Follow-up: Digging a bit deeper into Portland sidewalk history

Sidewalk stamp of the Montague-O’Reilly company which was active in the early 20th-century.
(Photo: Lisa Caballero/BikePortland)

NOTE: This is a follow-up to our story from last week titled, Sidewalks and Portland: It’s not so simple

——

Exactly who pays for building Portland’s sidewalks has been inconsistent throughout the city’s history. The inconsistency “is illuminating to the degree that it falsifies a long-standing myth among citizens and government officials alike—that all of Portland’s local streets were paid for by the abutting property owners.”

That quote is from a 2000 draft report titled Recommendations for the Local Improvement District Process (PDF). BikePortland reader and frequent contributor of comments, David Hampsten, forwarded the PDF to BikePortland this weekend, and we’ve uploaded it because it’s not available anywhere else online.

(Screenshots from the 2000 report.)

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The report contains a three-page history section which has many colorful details I’ve never read before. For a pre-automobile source, it quotes extensively from a 1890 book edited by H.W. Scott titled History of Portland Oregon. (Tree stumps and roots caused problems in 19th-century road grading.)

Abutting property owners have consistently been expected to contribute to street improvements, what varied, however, was how much property owners had to pay. The federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) built sidewalks, and “as in some Portland neighborhoods today, many streets in the City were paid for at or near 100% level by the federal government.”

Thank you David Hampsten for sharing this very informative report!

(Dig further: Portland Bureau of Transportation’s PedPDX report also has a nice summary of sidewalk history beginning in Chapter Three.)

Lisa Caballero

— Lisa Caballero, lisacaballero853@gmail.com
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Serenity
Serenity
10 months ago

Thank you for doing a follow up, Lisa.

Hubba Hubba
Hubba Hubba
10 months ago

The fact that some streets were paid for by the WPA during The Depression does not change the fact that the vast majority of the streets/sidewalks were paid for by the adjacent property owners.

SERider
SERider
10 months ago
Reply to  Hubba Hubba

It LITERALLY does that. “many streets” doesn’t imply an insignificant amount.

qqq
qqq
10 months ago
Reply to  Hubba Hubba

Putting that into context, the vast majority of property owners who paid for streets and sidewalks paid for them decades ago. Their may have been five or ten subsequent owners of those houses.

Hubba Hubba
Hubba Hubba
10 months ago
Reply to  qqq

I assure you that every homeowner pays enough property tax EVERY YEAR to fully replace every sidewalk adjacent to their property AND to do a fair amount of maintenance of the street.

X
X
10 months ago
Reply to  Hubba Hubba

Citation needed

Matt
Matt
10 months ago
Reply to  X

What, them “assuring you” under a pseudonym isn’t enough proof?

Hubba Hubba
Hubba Hubba
10 months ago
Reply to  X

I take it you are not a property owner in the PDX area? The median property value in Multnomah County is $361,300, with an annual property tax bill of $3,768, so half of the people pay more and half pay less. In Washington county, the median property tax bill is slightly higher.

You can replace quite a bit of sidewalk for $3,768. Here is the citation you were looking for – scroll down to the list by county:

https://smartasset.com/taxes/oregon-property-tax-calculator#oregon

SERider
SERider
10 months ago
Reply to  Hubba Hubba

Average cost of $618 linear foot for a sidewalk. So your average property tax bill would cover all of about 6 feet of sidewalk.

And if you think $3700 is a lot for property tax I’m guessing you have never lived on the east coast.

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/citycode/article/578267

Matt W
Matt W
10 months ago
Reply to  SERider

yeah, i had about 25 feet of sidewalk replaced and had a few bids. i ended up paying 7-8k. Definitely not inexpensive. Same issue with tree trimming; as a homeowner I have to cover costs of all tree trimming of branches that extend over my property; every few years this costs 2-3k, for trees that I didn’t plant, nor which should have been planted, as they are in some cities categorized as “nuisance trees”. Sigh…

qqq
qqq
10 months ago
Reply to  Hubba Hubba

By that logic everyone with a job that pays $30k annually can pay for a new car every year, or going out to dinner every night. It’s meaningless.

Hubba Hubba
Hubba Hubba
10 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Nonsense. Please take a logic class.

X
X
10 months ago
Reply to  Hubba Hubba

It looks like some folks are getting royally * for sidewalk repair, unless there is a lot of extra work in there that isn’t mentioned.

HH said every homeowner pays enough each year to fully replace their entire sidewalk. A single counter example negates this statement. Logic.

SERider
SERider
10 months ago

Thank you for getting this. I’ve been searching (with no luck) for that report for almost a decade since reading about it in this great WW article from 2011:
https://www.wweek.com/portland/article-17460-dirt-roads-dead-ends.html

Mark in NoPo
Mark in NoPo
10 months ago

Thank you for sharing this, David and Lisa.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
10 months ago
Reply to  Mark in NoPo

You’re welcome!

It was sent to me in about 2010 when I was serving on the TBAC (the PBOT Bureau Advisory Committee) when we were debating having the city pay for new sidewalks in East Portland and in SW. The PBOT engineers were insisting (quite loudly) that PBOT has never ever built any sidewalks except for LIDs, that it was up to developers to put in sidewalks, etc etc. After the staff tirade, an quiet bridge engineer asked about the 2000 PBOT sidewalk report. What report? And so they sent us the report, and very gradually some of the PBOT engineers actually started to read it, a report that was already over a decade old, and made less and less noise about opposing building new sidewalks in East and SW Portland.

According to City Archives, the report was finalized in Sept 2000 but so far as I can tell never officially released to the public. The version you see is an earlier draft that isn’t substantially different than the final version, or so the bridge engineer said.