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Hales: Old Town street closures seem successful

by: KOIN LOCAL 6 - Several streets in the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood have been shut down to vehicle traffic on weekends starting last December.

For the second time in three weeks, Mayor Charlie Hales mingled through the No Parking area in Old Town to help decide whether to keep the weekend closures permanent.

Hales began his tour of the congested area filled with nightclubs and bars around 11 p.m. Saturday. The closures were implemented in order to help maintain safety and reduce accidents.

The mayor said Portland may be known as the city where young people come to retire, “but actually it is the city where young people come to party. This entertainment district is a happening place now, and we’re trying to understand whether or not it is a good idea to carry on this experiment of the closure of the streets so that a street party is not just a bar scene.”

Hales said it seems the experiment is successful so far, but wants daytime merchants to weigh in on the issue.

It costs the city several thousand dollars a month to close the streets, but he said “the police will probably be here whether we close the streets or not. That cost maybe is a fixed cost. Closing the streets, those things cost money, and if we are going to keep that going, we will have to look at a way to recover the costs. Maybe nighttime parking should be paid on the streets, even though normally it would be free.”

Another idea, he said, is to have bar owners help defray the costs.

“There are thousands of people here on a Friday or Saturday night. We want to keep the peace and avoid fights and problems, so we’re willing to invest, but we need the property owners to work with us.”

He extended the street closures in Old Town’s Chinatown neighborhood on April 5 for an extra 60 days. They began December 28, 2012, on a trial basis.

The closures are in effect on Fridays and Saturdays, between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. The following streets are closed to vehicle traffic:

• Northwest Couch Street between 2nd and 4th avenues.

• Davis Street between 2nd and 4th avenues.

• Northwest 3rd Avenue between Everett and West Burnside streets

Cars parked in those areas after 10 p.m. will be towed.

The mayor expects to have a decision by the end of May because “this is only a 60-day extension of the 90-day experiment. Within that 60 days, by the end of May, we want to bring this back to the council and make a decision.”