Last year, a car driver hit a César Chávez K-8 School student at the intersection of N. Portsmouth Ave and N. Willis Blvd in Portland, OR. It underscored what parents, teachers and Portland community members have been demanding for many years: increased investment in traffic safety at schools during pick up and drop off hours.

What’s more: Portsmouth’s residents already had a lot of ideas of how to improve pedestrian safety at this intersection.

Seeking to help the community take action on these ideas, Safe Routes to School advocacy professionals William Francis and Hanna Howsmon at Community Cycling Center and César Chávez teacher Sam Balto recommended this intersection as a potential quick build project for the Better Block PSU pathway program-–a partnership between the volunteer-led group Better Block PDX and the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University that pairs transportation students with community-led projects. 

“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,” shared Hau Hagedorn, TREC Associate...

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Since 2013, local transportation activist group Better Block PDX has developed partnerships with organizations across the Portland Metro area. Most notable were the connections that emerged between the communities’ needs for creative transportation solutions and the expertise of Portland State University (PSU) transportation students.

That collaboration evolved into Better Block PSU, a pathway program led by PSU’s Transportation Research and Education Center that integrates tactical urbanism and placemaking into the engineering and planning curriculum at PSU. Most recently we shared an update on Re-Imagining a Safer Route to the César Chávez School, which advanced to the Spring 2021 engineering capstone.

We’re excited to announce the latest projects to have been accepted into the Better Block PSU pathway program:

  • City of Independence Neighborhood Greenways: This project will help create a low-stress biking and walking network through Independence connecting local schools, businesses, and parks.
  • Community Green Space for Parkrose: This project plans to create a pathway from the Parkrose neighborhood to the Columbia Slough to increase access to green space and community knowledge of the Slough.
  • Arleta Triangle Transformation...
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Photos by Sam Balto

Since 2013, local transportation activist group Better Block PDX has developed partnerships with organizations across the Portland Metro area. Most notable were the connections that emerged between the communities’ needs for tactical urbanism solutions and the expertise of Portland State University (PSU) transportation students.

Over the last few years, that collaboration evolved and formalized into Better Block PSU, a pathway program that integrates tactical urbanism into the engineering and planning curriculum at PSU. Now led by PSU’s Transportation Research and Education Center, the latest project to advance through the program is Re-imagining a Safer Route to the César Chávez School: N. Willis Blvd. & N. Portsmouth Ave.

A number of teams worked with PSU Urban Planning students in the Fall of 2020, and this project from the César Chávez K-8 School community and the Community Cycling Center was chosen to move onto the second phase with the Spring 2021 PSU Civil Engineering course.

César Chávez PE teacher and project lead Sam Balto shared more about the motivation behind the project, “Not only is this intersection incredibly uninviting for the students and families walking to school...

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Text reads: TREC student spotlight, Nora Stoelting. Image is of Nora (right) with an aquamarine sleeveless shirt, and a photo (left) of summer camp students touring a bridge.

Nora Stoelting is pursuing a dual master's degree in Leadership for Sustainability Education and Urban and Regional Planning at Portland State University. She is excited about the ways these two programs intersect in building a more dynamic, connected, and sustainable world. Nora's background is in garden education and environmental advocacy, and she most recently worked in waste minimization with airport businesses at PDX. Nora is thrilled to join TREC to work on education programming through integrating tactical urbanism projects into PSU classes via Better Block PSU and designing TREC's free summer camp for high school students. She believes strongly in the power of collaborative, holistic, experiential teaching and learning to transform ourselves and the world.

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I am a cis, female, white, 27 year old graduate student living in NE Portland. I am currently pursuing a double masters in Leadership for Sustainability Education and Urban and Regional Planning. I am passionate about such a wide, interconnected array of topics that it was impossible to pick one program! Lately I have been really interested in envisioning a libertory future (within myself and the world). I...

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Authored by Malia Knapp-Rossi, Project Manager Intern at Better Block PDX and Master of Urban and Regional Planning Student at Portland State University.

Learn more about the Better Block PSU pathway program here.

Better Block PDX, a public spaces advocacy nonprofit, has spent the last four years working with Portland State University (PSU) students to develop design and implementation plans for community-driven transportation projects. Read about Better Block project milestones. In collaboration with PSU faculty, PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS), graduate-level urban planning and engineering students, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, and community organizations—Better Block PDX created the annual PSU Project Pathway program.

This Pathway program empowers PSU students and the greater Portland community to collaborate on low cost, transportation projects to serve neighborhood needs. These D.I.Y urbanism projects are fully integrated into the academic curriculum. The next generation of engineers and planners develop detailed traffic plans, public participation events, and transportation performance measures in order to create a safe and effective implementation path. The Pathway program provides a practicum...

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This article was authored by Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland on February 28, 2019. See the original article here.

Most close watchers of the Portland transportation world have heard of Better Block PDX. They’re the scrappy group of tactical urbanism activists who burst onto the scene by creating a public plaza in auto parking spaces along a block of SW Harvey Milk Street in 2013. They went on to lead successful projects on SW 3rd Avenue and Naito Parkway that led to permanent changes in our streetscape....

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Better Block PDX, a nonprofit dedicated to revatilizing urban spaces, won a Spirit of Portland Award for work on projects including the Better Natio project. Better Naito, which repurposed a lane of Portland’s Natio Parkway to preserve bicycle and pedestrian access, grew out of a Portland State University engineering capstone project in 2015.

Gwen Shaw was then a senior at Portland State. Her work gained the attention of city leaders, with then-Commissioner Steve Novick singling out the quality of the project’s traffic control plan.

It began as a temporary demonstration project, but the city brought back Better Naito in 2016 and left the configuration in place for three months, as reported in BikePortland.

Shaw, who is still involved with Better Block PDX, the experience served as an introduction to transportation. “It’s the most educational experience you can get,” Shaw said.

“You’re meeting with the city traffic engineer and he stamps your report and asks you if you know what the MUTCD is,” she said. “It’s fun to get that experience.”

Shaw built that experience into a profession: she’s now a transportation analyst with Lancaster Engineering...

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