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Portland wins state tourism grant to bolster carfree dining plazas

Not very welcoming at all.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

A state tourism grant will allow the the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to address one of our main critiques of their Healthy Business plaza program: The way they look.

“As visitors make their way back to Portland, it will be important to provide clear and consistent visuals that alert people to the location of these plazas.”
— PBOT grant application

Last week we shared how the carfree plazas that have popped up all over town to support restaurants during the pandemic need a bit of redecorating. Big “Road Closed” signs and clunky barricades that block the entire street don’t allow carfree spaces to reach their potential.

Turns out PBOT was already on the case!

They’ve won a $47,600 grant from Travel Oregon that will help them do a bit of tactical urbanism and promotion of the plazas. The funds come from Travel Oregon’s Destination Ready Grants Program, a nearly $1 million pot of cash aimed at, “Enhancement and stewardship of key visitor experiences that are COVID-19 appropriate,” according to the program’s website.

According to the ordinance up for adoption by Portland City Council this week, PBOT will use the money on a “placemaking campaign” for 20 of their Healthy Business Plazas.

PBOT’s application says the grant will allow them to implement temporary campaigns near plazas in the central city and popular neighborhood destinations like Clinton, Mississippi, Buckman, Alberta, and others. The idea will be more clear and cohesive branding aimed at helping people find the outdoor dining locations. “As visitors make their way back to Portland, it will be important to provide clear and consistent visuals that alert people to the location of these plazas,” reads the application.

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We’re likely to see other plazas follow this example on SE Ankeny at 28th: The grant will buy 200 gallons of paint.

PBOT has a wayfinding plan that will consist of signage and sidewalk decals. The signage will include health protocol basics, a list of participating restaurants, QR codes that will link to menus, and so on. Sidewalk decals will go on nearby streets and intersections to entice folks to the plaza. PBOT has learned a lesson from last summer that unless someone knows exactly where a plaza is located, they’ll miss it. “For example, standing on the corner of E Burnside and 28th Ave,” reads the ordinance, “you might not realize that a large outdoor dining plaza is one block away on Ankeny.”

Another exciting component of the campaign will be large-scale street paintings that will “contribute to a joyful user experience” and, “provide an additional visual that enhances visitor experience and creates a sense of place at each plaza.”

Where the money will go.

A line item budget for the 20 plazas the project will cover includes 200 gallons of paint, 80 weatherproof posters, 40 a-frame signs, 200 sidewalk decals, and 20 outdoor banners. Staff time is also key since PBOT had no budget for workers to implement these upgrades. The grant will provide $18,000 for 120 hours of staff time.

The new signage and street paintings are in the planning stages and PBOT hopes to have them ready to go in the coming months as plazas open for summer. The city currently expects the plazas to remain in place until at least October 31st, 2021.

As PBOT further improves these plazas, keep in mind that Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty wants more permanent carfree spaces. Hardesty has said she wants these carfree zones to be focused around food vendors in commercial areas. Perhaps the lessons PBOT learns from these pandemic-inspired plazas could end up inspiring something permanent?

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