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.)


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,
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