Announcing the 2022 Better Block PSU Projects!

2022 Better Block PSU - Hood River ALIVE - team who will be designing demonstrations and semi-permanent infrastructure.jpeg
2022 Better Block PSU team for "Hood River ALIVE," a project led by Megan Ramey, who will be designing demonstrations and semi-permanent infrastructure.

Better Block PSU is 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, community members submit their project ideas to the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at PSU. Selected projects are then integrated into a pathway of PSU planning and engineering classes, through which students gain hands-on experiential learning by developing plans, designs, and engineering solutions. 

Students in PSU's Pedestrian and Bicycle Planning course, taught by Drusilla van Hengel, are currently working on the newest slate of projects. The course seeks to provide each project partner with an evaluation of each site's level of pedestrian and bicycle activity and existing conditions, a community engagement plan, and performance metric recommendations for uses during the demonstration to measure the project's success. Those five community-led projects include:

  • Argay Terrace Transformation: This project seeks to transform the intersection of NE 131st and NE Prescott Dr from a dangerous corner into a welcoming neighborhood space, in a community which is 47 percent Black, Indigenous and people of color.
  • Car Free Zones in Downtown Portland: In 1972, Portland City Planners and the City Council approved a car-free plan for the downtown. Parts of it were implemented in the Waterfront Trail and Halprin Open Space Sequence, and this project seeks to update and operationalize the rest of the Car-Free Downtown Plan (see page 33 of the 1972 Portland Downtown Plan).
  • Keaton Otis Memorial: This project seeks to create a safe space for community members to gather at a memorial, with a street design that reduces or eliminates car traffic at the gathering space.
  • Sabin Outdoor Community Space: This project would convert a dead-end cul de sac near a future affordable housing development into a pleasant, functional outdoor space that can be easily navigated by foot, bike or wheelchair.
  • Walkable Rosewood: This project would improve the pedestrian experience along several streets in the Rosewood neighborhood with temporary or permanent walkways, intersection treatments, and art installations.

Below we share summaries from the proposals of the chosen projects. These are initial ideas and aspirations, and what is pursued by the project partners and the PSU student teams will evolve and change over time, depending upon the goals and constraints of the class working closely with community partners. Later this year we’ll share an update on the progress and accomplishments of each project team. Want to be notified when applications open in Spring 2023? Add your email address here, and learn more about the Better Block PSU program here.

Argay Terrace Transformation

Led by the Argay Terrace Neighborhood Association, this project seeks to transform the intersection of NE 131st and NE Prescott Dr from a dangerous corner into a welcoming neighborhood space, in an area of the neighborhood that has the most racially diverse residents.

The Opportunity

The intersection is a mix of commercial and residential uses, with a large multifamily housing development and a thriving indoor soccer league nearby. Kids walking to Shaver Elementary School must cross the street here, amid an environment that has been the site for illegal dumping of trash and other illegal activity. The community is 49% people of color, and many residents are below the median household income for Portland. This project is an opportunity to improve the intersection and make it into a safer, more welcoming space for residents.

How to Move Forward

The project partners have several ideas on how to potentially improve the area, including: 

  • An improvised bike lane to help kids feel safer riding bikes or scooters to school;
  • Planters and other street furniture to help the area look and feel cared for;
  • A street painting to illustrate the transition between commercial and residential zones;
  • Other treatments that make it feel safer to walk and roll in the area.

What Does Success Look Like?

"We are a community that loves to walk to our gorgeous parks (Luuwit View and Argay). We are a neighborhood where people walk their dogs and say 'hi.'  We are a neighborhood where kids ride their bikes despite no bike infrastructure. We have farm fields that produce fresh flowers and vegetables as well as a thriving community garden in Luuwit View Park. That is our community. Loved by those who live here and well used," shared the Parks Chair for the Argay Terrace Neighborhood Association. A successful project would result in a transformation: from a dangerous corner to an area that is cared for by the community; a space where people are welcomed into the neighborhood. Success would be measured by the quality of interaction in the project with Black, Indigenous and People of Color; by an increase in resources to the area of the neighborhood that is most diverse; and finally by the sight of more people walking and riding to school and Luuwit View park from NE Prescott Dr.

Car Free Zones in Downtown Portland

Led by Urban Design & Planning Consultant Cathy Tuttle, this project will work to update and operationalize the 1972 Car-Free Downtown Portland Plan. 

The Opportunity

Downtown Portland is very car-focused, as Cathy Tuttle explained in a recent Friday Transportation Seminar at Portland State. The area has a good transit grid with light rail, buses and streetcar transit, and fairly short blocks that already have good street lighting and pavement. With the implementation of car-free zones, there is the potential to create vibrant and welcoming thoroughfares for pedestrians and bicyclists, boosting commercial activity and contributing to a healthier city through lowered emissions and increased opportunities for physical activity. Portland's Downtown Car-Free Plan (PDF) was approved by planners and the City Council in 1972. Parts of the plan have been implemented in the Waterfront Trail and Halprin Open Space Sequence. This project seeks to move forward with realizing more of the original vision for Portland's car-free downtown. 

How to Move Forward

By moving this project through the Better Block PSU program, the conversation about Portland's car-free downtown can be pushed forward on multiple fronts. The PSU students could potentially contribute by:

  • Defining the geographic scope of the car-free zone;
  • Creating a timeline and prioritizing which streets to work on first;
  • Thinking ahead about how to facilitate cargo bike and other low-carbon freight deliveries; 
  • Planning for utility access and emergency vehicle access;
  • Identifying pricing strategies to collect revenue from limited car entry and parking;
  • Securing the relevant environmental permits;
  • Determining what metrics would most accurately evaluate success.

What Does Success Look Like?

A successful project would result in livable, equitable streets for people of all ages and abilities in downtown Portland. Success could be measured and quantified in terms of improving air quality, reducing noise, lowering overall CO2 emissions and increasing revenue for local businesses. Engaging with vulnerable community members would also be an essential component of a successful project. "Many people who live and work in Portland do not drive. In fact, 40% of people do not drive citywide because cars are not affordable, because of age or disability, or because of choice. Downtown Portland has a very high concentration of very low income, BIPOC, and other-abled people who need to be part of this planning process," project lead Cathy Tuttle said.

Keaton Otis Memorial

Led by Joshua Baker of Justice for Keaton Otis, this project seeks to create a safe space for community members to gather at a memorial, with a street design that reduces or eliminates car traffic at the gathering space.

The Opportunity

On May 12, 2010, 25-year-old Keaton Otis's life was cut short by Portland Police. At the site where it happened, on Northeast 6th Avenue between Clackamas and Halsey, loved ones and activists of Keaton Otis have met on the street for the past 10+ years for a monthly vigil. Plans are underway to create a permanent memorial. The southern part of the block would be connected to Portland's planned "Green Loop."

How to Move Forward

Project leaders have organized the design vision into a few phases and are seeking funding for moving forward all three phases. All currently planned memorial components either involve work on the sidewalk or a special kintsugi-style street artwork. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. One key component that has not yet been addressed, and where Better Block PSU may be able to help, is: What can be done to reduce (or completely eliminate) vehicle traffic along the block, and turn it into a safe space for community members to gather?

What Does Success Look Like?

"This project is based on over a decade of deep community engagement and three years of collective visioning efforts to meaningfully memorialize the life of Keaton Otis. We see it as a model of what community-driven transformative justice could look like," project lead Joshua Baker said. Justice for Keaton Otis is the name of the organization leading the effort. Their hope is that Keaton’s loved ones, and all those fighting for justice, feel a sense of togetherness in this place. Reducing the noise and danger of car traffic at the site would contribute meaningfully to the feeling of safety and acknowledgement.

Sabin Outdoor Community Space

Led by Elizabeth A. Caston, a NE resident and consultant for the Sabin CDC nonprofit, this project would convert a dead-end cul de sac near a future affordable housing development into a pleasant, functional outdoor space that can be easily navigated by foot, bike or wheelchair.

The Opportunity

In the 1970s, the city blocked off the end of NE 14th place to Killingsworth, which resulted in a cul de sac that dead-ends. The Sabin Community Development Corporation is currently building a new 29-unit low income affordable housing complex that will include an indoor community arts and culture center on the ground floor directly adjacent to this cul-de-sac. At this location there is no crosswalk and there are many obstructions on the sidewalk and sidewalk ramps, impeding access and making it a difficult area to navigate by foot, bike or wheelchair.

How to Move Forward

This outdoor site area has been discussed as a potential community gathering and event space. Improving the space could offer potential benefits to the incoming low-income residents as well as the larger community. Sabin has already done a few rounds of resident outreach and engagement on what they would like to see in a Resident and Community Services program, and will be engaging many more times to help prioritize, vision, and plan for more specifics. Better Block PSU could help by:

  • Planning for better bike and pedestrian access to and from nearby Alberta and Ainsworth;
  • Engaging further with community members to ensure their voices are heard;
  • Designing strategies to turn the cul de sac into a parklet or other outdoor community space.

What Does Success Look Like?

The end result would be a new space for community members to gather that is safe, comfortable, and easy to access, as well as providing safe connections to the rest of the neighborhood. "Having access to pleasant, functional outdoor public space would be the catalyst for this amazing opportunity in community empowerment and engagement. Using outdoor space to create intergenerational connections, and strengthen community socialization between families with kids/youth, and with seniors, and the disabled who are often isolated and lonely. We want to bring people together for community building," project lead Elizabeth Caston said.

Walkable Rosewood

Led by Oregon Walks, this project would improve the pedestrian experience along several streets in the Rosewood neighborhood with temporary or permanent walkways, intersection treatments, and art installations.

The Opportunity

There are no sidewalks along many streets throughout East Portland's Rosewood neighborhood. The lack of sidewalk availability, coupled with the large street blocks and distantly spaced crossings, makes it unsafe and uncomfortable for people to walk in many spaces in the neighborhood. There have been two recent plans/projects already developed for the Rosewood neighborhood, each of which includes streetscape improvement ideas:

  • Roses From Concrete, a 2020 Masters of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) workshop project, created a walkability plan for the neighborhood. Shreya Jain, the lead on this project, was a member of the graduate student team that worked on this plan.
  • The Rosewood Conceptual Neighborhood Master Plan was developed in 2021 through a partnership with the Rosewood Initiative and SERA Architects. 

How to Move Forward

The desired outcome is a project shaped by Rosewood community members that would make it safer and more enjoyable to walk in the area. Oregon Walks hopes to partner with local transportation advocacy organizations to develop a community engagement strategy focusing on Rosewood’s residents. Better Block PSU could help by prioritizing which intersections and streets could be effectively improved with temporary or permanent walkways, intersection treatments, and art installations.  

What Does Success Look Like?

"Success could be measured by seeing community members engaged in the process and helping shape the overall design. It could also be measured by seeing youth be involved in the decision-making process," project lead Shreya Jain said. If street improvements end up being implemented, a primary indicator that the project succeeded would be people reporting that they walk more, or that they feel safer or more comfortable walking in the Rosewood neighborhood.

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Want to be notified when applications open in Spring 2023? Add your email address here, and learn more about the Better Block PSU program here.

The Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University is home to the National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC), the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation (IBPI), and other transportation programs. TREC produces research and tools for transportation decision makers, develops K-12 curriculum to expand the diversity and capacity of the workforce, and engages students and professionals through education.

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