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Architects present Gateway business corridor designs

Architect Ben Ngan presents his firm's Future Vision Plan for the Halsey-Weidler couplet from Northeast 102nd to 112th avenues at an open house held last month.
Memo photo/Tim Curran
Ben Ngan and his team of landscape architects proudly showed their polished designs for a new Gateway business corridor at an open house on May 21. At that meeting, they gathered comments from the public, which will help them fashion their final designs, scheduled for June 27.

The Portland Development Commission hired Nevue Ngan Architects to create designs for the landscape features, such as curb extensions, crosswalks, lighting, trees and urban furnishings. Michele Reeves of Civilis Inc., a marketing consultant also hired by the PDC, recapped her ideas for rebranding the corridor at the open house.

Ngan presented two possible versions of changes along Northeast Halsey and Weidler streets: one he called the Future Vision Plan-which would cost a lot more money than the team's slim budget allows-and one called Phase I, which is more trimmed down but still more expensive than the proposed budget of around $200,000 that the PDC is requesting for Ngan's team's architectural landscape work for the fiscal year 2014-15.

Susan Kuhn, a senior manager at PDC, said that the fiscal year 2014-15 budget for all of PDC will not be adopted by PDC's Board until June 18. Kuhn said her agency does not anticipate having more than that $200,000 available for architectural landscape improvements, “but we won't be able to confirm the budget until we see the final priorities and recommendations from the community and get cost estimates.”

Nevue Ngan Architects present The Future Vision plan for the Halsey-Weidler Couplet, Northeast 102nd to 112th avenues as envisioned by architects, along with some citizen involvement at an open house last month. Work could start later this year at Northeast 103rd, 108th and 112th avenues.

Other money from grants and various sources is available for other improvements in the Gateway corridor to businesses and storefronts, separate from the amount allocated for Ngan's landscape improvements, though some of those storefront improvements “may complement his work,” Kuhn said. Those proposed other sources of funding include $48,000 from Development Opportunity Services funds, $50,000 from a Green Grant, and $75,000 from a Community Livability grant. “The flashing pedestrian beacons at 106th and Halsey and Weidler are to be funded through state funds and in a process outside of this project,” Kuhn added.

Ngan said the money needed for Phase I is more than $200,000, but the Future Plan visionary plan might cost twice that amount, or even two million. If other visionary features, such as new sidewalks are factored in, it could run into the millions, he estimated.

A general example of what an intersection will look in the Future Vision Plan (not a proposal implemented in Phase I), with striped crossings and improvements on both sides that include lights, curb extensions, and curb ramps. Furnishings like benches and waste receptacles will be at some corners.
The features in both the design plans emanated from three brainstorming sessions held over the past five weeks by a working group composed of about 15 local business people and community members who tossed out ideas on how they would like to see the corridor spruced up. The last work group session is June 4, at which time participants will review the public comments gathered at the open house, incorporating some of those ideas into design plans.

“The working group wanted to make safety their first priority,” Ngan told the Memo. “That has transferred into crossings across Halsey and Weidler. If a crossing is going on Halsey there has to be one on the same street across Weidler.”

The group's second focus was on identity, “trying to make this a more relevant place,” he said.

Jason Hirst, a landscape architect with Ngan's company, said one of the main features of the visionary plan is to “stretch crossings on both sides of the intersections of Halsey and Weidler.”

Lighting would be added, as well as curb extensions on both Northeast Halsey and Weidler streets and on side streets “where we can fit them in,” Hirst said.

On those same side streets, designers would place trees and landscaped areas, creating controlled crossings throughout the corridor.

“We'll set up a rhythm of trees so it will feel more pedestrian-oriented rather than just a drag strip that people drive through,” Hirst said.

By placing trees on the side streets, the designers will not encroach on sidewalks along Northeast Halsey and Weidler streets, which are only nine-feet wide, allowing for larger trees without interfering with power lines that abound on those two busy streets. Those lines “really constrain us,” he said. The trees would be about ten feet away from the sidewalks, but their canopies will be visible to people walking or driving down Northeast Halsey and Weidler streets.

“Then we're not plastering Halsey and Weidler with street trees,” he said.

On the north side of Northeast 104th Avenue and Halsey Street, the curb extension would wrap around to 104th, so a tree would be planted on that numbered street, rather than on the main thoroughfare.

In their visionary plan, side street trees would be planted on Northeast 103rd through 112th avenues.

Street trees, part of the original design for the new Gateway Park, will be planted along Halsey Street at Northeast 106th Avenue. “It's a bit wider sidewalk and room to put in trees,” Hirst explained. Moreover, the pedestrian-activated signal at Northeast 106th Avenue, provided with funds, from the state, comes under Ngan's design purview. “We will be affecting what that might look like; the cost of that signal is probably under $100,000,” Ngan said.

Ngan pointed out that curb extensions come in different flavors.

Shorter ones for shortening the distance to cross the street; longer ones used to place site furnishings, like bike racks, planters and trashcans. Ngan said curb extensions could be installed at the park site and a few other locations; however, the community would not want too many long curb extensions because they reduce parking “They take out one or two parking spaces and everyone is adamant about protecting parking,” Ngan said.

Referring to their Phase I plan, the architects agreed that it would be a scaled down version of their more ambitious plan, meaning only the most important intersections receive crossings. They identified the most important ones at Northeast 103rd, 108th and 112th avenues.

Moreover, they would reduce the crossings by 60 or 70 percent by installing them on only one side of Halsey and Weidler streets-rather than two sides. “I don't think we should not show them and let people say whether they like them and whether we can afford them,” Ngan said.

Some suggestions from the working group were taken off the table, usually because the street logistics complicated the scheme.

One working group member suggested creating diagonal parking along Northeast Halsey and Weidler streets.

“The problem is we have such a narrow right of way, only 60 feet,” Ngan said. Diagonal parking would cut into the sidewalk area, and would remove a travel lane.

The same problem existed when architects considered another group idea: a cycle track, which is a protected bike lane running along one side of the street, similar to one next to Portland State University. “A cycle track is too much of a change for this group,” Ngan said. “The reality is, it doesn't do much for the neighborhood. It reinforces Halsey and Weidler as linear. It doesn't present places to stop and reinforces the drive through aspect of it, but just for another mode of transportation.”

He added that once riders are past the east or west corridor, the cycle track likely would not continue. Besides, there is a traditional bike lane running on both Halsey and Weidler streets “though it's not ideal in terms of width,” Ngan admitted.

He could envision construction of the project starting late this year or early next year. “Time is of the essence,” Ngan said. The Halsey-Weidler project is “one of Mayor Hales' places where he wants to do something more immediate, rather than later.”
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