Better Block PSU: a Partnership Program

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Photos by Sam Balto, Greg Raisman, and Cait McCusker

Better Block PSU a partnership program between the volunteer-led group Better Block PDX and Portland State University - encouraging everyone to imagine what spaces could be when they are designed for people. Once a year local community partners submit their project ideas to be considered. These projects promote equitable placemaking, community building, and active transportation advocacy.

Integrated into PSU planning and engineering classes, PSU students support community members with the technical aspects of infrastructure improvements–elevating and materializing their ideas by developing plans, designs, and engineering concepts. It’s a shift from the status quo with a ground-up approach, and their transportation expertise can help community members in navigating the permit process or proposing informed solutions to the city.

CURRENT PROJECTS

These projects are currently engaged in a phase of the Better Block PSU project pathway.

PAST PROJECTS

We'll be sharing more about past projects and the positive impacts they've had on meeting community transportation needs, but you can download this report from Better Block PDX - recapping the project accomplishments and milestones from 2013 through 2018.

The partnership between Better Block PDX advocates and Portland State University students is most well known for the success story that is Better Naito in Portland, Oregon. In 2015 a group of PSU civil engineering students dedicated their Senior Capstone to re-designing this roadway to improve safe access for bicyclists and pedestrians. The students partnered with Better Block PDX to secure a $10,000 grant from Clif Bar and People for Bikes to help buy materials to install the pilot project. Fast forward to today, it is a full-fledged city project. See coverage of this evolving street transformation since 2015 on BikePortland.org.

HOW DOES THE PATHWAY PROGRAM WORK?

The Better Block PSU program is a set educational pathway that aligns with our transportation classes over the course of an academic year, and so we are only able to accept proposals once per year (~Feb - April). We get a large number of proposals, and are only able to accept 2 - 3 proposals per year.

Not all accepted proposals will go through all three phases of classes. Which phase(s) your project will undergo will be discussed upon acceptance. For an example, this is the 2021-22 schedule for the proposals that were accepted in Spring 2021:

  • Phase I: April-June 2021: The students in these courses will work with you to develop community engagement plans, activity monitoring, and data collection plans.
  • Phase II: September-December 2021: The students in these courses will work with you to develop existing conditions, design alternatives, and cost estimates.
  • Phase III: January 2022-June 2022: The students in these courses will work with you to develop and engineering plan that includes design alternatives, traffic control plan, and other materials that can assist with city permitting process.

HOW DO I GET INVOLVED?

Submit a proposal: We only accept proposals to the Better Block PSU program once per year in the Spring (~Feb - April). We receive a large number of proposals annually, and can only select a few projects. Join the email notification list for future RFPs.

Learn more about "pop-up projects": Better Block PDX created a handy visual guide to pop-up projects which you can download here.

Volunteer with Better Block PSU: We're currently seeking three transportation professionals to volunteer as 2021 Better Block Technical Advisors. Although classes begin April 1, 2021, we're still accepting inquiries on a rolling basis

THE PROGRAM PARTNERS

Portland State University

Through the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University, this program connects planning and engineering student expertise with community advocates. This exchange of knowledge is also an opportunity for students to tackle a real transportation and/or placemaking challenge in the local community. The Pathway program provides a practicum experience for PSU students, increases capacity for community organizations, and has been successful at influencing policy and leading to permanent changes in Portland’s streetscape — most notably the Better Naito project. A total of fifteen projects have been shepherded through the Pathway since 2015, including four that will be built in the first phase of the City of Portland’s Central City in Motion plan that kicked off in Summer 2019.

Better Block PDX

Better Block PDX is a volunteer-led effort encouraging everyone to imagine what spaces could be when they are designed for people. We partner with community organizations, Portland State University, Portland Bureau of Transportation, and you to create inviting and interactive places through tactical urbanism “pop-up” projects. "Most close watchers of the Portland transportation world have heard of Better Block PDX," BikePortland's Jonathan Maus wrote in February 28, 2019. Better Block PDX won the "Spirit of Portland" award in 2017.

THE PEOPLE

Program Staff

  • Hau Hagedorn, TREC Associate Director
  • Nora Stoelting, TREC Education Assistant

Better Block PDX Core Volunteers and Technical Advisors

  • Jessica Horning, Pedestrian & Bicycle Program Manager at Oregon Department of Transportation
  • Shilpa Mallem, Traffic Project Manager at HDR
  • Bryan Poole, Transportation Planner II at Portland Bureau of Transportation
  • Ryan Hashagen, Owner Founder at Icicle Tricycles
  • Gwen Shaw, Civil Engineer, Toole Design Group, LLC

PSU Faculty and Class Instructors

Additional PSU faculty, staff and students have supported the class projects over the years. The current core faculty leading the classes include:

PSU Students: Engineering and Planning

Civil engineering and urban planning students have helped to shape many of the inspiring ideas from the community, given form and function for real world application. Many of those alumni are now transportation professionals in the Portland Metropolitan area! Learn more about studying transportation at Portland State University.

Better Block PSU Project team members, community partners and volunteers

There are many partners involved in the projects themselves that are shepherded through the Better Block PSU pathway program at PSU. See each project to learn more about the people involved.

And, there is a long history of volunteers that have supported the implementation of Better Block PDX projects since 2013!