‘Wonk Walk’ on 82nd Avenue highlights challenges ahead of transfer

Posted by on September 14th, 2021 at 9:39 am

Metro Councilor Christine Lewis (center with stroller), PBOT staff and advocates on 82nd Avenue Monday night.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

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.

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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.”

Note the parking space striping on the left in relation to the curb!

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.”

Check out the full Steptember calendar at OregonWalks.org.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Yoya W.
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Yoya W.

That cover photo of the mom walking the baby in the stroller gives me chills. Such a scary place to be a pedestrian. I hope this can change.

Dave
Guest
Dave

That mom walking the baby is one of our Metro Councilors who recently voted yes for more freeway expansion. It’s great our elected officials show up to these events, but few have the courage to stand up to status quo investments in auto infrastructure when it’s decision time. Public dollars invested in freeways are dollars that cannot be invested on projects like the one in this story.

SolarEclipse
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SolarEclipse

I used to live near 82nd and Johnson Creek and would walk often along 82nd to go to the store and/or bank. In some spots the sidewalk was very narrow and sometimes I’d wonder if I might get hit by a vehicle that had side mirrors that stuck out too far. Luckily never was.
Breathing the car fumes was no fun, but not much else I could do at the time.
It would be nice to convert 82nd into a 1 car lane each direction and turn the right car lanes into wider protected bike and walk areas.
If they are going to put in crossing areas then make sure they are the flashing light variety as I’ve noticed I have a better chance of a car stopping at those, than just the crossings with signs and no lights.

Stephan Vertal
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Stephan Vertal

I have walked and ridden my bike on the southern portions of 82nd a number of times. A few times almost to Oregon City. There are sections where there is no pavement. A list of cases of businesses with gates or vehicles blocking the sidewalk. I shudder to think what person with a walker or a wheelchair would be confronted by.

Andrew Kreps
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Andrew Kreps

I dare you to attmept to get to the Johnson Creek Fred Meyer from the Springwater. You’re going to be blocked by this: https://goo.gl/maps/mUpxsnyMsqxVwSej8

It’s not navigable by bicycle. I don’t know how they got a permit to build that building, but that portion of it should be demolished.

Chris I
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Chris I

The building was probably there already and then they widened the road. Looks like ODOT needs to close the right lane tomorrow and widen the sidewalk. They can add back the lane when they get funding for a proper road expansion.

David Hampsten
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David Hampsten

Back before the 1950s most roads were far more narrow than they are today, with much wider sidewalks (or grassy strips where sidewalks would normally be.) You can see that by looking at old photos from the 1930s of downtown Portland. Roads were widened to accommodate the much wider cars that came out after WW2. 82nd is a case in point – when it was built as the “speedway” it was a single wide lane in each direction. As Chris I said, the road was later widened, likely in the early 60s, a time when many US cities stopped requiring sidewalks altogether for safety reasons – being a pedestrian was a dangerous recreational pursuit and pedestrians are far better off getting around by car – that was the thinking back then (and alas still is in many cities.)

ODOT has in fact tried in several very determined attempts to get that building through eminent domain (compel the sale) and through sweet-talking with the owner to sell, to no avail. The owner apparently has a “donation land claim” from the 1850s backing him up, before Oregon statehood, or so I’ve been told by a city surveyor, which is why it’s so impossible to force its sale. It’s very well known throughout the region among highway planners. There’s another on 99E in Gladstone with a similar situation.

Chris I
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Chris I

How many times has that building been hit by vehicles, I wonder?

SERider
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SERider

It’s crazy the hoops that the city/state pushed Cartlandia to go through (look at the new sidewalk they had to install on 82nd), but then ridiculous conditions like that convenience store extending into the right of way is just allowed to exist.

EP
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EP

Wow, that new sidewalk sure looks nice, though. 82nd would be a bit better if it had more sidewalks like that. Funny transition from new to old/right next to the curb here:
https://goo.gl/maps/TrBuiqhKQU3FM8Bz9

SERider
Guest
SERider

Agreed. It was frustrating to watch a great business like Cartlandia (which has given a lot back to the surrounding neighborhoods) facing a lot of opposition to open.

Ricky
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Ricky

Well, it certainly seems that the 1998 Pedestrian Design Guide is rarely used in practice. Here’s hoping the updated version is an improvement and makes the vision reality.

David Raboin
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David Raboin

82nd is wide, like two or three times wider than it needs to be in some places. I hope the city seizes the opportunity and does something bold. We could mirror the South Park blocks of downtown out on 82nd north of I-84. We could have a miles long park and transit corridor. Yes, there are some parts of 82nd that’ll always need two lanes each direction, but much of 82nd could be completely rethought and repurposed. The city should think of this orphan highway in terms of land and acreage rather than as just fixing a bloated street. We have a housing shortage and a violent crime wave. Heal 82nd and you heal East Portland.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

I like your thinking. If car users need to access businesses on 82nd, they can use nearby parallel streets to get there like I-205.

Scott Kocher
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Scott Kocher

Another example of the frightening conditions for walking, riding and rolling. 82nd at SE Gray. https://goo.gl/maps/dvKDhWfPQiAjggUJA

Chris I
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Chris I

Outrageous. ODOT could easily close the median turn lane here to widen the sidewalks, and make it no left turns for a few blocks. They just don’t care about pedestrian access or safety.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

In Happy Valley/Clackamas County, not in Portland. The city/county line is just north of here, at Clatsop Street.

squareman
Subscriber

That is absurd. If they don’t claim road space from the cars for that sidewalk, PBOT (and ODOT should have already) should probably imminent domain an easement that would require that fence to get moved another two feet away from the roadway or so.

ChadwickF
Guest
ChadwickF

I’m really not a fan of that slip lane on Foster & 82nd. Adds unnecessary stress getting to or from the bus.

rick
Guest
rick

East 82nd Avenue is still a world away from ODOT’s Canyon Road/TV Highway. At least 82nd has family-type stores in a human distance. West Slope had busy TriMet bus 57 taken from them.

Lee Findley
Guest
Lee Findley

It would be nice to not have to avoid 82nd Avenue like the plague. For such an important thoroughfare it is ugly, dirty and absolutely inimical to both pedestrians and bicyclists. I used to work on it, and live just blocks away from it. The drivers are often unpredictable and supremely entitled, it is very dangerous to cross anywhere along its length. I should have realized that the State was responsible for the lack of awareness, lack of sidewalks, and the avenue’s anti-human, rabidly pro-car bias.
If it is beautified, designed for safe, fair usage for everyone, it will improve everything in the area. Citizen behaviors will improve, businesses will thrive, and investments will increase from the private sector. If everyone feels heard, valued and respected by the city’s planning and implementation of changes along 82nd Avenue, the investments will pay for themselves.

Justino Morales
Guest
Justino Morales

Keep it simple……82nd Trolley Line! It would be free, just hop-on and hop-off. It would reduce local traffic and create commerce.