In too many city planning departments, diverters is a dirty word. As we’ve seen numerous times here in Portland, proposals to redirect which streets people are allowed to drive on is often met with vitriol.
But once diverters are installed, we rarely hear about them. Turns out most people actually like the quiet, fresh air, and lower-stress that comes with having fewer cars on streets. And in some cases, diverters aren’t just tolerated, they’re celebrated.
That’s the status of a set of diverters on North Mississippi Avenue in the Piedmont neighborhood. Installed three years ago as part of the North Michigan Avenue Neighborhood Greenway project (PBOT promised neighbors if traffic diverted from Michigan Avenue they’d mitigate it), the nine large concrete drums block drivers from crossing over the intersection of Mississippi and Holman. Like all good diverters, the idea is to push drivers off residential streets and onto larger neighborhood collectors or arterials (in this case Ainsworth, Albina, and I-5).
Nearby residents have become so attached to these heroic, auto traffic preventers, they recently organized a party to paint them and spruce up plantings inside them. Last weekend a few dozen folks who live nearby came out to volunteer and have a little party in the street. Piedmont Neighborhood Association Board Member Brian Borrello posted photos of the gathering and allowed us to share them.
If you’re curious, this type of thing is totally legal. In fact, it’s encouraged by the city’s transportation bureau. PBOT said they welcome neighbors to “adopt” their diverters. The process of gaining permission is similar to intersection paintings (a pround Portland tradition). Hannah Schafer with PBOT told us in this case, the neighborhood proposed a design that conformed with official street painting standards: No words, letters, numbers, or universally recognized symbols; nothing that emulates a traffic control device; and no material that’s under copyright. If those standards are met, the City Traffic Engineer then reviews the plans to make sure the diverters can still be seen at night, and that the reflectors are not blocked.
To make their event come together, people on this street also applied for a block party permit through PBOT’s Portland in the Streets program that allowed them to put up barricades and create a fun, carfree environment for the day.
Borrello, a professional artist who’s created many pieces of official public art in Portland, says events like this are at the heart of why neighborhood associations are so vital. He fears a proposed change to city code that de-emphasizes the role of official neighborhood associations would make it harder to organize them.
Whatever happens with the code change, people will still love their diverters. And with a future where we’re likely to see many more of them and PBOT making adoption so easy, we hope to see more beautification projects like this spring up all over the city.
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