Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on September 14th, 2021 at 9:39 am
These are heady times for 82nd Avenue for people who believe this orphan highway (also known as Oregon Route 213) can someday become a comfortable, welcoming main street.
“It’s not just is there a sidewalk. But is the sidewalk actually usable?”
— Claire Vlach, Oregon Walks
After years of work from community advocates, agency staff and elected officials, the City of Portland and State of Oregon reached a historic agreement back in June that will result in the transfer jurisdiction of 82nd from the state to the city. The agreement is more than just a document, it comes with cold, hard cash. So far the Oregon Legislature has approved $80 million of an estimated $135 million it will take to bring the street up to a “state of good repair.”
This funding and new future for 82nd was hanging in the air of an event hosted Monday night by nonprofit Oregon Walks. Held as part of their annual Steptember festival, the “Wonk Walk” aimed to educate participants about issues on the street. Bike Loud PDX, a bike activism nonprofit, seized the opportunity to use the walk as a kickoff of their new Southeast/East Chapter. Also at the event were three Portland Bureau of Transportation staffers and Metro Councilor Christine Lewis, whose district (2) covers the southern section of 82nd.
A group of about two dozen gathered a few blocks from 82nd at Essex Park and heard from Izzy Armenta, Oregon Walks’ transportation justice and communications coordinator. Armenta said his group is already working on a grant to re-imagine what 82nd could look like in the future.
PBOT is also already working on the project. Project Manager Zef Wagner said, “The biggest need and first projects you’ll see will be crossings and lighting,” which he named as the top priority for the initial tranche of funding. Wagner said they’re counting on $60 million, which is only half of the estimated need for the first phase of projects. PBOT Transit Modal Coordinator April Bertelsen said the recent agreement with ODOT means the two agencies are “arm-in-arm” at the moment but the success of the courtship depends on the all the funding coming through.
Oregon Walks Organizer Claire Vlach led the walk. She said the biggest target of our observations would be sidewalks. “It’s not just is there a sidewalk,” Vlach shared with the group. “But is the sidewalk actually usable.”
A few blocks into the walk the group gathered in the parking lot of an auto tire and repair shop on SE Boise. The owners of the business have painted big parking spaces that go well beyond their property. The illegal striping puts parked cars near the curb and leaves only two feet or so of space for the sidewalk. “This should be a six-foot sidewalk and maybe even street trees,” Wagner pointed out as he pulled up the property line map on his phone.
Hami Ramani, an organizer with Bike Loud PDX asked the PBOT staff about the lack of walking space. “Why not just take more room from the street?” That could be a possibility, Bertelsen replied, but at the moment it’s a non-standard treatment. How to make it standard? Advocates could push for narrower streets to be part of the PBOT Pedestrian Design Guide, a draft of which is due to be published any day now (says Oregon Walks’ Vlach).
As the walk continued south, the poor sidewalk environment that’s common all along 82nd Avenue revealed itself. There were very narrow spots with zero buffer from fast-moving cars, an iron fence at a market’s parking lot with sharp points at head-level, major utility and traffic poles directly in the walking space, trash and overgrown vegetation.
Several advocates mentioned the need for proactive sidewalk inspections as a way to improve these conditions. Wagner said that would be an excellent idea, but it would take a big advocacy lift. “It’s something we could do, but it’s a budget issue. We’re talking about a few salaried positions.”
At another stop in an expansive parking lot on the northeast corner of 82nd and Foster, folks wondered why it didn’t feel like much had changed at the intersection even after PBOT’s $9 million Foster Streetscape Project that wrapped up in 2019. The diagonal intersection still felt and sounded dangerous, the slip lane on the northwest corner was still there, people still ran across the street in a tell-tale sign of a stressful crossing.
One person on the walk had the additional stress of pushing a baby in a stroller. It was Metro Councilor Christine Lewis.
Even though her district only includes the portion of 82nd outside Portland city limits, she showed up because she’s a big proponent of jurisdictional transfer (Metro has published a plan that identified and priorities 11 roads in the region that are primed for transfer) and she used to live in southeast Portland before moving to her current home in West Linn.
“We identified many other roads that are read for jurisdictional transfer,” Lewis shared with me, nearly having to shout over the roar of traffic a few feet away. “And I don’t want it to take two decades.”
Asked if she’s confident local ownership of 82nd will lead to better results than state ownership, Lewis said, “I think that’s a healthy level of skepticism. The real measure will in the agreements about what state the road needs to be in and to what standards before it’s accepted [by the city]. I also think localized pressure for operations and maintenance will keep the road up to a better standard in terms of issues like potholes and curb cuts than with ODOT.”
Lewis described herself as someone who will walk nearly anywhere. But she’d never walked on 82nd, despite living relatively nearby for 10 years. During our chat, her son was nearly jostled out of his stroller when its front wheel landed in a huge crack near a damaged curb ramp. “As you can see, it’s definitely a little rough going out here.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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