Portland State University will create a carfree plaza on the block of Southwest Montgomery Street between Broadway and 6th avenues. The plaza will be installed for the month of May and if all goes well, school officials hope it becomes permanent.
If this sounds familiar it’s because back in September 2017 — before the street reopened following development of the Karl Miller Center — we reported about how Montgomery is a natural place to create a plaza. Local civic booster and transportation reform advocate Tim Davis launched a mini-campaign to encourage PSU to prohibit driving access and open the block to other uses.
It’s not clear if PSU staff was directly influenced by Davis, but they’ve clearly embraced the idea. According to a statement released by the school yesterday, the Montgomery Pop-Up Plaza project will prohibit driving and parking on Montgomery for the entire month of May and, “transform this space into an outdoor campus public space for everyone to enjoy.” “This is a great opportunity for members of the PSU community to engage with the public realm and make this underutilized street at the heart of our campus into a more welcoming and inclusive place,” reads a PSU website devoted to the project.
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Ellen Shoshkes, PhD, is on the faculty of PSU’s Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning. She’s spearheading the project and is working with students to turn the block into a “living lab” by planning a myriad of activities throughout the month. Architecture students will build “street seats” where people currently park cars. May is Bike Month and Pride Month at PSU. Clint Culpepper with PSU’s Transportation & Parking Services says pride will be a big theme.
“The first thing people mention when they hear we’re blocking off the street is, ‘We should do that permanently.’”
— Clint Culpepper, PSU Transportation & Parking Services
Culpepper said in a phone interview this morning that he and other staffers hope the block will someday become a permanent carfree plaza. For now, the plan will be to block auto access with large planters (bicycle users will still be allowed to pass through) and create a large-scale, pride-themed painting on the street that will cover the entire block. “The street will appear quite different from Broadway and 6th. It will be a clear demarcation that this is not just a street for folks driving through; but that you’re meant to walk on it.”
In addition to the painting, street seats, and even opera performances, there will be a lighting project to activate the space after dark. Five street trees will be illuminated and cycle through different colors.
Feedback from student and staff surveys has been overwhelmingly positive, Culpepper says. “The first thing people mention when they hear we’re blocking off the street in May is, ‘We should do that permanently.’”
This section of Montgomery is surrounded on all sides by PSU campus buildings, but the right-of-way itself is owned by the City of Portland. Culpepper says they’re working closely with the Portland Bureau of Transportation to pull off the month-long project. With thousands of people walking and biking on the campus every day, Culpepper wants to make sure there’s no negative impacts to them or to drivers who need to pass through the campus.
“Hopefully this is a launching pad for an annual event,” Culpepper said. “If we can do that, then we can drum up support and financing to make it a permanent plaza.”
Stay tuned for more details as May approaches.
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