We tend to look at the city's streets as static things—but the truth is that quite a few of Portland's roads could use some tweaks.
Which is what made Better Broadway so cool. For one magical week in May, a group of civic engineering students from Portland State University and neighborhood volunteers turned a stretch of the three-lane street into an urban oasis. It was like a pop-up restaurant, but for a better version of Portland's streetscape. Suddenly, instead of extra traffic lanes for cars to zoom past each other, there were places to hang out, sing karaoke, Hula-Hoop or eat ice cream.
The project was a spinoff of Better Naito, which PSU student Gwen Shaw developed as her senior capstone project last year. Shaw is now a transportation analyst working for a private firm in Portland. Her team worked through the night to install new crosswalks and DIY median islands on a stretch of Broadway from 11th to 16th avenues—adding duct tape, hundreds of traffic cones, several bright-orange barricades, temporary traffic signs and water-soluble tempera paint.
"Our biggest goal is just to work with the community, start a conversation," Shaw says. "We talked to [residents] about what they want to see in their space. Broadway is a little main street that's not really feeling like one these days."
But for one week, those six blocks seemed pretty much perfect to us.
"We got people saying, 'I don't agree with everything, but I love it overall,'" Shaw says. "It got the conversation going, which was the goal. The transit island was a huge success, and then the crosswalks got unanimous support and feedback. I was pulling one up, and a woman stopped me and said, 'Awwww, I loved that crosswalk!' But crosswalks are something people don't really appreciate until they don't have one."