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Guest Article: PBOT must guarantee sidewalk funding

Posted by on March 11th, 2013 at 3:07 pm

The street outside Morgan Maynard-Cook’s house.

This article was written by Steve Bozzone, Vice-President of the Oregon Walks board of directors.

Recently sidewalks and crosswalks are on everyone’s radar, but for a tragic reason. In a part of Portland that has precious few of either, 5-year old Morgan Maynard-Cook was struck down last week in the simple act of crossing a street.

Quite rightly, a lot of the public outcry surrounding Morgan’s death has to do with how much of her life would have been ahead of her. Regardless of our professional work, we are also mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Trying to imagine what Morgan’s family and friends are going through right now is almost beyond bearing.

“It isn’t very often that the consequences of a city’s budget and policy priorities are thrown into such stark, human relief.”

But some of it has also focused on the irony of how, just a few weeks ago, Portland’s Bureau of Transportation announced it would cut funding for just the kind of infrastructure that would make it safer to walk around Morgan’s neighborhood.

This despite fourteen pedestrian deaths last year alone, and in our supposedly “walkable city,” over 350 miles of arterials and collectors (roads with higher car volumes and speeds) still without sidewalks. It isn’t very often that the consequences of a city’s budget and policy priorities are thrown into such stark, human relief.

Who’s to blame? No one, and everyone. What Morgan’s and too many other pedestrian’s deaths underline is that ensuring everyone can walk freely and safely around our great city must no longer languish as an “optional” priority.

Let’s put aside the fact that over the next 20 years, the number of people moving here simply can’t be accommodated by the current system if everyone of age is driving a car. Put aside that over 15% of Portland’s population today is too young to drive. Put aside that our region is aging, and that by 2040 one in five Portlanders will be over 65 years old. Let’s also put aside the fact that more people walking around our great city means healthier and happier people, lowering the soaring costs of healthcare, cleaner air, slowing the effects of climate change, and reducing our crippling dependence on fossil fuels.

Those are all critical to our future as a city and as a nation, but they all pale in comparison with this: When any of our residents can’t or are afraid to do something as elemental as walk from one place to another, how great a city are we really? How free are we? Is the fettering of so many Portlanders, to the point where they risk and sometimes lose their lives getting from one place to another, really an acceptable tradeoff for shaving a few seconds off a car commute?

No. That’s not who we are. We have different priorities. We must have different priorities.

That’s why in the past two weeks, so many voices have joined together in calling for safer, more accessible sidewalks. Oregon Walks has joined with 17 organizations to call on City Council to guarantee immediate funding for the proposed cuts to the SE 136th Ave sidewalk project and to restore funding to the ADA curb ramp program.

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    wsbob March 11, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    I notice Steve Bozzone does not specifically say that PBOT must guarantee sidewalk funding, which seems to be at odds with title given to this post. At any rate, if it’s true as it seems to be, that the thrust of his article urges upgrading the safety of roads for walking, biking, and so on, by means that do not necessarily require construction and maintenance of sidewalks…great.

    I don’t know what the cost difference between concrete sidewalks and asphalt paved road shoulders is, but I’m thinking the latter may cost much less. If so, that would allow the money to make more miles of roadway safe for walking and biking than concreted sidewalks could.

    Farmington Rd in Beaverton still has its now decades old, curb separated multi-use path. It’s a mixed bag for biking, but for walking, it may be decent…not sure, haven’t personally walked it.

    And more signals for crosswalks. Definitely need more of those on outlying but still residential used roads.

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      ScottB March 12, 2013 at 11:58 am

      Concrete sidewalks $10/SF; 6 ft Sidewalk and Curb with 4 ft separation $310/ft (not including water managment $$); 6 ft asphalt sidewalk, including base, $50/ft

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    9watts March 11, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    In places where there are no cars there are also no sidewalks. People just walk in the street.

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    J_R March 11, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    I endorse the idea of sidewalks everywhere, but I’m concerned when so much city money is proposed to be used along one street.

    Typically, it’s a developer responsibility to build a sidewalk in connection with a subdivision or building a home. Thus, it is included in the purchase price of a house. Portland and most other cities in the region require these “frontage improvements.” Not only that, but the city requires the homeowner pay for the upkeep and repair. I’ve had to undertake that twice (ten years apart) for repair due to tree roots heaving the sidewalk sections.

    I’m concerned about equity and about getting the most bang for the buck. Shouldn’t the property owner share in the cost of retrofitting sidewalks since it’s a city code requirement that the property owner pay the full cost when it’s new construction?

    As a related issue, I ask whether there’s a less expensive alternative than a full street improvement? Did Sam Adams’ lesser standard for the unpaved streets go anywhere or was that dropped by the new city administration?

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    Pat Franz March 11, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    Car convenience costs a lot, and by many measures, the drivers are not the ones paying.

    Having developers provide a certain level of infrastructure if they expect cars to be there makes sense. Why they were not required to in some places is an interesting question, but the big question now is “why can’t we require those currently benefiting to pay for bringing things up to expected standards?”.

    A few pennies on the gas tax, and a small property tax on the affected properties would do it. Drivers would pay for the danger they create, and receive safer streets where they would be less likely to hurt someone; and the property owners would receive safer neighborhoods and higher property values.

    Yes, times are tough, but can’t we spend money on things that are important, and pay back? Every time the price of gas bumps up, people whinge, but drive right up and pay it. Do they get anything more for it? No. It all goes elsewhere and never comes back. So why complain about the things where it does come back?

    I am sad for Morgan, her family, and her friends. And for us as a society, penny wise and pound foolish, afraid to make investments because our addictions come first.

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    Doug K March 11, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    The height separation makes a difference. Asphalt paved shoulders are just a wider roadway, unless you trust drivers to obey that white fog line all the time. It’s not the fact of concrete (although this keeps them from looking like parking spaces), as it’s the physical separation, either by distance, a ditch, or a curb, that makes sidewalks safer, and gives pedestrians a space of their own. On a street like 136th, paving wider shoulders would just mean paved car parking area. Except for the really, really low volume streets, pedestrian facilities need separation.

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      wsbob March 12, 2013 at 11:51 am

      Height separation, using for example, a curb, would provide a higher margin of safety than a widened, possibly curb separated shoulder, but when the current situation is going from nothing at all, and the budget is strapped, a widened shoulder, if significantly less money, could be a substantial improvement over nothing.

      A widened shoulder could be posted ‘no parking’. To prevent it being used as parking, it also could have separate curb sections set down; smaller, but kind of like the big Jersey barriers used on some highways to separate opposing directions of travel.

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        ScottB March 12, 2013 at 1:22 pm

        A widened shoulder could also be marked as a bike lane, eliminating the need for no parking signs, but just as enforcable if someone parks on it.

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    E Robson March 12, 2013 at 8:44 am

    How about making it a lot more costly to drive a car? That would reduce the car traffic on the roads and raise revenue for building sidewalks. We need to discourage cars and encourage walking and biking and public transportation.

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    maxd March 12, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Not having a sidewalk seems like half the story, and having a 35 MPH speed limit on a residential street is the other half! If a road passes the front door of houses, the speed limit should be 20 MPH. I also believe that Portland Police should be able to use speed cameras/red light cameras ubiquitously to end this cat and mouse game with speeders seeing what they can get away with. What about separating an asphalt sidewalk with a planted strip?

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      ScottB March 12, 2013 at 11:53 am

      Check out state law for speed limits and the TSP for the street system. Residential districts can be posted down to 25 mph. 136th is a Neighborhood Collector with nearly 10,000 cars per day with 85% of motorists going the posted 35 mph speed.

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        maxd March 12, 2013 at 12:16 pm

        I appreciate that you pointed that out Scott! I have 3 thoughts:
        1. Portland recently lobbied the state and won permission to drop speed limits to 20 mph, but I think it is currently only for bike boulevards. It would take some work to change the speed limit to 20 mph on more streets. However, the evidence is very clear that there is a direct correlation between speed and fatality: the faster traffic goes, the more likely a pedestrian is likely to die.
        2. Another front that Portland could work on to improve safety is planning. It does not seem appropriate that we have neighborhood collector with 10,000 cars/day on a small street of single-family residential. Admittedly, I haven’t studied this part of the city and I do have a suggested remedy.
        3. ONLY 85% of cars are obeying the speed limit! I think the widespread use of traffic cameras to give out frequent, and expensive tickets for speeding could improve on this number.

        My point is that building sidewalks is only one thing of many things that should be done to improve safety and walkablitly/bikeability in Portland.

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          ScottB March 12, 2013 at 1:29 pm

          1. The new law requires the shared street to be posted or signed for bike use and have less than 2,000 cars per day. 136th is not a shared street candidate.
          2. The paving on 136th is about 20-24 ft wide, the typical lane width in Portland is ten feet. It’s not a small residential street, it’s a Neighborhood Collector and it’s traffic intent is to move autos from the neighborhood to higher level streets like Powell, Holgate and Foster.
          3. 85% of motorist going the posted speed or lower is the standard to define a non-speeding problem. In fact, for local streets a speeding ‘problem’ is not defined to occur until the 85th is at least 5 mph over the posted. The scarce funds have to be rationed somehow, and this is one way to do it.
          4. Speeding citations are not issued until the motorist is going 10 mph over the posted speed limit, and speed enforcement vans are limited to two hours at any one location, the two or three we have for the entire city – that barely, if at all, cover the cost of their use.

          I’m still wondering how building linear sidewalks would have prevented this crossing crash.

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            maxd March 12, 2013 at 4:00 pm

            Scott, I agree that building sidewalks would not have prevented this death, and should not be viewed as the sole lacking item for creating a walkable city. I also think that the status quo is simply not good enough. So:
            1. If this street cannot be a candidate for 20 mph, make it 25. It may be a collector, but it is also the street running through the front yards for single family homes. 35 mph is unacceptable.
            2. Lane width could be reduced to 10 feet to encourage slower traffic.
            3. 85% may be considered successful by today’s metrics, but since pedestrians are getting killed, I would argue that it is not good enough. I also think only ticketing people who exceed the speed limit by 10 mph is absurd.
            4. I do not want to see a patrol team, I would the Portland police to consider doing things differently. In England, traffic cameras are installed that issue tickets to speeding vehicles. They post signs telling people, too.

            The other things to consider as potential tools are painted crosswalks, ped-activated stop lights, speed bumps. I am sure there are many more. I think this trtagic death is being used to secure funding for sidewalks instead of potholes. I think this may be a reasonable thing to do, but I hope that sidewalks are not the ONLY thing Portland is thinking about.

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    ScottB March 12, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    1. 25 mph is one possible solution with a good chance of success, but ODOT decides speed limits in Portland, not PBOT. BTW, hyperbole, like ‘running through their front yards’ doesn’t win points with the deciders.
    2. Possible, but no evidence it would work. Portland has plenty of problem streets with the 10 ft minimum.
    3. You would need to talk to the legislature and elected judges to get this practice changed.
    4. Permanent mounting of speed cameras is not allowed by the legislature. Energy spent here complaining achieves nothing.
    5. Marked crossings are dubious tools for safety.
    6. Rapid Flash Beacons show promise and cost $12k per pole -2 minumum per crossing.
    7. Speed bumps are not currently permitted on Major Emergency Response routes like 136th.

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      maxd March 13, 2013 at 10:40 am

      I wasn’t trying to be hyperbolic. There is literally a 35 mph road that abuts front yards of these people. I am also not intending to complain, I am trying to engage in a conversation about what changes Portland could make to create streets that are safer and better for people. I genuinely appreciate all of the existing obstacles to ideas I am suggesting. I agree with Scott that sidewalks are inadequate to creating a safe environment in this location, but I am hoping to contribute to a discussion about what might work, and what it would take to achieve those things.

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