What does local gas tax fund? A new sidewalk in north Portland (for starters)

This is North Willis looking westbound toward the school. The new sidewalk will be built on that grass on the left.

The other day, local activist/journalist Angela Todd of PDXReal turned her daily criticisms of Portland government toward the transportation bureau. “What are they actually doing with all of this money?” she asked her many followers, in a tweet about the city’s 10-cents-per-gallon local gas tax program known as Fixing Our Streets.

If you have followed Todd at all, you’ll know that she harbors a deep distrust (hate might be a better word) of city government and she clearly framed her tweet (which has been viewed over 15,000 times) with a conspiratorial tone that was meant to discredit the Fixing Our Streets program.

Two days after Todd’s tweet, PBOT sent out an email newsletter from their Safe Routes to School program. Among the highlights of that email was the announcement of a new sidewalk project in north Portland. The source of funding? None other than the 10-cent per gallon local gas tax.

That project will build about seven blocks of new sidewalk on the south side of North Willis Boulevard in the Portsmouth neighborhood. This section of Willis has been identified by the city as an important connection for students and families who attend César Chávez K-8 School. “Walking routes and challenging connections were highlighted by school communities during a Safe Routes to School outreach process held throughout 2017,” the city says on the project website.

Once the project is complete, there will be a nice new sidewalk and ADA curb ramps between Newman and Chautauqua. Construction is slated for later this year.

And that’s just one of the many projects PBOT spends the local gas tax on. If you can’t support kids being able to walk and bike to school more safely, perhaps you can appreciate that, of the $64 million they expect to raise form this tax between 2020 and 2024, $25 million will go to paving, $13 million will go toward basic maintenance (like filling potholes), $4.5 million will go toward street lights, $6 million will toward making neighborhood streets safer, $5 million will be spent on signals and beacons, and so on.

So that’s what PBOT is spending the 10-cent citywide gas tax on.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Randi J
Randi J
9 months ago

I wish PBOT would do sidewalk inspections on reported sidewalks more quickly. Right now there is a 5 YEAR backlog! Lots of trip hazards out there being ignored. They are very dangerous for our disabled and elderly community members.

Matt P
Matt P
9 months ago
Reply to  Randi J

Yeah except it’s the property owners (who don’t own the sidewalk!) that get stuck paying the bill. Many of whom cannot afford the hundreds to thousands of dollars to repair the sidewalks.

Randi J
Randi J
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt P

Well that’s the responsibility and cost of home ownership in Portland. The city does provide a very thorough guide for DIY sidewalks repairs. Make it a community effort! There are usually several sections on a block that need repair or replacement. Also if a trip hazard is small you can grind it down which is cheaper. Don’t forget you can be sued if someone is injured on your poorly maintained sidewalk. Costs a lot more that just maintaining it.

Manual:
https://www.portland.gov/sites/default/files/2020-08/sidewalk-repair-manual-march-2018.pdf

Lawsuit:

https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2014/05/63500_lawsuit_filed_by_man_inj.html

Mary Vasquez
Mary Vasquez
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt P

This tragic story may make you realize the importance of property owner’s maintaining their sidwalks in good condition. Property owner’s are responsible for sidwalk maintenance in Portland

In 2007, 84-year-old Rosemary Vodehnal was walking through her neighborhood a few blocks south of Cleveland High School when she tripped on a bump in the sidewalk.
The roots of a pear tree had pushed up the concrete. She died two weeks later.
That spurred an $825,000 wrongful-death suit against the homeowners who were responsible for that stretch of sidewalk. The case settled, but the terms of the settlement weren’t available for this story.

Fred
Fred
9 months ago
Reply to  Mary Vasquez

This situation is truly tragic and explains why people in my part of town (SW Portland) do not want sidewalks to be built here. If you don’t have one, you can’t be sued.

Randi J
Randi J
9 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I get that. But property values are generally higher where there are sidewalks (with a few exceptions of course). It’s actually a good investment for homeowners to put in sidewalks as people are willing to pay more for that public amenity. Saying no to sidewalks is a bit of a shortsighted move.

qqq
qqq
9 months ago
Reply to  Randi J

Saying no to sidewalks is SOMETIMES shortsighted. Many of the nicest streets to walk in Portland (and elsewhere) don’t have them, and putting them in wouldn’t be positive or even neutra. It would actually make them worse for walking.

Matt P
Matt P
9 months ago
Reply to  Mary Vasquez

How absurd Portland puts homeowners on the hook for a public right-of-way that the homeowner has no control or ownership of. The City of Portland should be responsible for those repairs. I know we hate people who own homes here but come on.

Mary Vasquez
Mary Vasquez
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt P

Well, lots of cities do it that way and lots don’t. However in Portland it is the responsibility of the property owner to maintain adjacent sidewalks. We could change that…but taxes will go up. It’s a tradeoff right?

https://www.cityofvancouver.us/publicworks/page/sidewalks

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt P

I know we hate people who own homes here but come on.

I don’t hate people who own homes. I hate the way they have greedily distorted our economic system for their own benefit. If the owning class really wants to know why we have a housing crisis, they can just look in the mirror.

ShadowsFolly
ShadowsFolly
9 months ago
Reply to  Mary Vasquez

Sad story, but one might wonder, was the tree one of the ones the City recommended planting? There was a time when the City (or its representatives) were going around to home owners to plant trees that typically had big roots near the surface. Yeah, great move by the City. They used to come to my door wanting me to plant trees and were surprised when I laughed at them and told them “no thanks!”

Atreus
Atreus
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt P

It’s hard to feel bad for people who don’t do their research before buying a home and thus don’t know that sidewalks are indeed property owner responsibility in Portland. If you don’t like that law, lobby to change it. But it’s the law, and you need to save money to fix your sidewalk just like you need to save money to fix your roof or paint your house. It’s part of your maintenance liability you take on when you buy a house.

Randi J
Randi J
9 months ago
Reply to  Atreus

Yep, good realtors and home inspectors in Portland tell potential buyers about sidewalk hazards. Wise to get the seller to take care of the issue before closing otherwise it can cost you a bundle.

Matt P
Matt P
9 months ago
Reply to  Atreus

Well alright then since the sidewalk is my responsibility do I have the authority to remove vagrants who purposely block it with tents and trash?

Michael
Michael
9 months ago
Reply to  Randi J

If the recent story about Dutch Bros blocking a bike lane is any indication, a good way to jump the line might be to throw around phrases like “equity” and “ADA violation” and “I’m thinking of retaining legal counsel.” See how quickly the backlog evaporates! 😉

ShadowsFolly
ShadowsFolly
9 months ago
Reply to  Randi J

My favorite in my neighborhood are the mailboxes sitting in the middle of the sidewalks because the owner can’t be bothered to have them closer to the curb. And I just love the bushes that are growing so that they block the sidewalk. I just love walking under the railroad bridge on 122nd near Fremont where I have to walk in the bleeping bike lane because the city won’t cut back the bushes. Sometimes I wish I had a battery powered hedge trimmer and I’d go out early in the morning and take care of it myself and just toss the vines out in the street.

Todd/Boulanger
9 months ago

People like ‘that’ almost makes me what to change my name!

qqq
qqq
9 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

That’s sad! Maybe you should do something nice for yourself like have a French baker make you a croissant.

Fred
Fred
9 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Or a nice loaf of french bread.

Brittany Thomas
Brittany Thomas
9 months ago

7 blocks of sidewalk, identified as a concern 6 years ago, should hardly be the cornerstone conversation piece of city accomplishment.

9watts
9watts
9 months ago

I think Brittany has a point if we appreciate that the identification of *this* particular project wasn’t your casual choice but PBOT’s under fire from a hostile/critical citizen.

9watts
9watts
9 months ago

I think it is worth reminding ourselves that bike lanes and sidewalks are derivative infrastructure. We only have them, consider them necessary, because the streets have been completely taken over by cars – so the rest of us need special strips where we can go where we want to go without so much threat. In places where there are no cars everyone perambulates and bikes and skates and skips in the street and no one is the worse for it.

Joseph E
Joseph E
9 months ago
Reply to  9watts

It’s still nice to have separation between bikes and pedestrians on some streets, even if there were no cars. Sometimes I want to be able to ride 15 to 18 mph so I can get somewhere quickly; that’s 5 to 6 times faster than the usual walking speed. It makes sense to separate 3mph and 15 mph traffic on busier thru-streets. That especially goes for places with buses.

9watts
9watts
9 months ago
Reply to  Joseph E

Sure, MUPs which are kind of narrow, for instance.

Fred
Fred
9 months ago
Reply to  Joseph E

Spend some time in Europe, if you can. Almost every city has a no-car zone where people on bikes and on foot own the streets. It’s wonderful.

Of course we can’t have that here.

jakeco969
jakeco969
9 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I tried to edit this post out of existence. Apologies to Fred! Can it be deleted by moderators please?

Watts
Watts
9 months ago
Reply to  Joseph E

“We only have them, consider them necessary, because the streets have been completely taken over by cars”

Sidewalks long predate cars.

9watts
9watts
9 months ago

Oh and I am still trying to understand why I can’t subscribe to comments? Software doesn’t work for me. It used to but then one day it quit.

Doug Hecker
Doug Hecker
9 months ago

It’s hard to have too many positive feelings about whatever the city does. It seems pretty fair to say that north Portland sees the most dollars spent from PBOT. Other places in town we hear “it’s too much money” story on a common occurrence. I think it’s also difficult to “match up” against pdx real because whether we like it or not, she has a place. We can read all the day long about stolen bikes, cars, and other property. We can read about assault, open air fenty markets, and people squatting in houses but until we see it, then it’s just words on a page. And if the city doesn’t like what she is doing well, they have a choice too. Can PBOT improve? Most certainly. They don’t listen well. They barely like to pick up their their phones. Returning calls in email fashion is childish. I waited a month to hear back from Michael Magee because he had nothing new to report on a subject. This really isn’t good enough. I do find it odd that they can find money to pay for sidewalks and not put liens against the property owners. So yay for this happening but it feels like it goes against what they normally tell the public which is why people grow befuddled and upset with them.

Fred
Fred
9 months ago
Reply to  Doug Hecker

Comment of the week for me.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
9 months ago

Good info here, but must we really give Angela Todd yet more of the attention and exposure she so desperately craves? I’d be happy to read about transportation projects funded by the gas tax without it being framed as an implicit rebuke to Todd, as if I should give a hoot what bigoted crankery she is spewing lately.

Randi J
Randi J
9 months ago

Jonathan, you should consider reaching out to Angela. You might have more in common than you think. How about an interview? I think she’s popular because she’s down to earth and doesn’t downplay the obvious problems of current day Portland

https://instagram.com/pdx.real

George
George
9 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

Attention she craves? Who’s making Portland streets safer than her? You can put all the sidewalks in you want, but the homeless would taken it over if it wasn’t for that new bill that passed that couldn’t have been possible without her. With the negative mentality you have, you can’t appreciate the fact that kids no longer have to walk passed homeless/drug addicts to go to school during the day starting July 7th. That’s what’s gonna make it safer for them.

I’m all for a more bikeable Portland, but the government here is terrible with community feedback/engagement. And this “newspaper” seems that’s it’s just becoming more nonbiased by the day which makes it less and less credible, and more like a whiny kid that’s not getting what they want.

Mary Vasquez
Mary Vasquez
9 months ago

I may not agree with everything Angela Todd of PDX real says but you go to love her. Here is a biracial woman telling it like it is in the current messed up Portland. Her honesty is refreshing, and she says things that most of the local media outlets have been too afraid to report on. It seems they are starting to be forthright in their reporting…seen it with KGW8 and their series on homelessness and even the far left Willamette Week has shifted to a more realistic view of the challenges facing Portland. I call this change to more honest reporting in Portland the “Angela Todd” effect. It’s nice to see.

Matt P
Matt P
9 months ago
Reply to  Mary Vasquez

Thanks Mary, there are many on this forum who want differing opinions silenced. The Portland echo chamber has not worked out so well.