Support BikePortland

Lack of sidewalks, dangerous driving cited as top walking barriers in City of Portland survey

Posted by on November 29th, 2017 at 11:46 am

Walking conditions on SE Foster east of 82nd.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

As part of their work to update the citywide walking plan the Portland Bureau of Transportation spent 17 weeks doing a survey to find out what keeps people from doing it. With 4,855 responses tallied, the results are in.

When asked, “What makes walking difficult?” Portlanders from nearly every corner for the city ranked “Sidewalks/walking paths missing on busy streets” as the number one answer. Following closely behind were “Not enough safe places to cross busy streets,” “People driving too fast on residential streets” and “Drivers not stopping for pedestrians crossing the street.”

From PBOT’s PedPDX survey.

The City’s report included a breakdown of respondents by race/enthnicity and geography. 80 percent of respondents were “white/caucasion” Portlanders — that’s eight percent more than the citywide demographic make-up of that group. On the other hand, they heard from only five percent of “hispanic/latino” Portlanders, when they make up 10 percent of our city’s population. There was a similar discrepancy for “black” Portlanders of which only two percent responded to the survey even though they make up six percent of our population.


To PBOT’s credit, they acknowledged the discrepancy of black/African-American responses. In order to make right by it, the report says the project team will organize “Walking While Black focus groups to better listen to and understand the walking priorities, barriers to walking, and other concerns about walking, directly from Black and African American community members.” The groups will be facilitated by black and African-American PBOT staff in partnership with local organizations like Africa House, the Urban League of Portland, and others.

As far as the geographic distribution, the largest discrepancy between citywide population and number of respondents was in east Portland. PBOT received a 21 percent response rate from that part of the city which has 28 percent of our population.

You can see the full survey report via PBOT’s website (PDF). Learn more about Portland’s walking plan update at the PedPDX project website.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.

BikePortland needs your support.

Greenfield Health
Please support BikePortland.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • CaptainKarma November 29, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    The top 5 reasons people don’t walk are directly attributable to too many cars, driving too fast or not following the law.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • B. Carfree November 29, 2017 at 8:09 pm

      I think I’d put eight of the top ten into that category, leaving only the lack of curb ramps at intersections and the tripping hazards as independent of motorist number and scofflaw behavior.

      I’m assuming people want lights so that motorists who are overdriving their headlights might see them and that the lack of sidewalks in residential areas is only a concern because of motorist numbers and behavior.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Middle of the Road Guy December 1, 2017 at 9:46 am

      I don’t like to walk in the rain.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • TonyT
    TonyT November 29, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    I’d like to add PBOT’s typical non-response when it comes to people parking their cars across sidewalks, rendering them non-existant. There’s a particular apartment building in SE where the tenants have essentially confiscated the sidewalk for their parking purposes. I have requested enforcement again and again, and PBOT does nothing.

    I know that people like to look toward good design as the solution, and I agree that bad design is a huge factor. But PBOT really takes the cake for being asleep at the wheel regarding enforcement. They simply don’t respond and drivers know that short of doing 100mph while drunk, they can pretty much get away with driving however they want.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Todd Boulanger November 29, 2017 at 12:36 pm

      In Portland would this not also be a PPB enforcement issue too? Or only PBoT?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • John Lascurettes November 29, 2017 at 1:13 pm (now not tied to a native app, but optimized for any phone or desktop browser).

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • TonyT
          TonyT November 29, 2017 at 1:32 pm

          It doesn’t work. PBOT almost admitted as much when I talked to them about their lack of response to any of my requests. I started calling in, but still get squat for response.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

          • John Lascurettes November 29, 2017 at 2:08 pm

            Bummer. I’ve used it to success dozens of times for pothole repair (last one took less than a week to get repaired) and a few times for abandoned car removal. I’ve only done the illegal car reporting thing once — turned out I was reporting several unmarked police cars parked in a buffered bike lane on NE 16th Ave (the cops all showed up while I was filling out the report).

            Recommended Thumb up 0

        • Middle of the Road Guy December 1, 2017 at 9:48 am

          I think PDXReporter is a dummy app just to let people think their complaints are heard, when in fact they are not even listened to.

          I used the app for several months to report illegal parking, leaking cars, etc on my block. The ONLY time anything ever got done was when I actually called in.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Shoupian November 29, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Using Matt Grum’s (Dan Saltzman’s senior policy director) logic, sidewalks and safe crossings will not address the need to have shoulders on I-5 through the Rose Quarter. It’s hard to believe that City’s transportation bureau is really placing the safety of vulnerable road users as top priority when the commissioner in charge is adamant about widening a freeway through the center of the city.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Momo November 30, 2017 at 11:55 am

      That’s an ODOT project, not a PBOT project.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • rick November 29, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    Easy. It is PBOT refusing to build and maintain paper street trails and bridges.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • paikiala November 30, 2017 at 10:13 am

      How much did PBOT spend last year doing what you say they refuse to do?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • J_R November 29, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    One thing that PBOT could do to make walking safer and more attractive is to actively survey sidewalks to identify intruding vegetation (note photo above) and significant displacements causing trip hazards. But, no, they rely on complaints related to individual properties. Why not a walk-through by city staffers for a whole neighborhood with blitz of enforcement letters to the property owners?

    In a bizarre assignment of responsibilities, PBOT handles the sidewalk surface issues and Bureau of Development Services deals with the vegetation issues.

    And, finally, there’s the leaf issue where residents can fill the streets and drainage grates with debris (leaves) including the corners with ramps, thus forcing pedestrians into the streets for two months every year.

    Vision Zero. Ha.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Bald One November 29, 2017 at 2:14 pm

      Great point, I couldn’t agree more. Less surveys of the totally obvious and more picking up a broom, loppers, garbage bag, mower, and/or trimmers and getting off their butt and getting out and doing something about it. How much time, money and effort did it take PBOT to conduct this survey? Money that could have been spent actually trying to fix some of these issues. The “woe is me” government running Portland is just captivated by their own inept situation – no money, not our dept, not our road, mayor’s issue, no police, equity issues, business-owner issues, etc; the excuse-o-meter continues to be flipped.

      Whenever I notify city about major walking impediment maintenance issue, even as it relates to walking school kids, the response is usually non-existent or months later, and that after telling me to call a different bureau, etc.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • B. Carfree November 29, 2017 at 8:25 pm

        My definition of a quality organization is that when a customer comes to them with a request, the person they initiate contact with will either take care of the problem or will take the customer directly to the person who will take care of it. If there’s any doubt or delay, that first person will remain in contact with the customer.

        In failed/failing organizations, everyone works very hard to define their job so narrowly that they are never responsible for solving anyone’s problems.

        I’ve worked in both types. It’s a lot more fun and productive to be in the first kind and it definitely begins at the top. I still remember my first day as a visiting scholar in a pathology department at a medical school in California. The department chair introduced me to the entire administrative staff and emphasized to them that part of their job was now to make my job as easy as possible. I later worked in a department managed by the sister of that good chair’s manager. In that (failing) department, people actually had signs on their desks informing those they were supposed to serve that “a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Ugh!

        Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Paul Hobson November 29, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      * Why not a walk-through by city staffers for a whole neighborhood with blitz of enforcement letters to the property owners?*

      That would be prohibitively expensive.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • paikiala November 30, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Or any resident could do the same thing.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • q December 3, 2017 at 11:09 pm

        For some types of problems, it’s legitimate that the City asks people to report them–for instance a street sign knocked down, or other things that the City couldn’t possibly be expected to know about unless had unlimited resources for patrolling.

        But I get tired of reporting problems that exist because several City (or County) employees or contractors dropped the ball.

        PBOT in my experience does well compared to many other bureaus and agencies. I wish PBOT actually had more control over transportation issues and facilities. The Parks Bureau, County and ODOT control a lot, but are much less capable than PBOT (in my experience).

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • John Lascurettes November 29, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Gosh, that lede photo … My last house was like that in inner NE (near Prescott and 42nd). The sidewalk on the north side of Prescott (west of 42nd) is only about three feet wide and there are phone poles and street signs that take that down to about 24″ or less at times. Then add overgrown vegetation and there are sections of sidewalk that are totally unusable.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Huey Lewis November 29, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      Yeah, I hear you. Folks on Prescott west of 42nd have it super rough. But on Prescott there ^are^ sidewalks. Out here in Portland-not rich-ex-pat-exile outer SE, you’re lucky if there are sidewalks at all. It’s a lot of tires, trash, mud puddles, trash, parked/busted cars and standing water if you’re walking and there’s not a sidewalk under your feet.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • John Lascurettes November 29, 2017 at 2:11 pm

        I get that. It’s just that even when there are sidewalks around Portland (outer and inner), the old ones are often still too narrow to be up to code, and then they’re often blocked by other obstacles, making them dangerous or unusable (think back to when PBOT stuck the streetcar pole in the middle of the MUP on the Broadway Bridge before correcting it).

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • rick November 30, 2017 at 8:59 am

          Even the SW Hills have very narrow sidewalks where people often park their cars on top of the sidewalks.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

    • paikiala December 1, 2017 at 9:51 am

      And you called it in to nuisances, yes or no?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • K'Tesh December 3, 2017 at 10:54 am

      I wonder how much effort would be put into fixing these conditions if… Say a group of disabled veterans were to start lodging formal complaints about the vegetation and other obstacles. A few well placed threats of (or actual) legal actions done in the name of the ADA might be able to do some wonders.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jim Lee November 29, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Put utility poles in the street instead of the sidewalk.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Bald One November 29, 2017 at 2:16 pm

      I like this. A buffered sidewalk, instead of a totally impeded sidewalk.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Paul Hobson November 29, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    Bald One
    How much time, money and effort did it take PBOT to conduct this survey? Money that could have been spent actually trying to fix some of these issues. Recommended 2

    You need surveys like to justify to stakeholders what your priorities are. Otherwise, you’ll be flooded with endless complaints that you did address an individuals’ pet peeves.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Paul Hobson November 29, 2017 at 3:15 pm


      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • soren November 29, 2017 at 5:29 pm

      perhaps it is the biased, undemocratic, and unrepresentative stakeholder process that is an impediment to transportation equity…

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • David Hampsten November 29, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Great, another survey. Next they can do a study. And so on.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • billyjo November 30, 2017 at 8:41 am

    All of our infrastructure is designed for cars and pedestrians are simply an afterthought. So many places need to have dedicated lights for the right turns so that pedestrians can safely cross without getting run over. It will never happen because that means cars would have to wait and we can’t have that happen

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • paikiala November 30, 2017 at 10:20 am

      I think you mean *was*, *is* certainly is no longer true. Changing past choices by those who came before us is the nature of life.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • JeffS November 30, 2017 at 11:22 am

    Doesn’t seem right. I don’t see “fat butt”, “laziness” or “prefer to drive” on the list at all.

    There is no doubt that these would have beat out “missing curb ramps”.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Scott Kocher November 30, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    This is an important article. 2017 has already broken the record for the most people killed in Portland while walking (online data goes back to 2006). Almost always, it’s a person driving into a person crossing the street. The survey confirms that people all over Portland are well aware that we aren’t safe where there are fast cars, and where there are not safe crossings. Thanks for the walking reporting, keep it coming!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Steve Scarich November 30, 2017 at 7:52 pm

    Over here in Bend, you would have to add un-shoveled sidewalks. There is a law that requires homeowners to shovel snow in front of their houses, but it gets done maybe 25% of the time, the City itself does not shovel its own sidewalks, and there is zero enforcement (well, they will enforce after my third written complaint). Of course, that is seasonal. I walk everywhere, because I do not feel safe riding my bike. My biggest complain is drivers’ not yielding to me. They will if I step in front of their path, make eye contact and walk aggresively. If I don’t do all three of these things, most will try to bully past me. If you are old, very young, infirm, you are a sitting duck.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • bendite November 30, 2017 at 9:39 pm

      I think drivers do pretty well stopping in crosswalks here, but the not shoveling does drive me nuts. I was able to commute everyday with the heaps of snow last winter with my fat bike that has studded 4″ Dillinger tires on it.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Steve Scarich December 1, 2017 at 9:26 am

        You’re a better man than me. Crosswalks are totally unpredictable. Sometimes, drivers are great. Sometimes, if I just stand there passively, looking straight ahead, and make no move to cross, 10 cars will zoom by. Don’t forget, I believe the law is the same if the crosswalk is marked or not. Unmarked, forget it.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • paikiala December 1, 2017 at 9:55 am

          How is a person driving supposed to read your mind? If you’re standing on the side of the road ‘passively’, how is anyone to know what you want?
          Were you trying to be funny?

          Recommended Thumb up 0

          • Steve Scarich December 1, 2017 at 6:58 pm

            No. It is reality. If I just stand there a couple feet from the roadway, technically they are supposed to yield. But, when I do nothing more than just stand, without looking at oncoming traffic and/or walking into the roadway, I have found that frequently many cars will just ignore me. It is hard to explain, but, you apparently do not walk a lot in busy areas, or you would understand what I am saying. Try watching a crosswalk in an area with a fair amount of traffic, but not a lot of peds, and you will see many different types of ped behavior.

            Recommended Thumb up 0

            • bendite December 1, 2017 at 10:59 pm

              If you step in the street a few inches and look to your left, you’ll be much better off with getting a response. They aren’t technically supposed to stop until you’re in the road, unfortunately. I know on the eastside of Bend you won’t get as good of a response because drivers tend to move faster on that side, but downtown or on the Westside, you will.

              Recommended Thumb up 0

            • John Liu
              John Liu December 2, 2017 at 8:35 pm

              People stand on the sidewalk for a lot of reasons, not always because they want to cross. Drivers can’t reasonably stop simply because someone is standing on the sidewalk while showing zero signs of wanting to cross the street.

              Recommended Thumb up 0

              • q December 3, 2017 at 11:20 pm

                Yes. Many corners are also bus stops, for example. And many people who want to cross will stand back a couple feet from the curb, so it’s clear they’re NOT planning to step into traffic, and only step forward to the curb when they see a break, rather than step right up to the curb initially and trigger a requirement that cars stop for them.

                Recommended Thumb up 0

  • maxadders November 30, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    I live just east of 82nd and have to take a “secondary arterial” to get to bus or MAX. Because several of my neighbors can’t afford to build / maintain sidewalks in their yards, there are none. My path becomes a muddy goat trail of rocks and puddles. Then I come to the corner crossing where utility poles and bushes require pedestrians to step off the curb and walk in the bike lane. On top of all this nonsense, is a storm drain that regularly clogs in the winter and creates a 10-15 foot wide, 6″ deep puddle.

    End result: pedestrians entering vehicle lanes. Incredibly unsafe. I’ve complained to PBOT at least once a year for the last four years and they’ve done nothing. The shameful legacy of neglect continues: City Hall doesn’t care about East Portland. Not Fritz, not Saltzman, not Eudaly. All sitting idle while people die.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • paikiala December 1, 2017 at 9:56 am

      You’re not describing a secondary arterial, whatever that is.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • David Burns December 1, 2017 at 4:18 pm

      I live a few blocks from where the lead photo was taken. Even staying on the sidewalk during the rainy season is likely to be unpleasant, as cars trucks spray rooster tails. Sometimes it seems like it’s intentional.

      Tri-Met busses seem to be the worst of the offenders. Because they’re heavy enough and stop/start at the same places, they degrade the roads and make a big dip where water collects in front of each bus stop. I’ve sometimes stood on the shelter’s bench to avoid my shoes being soaked with an arriving busses’ wake. Other times, I wished I had.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Doug Klotz December 1, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Don’t expect everyone to know the jargon. I’d guess he means a neighborhood collector.

    Recommended Thumb up 0