Advocates push PBOT for progress on southwest Portland projects

A new 43-unit apartment building sits adjacent to an unfunded SW In Motion project that would build a sidewalk connection to Portland’s largest employer, Oregon Health Science University. (Photos: Lisa Caballero/BikePortland)
Plan cover

Implementation of the Southwest in Motion (SWIM) plan is flagging according to area transportation advocates. In a letter (PDF) sent yesterday to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), former members of the SWIM Stakeholders Advisory Committee (SAC) laid out their concerns about the quality of the plan’s roll-out.

Co-signers include the current and past chair of PBOT’s Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC).

The letter comes on the heels of PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller’s recent update on bike network progress to the BAC. Geller presented a table which showed the southwest region of Portland lagging behind the rest of the city in the percentage of its planned bikeway network that has been built.

Correspondence between the advocates and PBOT began over a year ago, and yesterday’s letter is organized as a synopsis of those communications. It begins by recapping the group’s original concerns:

SW Marquam Hill Rd, just uphill from Gibbs, is slated for a safer shoulder, but the project has no funding.

While it acknowledges that PBOT has “partially addressed” some of these issues, the letter makes the case that the bureau still has “a considerable way to go.”

  • The lack of the 2-year progress report called for in the plan;
  • Deficient and outdated information on the SWIM website;
  • Slow progress made on project delivery relative to other In Motion plans; and
  • Perhaps most important – having virtually no knowledge or involvement in project prioritization, selection, or design until they are announced.

Portland has adopted four “In Motion” plans over the past decade, beginning with East Portland in Motion (EPIM) in 2012, and followed by Central City (CCIM) in 2018, SWIM in December 2019, and Northwest (NWIM) in 2020. Most recently, North Portland in Motion got underway at the end of 2021.

A characteristic of all “In Motion” plans is that they are grounded in public participation. Project lists are the product of dialogue with advisory committees, and have been vetted through open houses, focus groups, meetings with stakeholders—the full Portland engagement process.

But there does not appear to be a uniform process for reporting out or overseeing project status — or budgeting — and this makes it difficult to account for progress, or commitment from the city. The advocates sum up this concern in their letter’s first of four action items:

Complete the progress report described in the SWIM plan including:

  • Status report of projects completed. 
  • Projects for 2022-2023 that are budgeted/under construction, in design, and under consideration. 
  • An annually updated summary of the funds available for SWIM projects for the coming fiscal year including the anticipated funding sources. 
  • Summary of any anticipated issues regarding funding, staffing, etc. and how PBOT will try to resolve them.

Comment: The SWIM website was updated for the completed projects. It also lists projects that are called “active”, but this includes a wide range from, projects that are under construction to ones that appear to only be in the staff discussion stage. The listings offer minimal project descriptions and no information about the schedule, project manager contact information, estimated budget and funding source(s), or upcoming community involvement opportunities and summary of past public comments. It also does not list potential future projects under consideration or a funding outlook. What has been completed so far is a good start, but important information is lacking, and the public continues to remain mainly in the dark.

While recognizing that the areas of town with “In Motion” plans differ greatly, each with varying scope and needs, a cursory review of their websites shows that:

  • Each plan follows a unique implementation approach (Central City in Motion has an ongoing Working Group which meets regularly to review project status and design);
  • The city’s financial commitment to each differs by orders of magnitude (The EPIM 2021 10th Anniversary Status Report states that “PBOT and our agency partners now have allocated nearly $320 million to East Portland in Motion (EPIM) project implementation and related projects.” In contrast, a SWIM update notes that $500K will be available for “QuickBuild” projects which are expected to be constructed by 2024.
  • Some plans offer more detailed timelines and implementation information. (NWIM describes an implementation strategy which includes project evaluations and ”tweaks and changes.”)

I reached out to Bicycle Advisory Committee Chair Ally Holmqvist, a co-signer of the letter, to learn why she and the BAC supported the SWIM requests. She brought up the BAC’s southwest ride last August,

I didn’t want to stand next to, let alone ride through, “the crossroads” and I felt uncomfortable using many of the bike lanes we rode on where the topography can provide challenge enough for riders. I was heartened to see the work done on SW Capitol Highway, but it is clear there is still more work to do and that all of those who devoted their time and effort to SWIM deserve an update on the next steps.

The letter is addressed to PBOT SWIM Project Manager Nick Falbo, and closes with a request for a closer partnership between PBOT and the community:

The plan states “Continued community advocacy for projects will be instrumental to the success of this plan.” This can only happen through a community – PBOT partnership. We invite you to have an open discussion with interested SW residents about how to best establish an on-going partnership that is effective and efficient for the city and SW residents.


Falbo responded briefly yesterday upon receiving the letter via email: “We appreciate the feedback and I will discuss with our capital delivery division in charge of project design and construction processes,” he wrote. “More to come.”

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)

Lisa Caballero is on the board of SWTrails PDX, and was the chair of her neighborhood association's transportation committee. A proud graduate of the PBOT/PSU transportation class, she got interested in local transportation issues because of service cuts to her bus, the 51. Lisa has lived in Portland for 23 years and can be reached at lisacaballero853@gmail.com.

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Austin
Austin
1 year ago

I feel as a Southwest Portland resident, that we are being neglected as far as pedestrian/cycling infrastructure goes. Of course I want to see all of Portland get world-class cycling infrastructure and many parts of Portland are. Just not Southwest Portland. I wonder if it has to do deal with the fact that it’s low density or that more higher income earners live in the area. I would love to have safe and separated cycling infrastructure then I would strongly consider purchasing an e-bike.

Daniel Reimer
1 year ago

Other than the Homestead area, every where else you mentioned is definitely not “dense” by any meaningful measure. Portland Heights is entirely R10 to R5 zoning. “Hillsdale is dense” is just not true.

And if you look at https://www.portland.gov/civic/myneighborhood/neighborhood-profile-maps, these neighborhoods have the majority of people making above the median income.

D2
D2
1 year ago
Reply to  Austin

I imagine it often has most to do with road width. The narrowness of roads in SW means you’d have to add space for any new facilities. Which often means trying to secure right of way from property owners and shoring up embankments where they are often already very steep or right up to hillsides.

In comparison a lot of east side roads are plenty wide. It often just takes removing a parking lane or even just narrowing driving lanes a bit to paint a bike lane.

For context, in the federal funds article just a mile of repave is $5 million. To add width you have to include building the foundation of the road.

Marianne Fitzgerald
Marianne Fitzgerald
1 year ago
Reply to  D2

Austin and others, IMO the lack of bicycle facilities in SW Portland is not the width of the roadway or right of way, nor the relatively low density compared to some other parts of Portland. The lack of infrastructure is more related to the hilly topography and clay soils and the city’s lack of investments in street improvements for decades, post-annexation. As Lisa reported awhile ago, half of the cost of the SW Capitol Highway project between Multnomah Village and West Portland is the required stormwater management improvements as well as new Portland Water Bureau pipes that were upgraded at the same time, a textbook case of how to leverage investments. The City of Portland has historically not invested in infrastructure improvements in SW Portland, even today, and it only gets more and more expensive to do it the right way. We are very grateful that PBOT and other bureaus did it the right way on the SW Capitol Highway project that’s under construction today.

Nick and PBOT staff have said that SW Portland will only get low-cost improvements in the near future, which give the appearance of PBOT investments without making biking or walking any safer. If you look at the “PBOT Projects” website there isn’t even a tab for SW Portland. And ODOT’s recent “crossroads jughandle” project made it less safe for biking and walking in SW Portland, as Lisa has also reported in the past.

Years ago PBOT funded two major projects that would have made the bicycling infrastructure safer in SW Portland, and then mysteriously the funding disappeared. One was the 2012 “Barbur Demonstration Project” that would have added bike lanes and sidewalks in the area of SW Barbur near SW 22-24th (in the vicinity of the Original Pancake House). PBOT moved that funding to the renamed “SW Barbur Area Sidewalks” which will be a multi-use path on SW 26th. PBOT made the change over our objections and at half of the cost of the original RFFA grant. SW 26th is a very busy road, essentially the freeway ramp for I-5 Exit 295 NB, and a multi use path next to busy traffic is not likely to encourage more people to walk or bike (I hope I am wrong). A second was the improvements to the SW Garden Home Road/Multnomah Blvd. intersection funded many years ago, leveraging PBOT SDC funding with Washington County MSTIP funds. The funding quietly disappeared during the pandemic and no one can say where it went.

I especially appreciate Ally’s quote in Lisa’s article. People are afraid to bike and walk in SW Portland. And it’s not getting better anytime soon.

Thanks, Lisa, for continuing to highlight thorny infrastructure issues citywide.

Marianne Fitzgerald
Marianne Fitzgerald
1 year ago

One more tidbit…according to Portland’s Office of Community and Civic Life data, my Crestwood neighborhood in SW Portland has a median income of $73,000, which is less than the city’s median income of $75,000. The same data set says my neighborhood is 28.7% non-white. No data about street surfaces but there are almost no sidewalks or bike facilities in this neighborhood. There are people of all colors and incomes who need better infrastructure in SW Portland.

I appreciate PBOT’s search for low-cost solutions through SWIM. This letter communicates the real need to track and construct safer walking and biking facilities in SW Portland in the near and long term.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

“PBOT and our agency partners now have allocated nearly $320 million to East Portland in Motion (EPIM) project implementation and related projects.” In contrast, a SWIM update notes that $500K will be available for “QuickBuild” projects which are expected to be constructed by 2024.

It’s absolutely ridiculous – I suppose they expect SW folks to fund their own infrastructure??

curly
curly
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

LID’s?

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago

Didn’t nearby Washington County do an area-wide LID? That’s what SW needs.

curly
curly
1 year ago

Agreed.

Of the $320 million that PBOT (and it’s partners) have funded for east Portland transportation improvements over the last 12 years, most has come from ODOT either directly, or indirectly through our state elected officials. Outer Powell Blvd. is $145 million. Another $27 million from Shemia Fagan when she was our state representative. PBOT had delivered little until 2022. Though many projects are funded and have been for years.

To get PBOT moving is a little like herding sheep, sometimes you have to get the dogs out to nip at their heels.

PBOT’s focus continues to be the central city the last few years. This puzzles me because more people continue to telecommute and are demanding better bike/ped facilities in their own neighborhood. Might be a story there.

The fact that SW is as lacking active transportation on arterials is appalling. I have seen some of the recent improvements along SW Vermont and the Capital Hwy. project. Nice, but not enough. SW also has to deal with ODOT. Sorry.

Comparing outer east Portland to SW is like comparing apples and oranges. We haven’t had continuous sidewalks on our arterials ever until the Division FX/Safety project. Powell Blvd. won’t be completed until 2028.

My point being is that PBOT’s throwing buckets of money funding the CCIM (an open ended project?) while the rest of the city suffers unless you live in inner SE/NE where there is a complete low stress bike network.
The central city is the friendliest active transportation/transit area in the city yet we’re spending $75 million to accommodate cyclists?

Let’s finish all the In Motion projects before we do the CCIM!

maxD
maxD
1 year ago

The Gibbs project is a frustrating example because the developer was willing to make the improvement and PBOT denied them! That should have been a sidewalk extension for the new apartment residences for future connections to the east as redevelopment happens and a path/widened shoulder to the trailhead

Keith
Keith
1 year ago

Lisa – thanks for the solid reporting. As one of the advocates, I can say that SW residents often feel the city doesn’t consider their bike/ped transportation needs as seriously as other parts of town. That said, there is need everywhere you look in this city, most/all neighborhoods probably feel the same way about their area. But Roger Geller’s recent evaluation of the bike network completion % by area put SW in dead last. Not surprising to us. The data simply supports what we’ve known all along. Although it’s difficult to directly compare different areas of the city because of variations in size and character, the city appears to have invested significantly less in SW compared to other parts of the city.

One reader suggests that street and other construction costs tend to be higher in SW, and this is generally true. But we also have many opportunities to make streets much better with creative and lower-cost solutions. Too often, PBOT has focused on what it can’t do and not enough on what it can do. Hopefully, this letter and request will lead to an improved SWIM implementation process through closer collaboration between PBOT and SW residents.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago
Reply to  Keith

When we started the EPIM process in 2010, we knew in EP that we would never see city sidewalks on most of our neighborhood streets under any circumstances. But we also knew that “all sidewalks were built by homeowners and developers” was a myth spread by city staff, some of whom knew better, and by well-meaning neighborhood activists who didn’t know better. And many sidewalks were in fact built by homeowners and developers, even in EP, but as a 2000 PBOT report said, many in inner Portland were actually paid for by the Feds in the 1930s WPA mass-employment efforts, some were built by the city along arterial stroads, and some by ODOT, its predecessor, or by the county – it’s a real mix.

The city regularly publishes it’s maintenance backlog, a constantly growing deficit, but it has only a few times even tried to calculate what it would cost to develop its whole complete streets program – sidewalks, curbed streets, separated sewers, water lines, utility poles, bike lanes, pedestrian islands, and so on – for the whole city, on arterial stroads, local streets, and pathways. Every time it does publish the figure, it’s a staggering sum – proof if we ever needed it that our our politicians tend to overpromise and that equally we are fools to actually believe them. The amount on money involved is far greater than we’ll ever raise even if taxes were not limited by state referendums and a reluctance to vote for any sort of sales tax.

And so that’s why in the EPIM we had to force ourselves to rank projects, to figure out where we are likely to get the biggest bang for the buck, pester our politicians and mid-level bureaucrats, alert the media, form unholy alliances with business associations and SWNI, attend astoundingly boring city meetings, and beg for money. It turns out we got good at begging, mind you not as good as central city interests like PBA, but we nevertheless got at least $400 million in projects since 2012 when we used to get practically diddly squat.

My point is that there is effectively no money out there, certainly not enough to do what needs to be done, that even downtown which gets a majority of city funds still needs more, and we are all fighting over grossly inadequate crumbs like a bunch of starving refugees. I believe a better strategy would to be work in city-wide cooperation between NGOs (nonprofits) and activists to figure out what can be done to connect the funded and implemented projects into a moderately cohesive network, but also encourage quite a bit of urban triage and abandon our vast oversupply of stroads and city streets to a focused Covid processes of benign neglect, diverters, and clandestine pop-up facilities using traffic cones, orange paint and small piles of gravel.

My 2 cents.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Thank you David, I always appreciate your recounting of the history of EPIM lobbying for infrastructure.

I think Marianne has gotten to the crux of the matter above. The city has neglected to invest in stormwater infrastructure in the SW, for going on half a century.

I use a baked cake analogy; you can require a developer to frost the cake (pour a sidewalk), but can’t require them to prepare and bake the cake (put in storm water pipes).

So the sidewalk standard in SW has become a six-ft wide unprotected shoulder on the side of the road. (Six feet has been reduced to 2.5 feet in some locations.) But this is never stated as policy, you have to observe for enough years to notice that’s what is happening.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 year ago

I was born in a community (Grand Forks ND) that actually required all developers, without any exceptions, to put in all the streets, sidewalks, storm and sanitary sewers, electrical lines, and streetlights before a single foundation could be laid. Portland, like most cities, has no spine.

I have a brother who lives in Tuscany, which is more or less a national park. The local authorities try to prevent bad-faith developments by refusing to connect the water and power lines to any illegal structures. Maybe Portland ought to do the same?

And so yeah, you can actually require the developer to prepare and bake the cake as well as frost it, but Portland has chosen not to.

cct
cct
1 year ago

The Gibbs thing is a -chef’s kiss- example; after repeatedly telling us ‘the road IS your sidewalk! .- SWIM, Greenways, Shared Shoulders, etc etc etc – Development Services turned around and denied the volunteered sidewalk because it ‘didn’t connect’ to any pedestrian route, just ended in the road. The road they told is IS the sidewalk, which I see people and cyclists on ALL THE TIME. I call this effect”Schroedinger’s Sidewalk,” since the road is a sidewalk except when it isn’t. Sure, they threw in a grabbag of other reasons, but all in support of no; I understand 12′ w/ bikelane and swales didn’t fit, but the diffident solution of asphalt shoulder and a ‘no parking’ sign is an insult. Not even wand separation… Frankly, I think they didn’t want someone setting a precedent of, you know – helping.

Falbo has tried his best, as did Cohen and eventually Marx, but I’ve no idea what headwinds they’ve faced lately. Has anyone talked to Gina Castaldi, the newish Ped Coordinator about any of this? Good staffers can only do so much if the support is not there above. And there’s not much you can do when the suits above tell you to look in th couch cushions for project money, instead of dedicating funding.

There are staffers actively hostile to ped/bike infrastructure in SW, and they’ve said so (with a long list of reasons why SW is getting the shaft, of course). It is not the job of PBOT to tell people “get bent;” their job is to develop infrastructure that safely allows multi-modal traffic as best they can.

Telling me you won’t try means you are BAD at your job, and should be fired.

Find someone who will try their darndest fer feck’s sake.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  cct

A PBOT staffer once told a group in SW: “The people who have sidewalks on their streets paid for those sidewalks.” Which is absolutely BS. Those hostile staffers should be fired.

cct
cct
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

bet i know who that was 🙂

it would be nice if the next director would clean house, but i’d be satisfied with a shift in attitude from on high.

MarkM
1 year ago

Thanks for this story, Lisa. I shared it with my family members who live in Southwest Portland.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago

I didn’t want to stand next to, let alone ride through, “the crossroads”

But Ally: ODOT built that nice ramp up to the sidewalk on the east side of Capitol Hwy, which puts you smack in the line of cars busting out of the BWF parking lot. Doesn’t *THAT* make you feel safer??

The entire “jug handle” project is a joke. Since ODOT didn’t make it impossible for northbound drivers to turn left from Cap Hwy onto the I-5 SB ramp, most drivers continue to make that left-hand turn, illegally. Stand on the corner (if you dare) and watch the drivers, and you’ll see that nothing has changed for 99% of them.

Of course many of us took the time to tell ODOT that drivers would simply disregard their signs and road paint, but did they listen? Nope. ODOT built it and passed the buck to PPB to enforce, and you know how that goes. Road-building experts – which ODOT of course claims to be – should know that any behavior you AFFORD on a roadway is behavior you ENABLE.

Champs
Champs
1 year ago

“I felt uncomfortable using many of the bike lanes we rode on where the topography can provide challenge enough for riders”

reminds me of the old Borscht Belt joke

“the food is terrible, and the portions are so small!”

If residential zoning makes sense at all in many parts of SW, then you need R10+ just to have a build site and limit emergency services to one home rather than dozens. If you need fire and ambulance response budgeted, where does that leave general transportation, much less active? If electric bikes change the equation, can we still prefer flat routes?

I’m all for improving the meal, but fresh, local ingredients vary by season and climate. There are no bananas in the Adirondacks.