Main Streets 2017: Oregon
Like so many cities across the U.S., by the early 1970s, Portland was losing jobs, residents and economic vitality to its suburbs. But this city did something that continues to serve as a success story.
Portland’s 1972 Downtown Plan called for the remaking of its downtown to promote alternatives to private auto travel, with enhanced public transit, restricted parking, and many enhancements that could help remake downtown as a hub for re-energized city life. Out of the plan grew the Portland Transit Mall, a unique repurposing of a 1.2-mile corridor of 5th and 6th Avenues, one-way streets that have become the city’s central connector for public transit stations, plus bicycle and pedestrian travel.
Extending along some 57 blocks, through six downtown districts — among them Old Town, China Town and Portland State University — the Transit Mall received multiple improvements in the 2009 Portland Mall Revitalization Project. That effort brought light rail service to the mall, along with two new hotels and some 40 storefront renovations, all achieved through $1.5 billion in private investment.
“The original Portland Mall transformed the perception of downtown with its wide brick sidewalks, majestic trees, and its custom-designed furnishings and amenities,” noted the American Planning Association (APA) in designating this as one of America’s Great Streets. “It became one of the country’s most used bus transit corridors and marked a cultural shift in Portland, embracing transit and pedestrian mobility as a lifestyle choice.”
Attention to detail and visual appeal has combined with alternate transportation planning to make the Transit Mall an uncommonly appealing destination. The streets are lined with rows of trees and broad sidewalks of brick and granite. Sleek, low-profile bus and light rail shelters “give stations an updated, contemporary look,” says the APA, as all five of the region’s light rail lines converge here, along with several bus routes.
The Transit Mall also features more than 40 sculptures from more than 15 artists. Bicyclists can now travel the whole mall, which offers four “bike oases” and 130 bicycle parking spaces.
At the center of the Transit Mall is Pioneer Courthouse Square, “Portland’s living room.” Managed by an unusual community nonprofit, the Square hosts some 300 special events and theme days throughout the year and has repeatedly been honored as one of the nation’s best, most successful public spaces.
All photos courtesy of TriMet.