Food cart advocates eye transformation of 9th Avenue for ‘Culinary Corridor’

Posted by on October 31st, 2018 at 11:54 am

Culinary Corridor concept drawing as presented at City Council today.
(Graphics by Hennebery Eddy Architects)

Repurposing Portland streets for something other than driving or parking cars.
Bollards that go up during certain parts of the day to keep drivers out.
Entire city blocks where people have priority over auto use.

Is this the latest gambit by Better Block PDX or perhaps a demonstration by Bike Loud PDX?

Nope.

At the Portland City Council meeting this morning two prominent food culture advocates and one food cart owner testified in front of Mayor Ted Wheeler and his colleagues that what we need downtown isn’t more room for driving, but more room for eating.

“This is tactical urbanism at its best.”
— Randy Gragg, Portland Monthly Magazine contributor and architecture critic

Facing an existential crisis and intense pressure from real estate developers poised to erect towers on surface lots that currently house some of the most famous food cart pods in the world, FoodCartsPortland.com founder Brett Burmeister, Churros Locos owner Daniel Huerta, and Portland Monthly Magazine contributor and local writer and urban design/architecture critic Randy Gragg unveiled their “Culinary Corridor” vision — an idea that would place food carts in spaces currently use for auto parking.

Their testimony sounded like it was taken right out of an urbanists’ playbook.

“Food brings people together, we create community space,” Burmeister shared with council. He estimated that blocks lined with food carts get an average of 10,000 to 12,000 people walking by them each day during the peak season — compared to 5,000 people on other blocks. In Burmeister’s view, food carts are worth saving because they’re, “As integral to the culture and fabric of our city as Saturday Marking, Washington Park, the Rose Festival, or Pioneer Square.”

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Note the “timed bollards”.

Writer Randy Gragg said food carts are an “urban regenerator” and he credits them with, “Turning places like O’Bryant Square into a nice place to have lunch.” If something isn’t done soon, Gragg warned, new high-rises will displace more than one-third of Portland’s existing carts by as early as next fall. “Inevitably, carts will become an endangered species.”

“This is a very exciting concept.”
— Ted Wheeler, Mayor of Portland

The Culinary Corridor idea — which Gragg thinks will not just save food carts, but create more of them — focuses on the 55 carts centered around the block of SW Alder Street between 9th and 10th avenues.

Calling it “tactical urbanism at its best,” Gragg explained the idea as a, “Corridor of food carts along the midtown Park Blocks between Director Park and O’Bryant Square” that could be created by, “Simply repurposing a few parking spots.” To make it happen, Gragg and his supporters want to create a “Fast track task force” that would do a feasibility study of using 9th as the alignment. A pilot program could be run on one block anywhere along the corridor.

For an example of how food carts can create public space in the street, look no further than the SoMa Parklet Project that was endorsed by the City of Portland in 2014.

If all goes according to plan, the Culinary Corridor would be a “lively urban trail” that would connect the carts, the park blocks and major retail destinations in the West End.

The idea could also dovetail with the City of Portland’s vision for the Green Loop which also aims to connect the north and south Park Blocks with a multimodal urban greenway.

At the conclusion of this trio’s testimony, Mayor Wheeler said, “This is a very exciting concept,” and then asked Gragg for a copy of his presentation (I have too and will post it here when I get it).

Unfortunately Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly wasn’t at council this morning. If this vision is to move forward, PBOT would play a large role.

For obvious reasons, culinary and transportation advocates should join forces on this project. On November 14th, PBOT will bring their Central City in Motion plan to City Council. One of the projects (#16) would create a protected bike lane adjacent to the North Park Blocks and would connect directly to O’Bryant Square.

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

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9 Comments
  • Avatar
    Middle of The Road Guy October 31, 2018 at 12:23 pm

    I love the idea.

    I was in Wellington NZ years ago and remember that there was a restaurant district that was car free. It was fantastic.

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    mh October 31, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    Street food tastes much better without a side of exhaust gases.

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    mark smith October 31, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Nice, Bike LoudPDX get a mention.

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    bikeninja October 31, 2018 at 1:16 pm

    I like it, but it will be a bit of a problem for the carts with rear facing serving windows.

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    Peter W October 31, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    Nice little taste of permanent Park(ing) Day in that cover illustration too – note the street space used not just for food carts but for comfortable seating spaces as well.

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    q October 31, 2018 at 9:00 pm

    I love that it would give people here a taste of how great it feels to have a public square whose edges are buildings (well, at least food carts) instead of streets.

    The Park Blocks are great–so is Pioneer Courthouse Square–but they’re all surrounded by streets, so feel quite compromised compared to public spaces bordered by buildings.

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    dave November 1, 2018 at 8:16 am

    While I don’t think this is a bad idea, first priority should be given to redeveloping O’Bryant Square as a food cart pod. Perfect spot to redevelop this dead downtown block.

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    paikiala November 1, 2018 at 9:50 am

    PBOT already has a program for such experiments:
    https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/77610

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    Johnny Bye Carter November 1, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    As a pedestrian downtown I really hate the massive food cart “pods” because they create severe sidewalk blockages. I wish the city would have forced them to face their service windows into the parking lots.

    I think it’s only a good idea to give the street parking over to carts if they close the street and the carts face their windows AWAY from the sidewalk.

    It’s getting more unpleasant to walk downtown. They forced all the smokers out on the sidewalk. Now we have dense restaurant lines for blocks from all the carts. Fewer windows to browse at due to stores maximizing floor space. And since there’s less to stop and window shop for there aren’t as many awnings.

    It’s still very much a place for drivers.

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