Davis says his exciting vision and all the potential that comes wit it would be “killed” if people were able to drive cars and trucks “right into the heart of campus”. He says this one block is “useless” for drivers and opening it back up to them, “is an enormous step backward toward 1950s car-centric thinking.” “Cycling has stagnated at PSU for several years,” Davis says, “and allowing cars on this one dead-end block that no one misses driving on is sending the wrong message.”

Davis makes a very compelling case.

Unfortunately, we’ve just learned that the current plan is to re-open it to auto traffic.

A source explained to us that while the idea was considered, ultimately this block of Montgomery serves as access to a parking garage one block north on SW Mill and there were concerns about how its closure to cars would lead to more traffic on SW Harrison one block south.

But all hope isn’t lost. While the street will re-open to motorized vehicles next week, there might be a chance down the road to make it carfree.

Here’s the official statement from PSU’s Associate Campus Planner Rani Boyle:

“PSU features a number of car-free spaces, including the Urban Plaza, the South Park Blocks, and pedestrian paths. These spaces are an important part of an urban campus in a busy central city. We are open to, and enthusiastic about, new and creative ways to improve the pedestrian experience on campus. We’re supportive of the city’s efforts to provide new opportunities to make the most of our city streets through the Livable Street Strategy.

Right now, our primary focus is the completion of the Karl Miller Center prior to the start of the fall academic term. In the near-term, we’ll be conducting a study of circulation around campus. We’ll be looking at pedestrian travel throughout campus, as well as how projects like the Central City Multimodal Project and the Green Loop concept may be integrated. Montgomery Street will be part of this analysis.”

We’ll keep tabs on that circulation study and any opportunities to weigh in. Our quest for more carfree space downtown will continue! Stay tuned.

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

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