It’s been rough road for one of Portland’s carfree business plazas.
The Denver Avenue Plaza on two blocks of the Kenton neighborhood’s commercial district opened on August 5th. We celebrated the plaza as yet another success for the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Healthy Business permit program that gives business owners the right to use streets for dining, commerce and other safe, physically distanced activities. Three days later some of the furnishings in the plaza were severely damaged by fire and destruction
caused by Portland Police officers and the protestors they pursued through the plaza (*Note: Many of you questioned my assertion that plaza damage was caused by PPB. I should have been more clear. The PPB did in fact knock down some barricades (as can be seen in this video clip). However I was wrong to say they caused “destruction” and the way I worded that sentence made it seem like PPB caused fires. That is not the case either. I regret not being more careful with this sentence. – Jonathan).
Now, less than a week after the Kenton Neighborhood Business Association raised money to fix the damages, PBOT has decided that the permit needs to be revised. Turns out the plaza and traffic detours that came with it weren’t popular with everyone.
As of today (August 17th), car drivers can once again use Kenton’s main street (the TriMet bus reroute will remain). There are still eating areas and plaza space in the curbside lanes (formerly used for free car parking), but the quiet and calm plaza is gone.
In a letter dated August 14th PBOT Development Permitting & Transit Group Director Christine Leon wrote, “Due to additional input and feedback from area business owners, this permit is currently being revised.” That same day the Kenton Neighborhood Association posted to their website that, “PBOT has determined that a reset on the plaza is necessary to ensure that the plaza is more inclusive and benefits all establishments on N Denver.”
We haven’t heard exactly what the concerns were or which business owners had complaints, but it seems like all parties are at the table and are trying to hash out some sort of compromise that will allow some of space to be reclaimed as a plaza. There’s also talk of possibly making the two blocks carfree only on weekends. “PBOT will facilitate additional conversations among business owners to determine an arrangement for N Denver for the remainder of Summer 2020, including the potential for weekend-only Main Street Plaza, Side Street Plazas, or only Parking Plazas,” Leon wrote in the letter.
The Kenton Business Association posted on Instagram that, “This change may be temporary and may be revised again soon. What has not changed is our determination to make the Plaza in whatever shape as safe and as enjoyable as a space as possible.”
PBOT is looking for more public feedback about the plaza. If you have something to share, please tell them using this online form.
UPDATE, 8/18: Here’s what the street currently looks like…
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Interesting… most of the reporting I’ve seen suggested the damage was caused by protestors; I didn’t realize there was significant damage cause by police officers as well.
I hope they are able to find a design that works for everyone.
I saw video that clearly showed police knocking over the closure barricades so I know for a fact that at least some of the damage was caused by PPB officers. I assumed the fires and some other damage was by protestors. Overall, this story isn’t about who caused the damage though.
Just read this article. Hard to get past the statement about damage caused by the police. You have every right to write want you want. Jonathan, my impression of your writing over the last 10+ years is that you seem to take the high ground and provide a voice that looks at the facts. You also tend to offer a viewpoint that doesn’t wade down in the muck and I have appreciated your opinions while others get emotional and lash out. Especially when you write about how to handle difficult town halls and asking readers to respect others viewpoints. In my opinion, your comment slanted the truth to fit your narrative. It was a bummer to read and no different than Fox News, CNN, or any other cable news outlet.
Thanks for the comment. I saw video that showed PPB officers pushing over barricades around the plaza. That is why I wrote that sentence. It is a fact that the PPB damaged some of the plaza. The protestors also did some of the damage. I stand by what I wrote and I disagree that I am slanting anything to fit my narrative.
UPDATE: Upon further review and thought I now acknowledge that I messed this up. My sentence wasn’t as clear or accurate as it should have been. I’ve edited the post and issued this note: (*Note: Many of you questioned my assertion that plaza damage was caused by PPB. I should have been more clear. The PPB did in fact knock down some barricades (as can be seen in this video clip). However I was wrong to say they caused “destruction” and the way I worded that sentence made it seem like PPB caused fires. That is not the case either. I regret not being more careful with this sentence. – Jonathan).
Thanks for the response and for taking the time to update the article.
The protestors burned a few things, mostly recycle bins, dumpsters and plastic barricades set up by pbot. Police came through with vehicles ramming things and tossed things to the side in piles.
The police intentionally barricaded protestors into that area twice, knowing what could happen. It was methodical and planned.
Why did they burn things?
Why do police intentionally shoot people in the face with less than lethal munitions? Over, and Over.
Why do “peaceful protesters” kick people in the head when they are already injured and down? Claiming moral high ground is a false narrative
If I wade into a group of proud boys and started punching people the way that kid did and I received a beating for it. Neither you nor I would say I should have expected anything different.
Comparing one beating at the hands of one juvenile to an established pattern of intentional maiming and disfigurement by public servants is false equivalence.
So why did they burn things?
It’s almost as if those setting the fires had no agency.
Also, you minimized what protestors did. KGW (and others) reported:
“Some in the group gathered large wooden partitions and some cafe tables that were part of the Denver Ave. Plaza, and lit them on fire.”
That sounds like a little more than burning plastic trash.
I did not find any news agency reporting on damage caused by the police. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen of course, but does suggest it was not widespread or serious.
Standard disclaimers: I am not defending the police (or anyone); I fully support the rights of people to protest peacefully; past performance is no guarantee of future results.
So now we’ve seen opportunistic looting by some people, and opportunistic destruction by police who evidently didn’t support the civil decision to turn the street into a plaza.
This sucks. I was making trips from across town to visit and patronize the businesses. Now I won’t be.
Tell the businesses…
Your support for local businesses in Kenton during a pandemic is predicated on this level of detail? There is still street seating and local businesses looking for support. I hope others are more mindful of the challenges these businesses face and show support for the strides Kenton has taken during the pandemic.
If I wanted to eat next to noisy, speeding cars, I’d visit any other street in the city
The damage was unfortunate, but not really relevant to what should be done with this space.
The few times I’ve passed through there (including at least once during what should be lunch rush), no one appeared to be using the space that was marked off, and the line of cars waiting for the light at Interstate and Denver to head south on Interstate seemed long considering overall traffic levels.
I see plenty of sense in repurposing this space when traffic volumes are lower and it can be put to better use. But if people aren’t actually using it, blockading so there’s a line of waiting vehicles spewing exhaust and more people drivers cutting through and parking in neighborhoods is a disservice.
There isn’t really a “lunch rush” anywhere right now (people are sleeping in more and working from home, and it’s F-ing hot outside mid-day. You should have stopped by in the evening.
“drivers cutting through and parking in neighborhoods is a disservice”
Their dependence on motor vehicles should not be a public problem. If the businesses are good then people will find a way to get there.
I was just there on Friday and it was awesome. Now apparently it’s less awesome, I assume because drivers whined. Also assume it was not about access to businesses (which were still easy to get to with a short walk of a block or two) but more about quickest driving route from point A to point B. And change. Some people hate that. Boo.
That’s not remotely true. The reset is a response to businesses owned by people of color who felt they were left out of the decision-making and were not seeing a benefit in the plaza. It had nothing to do with drivers whining.
And what were the problems those businesses experienced?
Well, damn. I guess I’ll just stay in St. Johns and patronize our businesses instead of riding to Kenton again. At least we have a new summer park PBOT probably can’t take away.
So, it’s funny that you accuse folks who OWN cars of not being able to handle this, but most “people on bikes” literally cannot handle pedaling over the smallest hill. Sure have not seen many “riders” out there anyway. They can’t HANDLE the heat either.
Where’s the humor in these truths?
Drivers can’t handle taking 2 minutes to park and walk a block. So when cyclists want the best route to use their own energy getting around town you think that’s too much to ask? There are cyclists all over the place out there right now. I’m on a busy connector and I’ve seen a lot fewer cars and a lot more bicycles in the last few days just like in the last few months.
I’m confused. Why is the word OWN in ALLCAPS? And why put “people on bikes” and “riders” in quotes? People on bikes are literally people on bikes, not just so-called “people on bikes”.
Granted, Jonathan’s caption on the lead photo is a bit whiney — and if what Momo said above in the comments is true, maybe even misleading. But you seem to be driving at a deeper issue than a photo caption.
An awful lot of those folks who OWN cars are also “people on bikes” who are out there commuting and recreating over small hills like the West Hills, Skyline, Mt Scott, etc. because they like the fresh air, exercise, faster commute (at least when car traffic would otherwise slow things down), and doing their part to reduce their carbon footprint. Even when those people drive because they can’t show up sweaty and gross to a business meeting and/or don’t want to ride when it’s 90F, cycling even once a week is 20% better than cycling zero times a week. Every time a rider does cycle, it’s one less car on the road for every other car-driver to wait behind, one less car’s worth of wear-and-tear on the roadways, and one less car’s pollution contributing to haze and smog. It’s one more person contributing to the tax base but taking less-than-average advantage of the car-related benefits those taxes pay for.
Cycling is better for the people on the bicycle AND the other people who aren’t on a bicycle. Seems like a win-win to me, so why not encourage more of that?
Basically, any plaza that proves successful (or is widely perceived as successful) is going to attract more customers, including drivers; more police, including community patrols; and more protesters, who want to have a greater political impact.
This was is/was an experiment. Instead of giving up over a single violent episode, the local businesses decided to try to modify the plaza, and this is a good thing. It’s a form of progress. Let’s see what comes next, evaluate it, and modify what needs modifying.
The pandemic or any of the other cultural upheaval going on right now, is not a panacea for cyclists or alt-trans in general. More people that abandon public transit will switch to driving than biking, for starters. Transplants continue to arrive, and bring their driving habits with them. A lot of outer N, NE, SE and SW Portland is simply inaccessible for many people w/o a motor vehicle, esp. if they need to drive for work. And the drivers that are out there now realize there is less traffic b/c the pandemic and drive accordingly, i.e. faster.
I started biking and taking transit to work when I lived in outer SE because I couldn’t handle all the horrible drivers on the long commute to work. It’s not inaccessible, you just have to want it more than you want to sit trapped in traffic with bad drivers.
Sheesh, Car centric Beaverton Closed off 2 blocks of 1st street in Old Town Beaverton for a pedestrian and eating Plaza. The city put up the official plastic K-rails and multiple shade tents. The city also provides the trash cans and maintenance service for the plaza. Get with it PBOT, you are in trouble if Beaverton is leaving you in the dust.
I mean, that sounds great but also like a different situation. In this one, local businesses spoke up that they hadn’t been at the table and didn’t think the plaza was serving them. A reassessment is being done, hopefully one that can help keep all the businesses thriving during COVID. Personally I love the expanded seating areas I’m seeing, but I’m also not a proprietor on Denver Ave.
I think the key difference here is that the Beaverton plaza is open to patrons of any downtown restaurant. All the Portland seating areas that I’ve seen are signed to indicate that only patrons of the business with the permit can use them.
At least the drivers can still enjoy eating near the roads they love so much.
I still refuse to occupy these street seats that are miserably close to polluting weapons.
If you want me to dine in the street or on the planting strip then you’ll have to close the entire road.
You will be missed.
As much as I disagree with the decision, that’s the benefit of tactical urbanism implemented through PBOT’s Safe Streets Initiative: Create. Assess. Recreate. All with little cost of materials/time.I trust the best solution for businesses, neighbors, and the city at large will reflect in the months moving forward.
Either way, to voice my opinion, I loved how it was and got me biking from Goose Hollow to check it out. I’ll see how it is now and hopefully not be too disappointed…