It’s Been Fun…
We’ve had a good run here at UrbanMilwaukee.com, but we’re shutting our doors, packing up the U-Haul, and moving to Portland, OR. Well, no, not quite. We spent last weekend exploring the great City of Portland, and the thought did cross our minds but we’re not going anywhere. In fact we’ve just moved into a new office in downtown Milwaukee, and are doubling down on our efforts to Champion Urban Life in the Cream City.
- Transit. Portland has both a light-rail system, the MAX, which runs in a dedicated right-of-way on the streets in downtown Portland, and a new streetcar system that circulates people throughout the city in a mixed travel lane. Further, the transit stops, albeit a bus stop, streetcar station, or a light-rail stop were well designed and used high quality materials. Finally, in downtown Portland there is a fare free zone which promotes transit use helping Portland achieve higher ridership numbers.
- Population Density. Ii was apparent that the population density stays fairly high throughout a large area, before dropping off, which makes for a more vibrant city throughout. Fixed transit, well planned neighborhoods such as the new Pearl District, and initiatives such as the urban growth boundary have helped this to occur.
- Narrow Streets. All throughout Portland most of the streets were narrow, and priority was given to pedestrians and transit. In heavy foot traffic areas there were wide sidewalks that utilized high quality pavers, curb bump outs, and other design elements to insure a pedestrian friendly environment. This combined with the on-street transit had a traffic calming effect which slowed traffic further improving the walkability and safety of the neighborhood.
- Street Trees. In all areas of Portland, street trees were a common sight. Portland’s weather likely allows these trees to grow larger and faster than in Milwaukee, but the more important than simply the height was was the quantity and density of trees throughout the city. It was rare to walk a street that didn’t have multiple trees on it, it was more common to walk streets that were lined on both sides with trees.
- Lack of Surface Parking Lots. It was rare to find a surface parking lot in downtown Portland, and the few that do exist were lined with street trees and street vendors, which helped to maintain the urban fabric.
- Bike Infrastructure. Portland has taken bike infrastructure to new heights. Each block had numerous bike racks and in some areas Portland had removed automobile parking to put in on street bike racks. Bike lanes and bike trails circulate bicycle traffic throughout the city, helping Portland achieve the highest bike commuting ridership numbers in the country.
- Street Vendors. Semi-permanent stands, trailers really, lined surface parking lots, some stayed open late, while others were open for lunch and dinner. These vendors added character, eyes on the street, and maintained the street wall all of which added to the urban quality of Portland.
- Adaptive Re-use of Historic Structures. There were many great re-uses, but in one case just an exterior wall of a structure was retained as the border of a surface parking lot. This allowed the street wall to be maintained, and a potentially blighting influence to be alleviated.
- Public Squares. Both parks and plazas were of a very high quality, some integrating green features and utilizing recycled materials, while others fit a more traditional urban design reminding one of Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Additionally, some parks had structured public parking located below it to avoid creating surface lots or large above ground parking garages.
We’ll have more on Portland and what we ides could be brought home to Milwaukee in upcoming articles, but here’s a quick photo gallery so you can see some of Portland’s great features.