Businesses, neighbors, mull city's 'Sellwood Square' plan
In the Portland Bureau of Transportation's (PBOT) "Safe Streets Initiative", which the Bureau says is in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, part of the proposed initiative is issuing "Healthy Businesses Permits" as part of their "Business Toolkit". That includes permits allowing "temporary changes to streets, to give people more space to conduct business safely".
Typically, the "Healthy Businesses" permit is issued to a single business, allowing it to mark off street parking areas in front of their stores or restaurants for public commercial use.
Expanding PBOT's "Healthy Businesses Permit", the Bureau has proffered a new initiative (not a "program", we're told) beyond parking spaces used as outdoor retail areas. The new plan includes closing off entire streets for special time periods, such as weekends, to help "neighborhoods to develop a more cohesive strategy for use of space, by creating community plazas and/or pedestrian promenades".
In an e-mail newsletter, Sellwood Moreland Business Alliance (SMBA) Executive Director Terra McGibbon revealed a proposal for such a "Main Street Plaza" in Sellwood, originally called the "Sellwood Square".
After selecting this name, and obtaining an internet address for it, organizers discovered there was already an enclave of small businesses in Sellwood named "Old Sellwood Square", at 8235 S.E. 13th Avenue – so the project promoters said they're working to choose a new name for the plan – but that name hadn't been revealed at deadline.
In this proposal, two blocks of S.E. 13th Avenue between Nehalem and Lexington Streets would be closed to all motor vehicle traffic on Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Organizers are developing layouts for such a "Main Street Plaza".
Additionally, from noon until 9 p.m. daily, one block just west of S.E. 13th Avenue – which PBOT calls a "Side Street Plaza" – would be closed to motor vehicle traffic at:
· S.E. Lexington Street
· S.E. Nehalem Street
· S.E. Spokane Street
Why organizers selected these specific blocks is unclear.
During the July online meeting of the SMILE Transportation Committee, attended by 15 participants, including those who are promoting the "Sellwood Square" project, Chair Scott Kelly gave information he'd learned about how Sellwood's version of such plazas would play out:
· The side street plazas (on S.E. Lexington, Nehalem, and Spokane streets) would only be in front of businesses, not residences.
· A minimum 11-foot wide lane for bikes and emergency vehicles would be maintained, clear through each plaza.
· The plazas require site plans, developed by the applicants; and traffic control plans, developed by PBOT.
· The permits, once approved by PBOT, would be temporary, with a current expiration date of November 1 – although the end date is potentially subject to change.
Transportation questions about closing down S.E. 13th Avenue each weekend revolved around is how traffic would be directed around the closure; and, rerouting the TriMet #70 Bus route off of 13th Avenue to S.E. 17th Avenue.
Kelly checked with PBOT about a question raised during the meeting, about an apartment driveway on the west side of S.E. 13th Avenue between Nehalem and Miller Streets – specifically, whether residents would be able to use the 11-foot wide emergency lane to access their own parking lot on weekends.
"Greg Raisman at PBOT said this would not be allowed," Kelly reported. "In order to allow regular motor vehicle traffic, PBOT would want a 14-foot wide one-way lane. Use of the lane for deliveries would also require a 14-foot wide lane. This would, essentially, make the plaza on 13th Avenue half the street wide."
During that meeting, supporters stated that 76 residents had signed a petition in support of the plan. "No one in attendance expressed opposition to the proposal during the Transportation Committee meeting," Kelly told THE BEE.
The proposal was submitted to Sellwood Moreland Improvement League Board (SMILE) at their public monthly meeting, held online on Wednesday evening, July 15.
Eight SMILE Board Members voted in favor of the discussed proposal; and two abstained. Some concerns were voiced about the inconvenience for local residents, and visitors to Oaks Park, in having to walk from 13th to 17th to catch the Bus 70 when 13th would be closed for the "promenade".
As the project unfolds, more information is expected to be posted on their website, which currently is online at – www.sellwoodsquare.com
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