Tonight Portland residents and visitors can enjoy Congress Street as a pedestrianized space free of car traffic. The temporary closure of a street is known as an Open Street and tonight’s Open Street is again being held in conjunction with First Friday Art Walk and there will be additional programming, namely circus acts, to lend a more festive atmosphere. The First Friday Open Streets event took over a year to enact, it involved a lot backing and forthing between the council, City staff, nearby businesses, the Downtown District, and Metro Bus (I and several other friends and colleagues worked hard for over a year on an ad hoc committee to keep the idea alive) and is still being held on a trial basis.
So it is somewhat ironic that everyday in Portland there is a de facto Open Street, where motorists are scant and a rag-tag population of pedestrians parade to and fro.
Oxford Street, which stretches from Washington Avenue to Park Avenue is the most controversial Street in town. Were it contiguous, it would be a fast route out of town from East Bayside and Munjoy Hill, but it gets broken off by Franklin Street and then devolves in a mystifying series of block-long one-ways that makes it impossible for a motorist to travel along it. What’s more, access to Oxford Street from Cumberland Ave is limited because of a series of one-ways.
Oxford Street does is the main thoroughfare between the Preble Street Center, the soup kitchen, and the Oxford Street shelter. The evening is a busy time as people make their way from dinner to bed in something resembling a steppe migration. As one might expect the crowd is fairly rough, there is often some petty drama occurring, or some generalized abnormal behavior, a police car idles there all day. I’ve never traveled the stretch without hearing someone cough.
So if you go out for the First Friday Open Street try to check out Oxford Street as well, then toggle the two in your mind to see if a picture of an everyday car-free street comes before your eyes.