For today only you can feel what it’s like to ride on Southwest Broadway without the threat of someone opening a car door into you, or someone parking in the bike-only lane, or someone squeezing you into parked cars. (Sorry I can’t promise you won’t be right-hooked before you get there.) That’s because a trio of “tactical urbanists” have come together to create a temporary protected bike lane between Salmon and Taylor, just outside the doors of the Hilton Hotel where a smart growth conference is taking place.
“Pop-up designs are such a good concept because they allow cities to use advocates to their advantage and get public buy-in.”
— Ken Synder, Place Matters
For Ken Snyder with Denver-based Place Matters, a 10-year old “think tank for civic engagement,” this project was a chance to try pop-up placemaking in a new city. He conspired on the project with local planning consultant Nick Falbo of Alta Planning and Portland’s Better Block PDX. Snyder connected with Falbo after being inspired by his concept for “protected intersections” that’s sweeping the nation. This morning Snyder told me he was impressed with how the City of Portland not only sanctioned the project by helping with permits, but the transportation bureau even did media outreach. “I’ve never seen a city contact the press for us like that,” he said. “We had two TV crews here this morning.”
As with the Better Naito project last summer, the City of Portland embraces these projects because they allow activists to make tangible the things they themselves are too afraid to try. Or, as Snyder puts it. “Pop-up designs are such a good concept because they allow cities to use advocates to their advantage and get public buy-in.” Beyond the political implications of demonstrating what’s possible on our streets, this project has practical goals. (Come to think of it, maybe we should call this stuff “practical urbanism”.)
Planning visionary Nick Falbo said he’s eager to test how various materials work for “rapidly deploying bike lanes and cross-walks.” In use today is a roll of roofing tar paper that’s been painted green. The surface became slippery as rain fell this morning and we watched one man fall over as he tried to pedal up the road. Falbo and Snyder swung into action and pulled up some duct tape that proved to be the culprit. “To be able to roll this out quickly is very exciting,” said Falbo. “What we’re learning today could inform the summer season for Better Block.”
While this temporary bikeway might seem like a one-off, there’s momentum on several fronts that could equal more permanent and more frequent projects like this in the future. Better Block has inked a big partnership with Portland State University to institutionalize their exciting methods, and the City of Portland is planning a multi-million dollar project for real protected bike lanes in the central city (the 10-cent gas tax proposal would set aside another $3 million for it).
And on another level, every time we actively re-imagine our public space it normalizes what at first seems impossible. It’s hard to imagine using an entire blockface of a downtown auto parking lane for a bikeway, until you actually see it with your own eyes.
Speaking of parking spaces, one of the requirements Snyder and Falbo agreed to for their permit was paying for the eight parking spaces on the block. They cost $12 a piece for the day. Add in the $300 in supplies and $300 for the permit and the entire project still comes in well below $1,000. That’s what I call practical urbanism.
That’s cheaper than city-hosted public meetings and surveys. And it’s much cheaper than the status quo.
Roll over and have a look while you can. And when the time comes to support the permanent protected bikeway on Broadway, remember the feeling.
If you’d like to get more involved with Better Block PDX, don’t miss their season kickoff party on Thursday, February 18th at 6pm..
UPDATE, 1:15 pm: It appears that organizers have now taken up the green tar paper due to continued rain and concerns over the slick surface.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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