Guest essay: A plan for a ‘passoire’-filled Portland

Behold the humble, transformational, neighborhood traffic “passoire,” which would allow almost anything but cars to pass through. (Graphic: Stone Doggett)

— This essay was written for BikePortland by reader and longtime family biker, runner and walker.

“A passoire, a strainer, a means of filtering out the undesirable chunks (cars) and allowing the most flavorful vital elements to pass.”

Hey Portland, it’s time to sac up, à la Française.

That opening line probably has everyone famished and ready to manger their favorite “petit dejeuner en sac.” Lick your lips, but hold the fromage, and instead let’s sink our mind-teeth into the magnificent cul de sac. 

The scrumptious cul de sac has long been a delicacy for the wealthy that is mostly enjoyed in out-of-the-way suburbs and exurbs, far away from the urban poor. After a long day moving cars around, the fortunate retire to the peace and quiet of streets designed to limit noisy, threatening, outsider’s cars from rudely interrupting their repose. Day and night the cul de sac works tirelessly like a powerful missile defense system deflecting dangerous through traffic. Tragically, the beneficiaries of this modern miracle long ago declared “Sacs pour moi, not for toi!” 

While the wealthy have enjoyed safe, idyllic places for their children and pets to roam free from blunt force trauma, urban areas have been slashed and scarred with highways and parking lots. Much like excessive plastic surgery gone awry, “urban renewal” changed urban residential areas into eerie resemblances of neighborhoods. Places once built for people became places built for automobiles – uncanny valleys of human habitat with highways running through the middle. Sacre bleu

A Better Sac

Courage, my dear Portland, we can rise from the ashes of the asphalt sins-of-our-fathers. The humble cul de sac holds the key to healing decades of self-destructive overindulgence. But honestly, we are pretty bad off, we need more than cul de sacs we need an urban super sac. We must combine the French austerity of the cul de sac with the US love of “freedom.” Freedom sacs!!! – unleashing the freedom of movement in the city. The freedom sac is in essence, a passoire, a strainer, a means of filtering out the undesirable chunks (cars) and allowing the most flavorful, vital elements to pass, like a fine consommé. Of course, if there are only one or two, the chunks roll around the sides, but a network of well-placed passoire would revolutionize transportation and enliven the urban environment with human movement.  

The passoire is simple (see image above). Imagine the intersection by your house or apartment, remove the pavement from corner to corner creating a square of green space, imagine a few large trees, include the sidewalks (if you have sidewalks) and install crossing paths that are big enough for two generous-sized tricycles to pass each other on a warm summer night and blow kisses. Voilà.

Bisou bisou Ms. Tricycle… Bisou bisou Mx. Scooter… Bisou bisou Mr. Mobility Assistance Device…”   

Green dots would be intersection filters. (Graphic: Stone Doggett)

Now, look at a map of your neighborhood and pick all of the intersections that can be transformed. I picked a neighborhood with 50 intersections as an example (see image above). At a quick glance, 20 of the intersections can be liberated to create a design where each house has one route in and out of the neighborhood with a car and a multitude of paths are open and activated for less harmful vehicles. 

The passoire filters out the autos that produce CO2, pollution and toxic particulates, while the trees in the passoire do their small part to consume CO2, create shade, and give life and inspiration. Peel away the hard undesirable covering and watch speeding through-traffic disappear while human movement and vitality blooms. Instead of a looking down a street to see a long line of parked cars, boats, pods, dumpsters, etc., there is an intersection 200 feet from your house with a canopy of mature trees, a bench or a barbeque with people passing through, carefree and carfree. 

This Sounds Like a Big Change 

Brave Portland, I know this is a big step. You may be thinking, “this sounds nice, but wouldn’t it be just as good to paint something and put out a clever yard sign?” The answer is clearly “No, years of hard work by PBOT has proven that paint, yard signs and other invisible ‘safe-streets’ incantations are embarrassing gestures that our children will roll their eyes at as they face the brutality of climate devastation.” Understandably, when we gaze into the eyes of destiny, we may wonder “Do I deserve to live in a beautiful world?” The answer may surprise you, “Yes, you and every other human deserve to have a deep and fulfilling connection to the natural world.”

Threading needles, three-dimensional chess moves, and incremental changes to our carbon intensive, wasteful transportation system may have seemed like a “Portland nice” jiu-jitsu that would protect politicians and solve the transportation puzzle, but while Portland has wasted precious time and momentum, other cities have leapt forward, realizing Portland’s dreams. 

To understand why miles of painted bike lanes, flashing lights and crosswalks in a city full of people who love to bike and walk has floundered, we may need to consider the tortured experience of the driver rather than the active transportation joie de vivre.

Driving hurts our monkey brain. When I am strapped down and hurled through space in a cushioned metal box, I am simultaneously bored to death and stressed out. I am subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) jarred by potential life-threatening mistakes that could end or derail my existence while I daydream, distract myself with stale music and not look at my Instagram. I am surrounded by so many other greedy monkey brains trying to feel alive in their boxes, mashing buttons and pedals too hard or too soft. For most of us, the fleeting thrill of winning the driving game often sours into rage, frustration or fatigue. Je suis fatigue!

Rationally, I can wipe it all away. But, when I see a bike lane that I can’t zip through, a space that I can’t park in or worst of all, a diverter forcing me to turn even though I can see the other side, it’s like seeing a banana in a bell jar. What sadist put this banana just out of reach? If the Portland Banana o Thieves hint at changing a traffic pattern or I see another plastic wand in my way, it doesn’t matter how many thousands of bananas I just ate, I am starving again and my monkey brain is bent. 

Arrrrrrggghhhh! So many stolen bananas and in return I am only given abstract ideas about safety and happy people that do not fill this banana-shaped hole. If you take my banana, give me something in return that I can touch, something for me, something that I can fight for, make me feel rich and exclusive with a quiet street and little parklet, don’t hold back — give me a cul de sac!

The Passoire Solves Multiple Urban Challenges

Whether it is called a cul de sac, freedom sacs or a passoire, depaving intersections is both banana manna for our monkey brains and also deeply satisfying for our rational minds: 

The Urban Forest: Portland’s urban forest is declining and many parking strips and available spaces are not sufficient for new large trees. Heat islands due to too much asphalt and not enough shade are straight up killing people. Dense urban housing is a highly sustainable, efficient and healthy way to build human habitat, but increasing housing density may compete with space for trees on private property and visual green space in general. The passoire would provide more green space for more people in a way that is broadly and fairly distributed. 

Storm Water Drainage: Perhaps underappreciated, but a huge deal. Portland needs more permeable surfaces to absorb water. The passoire is what the bioswale aspires to be.  

Community: A comfortable place to sit, wait, meet other people in public, light gardening and positive expression, a productive outlet for neighborhood associations, a game of cornhole. Neighbors can be outside of their house, but not feel out of place. The passoire is a way for every neighbor to connect with their street. Neighbors of all abilities can contribute to the beautification and place-making of passoires, unlike hardscape infrastructure that requires heavy machinery and dangerous materials. 

Transportation: The brilliance of the passoire will shine brightest in how it transforms transportation. Primarily, the broad implementation of passoires will expand safety to all users,creating a safety paradigm shift within residential areas. Passoires will nearly eliminate anonymous traffic that is indifferent to the people who live on those streets, because the drivers will be close neighbors. All residential streets will become local streets. The straight-away distances of each street will be reduced to a maximum of three or four blocks, which will limit the ability of drivers to speed. By restricting travel to people going to the houses on those streets, traffic will be more predictable and will be more fairly distributed throughout residential areas. 

The net result of slower, more careful drivers will unlock a safer world where pets, children and people with limited mobility can move freely. In some instances, it may actually become safe enough to “play in the street,” like children have done as long as there have been streets and still do in affluent neighborhoods. Safer, lighter modes of travel will be able to move out of the gutters as they become an even more perfect tool to navigate the city. Passoires will make every residential street a greenway. When someone heads out on a scooter, skateboard or bicycle, they can do it without a 30-minute route-planning session, consulting apps, maps and various deities in hopes that they will safely make it to their destination. They can enjoy the carte blanche that has been the exclusive privilege of car consumers, instead of the carte-spectacle de merde. The basic pathway design of each passoire can essentially be the same, without over complicated design shenanigans that take five improvisational attempts to understand. With the growing accessibility of e-bikes and e-scooters, the vast majority of trips in Portland will be safe and under 20 minutes without having to drag around and park a two-ton metal sack.    

Are Passoires Possible in the US?

Stone and his son.

Dear Portland, the world has looked to you in the past to be that one creative but reasonable city in America. Cities in the US have looked to Portland to have enough critical mass of environmental and progressive values to shake off the yoke of a destructive, mindless, consumption-oriented existence. Activate the wasted space of redundant intersections and Sac up! Make this bold move and revolutionize how the world lives. Vive le Sac!


Thanks to reader Stone Doggett for sharing this essay. We are always looking for guest writers. If you’ve got something to share, get in touch with me via maus.jonathan@gmail.com.

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Maria the Bicycle Kitty

Dang it, Stone Doggett, this article is one of the most beautifully written pieces I think I’ve ever read on BikePortland or maybe anywhere. Kudos. Errr I mean chapeau!
I am teary-eyed envisioning this valhalla, errr paradis, you describe. I had a head start though, as I am increasingly gripped by the sadness and fear of living in this deadly stinky loud angry car era.
I hope they call them hashtags and I hope I live long enough to see them.
Let me know if I can help out in any way. Ask JM for me email address if you’d like to connect and-or go on a bike ride.

Stone
Stone
1 year ago

Wow! Thanks for saying this! Whether it’s this plan or a different comprehensive plan that universally improves living in Portland and reigns in the waste and destruction caused by car addiction, I hope we get to see it and help make it happen. Just the tiny act of writing down and sharing the optimism I have for Portland has been great.

OM
OM
1 year ago
Reply to  Stone

An interesting idea buried in snark. The prose syle is quite ornate. I would cut the essay in half. Decide whether you want to put suburbanites down or put forth a good idea in a way that resonates outside of the BP bubble.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  OM

That’s not “snark,” it’s French!

OM
OM
1 year ago

Je parle francais. C’est en peu salonard.

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  OM

Fantastic! An enthusiastic volunteer editor. Please send a draft to PassoirePDX at gmail.

Maria
Maria
1 year ago
Reply to  Stone

Sounds like OM needs a meditation retreat. Your lovely essay didn’t feel at all like it was putting down suburbanites. It came across (to non aggressive, combative readers anyway) as saying they enjoy a street lifestyle that we’d all enjoy (quiet less deadly stinky streets). Anyway, keep up the good work, Stone!

D2
D2
1 year ago

I’ve had this same idea, however the one thing that sticks out as a problem are service vehicles. Garbage trucks, delivery trucks, and other service vehicles are generally not able to reverse safely or turn around in a small space.

joey Campbell
joey Campbell
1 year ago
Reply to  D2

Yes what to do with these larger vehicles that is not too disruptive?

Michael
Michael
1 year ago
Reply to  D2

It’s a reasonable concern, but one I think could be solved in a way that preserves the services and also creates safer environments for vulnerable road users. Off of the top of my head, I can think of a couple of potential work arounds, such as lockable bollards or strategic designs that allow large trucks to utilize paths normally reserved for pedestrians and cyclists.

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael

Yes!!! Retractable bollards are awesome and would be such a great solution for many of these issues. This would be like the sweat pants approach. But I still want the Japanese garbage truck with the see through window where you can watch all of the garbage get smushed (link above).

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  Stone
Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Stone

Amazing… somehow they manage to collect their trash without leaving a trail of it everywhere they go! That’s some advanced tech!

Daniel Reimer
1 year ago
Reply to  D2

There are hundreds of streets throughout Portland (especially in SW) that are deadends which don’t end with giant cul de sacs to allow for easy turnaround. Service vehicles still manage to operate.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Reimer

You are correct, Daniel. Every SW Portland resident is partially deaf from the loud BEEP-BEEP-BEEP backup alarms of reversing trash trucks.

Backing up a trash truck is a core competency for trash-truck drivers.

Daniel Reimer
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

One idea to reduce backing up is to put these green spaces mid block instead of in the middle of an intersection. One or two car lengths depaved mid block with a bike path going through would still have a lot of potential green space.

J_R
J_R
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel Reimer

Having driven large vehicles before my professional career, I don’t think your definition of an easy turnaround is based on actual experience.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago
Reply to  D2

Some of the service vehicles are so big, such as fire trucks and big SUVs driven by assholes, that they can simply drive over the curbs and grass.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Also correct, David. The appeal of monster trucks and SUVs is you just drive over the landscaping in your way. I’m looking forward to all of the lovely new landscaping on SW Capitol Hwy getting plowed over by trucks.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  D2

I bet they can design these such that there is a route that loops back out without going “through” a neighborhood. It would have the same effect of cutting out through traffic, while allowing delivery and garbage type services easy access.

Maybe something like this (“super blocks“):

superblock.jpg
John D.
John D.
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I agree completely. Here’s a good overview of some dutch solutions https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/how-to-prevent-rat-running/

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John D.

PBOT can’t even keep a simple elevator running (Bob Stacey Bridge has been down again for weeks, and will probably remain so indefinitely). Do you really trust them to manage hundreds of self-propelled bollards?

Will
Will
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Yes…? They manage to keep the traffic lights working and those are a lot more complicated than an elevator.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Will

Maybe they can’t handle things that go up and down.

John D.
John D.
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Maybe the self propelled bollards are a little on the fancy side, but the idea of creating diagonal bollards across intersections could be pretty low tech solutions. We already have a few bollards that allow for people walking and biking to pass through, but force larger vehicles to turn. If used more widely, it could help create low stress, low traffic streets. It would also help remove the argument that bike lanes will “force” drivers onto side streets.

The other option is that hold our transportation department accountable for maintaining all infrastructure. If we could have them fix bike infrastructure at the same speed that they would a malfunctioning traffic light we would be in a much better place.

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  D2

Great point, D2. I thought a lot about this giant vehicle thing too, especially the huge garbage trucks. I think this is a problem that can be solved. And in solving it, we will be better off. I wish I knew all of the details of trash, recycling and compost pick up so that I could offer a clear solution. I don’t, but this has led to some observations and ideas.

  1. My trash/ garbage/ recycling pick up is excessive. I have the minimum, there are 3 or 4 of us, and there are a few times each year when I might need the full capacity for one bin. Like yard waste. I would be happy to cut further back or have a smaller container if it meant that smaller trucks could be used. I suspect that the trucks we use in Portland are excessively huge because of the roads we have. Lets sell these behemoths to Vancouver and buy some normal-sized Japanese garbage trucks that can handle 1000 people’s garbage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=If3BzBdRt-M . I would also be happy to take my and my neighbors’ garbage to the end of the street in the interim. It is worth it!
  2. I don’t think delivery vehicles will be an issue. This would be a great opportunity to realize the full power of sustainable urban delivery services like B-line. I am also happy to have USPS deliver my small packages and make special arrangements for larger packages. Many delivery vehicles are van-sized. Maybe the large UPS trucks aren’t that great anyway. UPS is always talking about their e-bikes and partnering with cities. Here is their chance in a major US city. https://about.ups.com/us/en/our-stories/innovation-driven/lessons-from-the-e-bike-journey-of-ups.html
  3. The last 10 or so feet next to the passoire should probably be no-parking, so that some trucks and cars can turn around.
  4. Just like I don’t go to small intimate gatherings or crowded public places wearing a huge inflatable Sumo wrestler suit. I probably shouldn’t expect a dense urban environment to accommodate my monster truck.
  5. There are people way smarter than me that have figured these things out in other places, I an sure that people in Portland can too. I can’t wait to hear other people’s solutions. It will be so amazing!
EP
EP
1 year ago
Reply to  Stone

The garbage thing is amazing to observe on each block. We’ve got the bigger can, but rarely fill it and could probably use the smaller one. BUT, I’m slowly fixing up our house so the added yearly cost for the big bin offsets the cost of a dump run. I’m amazed on trash day to see so many neighbors’ cans overflowing. Like, what are they buying and using and constantly trashing?! Some weeks I don’t bother to put out the compost or recycling as they’re barely half full. My neighbor puts their recycle bin out religiously, one time I had some overflow so used their bin and all that was in it was ONE piece of junk mail! I imagine the day where the garbage truck goes down the block, but there aren’t any bins out, so we’re all spared the 6:30am cacophony of bins being lifted, dumped, and dropped.

I feel like the Japanese are better at this whole using less and being restrained thing than we could ever be, sadly.

John
John
1 year ago

This is absolutely a good idea, but PBOT et al have been hesitant to even put down temporary barriers for this. This is (traffic wise) functionally no different from putting down a few concrete barriers. They’ve done some of that but they’re pretty rare. They should be everywhere but the fact that they’re not makes me pessimistic that something like these passoire’s will be built instead.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Back in the 80s PBOT experimented with retrofitted cul-de-sacs in Sullivan’s Gulch next to 28th. They’re still there.

In the 1960 through 80s several Oregon counties including Multnomah and Washington experimented with superblocks in the unincorporated urban parts of the counties, building neighborhoods around a school and/or park at the center, then having dead-end streets radiating out, with the only through-connectivity along main stroads at the edges of the superblocks. East Portland has a whole bunch.

Douglas K.
Douglas K.
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

The big mistake with those superblocks was a lack of connecting pedestrian shortcuts between all the dead-end streets and cut-de-sacs. All they needed were a few six-foot walkways between property lines.

It would cost a fortune to retrofit East Portland to make most of it walkable now.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Douglas K.

And instead of doing this necessary work, PBOT is building expensive new Neighborhood Greenway routes because they are too cowardly to install dirt-cheap diverters on an existing Neighborhood Greenways (that has >2000 vpd).

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  John

So true… I think a lot about the struggles of PBOT, hence all of the banana-talk. But, I believe the stage is set for PBOT to do something big instead of only the piece meal projects. I think the key is to give everybody something that is very tangible, evenly distributed, And implemented as “all-at-once” as possible in a given neighborhood, so that people don’t feel like they are being left out. If this is piloted well in one neighborhood, then people in other neighborhoods will be demanding sacs de liberte.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Stone

But, I believe the stage is set for PBOT to do something big instead of only the piece meal projects

The stage is set: bicycle mode share has collapsed and the political cachet of cycling is at generational lows.

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Exactly! This is the perfect time to try something new.

This is about so much more than riding bikes. Bikes help to make this possible, but the real breakthrough here is creating a more peaceful, enjoyable, vibrant city.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Stone

Why would a PBOT planner/engineer seriously consider pervasive diversion when their job depends on the priorities of political leadership who are not at all interested in diversion? Case in point: city-council approved policy recommends diversion in many neighborhood greenway locations (>1500 VPD) but PBOT has gone to ridiculously extremes and expensive lengths to avoid installing diversion.

My point is not to pooh-pooh your plan but to suggest that implementation is a political struggle rather than a “propose solutions to receptive PBOT staff” struggle. If Portlanders really want to see this city stop being such an SUV-centric city then they will have to stop electing conservative business-as-usual commissioners (not holding my breath.)

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

I hear you. I also think that politics is a huge factor. So many great PBOT plans have been left on the shelf because of attempts to manage public pressure, real or imagined. It really is the common factor that would explain the Frankenstein’s monster that is our current active transportation network.

This is a critical point. Politically speaking, a big transformative idea isn’t one hundred little ideas crammed together. Another bike lane, another greenway, another flashy light, as much as I love to see them, isn’t going to boost the political/ career aspirations of a council member or PBOT director.

But…. If Mingus Mapps and the new PBOT director implement this plan, they pretty much have a straight path to becoming the US Secretary of Transportation. If that is not their bag, then they would at least have a lifetime of international speaking engagements talking about how, against all odds, they transformed a major US city into one of the worlds most sustainable verdant places to live. Someone needs to have the heart to ask them “Do you really want to spend your life bickering over incremental changes for an unremarkable career in local or state politics, Or do you want to be on the world stage where you belong!?”

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Stone

“Do you really want to spend your life bickering over incremental changes for an unremarkable career in local or state politics, Or do you want to be on the world stage where you belong!?”

I guess I’m far too cynical to believe that this pitch will persuade our current crop of center-right and centrist commissioners. If things change in 2025 perhaps there will be an opportunity (but I am once again skeptical given the direction of demographic and political winds in this city).

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Stone

“So many great PBOT plans have been left on the shelf because of attempts to manage public pressure, real or IMAGINED.”

Example of how bad PBOT can be in that regard—at a meeting about a street project I was at, residents on the street were unanimous about what they wanted. Then a representative from a pedestrian coalition spoke strongly about what they wanted.

The PBOT staffperson said, “I have to be straight with you. You’re not both going to get what you want.”

Everyone responded, “But we both want the same thing!” Both “sides” had just finished telling him we were all in 100% agreement about what we ALL wanted. PBOT was managing public pressure that literally didn’t exist.

All the rest of you comment is also great.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  qqq

That is an amazing anecdote qqq. Totally tracks with my concerns about many PBOT staff and the general culture: They are so accustomed to playing defense that they have forgotten how to play offense. And we need more offense to move the needle! I wish they could have a leader that shakes them out of this self-defeating, low-confidence, “tradeoffs” culture, and pushes them into being proud of the goals and plans we’ve already adopted and trains them how to implement them more quickly and effectively.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago

 I wish they could have a leader that shakes them out of this self-defeating, low-confidence, “tradeoffs” culture, and pushes them into being proud of the goals and plans we’ve already adopted and trains them how to implement them more quickly and effectively.

This leader is at the mercy of local politics (see Leah Treat, for example). If you want a leader that is empowered to change PBOT’s culture then electing left-wing commissioners who are willing to take major transportation policy risks is a necessity.

Randi J
Randi J
1 year ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

“Left wing” leaders like Hardesty are the ones that got us into this mess Pierre.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  Randi J

Still with the Hardesty bashing? Whatever the problems are, they were well established long before I ever heard of JH, whose brief tenure on council and PBOT were long not enough to make much change for better or for worse.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Randi J

Hardesty is a capitalist through-and-through. Open your Overton window a little, Randi.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago

Fun to read and great idea! I think it is very important and appropriate to think about big, structural changes to respond to our dysfunctional transportation system and climate change. I am concerned that this would create winners and losers compared to our grid: Some blocks would become very quiet and calm, others would have their street transformed into a windy route that would likely be more dangerous than the grid it replaced (more concentrated traffic). I love the distribution of green spaces throughout the city, and encouraging the ROW to be used for more/better uses than shuffling cars

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

Great point about winners and losers. Some neighborhoods would be easier to design than others. I picked this 5 X 10 grid in NE because it seemed challenging. I think the deeper you have to go into the grid from the arterial the more complicated it gets. It is actually a fun puzzle to try to figure out how to distribute the protected intersections. I am sure a lot of people could do a better job than me picking the right intersections. You could also have a lot more flexibility if you could take out a whole block. This may be possible in neighborhoods with alleys that go to the backs of houses.

Our current grid seems kind of equitable in it’s design but if we looked at traffic patterns we would see losers and bigger losers. This new design would not be able to create the same street pattern for every house, but overall it should decrease the quantity of car traffic. The key is that no street would go all the way through to another arterial. Some streets would collect for more houses, but this should be less overall car traffic if designed well. For example, take NE 7th, this is a residential street that has been taken over by cut through cars. If there was a filtered intersection on NE 7th (like PBOT previously proposed), the traffic volumes would drop dramatically. We could start by making streets like NE 7th the streets that would collect for more houses than others. It would be a huge improvement over current conditions for those residents without increasing traffic on other streets.

It would also increase the quality of car traffic by cutting down on “anonymous” car traffic. I imagine most people would drive more responsibly if everyone knew who they were, where they lived and saw them driving everyday.

Thanks for bring up equitable distribution.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  Stone

I’d happily move to a neighborhood laid out like your example. Whatever its issues might be I could deal with them.

However, I’d settle for a neighborhood where any motor vehicle path from border to border required at least one turn. A resident would have multiple ways out and would soon find the quickest.

A good filter design would ensure that not everyone selects the same path.

Matt P
Matt P
1 year ago

I like the idea but would be worried about them becoming “camping” sites.

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt P

If Wheeler sticks to his guns, and makes the city much more hostile to “camping”, that should only be a short-term concern.

I am entirely on board of helping those who are less fortunate in our community, however, at this point a very large population of the homeless who are occupying our city have come here from all across the country.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  Anonymous

“… have come here from all across the country.”

How do you know that?

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  X

By asking them?

80% of homeless people reported being from somewhere else (which I’d expect… many folks are). Of those, a bit over 45% reported being homeless when the got here, a number that increased to nearly 70% of homeless folks who had been here less that 2 years.

https://www.multco.us/file/124083/download

Stephen
Stephen
1 year ago

This is a great idea but likely only theoretical at this time. It wasn’t too long ago that PBOT wanted to install just one of these along NE 7th at Two Plum Park and that was shot down by the community. Also, in the example that you give above, there will be residents whose house is right at the entrance to your mini-car accesible areas, for instance 11th and Beech in your sketch. They will say that 11th isn’t actual that bad right now and you’re going to make it worse by focusing the traffic through there. Do I agree? No, but this will be an area of contention that haunts this approach unfortunately.

I’m in SW and cut-through traffic makes our streets way worse than 11th and Beech. Over 4,000 cars per day are on SW 35th south of Multnomah Blvd (a massive pedestrian and bike route due to steep hills and disconnected grid) and there aren’t even sidewalks for us on that street! We don’t even need these beautiful landscapes areas. We just need PBOT to drop off four big boulders in strategic places to block cut-through car traffic. I won’t hold my breath. This seems impossible to make happen.

D2
D2
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen

At first I agree with your sentiment about the street that gets the shirt end of the stick. However, if I look at my own street and the traffic volume it seems about 75% is passing through and does not live nearby. In at least my area the entry road would be the same if not better.

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  Stephen

Dude, I know, the Two Plum Park super sac was ahead of its time. A lot of the community opposition to that was from neighboring streets worried about their streets getting overflow from NE 7th. This kind of opposition has been a huge obstruction to car traffic calming projects all over the city. I could see how taking small steps, or in this case testing out one street at a time seems like the safe bet from PBOT’s purview. But, I think that these incremental focused changes fail because all the people on surrounding streets who are scared they are going to lose something outnumber the people who may benefit. Its counterintuitive, but it may be more palatable to residents to have a big comprehensive plan that gives everyone something.

The point about 11th is a good one, and I think that is where knowing the data about current car traffic would help guide placement. The approach could be to shoot for a net decrease of car traffic on all streets.

I hope you get some relief from the ridiculous amount of cars on your street.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago

I’ve always loved things like public stairs, pedestrian bridges, etc. because they create routes that aren’t available if you’re driving. They feel special. I really like that about these, too, along with their obvious impact on through-traffic of vehicles. They also make biking or walking a faster, more convenient alternative than driving in many cases.

They also mean kids walking or biking to school, for instance, could use a route comprised mainly or entirely of dead-end (for vehicles) streets, so much safer.

They could even be extended beyond the intersection in many places, since vehicles don’t necessarily need to drive all the way to the intersections. Houses on the corners of these passoirs only need vehicle access from one frontage, not both. On their non-driveway side, their whole frontage could become part of the passoir.

jakeco969
jakeco969
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

I think the overall idea is excellent as well and as far as the public stairs and ped bridges they sound like a lot of fun if they can be kept ADA compliant.

Myth Dispulsion
Myth Dispulsion
1 year ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Same with tunnels and underpasses. So long as there’s not too far or long a diversion, cyclists will also appreciate ramps, and beginners and casual cyclists (and those carrying loads) will like the lower ADA limit gradients.

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

Yes! Reading this comment reminded me about how much I have always loved the small “hidden” passages in cities and neighborhoods. Something huge that we have lost, or maybe was stolen from us by traffic engineers, is place-making in the urban landscape. Streets packed with cars are so boring and uninteresting, but a couple of trees, an interesting bush or flowers, filtered sunlight, a view that changes at a walking pace, a secluded path in the middle of a busy city, these things are so mentally stimulating and inspiring.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

What will stop motorcycles (crotch rockets) from passing thru these passoires?

Zach
Zach
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

Nothing, but they’re a small percentage of the motorized vehicles on the road.

JAM
JAM
1 year ago

Fun article and great idea!

As we know, PBOT has faced an uphill battle when trying to install diverters, which function very similarly to the passoire. But the big difference is that a “diverter” is something for people on bikes, a “passoire” can be for everyone, a new feature in the neighborhood for greenspace, calm, respite, beauty, etc.

I look at places like Klickitat between NE 14th and Irving Park, or the Sabin Community Orchard along Mason between NE 19th and 20th. I guarantee that there is almost unanimous support for these wonderful neighborhood assets, and many of the same people that enjoy them would be up in arms against the placement of a “diverter” that serves a similar transportation function.

I know that quick and cheap has been the mantra of PBOT as of late, but I think in some cases, it would really behoove them to build something more like these, a true neighborhood amenity that has a variety of functions and can be attractive to everyone.

dw
dw
1 year ago
Reply to  JAM

The idea of community gardening space in these upgraded intersections is really seductive too. Many community gardens around the city have big waiting lists, so adding more community planting space could be a way to sell the idea to residents.

Myth Dispulsion
Myth Dispulsion
1 year ago
Reply to  dw

Also, really, truly to put the “cul” in “cul de sac,” give the barrier plenty of verticality, with trees, six foot or higher fences with ivy or (watch those passage sides with thorns) berries, etc., if not a bit of wall building with planting. Then include the small passages you need or have a large passage with a pass-through barrier that admits bikes. Could be double concave (slightly curbed, partial bulb) in profile to permit U-turns and to support more play in the street; kids like using those wider bulb areas.

It’s not just to keep high-clearance and other motor vehicles from running over curbs, wheel stops, plus grass and maybe low bushes, but to achieve the desired visual effect that says “end,” not just “barrier” or “diversion.”

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

I typically find a good portion of the content on the site to be short-sighted and cotton-headed, but this is an absolute all-star idea that I hope gains traction. I know I will happily champion it at any opportunity.

I’m no saint. I may drive 5 over on some of the main throughfairs when traffic is light, and certainly over that on the freeway, but speeding on small residential streets makes my blood boil. Not only does residential speeding reduce livability for residents, but also dramatically increases the probability of killing or maiming a member of the neighborhood who is simply trying to enjoy their space and community, much less a child.

I think it’s also very likely that this filter would also filter out some levels of criminal behaviors.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
1 year ago
Reply to  Anonymous

So you are perfectly happy to exceed the speed limit where you don’t live but in your neighborhood speeding makes your blood boil. This selfish behavior seems cotton-headed to me.

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

I stated ‘on residential streets’ not MY neighborhood.

Either your reading comprehension is lacking, or you are being disingenuous.
Either way, not my problem.

I'll Show UP
I'll Show UP
1 year ago

It’s a nice idea, but I see some big issues.

Who is going to take care of all this green space? Everything around here is overgrown and there doesn’t seem to be a plan to take care of the planting we have. It’s a sweet idea to have neighbors take care of things, but it needs to be something that works for the long term, after the engaged folks move or pass on. Have you noticed how the traffic roundabouts on neighborhood streets look?

I like the idea of a lot of diversion. But, that example above would be tough. For example, if I live on NE Mason between 11th and 9th, what would my path home be? I get that this map is not a developed proposal, but it’s still there so I’m asking the question.

Could these work in East Portland or other areas that have high equity concerns? Maybe some, but it would spend a lot of money in the more well-to-do areas and not really work in East Portland or Southwest because they don’t have a grid

What would you do with all of the pipes and underground cables that run through intersections?

All of the tracks that you show would allow for cars to drive through. Wide enough for two tricycles to pass each other is wide enough to use as a car driver.

The idea is nice and the goals are great. But, it seems really hard to implement at any consistent scale and in a way that is consistent with equity goals.

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  I'll Show UP

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Who is going to take care of all this green space?
I hope that a mix of PP&R, as a backstop, and resident volunteers or city-wide organized volunteer groups could keep them in good shape. If this was my street, I would really want this and would be extremely motivated to maintain it. It should probably be planned as if there are no volunteers- there may be budget savings from not having to maintain the asphalt intersections that are replaced.
As opposed to the traffic roundabouts, I anticipate that people would feel greater ownership of these spaces because they can occupy them and enjoy them.

Getting to NE Mason between 9th and 11th you would take 10th from Prescott.

Could these work in East Portland or other areas that have high equity concerns? 
I haven’t looked at every neighborhood in Portland, but it would be fun to see the challenges of each area. There may be some neighborhoods that don’t have the same issue with cut-through car traffic, and it wouldn’t make sense to use this strategy in those places. However, some of these areas are already lacking in walking and biking infrastructure. Traffic calming infrastructure like this would be a huge improvement and may be cheaper/ easier/ faster than laying down all of the sidewalks that they need.

What would you do with all of the pipes and underground cables that run through intersections?
Great question. I imagine they would be the same. I have wondered about this too and thought that it may be easier if they didn’t have to cut up pavement every time there need to be repairs or modifications.

All of the tracks that you show would allow for cars to drive through.
Bollards!

I believe this design is more amenable to equity goals than our current design. But… so many more details need to be considered. I love thinking about this stuff when I am out biking or walking. Thanks again for moving the discussion along and indulging me.

EP
EP
1 year ago

I’ve often thought about how PBOT could break up the grid with diverters and replacing intersections with parks in a sort of Ladds-like way. I think they could get more buy-in by starting these programs in the neighborhoods that suffer from a lot of cut-through near major intersections. Once people can’t cut the corners anymore, you roll out the program further.

Of course, in the short term people will complain about all the usual issues of losing parking, ease of access, emergency vehicles, and such. But, in the long-term, people will seek out the blocks that have been calmed like this. Once grandma moves out and stops complaining, someone will move in who LOVES where they live. I feel this way about a lot of recent infrastructure changes. There’s a very vocal group that’s on their way out, and they don’t realize the next group that’s coming up will appreciate all these changes.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  EP

I agree, and also think lots of people would be excited from the outset if their street were considered for this.

Another way of looking at it–what would people who live on dead ends think if plans were proposed to connect the dead end through to another street? Based on what happened in my neighborhood, where that actually was proposed, there’d be 100% vocal opposition. Once people experience having the total vehicle traffic be a few cars per day (depending how far you are from the end of the dead end) they will oppose increasing it to hundreds or more, even if it would mean their drive to work or the store gets a bit shorter.

cct
cct
1 year ago

Am I the only one who initially thought the first vowel was an ‘I’ and thought “what, we don’t already?”

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  cct

Ha! Will definitely need to clarify for French tourists : )

Tyler
Tyler
1 year ago

Some great ideas here, finding more beauty in the city and making travel safer for all would be amazing. This would have an amazing impact on the quaintness, the environment and could serve a lot of good. Roadways can and should be built better, we need a total revolution in the road network.

However the key hurdle here is funding and since all roadway funding comes from car fees and gasoline tax, we would be asking cars and drivers therein to yet again pay for something that only really supports bicyclists and pedestrians travel and also change/take away part of a multi-trillion dollar asset (road network) those drivers paid into for decades without funding support from other roadway users.

Many people are often confused with this fact and believe their property, other taxes or federal govt support the roadway, but the reality is the general fund rarely ever support transportation of any means unless it’s a one off project…and in those cases the maintenance funding for what was created is then handled by the transportation funds aka vehicles taxes and gasoline taxes. Take the new bike/ped bridges built downtown, amazingly beautiful and functional yet there is no funding to maintenance these assets…the cost for these wil be millions of dollars to maintain. So where does this funding come from? It’s comes from drivers and vehicles and take funds from the same funds that maintain the safety of the road.

So this ask, like all funding that comes from transportation funds without replacement, then inevitably makes roadways much less safe. In the end, a project meant to improve transportation safety often ends up costing elsewhere usually in poorer and/or areas already suffering less maintenance and we haven’t even got to how we would maintain these green spaces and those costs.

What we need before any of this makes any sense, is a funding source for the bike and ped community so we can build ideas like these and contribute to the road network,.hopefully with the idea that we can change the old network to something much better to service the community but to do this we all need to be supporting transportation with real dollars.

EP
EP
1 year ago
Reply to  Tyler

I pay yearly vehicle registration fees and taxes. I navigate our streets on foot, by bike, on public transit, and in a motor vehicle. I expect all these modes of transportation to “work” and keep getting better and be maintained and generally make my life better. Instead, one of those modes gets way too big a share of my fee dollars, the rest end up fighting for the remaining pennies, then have to make compromises, and my life doesn’t get any better.

This idea would directly benefit all people living in a neighborhood, not just bikes & pedestrians passing through. The homeowners and bikers and walkers in the neighborhood also often own vehicles and pay into the same system. They also pay federal taxes, which often actually help pay for the majority of large infrastructure projects. “But what about maintenance?!” It would likely be low-cost and minimal. I think neighbors would gladly adopt an intersection if the city went broke. Who adopts the maintenance of a highway bridge if the system runs out of money?

Let’s spend less money on incredibly expensive highway projects that mainly benefit drivers just passing through, and instead improve the livability of whole neighborhoods and quadrants of our city for the people that actually live there.

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  Tyler

Thanks for bringing up funding. It is, of course, a crucial part of this. I would be interested to see if something like this could attract some funding from outside the city coffers, and if ultimately, the cost of maintenance would be less than our current road maintenance costs. I also think this cost could be spread across budgets outside of PBOT. It is not my area, but I would be surprised if there weren’t philanthropic or federal grants that could help get things off the ground.

As to your point that this is cyclist/ ped infra that is being paid for by drivers, I actually think of this as primarily improving the quality of life at the hyper local level by creating peaceful streets. The benefits to transportation would be amazing, but a quiet street is something that the most ardent NIMBY could love- directing their powerful NIMBYness toward dangerous cut through traffic, heat islands and underutilized spaces that could be shaded by trees and have a small garden.

Chris P
Chris P
1 year ago

Allez! Allez!

Stone
Stone
1 year ago

I am so grateful for the people who took the time to read the essay. Fantastic feedback and troubleshooting. When I hear new ideas, I tend to be very critical and focus on feasibility, all of the things that can go wrong and I try to find the fatal flaws as quickly as possible so I don’t waste my time. The hurdles that readers have pointed out are great to consider and work through.

But, before we move on, I hope everyone also had the chance to engage the imaginative part of their minds and see the city through a new more vital lens. I have really enjoyed riding and walking around, or just looking down my street, and envisioning a transformed landscape; not only seeing it, but feeling the openess and peace that comes with fewer cars and hearing all of the sounds that are usually drowned out by car noise.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago

re-reading the comment’s about this, I think an added recommendation would be that this plan and on-going maintenance should be undertaken by a bureau that is NOT PBOT. I get that this is a transportation issue, and PBOT would definitely need to play an active role on the Technical Advisory Committee, but PBOT had repeatedly demonstrated that they cannot plan, design, implement or maintain anything that is not a traffic lane. That zero-ed 100% of their budget for maintaining greenspaces that they had designed and built within the past 10 years- just walked away from them! And look at 7th Ave- they cannot run a public process. At the first hint of pushback, they blew up the process, ran a separate, rushed side process with a special interest group of local business owners claiming to speak for Black Portlanders, then enacted the plan with re-engaging the public. It was inept and bad faith all around. And it included an “option” that is not feasible (bisecting a cherished park with a bike road). As part of their botching of 7th, they also ignored neighborhood pleas and removed a tree and reduced pedestrian space by running a bike lane across a curb extension. By contrast, PP&R has gotten very effective at public outreach that engages broad and deep samples of constituents. PP&R also values greenspace, places for people, and sustainability. Anyway, my point is that this plan would be more likely to be successful if the planning and design was led by PP&R, with PBOT as a key constituent, along with BES, and a series of public advisory committees.

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

MaxD, we are totally on the same page. The funding and the management could span multiple bureaus. Others have raised concerns about the implementation cost, which is fair, when the PBOT budget is on the ropes. But, we should think beyond the local tax payer base to federal grant funding. It seems like a well developed pilot program would be bold and exciting enough to attract federal and philanthropic grants.

With Buttegieg as the secretary of transportation, frequently speaking on vision zero and the pedestrian fatality crisis, now is the time to strike. Even better, because these are multi-purpose spaces, other routes of funding could be explored.

PP&R, like you mention, would be a great bureau to manage them long term and ideally would be able to play a supervisory role for many that are maintained by the local neighbors and volunteers. They could more directly manage the ones where there aren’t volunteers, so that it doesn’t become a situation where affluent neighborhoods passoires are kept up and others become overgrown. I don’t think this would be the case but others have raised this concern. BES would definitely play a role in making sure that they are optimum for storm water drainage.

Perhaps another bureau that should chip is the PPB. They seem to have a lot of extra cash. A rudimentary network of protected intersections would provide more traffic control and speed reduction in a couple days than a year of enforcement.

Hopefully, this type of cross bureau management will be improved with a city manager and a more cooperative, representative city council.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  maxD

The “bike infrastructure” you mention on NE 7th is generally ignored by everyone. It’s the ultimate signature piece of PBOT’s bike dreaming: disconnected, confusing and a waste of good materials.

It’s too damn bad about the tree. I don’t like those bubble things and would never approve one but given that there was a tree on it I’d have to see a MUCH better design before removing an established tree.

There’s typically a motor vehicle parked at the outlet of the stubby N bound bike lane on NE 7th. Bike lane ends, abruptly. It’s like having a freeway that narrows to one lane and has a stoplight. Who does that?

Dan Packard
Dan Packard
1 year ago

Brilliant!

Randi J
Randi J
1 year ago

The “low hanging fruit” for improving traffic safety in Portland is to resume police officer traffic enforcement. Yes we need traffic cameras and better infrastructure but that will take YEARS to develop. Let’s get back to being a normal city where there are consequences if you don’t adhere to our social contract.

qqq
qqq
1 year ago
Reply to  Randi J

This passoir idea goes way beyond just improving traffic safety. Depending on what street someone lived on, and how close to the vehicular dead end created, it would reduce vehicle counts from several hundred down to just a few, with no through traffic.

Having hundreds of cars drive past your home daily doesn’t compare in livability to having just a few, even if every one of the hundreds is driving perfectly legally.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  qqq

It would also great increase traffic for some, creating winners and losers.

Stone
Stone
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I think this could be done without increasing traffic for anyone. Many neighborhood grids aren’t as large as the example I gave, which wouldn’t require a “collector.” The limitation was placing the passoires where they are not adjacent to each other. In the example neighborhood I gave, NE 7th is a major cut-through traffic street. Instead of having the larger collector on 11th, it could be on 7th. This would be a huge improvement for 7th. Also, it is not just quantity, it is quality. Having neighbors driving on the streets where they know each other should, in many cases, lead to better stewardship and behavior.
Full disclosure, I threw the map together pretty quickly without looking at different options. I bet it could be planned in a much better way.

Randy Haj
Randy Haj
1 year ago

Fantastic– thank you Stone!