PSU will make block of SW Montgomery a carfree plaza in May

Posted by on April 3rd, 2019 at 10:13 am

This block of SW Montgomery is one of only three between the river and I-405 that isn’t already carfree.
(Photo: Tim Davis)

Portland State University will create a carfree plaza on the block of Southwest Montgomery Street between Broadway and 6th avenues. The plaza will be installed for the month of May and if all goes well, school officials hope it becomes permanent.

Yellow square is location of plaza.

If this sounds familiar it’s because back in September 2017 — before the street reopened following development of the Karl Miller Center — we reported about how Montgomery is a natural place to create a plaza. Local civic booster and transportation reform advocate Tim Davis launched a mini-campaign to encourage PSU to prohibit driving access and open the block to other uses.

It’s not clear if PSU staff was directly influenced by Davis, but they’ve clearly embraced the idea. According to a statement released by the school yesterday, the Montgomery Pop-Up Plaza project will prohibit driving and parking on Montgomery for the entire month of May and, “transform this space into an outdoor campus public space for everyone to enjoy.” “This is a great opportunity for members of the PSU community to engage with the public realm and make this underutilized street at the heart of our campus into a more welcoming and inclusive place,” reads a PSU website devoted to the project.

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Ellen Shoshkes, PhD, is on the faculty of PSU’s Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning. She’s spearheading the project and is working with students to turn the block into a “living lab” by planning a myriad of activities throughout the month. Architecture students will build “street seats” where people currently park cars. May is Bike Month and Pride Month at PSU. Clint Culpepper with PSU’s Transportation & Parking Services says pride will be a big theme.

“The first thing people mention when they hear we’re blocking off the street is, ‘We should do that permanently.'”
— Clint Culpepper, PSU Transportation & Parking Services

Culpepper said in a phone interview this morning that he and other staffers hope the block will someday become a permanent carfree plaza. For now, the plan will be to block auto access with large planters (bicycle users will still be allowed to pass through) and create a large-scale, pride-themed painting on the street that will cover the entire block. “The street will appear quite different from Broadway and 6th. It will be a clear demarcation that this is not just a street for folks driving through; but that you’re meant to walk on it.”

In addition to the painting, street seats, and even opera performances, there will be a lighting project to activate the space after dark. Five street trees will be illuminated and cycle through different colors.

Feedback from student and staff surveys has been overwhelmingly positive, Culpepper says. “The first thing people mention when they hear we’re blocking off the street in May is, ‘We should do that permanently.'”

This section of Montgomery is surrounded on all sides by PSU campus buildings, but the right-of-way itself is owned by the City of Portland. Culpepper says they’re working closely with the Portland Bureau of Transportation to pull off the month-long project. With thousands of people walking and biking on the campus every day, Culpepper wants to make sure there’s no negative impacts to them or to drivers who need to pass through the campus.

“Hopefully this is a launching pad for an annual event,” Culpepper said. “If we can do that, then we can drum up support and financing to make it a permanent plaza.”

Stay tuned for more details as May approaches.

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

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9 Comments
  • Avatar
    maxD April 3, 2019 at 11:06 am

    That stretch of Montgomery should have been updated per the Masterplan when the Karl Miller building was built.
    https://www.pdx.edu/campus-planning/sites/www.pdx.edu.campus-planning/files/2009_MontgomeryGreenStreet_Plan%20%281%29.pdf

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    todd boulanger April 3, 2019 at 11:46 am

    PSU students – don’t forget to take before photos/ video of the space…and set an air quality baseline with measurements of the current conditions. Might make for a nice mini study of the benefits of converting such spaces.

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    Josh Mahar April 3, 2019 at 11:57 am

    It’s actually more than a plaza, it’s the continuation of a wonderful pedestrian route that connects two our our city’s best pedestrian zones: the Halprin Sequence and the South Park Blocks.

    With this addition, there will now only be one block of Montgomery that isn’t pedestrianized between 1st and 12th.

    The network continues to grow! Woohoo!

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        April 4, 2019 at 2:45 pm

      Minor correction: there will be two remaining blocks, between Park and 10th, and 4th and 5th. But otherwise I agree!

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    B. Carfree April 3, 2019 at 11:57 am

    I’m glad to see a demonstration project that has an explicit plan of becoming permanent. Great job, PSU. Now can someone from PSU please convince their little sister at the UO to do the same thing with University St? It’s become a gawdawful mess of misbehaving motorists and no longer has anyone cycling on it. (Alright, there are still a few people on bikes, but one can routinely ride the length of the campus and not see a single rider.)

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    Peter W April 3, 2019 at 1:32 pm

    Such great news.

    I think it was around 2008/9 when I was involved in student gov @ PSU we proposed a “Montgomery eco-corridor” connecting PSU and the waterfront, with this section of road carfree as part of that. I share this just to note that interest in a dedicated bike/ped Montgomery corridor goes back at least a decade — for the record, our efforts weren’t able to get very far at the time, but I’m so glad others have also had the idea and actually made so much progress on it.

    Congrats, all!

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    matchupancakes April 3, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    I’m thrilled to see this happening! This block is used frequently for parking motorcycles in years past. No doubt such spaces can be created quickly along other locations nearby but one of the benefits is the limited shelter from the elements provided from elevated walkways above. Limited access for commuters using motorcycles is possible while promoting active transportation along the block. Do examine if a complete closure would displace motorcycle parking access into the pedestrian zone between the interior of south park blocks and Broadway where motorcycles commonly are parked.

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    AndyK April 4, 2019 at 11:41 am

    *Fist bump* —> Tim Davis

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    Douglas Kelso April 4, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    I’ve been wanting to see this for years. One more step to a green link between the South Park Blocks and the waterfront.

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