Collision spurs vision for carfree plaza on NE 21st Circle

(Graphic by Xavier Stickler)

The collision that sent a person on a bike flying into the air continues to reverberate through Portland transportation advocacy circles. While the video and details of the crash were removed from BikePortland by request of the victim (I have reached out to the victim’s friend to ask if they’d reconsider and have yet to hear back), many who saw it feel compelled to act.

Yesterday I reported on a new, anonymous group of tactical urbanists who placed unsanctioned concrete blocks at the juncture of that collision where Northeast 20th and 21st merge. Now another one of Portland’s independent activists has a plan for changes in this area.

Remember Xavier Stickler? He’s the young Portland State University architecture and urban planning student who had the vision to create a plaza on SW Oak between Burnside and 10th. He also showed amazing dedication and persistence to actually make the dream a reality and now that small block across from Powells Books — that used to be a slip lane for car users — is a popular place to sit and eat and enjoy downtown vibes.

When Stickler saw that bike rider get hit last week, he saw another opportunity to create a more people-centered intersection. Stickler’s proposal is to make the short block of NE 21st Circle between Pacific Street and 20th/21st Avenue carfree and turn it into a public plaza when the block gets redeveloped.

“I cannot say this would’ve prevented that wreck, but the roadway simply shouldn’t be there. It’s a bad intersection.” Stickler wrote to BikePortland in an email with a one-pager of his proposal.

His idea is simple: Prohibit car users from driving on NE 21st Circle and turn it into a pedestrian-only plaza.

Here’s more from the one-pager Stickler has sent around to PBOT staff, advocacy group BikeLoud PDX, and the Kerns Neighborhood Association:

“Following a viral wreck between a car that careened into the cycle track of the NE 21st Viaduct above I-84 and a person riding a bike, community members have found themselves questioning how to prevent a similar tragedy. One aspect of the solution should include the permanent pedestrianization of NE 21st Circle. It is 20th Ave that functions as the extension of the 21st viaduct. NE 21st Circle instead carries a bi-directional cycle track and only 1 lane of northbound vehicle traffic, creating an unnecessary intersection in front of the historic Fire Alarm Telegraph building. The vestigial roadway remains open to traffic despite not serving a clear purpose in the overall traffic flow of the area. Vehicles attempting to travel north could just as easily turn west onto NE Pacific and then north onto 20th with only a few seconds added to their trip. This intersection adds extraneous space dedicated to vehicles and a confusing ancillary intersection, compromising the safety of all users and mode shares. NE 21st Circle should be outright removed from the automotive infrastructure grid.”

Instead of an unneeded lane for drivers, Sticker sees a plaza that could have food carts, host community gatherings, display public art, and more. It makes even more sense, he says, given the imminent redevelopment of the adjacent Sunshine Dairy block that will soon be redeveloped with 200+ units of housing.

So far he hasn’t heard anything official from PBOT or anyone else about the proposal. We’ll keep you posted.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Liz
Liz
8 months ago

Functionally, this driving route is already cut off right now due to construction. I live nearby and used to use the cut through. Now, I cannot. Why not keep it that way after construction? Love this idea and would be happy to support it to bring a new area to hang out to my neighborhood!

Max S (Wren)
Max S (Wren)
8 months ago

This seems like a noisy place for a pedestrian plaza.

My pipe dream (which is high on my list of “things that would be really cool but we can’t really justify prioritizing funds for right now”) is that Portland caps its freeways. But even if that isn’t viable, I wonder if partially capping the freeway by widening the 21st Ave overpass north and south would be viable way of making that area more pleasant.

blumdrew
blumdrew
8 months ago
Reply to  Max S (Wren)

Portland should cap freeways, and start with 405 (from at least Taylor to Couch). I’m less sure about I-84, it’s just so wide and there would potentially be issues with UPRR as well.

Either way, agree that this is a noisy place for a plaza, though it still may see a fair bit of use. I had friends who lived in a big new build nearby, and I think they would have gone there for food carts/chilling if it were an option. Being north of Sandy and south of 84 near there really isn’t great, and there isn’t much to do without crossing a major barrier.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago

Considering how close this development is to an air-toxic-spewing freeway, it’s probably a good idea to limit time outside and to use HEPA-filter air purifiers when indoors.

HEPA air cleaners in this trial reduced geometric mean PM2.5 concentrations in the child’s sleeping area and home living room by an estimated 60 and 42% respectively, comparable to reductions observed in urban-based studies of HEPA

https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-021-00816-w

… in which air purifiers were used during all hours whilst at home (15.6 h) for the entirety of the modelled period (birth to 97 years), was to increase life expectancy in the birth cohort by, on average, 138 and 120 days for males and females, respectively…

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1352231022003764

The city’s policy of intentionally clustering new rental housing in areas with high-levels of air-toxics is outrageous and fundamentally immoral.

Charley
Charley
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

Yeah but have you heard about the chemical endocrine disruptors found in native Amazon rainforest peoples??!????!!!!

Will
Will
8 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

You said this about the Bear Blocks proposal. Remember, consistent messaging is important.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
8 months ago
Reply to  Will

You are, of course, correct that my post was inconsistent.
Providing HEPA filtration and upzoning for low income housing everywhere might be a way to mitigate this inconsistency.

Max S (Wren)
Max S (Wren)
8 months ago

Look I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, just that the presence of the freeway will definitely make it less than ideal.

Either way I think closing the intersection is a good idea, and turning that street into a cul-de-sac will definitely lend itself naturally to pedestrian use.

Adam Leyrer
Adam Leyrer
8 months ago

I think I agree with Maus on this point that the pedestrian plaza would be welcomed and well-used by many, but does anyone else feel the weight of an unnecessary obligation to sell the beauty, practicality, and economic return of alternative uses every time we want to retire a stretch of dangerous asphalt? You could replace NE 21st Circle with a pile of garbage set alight and it would be an improvement. I appreciate it when people who have better instincts and imaginations than I reclaim dangerous ground and replant it to yield a harvest, but in the long-term I hope public sentiment warms to the reality that lying fallow is also a justified improvement.

Watts
Watts
8 months ago

“Or want to hang out on their shared “front porch””

Do people in large apartment buildings actually do this?

Max S (Wren)
Max S (Wren)
8 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

If we ever do get around to capping Portland’s freeways, the places I want to start are a few blocks of I-405 and the stretch of I-5 between Ainsworth and Killingsworth (chosen because that stretch has no on/off ramps).

I agree the Banfield would be more difficult, but…maybe the area between the 12th Ave overpass and the Blumenauer bridge? Something to connect Kerns with the Lloyd District?

maxD
maxD
8 months ago

A plaza seems like a nice amenity for nearby residents, and the proposed new buildings seem like enough reason to convert this street to a plaza. But what does this do for cycling? Take the google image with a grain of salt- it claims NE 28th has dedicated bike lanes- but even if this is OVER-estimating the bike infrastructure, it is clear that the lonely bike lanes on this bridge are isolated from any meaningful bike network. Lets extend those buffered bike lanes from SE Harrison to NE Tillamook as a start. This plaza seems like great news, but it does not seem like bike-related news.

Screenshot 2023-09-13 143401.jpg
Max S (Wren)
Max S (Wren)
8 months ago
Reply to  maxD

Well, two things come to mind:

  1. Closing the street entirely gives planners much more freedom to design a fully protected bike lane that will prevent a collision if a driver takes the corner too wide. Leaving the street open would require planners keep enough of an opening for cars to make it through. And if you are going to close off the intersection, that’s going to leave a short stub street that could probably be put to better use than parking for four cars.
  2. In the picture you included it’s only a short distance from this intersection to the routes on Glisan and 24th. Plus, a lot of the other streets in the area are low-speed residential/commercial side streets, which are pretty good for casual cyclists even if they aren’t marked as bikeways. The options for crossing 84 are much more limited, and this makes it safer for people who chose this bridge.
Steve
Steve
8 months ago
Reply to  maxD

At the north end, the bike lanes connect via Multnomah to the bike network in the Lloyd District.

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
8 months ago

Great use of the term “vestigial”, as in vestigial roadway segment!

ALT LOCATION
How about shifting the “plaza” to the south side of the telegraph building on NE Pacific street…as this would be further away from the I-84 road sewer noise and allow for a better placemaking synergy on two sides with building frontages [Dairy Apts and the Fire Alarm Telegraph (‘F.A.T.’) building]? This of course would require permission from both property owners per limiting access. This would definitely add value to the FAT building…food trucks in its loading bay, etc.

[On Google Streetview – 2019 – the Sunshine Dairy office is inside the FAT building, but I doubt they are there anymore…not sure who is using that space?]

Citylover
Citylover
8 months ago

This is right by my house. There is hardly any foot traffic there and lots of super shady characters. I don’t know how healthy a plaza would be there. Lots of not great activity would need to be replaced with hyper busy eyes on the street to make it work. There’s no commercial activity.