Portland tests crosswalks, bike lane and transit island to boost business

May 10, 2016

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer

A floating bus stop trial at NE 16th and Broadway, Portland.

Part of National Protected Bike Lane Week.

Portland, Oregon, is full of thriving retail corridors: 23rd Avenue, Alberta Street, Belmont Street and more. But nearly all of them have something in common: no more than two travel lanes.

Auto traffic on those streets moves slowly — and those streets are frequently packed with people walking, talking and shopping.

Inner Northeast Broadway isn’t like that. At least, it hasn’t been since July 10, 1960, when the city converted the street to three one-way travel lanes west of 24th Avenue. The extra passing lanes were intended to funnel traffic off the newly completed freeway into the city center. They did, transforming the former streetcar corridor and letting cars zoom through the longtime business district.

Image: Google Street View.

But a freeway-style Broadway hasn’t turned out to be great for business in the 21st century, some business owners say.

“We would really love to see the city address the pedestrian safety in our corridor, where it is three lanes of traffic that are pretty much going faster than the speed limit,” said Janet Takayama, general manager of Furever Pets at 1902 NE Broadway. “It’s hard for cars coming from the side streets to turn onto Broadway, even.”

So all this week, a coalition of businesses and residents is testing what it might look like to change the street again. Two community groups, the Broadway-Weidler Alliance and Northeast Broadway Business Association, teamed up with Better Block PDX for a one-week test that redesigned nearly a mile of the street with marked crosswalks, a handbuilt floating bus stop and extra sidewalk space for cafe seating. On the block with the bus stop, the design included a parking-protected bike lane.

The crosswalks were sponsored by AARP Oregon. A Chinese restaurant, a taco bar and a credit union bought sponsorships for temporary bike parking racks. Volunteers were still working through the week to tweak the designs, which were reviewed and approved by the city transportation bureau. City engineers, meanwhile, installed traffic-count tubes and travel-time detectors to collect data on the test.

Mike Chronister, vice president of the Northeast Broadway Business Association and manager of the Kitchen Kaboodle store at 1520 NE Broadway, said he welcomed the chance to see in real life what was possible on the street.

Mike Chronister of Kitchen Kaboodle and the Northeast Broadway Business Association.

“It’s exciting to see a change,” he said. “It’s really hard to visualize when someone is showing you a piece of paper.”

Chronister said that though it wouldn’t be good for Broadway to become “a parking lot,” he’d rather have slower-moving cars if that made the crosswalks more welcoming. It might also get more people to consider stopping their cars to patronize businesses instead of just cruising past.

“I think slowing down traffic is a good thing, because it gets people to see more,” Chronister said.

The Green Lane Project helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digest about protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write [email protected]

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