Portland City Council to consider carfree South Park Blocks plan

Posted by on July 13th, 2021 at 2:25 pm

Riding the South Park Blocks.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

At their weekly meeting this Thursday, Portland City Council will consider adoption of the South Parks Blocks Master Plan. Like myriad other planning documents, this plan is an unfunded mandate that identifies a vision for how the South Park Blocks could grow in the years to come.

These plans are usually passed without much drama because they’re the result of years of painstaking public outreach and don’t come with specific, required actions and timelines. But this plan might be different: Tucked into Appendix B of the plan is a joint proposal from Portland Parks and Recreation (PP&R) and the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) that would create a carfree space on several blocks of Park Avenue West. The “Connected Cultural District” concept would expand the existing pedestrian plaza of Portland State University by six blocks near the Portland Art Museum and create a world-class segment of the Green Loop — a central city greenway corridor that was adopted by council in 2018.

As we reported last month, changes that would come with the Green Loop and the Connected Cultural Concept have run into stiff opposition from what The Oregonian referred to as a “civic old guard.” Some people fighting the plan say they’re only concerned with the health of trees, but we know that the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) sees the idea of more people on bikes in the Park Blocks as anathema.

At their meeting Thursday, councilors will be asked to vote on the plan itself and they’ll be asked to specifically support Appendix B. “The City Council direct the Portland Bureau of Transportation, in cooperation with Portland Parks & Recreation, further the exploration of the Connected Cultural District concept, described in the attached Exhibit [Appendix] B, to expand on the design recommendations of the South Park Blocks Master Plan,” reads the resolution.

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PBOT visualization of the “Connected Cultural District”.

One of those “civic old guard” members reached out to BikePortland after our editorial on the plan last month. “Hold on everyone on all sides, take a deep breath. Lots of hysteria running around,” wrote former Oregon state senator and former chair of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters Stephen Kafoury in an email. Kafoury, who co-wrote a June 20th editorial in The Oregonian that called the Master Plan “a threat to the unique character” of the park, wanted to differentiate himself from the DNA. “We are not ant-bike (many of us are cyclists ourselves), and support the concept of encouraging urban ridership by such projects as the Green Loop… We would like to encourage a conversation about how we can have both: preservation of the canopy that creates such a magnificent treasure for our city along with extending and completing the Green Loop for non-auto recreation and transportation.”

Asked specifically if he would support the carfree concept, Kafoury said, “We are very interested in discussing the traffic-free zone, along with other options for pedestrians and cyclists. Our main focus right now is on protecting the trees and keeping the park blocks from being ‘activated'”… Using the whole street as a bikeway, so long as the sidewalk is left alone, is another one of the potential options we would like to discuss.”

While council is certain hear deep skepticism from Kafoury and outright opposition from members of the Downtown Business Association, they’ll also hear a lot of support for the plan — especially Appendix B. Bike Loud PDX emailed their followers this morning urging them to sign up to testify at council. “The Master Plan will create a space that celebrates multiculturalism, supports accessibility to people of all ages, expands the Portland Green Loop and Culinary Corridor, and furthers Portland’s mission of a zero-carbon city with a new bicycling path,” reads their suggested message of support to Mayor Ted Wheeler and other council members.

If the plan is adopted by council, Appendix B will be adopted with it. The big question going into Thursday will be how much explicit support council gives to what could someday be one of downtown Portland’s best carfree spaces. The answer to that question could rest upon how much support for the idea they hear from the public. You can register to testify at the council meeting until 4:00 pm on Tuesday and/or find contact information for city council members here.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Andrew KrepsChris IJonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)Trudymaccoinnich Recent comment authors
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Well, that’s a bunch of lawyer speak. “Like to discuss” is a complete shield for “want to oppose, but don’t want to say that yet.” He doesn’t want the Park Blocks activated, at least he admitted that.

Chris I
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Chris I

I think the solution here is simple: paint and barriers at each street crossing. There is plenty of asphalt here to re-activate the space and provide space for people on bikes, it just involves removing all cars. This solution wouldn’t harm a single tree, so the League of Conservation Voters should support that, right? Right?

Maddy
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Maddy

What is the objection to the trees? Do trees have to be removed?

What about pedestrians only in the actual park area and cede the streets to bikes and mixed non motor transportation?

FDUP
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FDUP

I think the trees are being used as an excuse to prevent change. I’m not sure I’ve seen an honest assessment from anyone on either side of this (or PBOT) of which and how many trees will be removed for this project (or not..).

trudy
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trudy

Not so. I love the idea. But I don’t want trees to be removed. I would favor paths that wended their way around the trees. It would add interest. Not everything needs to be in straight lines.

Chris I
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Chris I

Meandering paths add expense and don’t function well for transportation needs. Given this, would you be supportive of full closure of the adjacent streets to cars, since that would provide the space for the cycling route at a lower cost, and save all of the trees?

FDUP
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FDUP

Simply closing the two streets to cars and car parking makes a whole lot of sense to me, beyond that all that is necessary is to repave the street for cyclists, otherwise leave it alone. As usual the city wants to over-design and over-engineer everything; if that happens, look forward to underwhelming, mediocre results.

maccoinnich
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The master plan has a tree succession plan, that outlines how trees will be replaced as when they come to the end of their of the lives.

There’s a lot of misinformation going around about the tree succession plan, but it’s important to know that no trees will be removed to make way for the green loop.

Trudy
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Trudy

Maddy (& everyone), yes, a significant number of trees have to be removed in the current proposal. Some are 150+ years old, are homes to urban wildlife. It’s silly for Bikeportland to say that those of us caring about this want to “prevent change,” or “don’t like bicycles,” or are a “civic old guard.” People who love nature and green spaces typically PREFER bicycles and are bicyclists themselves! Sometimes the single-issue focus of BikePortland seems very selfish to me. Try for win-win! Come up with solutions that maximize bikes without dismissing everyone who has additional concerns. Denigrating what you see to be your opposition (which is not even your opposition) is self-defeating.
p.s. why screen these comments? Does a critical one have a chance of being approved?

Andrew Kreps
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Andrew Kreps

It should be noted that the downtown neighborhood association has been railing against bike access to the south park blocks for _years_ because, and get this, bikes make too much noise. I joined to see what they’re up to, and I’d encourage you to as well.