Opinion: The missed opportunity on SW Gibbs

Woman walks a dog on the recently paved shoulder on SW Gibbs Street — where the landscaping will be protected, but walkers and bikers will not. (Photos: Lisa Caballero/BikePortland)

It’s almost a wrap, and this is my seventh post in a year-long series about the permitting of a new, 43-unit apartment building on SW Gibbs Street, just up the road from the Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) campus on Marquam Hill.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) Development Review desk signed-off on the building permit, but only required a five-foot asphalt shoulder for people to walk along rather than a sidewalk, despite Portland City Code 17.28.020 mandating that:

The owner(s) of land abutting any street in the City shall be responsible for constructing, reconstructing, maintaining and repairing the sidewalks, curbs, driveways and parking strips abutting or immediately adjacent to said land…

The site

This past month, workers completed the shoulder and we can now see what that looks like. The design has people walking in the narrow, banked street next to cars, along a guardrail which blocks the pedestrian from stepping off the roadway.

The land north of the street, between the guardrail and the building, is owned by the city—the property line runs about three feet in front of the building’s façade. Site plans show that the land between the guardrail and the building will be landscaped.

Cars illegally parked on shoulder in front of new apartment building.

According to the most recent traffic and speed counts (2014 and 2018) Marquam Hill Rd (Gibbs becomes Marquam Hill Rd in the turn) carries between 3,000-4,000 cars a day, with 87% of the downhill drivers traveling above the posted 25 mph speed limit. This route is the only western entrance onto the OHSU/VA campus and is a popular cut-through for OHSU-bound drivers who exit westbound Hwy-26 at the Sylvan off-ramp miles before the more direct Hwy-405 Broadway Drive exit to OHSU, in order to avoid the tunnel traffic into downtown Portland and also to enjoy the beautiful drive over the hill.

Marquam Hill

I have written seven articles about Gibbs not because there is anything unusual about its “walking in the road” sidewalk treatment, far from it, this is typical of frontage improvements in southwest Portland.

No, if there is something special about the Gibbs treatment, it is that it is happening at this location. The new apartment building is just up the street from the OHSU emergency room; OHSU is Portland’s largest employer, and the premier medical center and biomedical research facility in Oregon; it has around a $4 billion operating budget and is currently building a $650 million hospital expansion. Gibbs Street is rapidly densifying with medium-sized apartment buildings and it has incomplete sidewalk coverage. The city imposed a parking cap on OHSU two decades ago which has resulted in limiting available parking to one spot for every three employees; consequently, OHSU had a pre-covid mode-share of 17% of employees commuting by bike.

“I live around here and I’d like to start riding a bicycle, but the road makes me too nervous.”

For cyclists, the widened shoulder provides a bike lane through part of the narrow curve, and makes that segment of the Gibbs/Marquam Hill route a little safer.

I spoke with a woman jogging on the new shoulder early Sunday morning and asked her what she thought. “It’s OK, I’m glad they put it on the outside of the curve—but I think it could be better.” When I mentioned to her that I was writing an article for BikePortland her face lit up. “I live around here and I’d like to start riding a bicycle, but the road makes me too nervous.” There are indeed lots of fast drivers and close passes on Marquam Hill Rd and Gibbs St.

By Monday morning work hour, the new shoulder on which she had been jogging was full of parked cars, as you can see in the photo above (on either side of the “No Parking” sign).

PBOT responds

I reached out to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) earlier this week to see if they had a further statement about why a protected walkway at this location was infeasible, or to learn if they had modified their plans to include a path. Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera responded that,

PBOT always works to make sure our frontage requirements for development are reasonable, and when it comes to helping build housing such as this project on SW Gibbs, that is all the more critical to help the city address Portland’s housing crisis. PBOT worked with other city bureaus and the developer to require a wider shoulder, including some work outside their project area, to provide better access for people biking and walking than has been in place at the site on SW Gibbs. A standard sidewalk and protected bike lane would have required construction of an extraordinarily high and expensive retaining wall and movement of water and sewer lines.

Is there a solution to this?

Southwest Portland has the least sidewalk coverage, and the fewest completed bike routes of any area in the city and the current policy of requiring these facilities to be built piecemeal by developers as frontage improvements to land developments is not working well. The process is not transparent and relies on volunteers at neighborhood associations being savvy enough about permitting to effectively advocate for walkways and bike lanes.

The city should acknowledge this and commit to a plan to provide the infrastructure necessary to support environmentally responsible and safe growth in southwest Portland.

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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maxD
maxD
6 months ago

it should be as simple as that- nice job!

blumdrew
6 months ago

A standard sidewalk and protected bike lane would have required construction of an extraordinarily high and expensive retaining wall and movement of water and sewer lines.

Okay, then there should be an option for a “non-standard” sidewalk at the very least. Surely a shoulder-less road with a five foot wide sidewalk is better for pedestrians than a road with a five foot shoulder and no sidewalk. The fact that PBOT is either unable or unwilling to make something as obvious as this happen is just so frustrating.

Maybe someone smarter than me could help me understand why a 28 foot wide ROW can’t have room for cars, bikes, and people. I guess we just have to keep giving all of the space to cars, sorry. PBOT ought to be ashamed of themselves over all this.

maxD
maxD
6 months ago

PBOT has become so hostile to pedestrians and bikes, it is very regressive and disappointing. Dylan’s lightly coded language speaks volumes:

PBOT always works to make sure our frontage requirements for development are reasonable

“Reasonable” ALWAYS means that car speeds, volumes and parking are to be maintained or improved. Look at 7th/Tillamook, Lloyd/Blemnaur, Naito/Morrison, SE Hawthrone/12th, and the list is endless. PBOT will compromise pedestrian and bike safety for car convenience everytime. This article really riles me up because it shines a spotlight on PBOT’s utter lack of commitment to creating a pedestrain and bike network. Adding in BS language about affordable housing is just adding insult to injury. PBOT has wasted so much money by compromising every single bike/ped project over that last 10 years and they are are the ones leading our bike counts backwards.

Let's Active
Let's Active
6 months ago
Reply to  maxD

Yes, thank goodness people driving cars will be protected from going beyond the guardrail if they depart the auto lanes, even if they take out a person walking or riding their bike on the shoulder as they go

cct
cct
6 months ago

***Moderator: numerous small edits throughout post to make less inflammatory***

There was no bureau effort to make this ‘more affordable to build more housing;’ the developer volunteered the sidewalk at their expense. The city refused. As for ‘moving pipes’ – there are pipes under sidewalks all over town; I hear some are -GASP- under the street! The horror of having to dig up a small patch of sidewalk to repair something some decades later has been avoided, thank god. If cutting concrete is too onerous, make the path of asphalt… you know, like a paved shoulder.

Most egregious is the lie that federal rules prevented that guardrail from being BETWEEN the shoulder and the traffic lane. Apparently multiple people asked for the rule; none was ever provided. Why? Could it be that there isn’t one?

HAPPY to apologize if PBOT whips out Fed Reg 2009.456.2(R) which says ‘no guardrails near the fogline in Portland’ or whatever. One is not supposed to use “loaded” words like ‘lie’ in a good argument, but if they state a rule prevents it, and there ISN’T one… “Lie – noun (2) something intended or serving to convey a false impression” – Thesaurus.com.

I have heard that this design was done to prioritize bike safety. Would not riding behind the rail improve that safety?

The most charitable explanation is that someone messed up, and either PBOT was too embarrassed, or too much staff and/or developer money had been spent on designs to backtrack and get a better one. They could say that; we’d be sad, but mostly understand. Instead, there appears to have been an active campaign to pretend this was all to plan and throw as many excuses out as possible. Remember that maxim, the coverup is often worse than the crime? If you screw up, and then say you did not, that seems like a lie to me.

Of course, there’s another option: that PBOT is deliberately hostile to pedestrian and bike safety in some parts of Portland, and higher-ups are deliberately making decisions that will endanger people for decades to come.

Pick one and get back to us, PBOT

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  cct

The most charitable explanation is that someone messed up, and either PBOT was too embarrassed, or too much staff and/or developer money had been spent on designs to backtrack and get a better one. 

I don’t know anything about this case, but I’ve definitely seen this dynamic play out elsewhere at the city.

zuckerdog
zuckerdog
6 months ago

While there are many smart and well-intentioned staff working within the City Bureaus, the development and “public works” processes are riddled with dysfunction. Hopefully our newly appointed City Manager will be able to tackle this in 2025.

For this project specifically, I suspect that the existing topographical constraints are playing a major factor, however the Water Bureau’s anachronistic policy of not allowing curb or sidewalks above their watermains may have been another major contributing factor. This current policy either causes unnecessary costs and/or poor design decisions throughout our City.

The conspiracy theorist in me also suspects that another factor that led to this lack-of-sidewalk outcome has to do with the adjacent city-owned property. Precedence of a new sidewalk along 1325 SW Gibbs would put future pressure on adding a sidewalk along the adjacent open space property. Any sidewalk, or roadway widening for that matter, along this frontage would likely be expensive because of the need of retaining walls and would also impact to trees.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  zuckerdog

 Hopefully our newly appointed City Manager will be able to tackle this in 2025.

I see no plausible path that leads there; The City Manager will be dealing with lots and lots of bureaus, and will not be making policy decisions like this.

City Council could direct PBOT to write new policy, if they can find a formulation that a seven members will agree to, but these changes would all be far easier to make today when only one (Mapps) needs to be convinced (or three members of City Council, all of whom represent you, who could direct PBOT today).

The idea that we’ll have a City Manager out there championing the issues that you support and opposing the ones you dislike, and forcing good decisions onto a reluctant city bureaucracy is pure fantasy. The new structure will be more likely to default to the status quo and entrench the power of bureau management than the existing one is.

cct
cct
6 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Indeed. That mealy-mouthed ‘removing obstacles to affordable housing’ indicates the battle for the soul of PBOT is over; the staff who have fought for pedestrian and bicycle improvements have been outgunned by managers captured by the developer crowd, who use the unhoused as an excuse to do away with ALL regs that cost developers a single dime, as well as business interests who priorotize traffic flow. Rubio’s consolidation will only entrench these people further.

jakeco969
jakeco969
6 months ago
Reply to  cct

There always seems to be an excuse as to why PBOT/Portland City Council isn’t able to do the right thing and it certainly seems you’re right that the new one is “affordable housing”
I believe thats the reason given to get rid of some extra canopy cover as well.
https://www.wweek.com/news/environment/2023/08/24/oregons-latest-housing-fight-kotek-vs-lorax/
Yet another good time to be a developer in Portland.

zuckerdog
zuckerdog
6 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I see no plausible path that leads there; The City Manager will be dealing with lots and lots of bureaus, and will not be making policy decisions like this.

The debacle that occurred on this project was not due to a lack of appropriate policy. It was the City having a problem implementing their policy by getting all the Bureaus on board to agree upon a reasonable solution to the given sidewalk policy.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  zuckerdog

And how will the city manager fix this? Why would they not end up with the same solution that the bureaus all converged on (and PBOT signed off on)?

“Ok, Manager, we’ve found a solution we can all live with.”

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
6 months ago

Oh the poor, miserable water, where can it go? Where does the runoff from the winter storms go in southwest Portland if the local clay soils can’t absorb them? Must they go onto the 28-foot pavement and the gutters that don’t exist, eroding the pavement as it persists? Or might the city require landscaping to absorb at least a little bit of this runoff?

Water doesn’t think. It follows gravity relentlessly. Deal with it. And PBOT to their credit has. Until the right-of-way is expanded to 100-ft widths in SW, I feel this is a “reasonable” compromise in the circumstances. But I fully expect that given that this is BP, I’m part of the tiny minority in my opinions.

cct
cct
6 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Is it ‘reasonable’ to insist the guardrail be where it is because a car could hit it if it were closer? Because apparently PBOT thinks that.
Also. BES said there was NO ISSUE with runoff in this location; the planned facilities had MORE than enough capacity for a few hundred square feet of sidewalk.
Is it ‘reasonable’ to continuously, disingenuously, say “sidewalks” when the issue is a safe walking space, not necessarily a sidewalk?

maxD
maxD
6 months ago
Reply to  cct

Why does the City require a guardrail on a 20 MPH street, anyway?

maxD
maxD
6 months ago

Thanks Lisa. I guess the guardrail is required because this a highway by-pass route? From a quick street view look at the street, it seems like there is sporadic guardrail at steep drop-offs, which this location doesn’t have. There is an apartment down the hl, across from Plaid Pantry that appears to be at similar risk of being crashed into, but it has no guardrail. The guardrail just looks so massive and unnecessary in this residential setting that I am curious why that was included and a sidewalk was not. It seems like a 6-ich curb would be adequate here.

rick
rick
1 month ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

This street is by Portland’s largest employer, OHSU. Gibbs needs sidewalks.

aquaticko
aquaticko
6 months ago

Lisa, were there any estimates of how much it would’ve actually costed to put sidewalk in here? I’m looking at moving from my crumbling lil’ ole apartment in central Beaverton–which I’ve stayed in mostly because of how walkable (if still car-infested) the immediate area is–and the leading candidate for new place is in Raleigh Hills, just up the road from me but technically in SW Portland.

Looking at the immediate area there, it is shocking–genuinely shocking–to see so many roads that not only don’t have sidewalks, but don’t even have a shoulder. It’s the 2020’s, not the 1920’s; cars aren’t huffing along roads like these at 15-20mph; they’re doing ~40 (while weighing often twice as much or more). How on Earth is the cost of sidewalk construction not just an assumption on the part of any developer or the city bodies that grant them permission to build? At this point, I’d think that lack of sidewalk is such an obvious deterrent to potential renters/buyers of a property that it’s thought of as one of those “it’ll pay for itself” kind of things.

How much would a sidewalk really have cost here, even with all the associated infrastructure?

cct
cct
6 months ago
Reply to  aquaticko

I will point this out again, because people are missing it: the developer volunteered to build the sidewalk!

It doesn’t matter how much it would cost; the developer offered to pay for it. It had NOTHING to do with ‘affordability’ as insinuated by the PBOT flack.

They were DENIED doing so by the city, with an ever-expanding list of reasons why. Not one held water, so now it appears blame is being laid upon Water – they didn’t want concrete over a pipe, and they didn’t have funds to move them. Guess what… they moved those pipes anyways. The DEVELOPER ended up footing the bill for much of it. I’ve read the engineering plans; it’s there in black and white,

And last – again – even if a sidewalk is or is not practical here, the issue is that a SAFE WALKING SPACE was… and the city refused to make one.

aquaticko
aquaticko
6 months ago

It does seem a little hard to believe. I’m not anti-developer, but as we don’t really have public developers in this country, developers are all ultimately profit uber alles, whatever other particular interests they may have. I’d be astounded if, even if a developer volunteered to build the infrastructure, there wasn’t some expectation of quid pro quo, spoken or unspoken, on the record or otherwise, that PBOT/BES/whoever couldn’t be bothered to be involved with. Private developers rarely ever behave out of the goodness of the hearts.

As far as I’m concerned, the whole discussion is–or should be–moot, anyway. Leaving public infrastructure construction and maintenance to the private sector is just backwards. Even something as simple as sidewalk shoveling in the winter (I’m originally from New Hampshire) shows that this doesn’t work. Yes, some people will do it, but at least as many won’t, either because they don’t care, or they don’t realize it’s their responsibility because it isn’t, after all, just their sidewalk.

PBOT’s good faith in this or other scenarios can hardly be taken for granted, either, but at least we (the public) have the right to expect better from a public entity and the potential influence to make it happen.

There’s also a lot of work from Alon Levy about how giving responsibility for public infrastructure endeavors just leads to higher costs/delays to the public as it gives private entities a lever to ask for more public money as the private entity then has no incentive for cost control. It’s a bit tangential, but we can add this SW Gibbs sidewalk and the Alpenrose development issues to the long list of cases where it’s very clear that public enterprise–and high expectations from the public about what those enterprises do–is essential.

That dynamic is what makes the fact that so many Portlanders seem to have generally given up on the city so disheartening. It is what we make of it, after all.

cct
cct
6 months ago

Page 3, PBOT response to Land Use Review request LU 19-258445-000-00LU. 4/2/20:
It is not practical or appropriate to extend either a public street or pedestrian connection through the subject site in order to further the City’s connectivity goals given the issues identified above.

That sure sounds like a ‘you are not extending a sidewalk through the frontage’ to me. Developer thought it would be an amenity.

Now, did developer see he wasn’t gonna be forced to put one in, and took credit for ‘realllllly wanting to, but those meanies at PBOT…’ Sure. Highly plausible scenario. Risky, should PBOT cave to pressure and then he’s gotta build it!

Again, this is moot; the issue is that PBOT denied a safe walking space of ANY kind.

aquaticko
aquaticko
6 months ago
Reply to  cct

Yes, that can’t be denied; this is ultimately on PBOT’s head. As I said, the truth of the matter of who on-the-record said “no” is less relevant than that the body ultimately responsible for saying “yes” hasn’t made it a non-issue either way. Is there any public agency in Portland without its head up its backside?

cct
cct
6 months ago

Here’s the whole para:

The site, adjacent sites and the vicinity include challenging terrain with Open Space zoning (to the west and north), Environmental Conservation and Protection overlays, landslide hazards, areas of significant tree canopy and water features. It is questionable that adjacent sites (especially to the north and west can be further divided. Although there are abutting rights-of-ways along the western and northern property lines of the subject site, these exist as “paper” rights-of-ways and they will not be required to be improved in relation to the proposed development. No other streets or pedestrian connections exist north or west of the subject site (there is the existing identified trail network adjacent to the subject site – this is not considered a pedestrian connection). It is not practical or appropriate to extend either a public street or pedestrian connection through the subject site in order to further the City’s connectivity goals given the issues identified above.

In my opinion, it clearly says ‘especially north and west’ which indicates it has analyzed and is meant to apply to all sides. There’s a road to the east which they also did not require improvements upon. It could have plainly stated ‘improvements to west and north will not be appropriate,’ but it says “through the subject site” which would include any side. I am open to the idea that it is just a poorly-written paragraph; however,

John L
John L
6 months ago

PBOT thinks a 3 foot retaining wall is extraordinarily expensive? What a load of crock. Developers have convinced everyone, from the city to the Governor, that every other priority should be sacrificed to their profits. Wetlands and the urban tree canopy are next, if Gov Kotek has her way.

cct
cct
6 months ago
Reply to  John L

The BES program in 2019 that reduced wetland protection by half already did that … and was pointless in the long run, as the Supreme Court dealt a death blow by eliminating protection to 60% of the country’s wetlands this year. If a wetland is not ‘connected’ to a larger body of water, pave it! Those individual swamps, bogs, seeps and recharge sinks are eligible for development now. Here nor there for bikes/peds; just one more depressing step backwards in favor of developers.

Lava Rose
Lava Rose
6 months ago

Why does OHSU continue to expand on the hilltop? Hospitals should be in the central city. I was under the impression that no additional gondolas would be put up the mtn because there is no more space? This was the argument during the max line 2020 discussion, as I recall. They should be making plans for building extensions into the centralcity, you know where all the transportation services run, where we need revitalization and where homeless people need medical services. Not up on a hill that’s hard to get to.

John D.
John D.
6 months ago
Reply to  Lava Rose

This might be one of the few silver linings of the OHSU-Legacy merger that was announced. I still have strong reservations regarding healthcare costs, as well as labor practices for nurses and support staff.

From strictly an urban planning point of view, it’s potentially a good move. While there is a benefit of scale in centralizing into one campus (or two that are connected by aerial tram) the merger would give OHSU two new central city campuses in NW and Elliott neighborhoods, as well as three suburban hospitals (Salmon Creek, Gresham, and Tualatin). I won’t claim to know what all is involved in hospital design and expansion, but it would seem to a me that expanding Good Sam or Emanuel would probably be cheaper than continuing to build on the top of Pill Hill.

Stephen
Stephen
6 months ago

There are a bunch of things going on. Seems like most of the pro-active transportation takes are posted above so I won’t repeat them but I agree with most, and if not completely at least spiritually. Also I live in SW and this is definitely an issue.

Some quick comments in defense of the people at the city that are making decisions. The city has created many overlapping rules regarding development. I don’t know all of theses rules but in general any single one of them by itself (like requirements to build a sidewalk) make lots of sense and will ultimately deliver us a better city in the future. Also, any one of these requirements doesn’t create an infeasible housing project due to affordability (or smaller profit margin if you will). In general, when it comes to building new housing, the huge number of these requirements/rules eventually add up to a mountain that has crippled new development. This mountain doesn’t make it infeasible but makes new development less attractive. So the city wants new housing but they get cajoled into making exceptions to their rules. Hence the city’s comments to this story.

One of the problems with the city’s approach (at least from my perspective and I could be wrong) is that there doesn’t seem to be appropriate transparency when it comes to the city making requirement exceptions for developers. I’m not saying that there is shady things going on, but it would seem to be more appropriate to just adjust the rule to make it clear when and when not an exception can be made. And how often are some of the other building requirements overlooked by the city? Does PBOT say, we compromised on SW Gibbs and now BES it’s your turn, the next development gets to just dump stormwater right into a creek untreated but we’re getting a sidewalk there?

ShadowsFolly
ShadowsFolly
6 months ago
Reply to  Stephen

Unfortunately, it’s the City’s employees who often don’t want transparency.
Example, in the early days of the internet I suggested in a meeting that we should advertise public meetings on our new website so that the community could see it and come to the meeting if they chose to. A project manager, and I kid you not, said “why would I want the community to come to MY meeting?”
The whole gist of the succeeding conversation was he didn’t want the community interfering (with their opinions) with what the committee had to discuss and what HE wanted them to pass.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  ShadowsFolly

It goes beyond the city: there are lots of folks right here that don’t want community voices to be part of decision making, as they might dilute the voices of activists.

The city needs a healthy system for ensuring the public has a meaningful voice in decisions that affect them.

cct
cct
6 months ago
Reply to  Watts

The city needs a healthy system for ensuring the public has a meaningful voice in decisions that affect them.

We had one, for better or worse – the Neighborhood Associations were designed to do just that. Of course, many just tried to be HOAs and nitpicked, or insisted things never change. However, they often improved projects by making the city and/or the developer work harder to find better solutions. The city has ruthlessly changed code to defang those areas where NAs had success (tree code, safety, environmental rules, etc.).

However, even when NAs had power, they held no sway over the transportation Alternative Review – “The Place Sidewalks Go To Die.” It’s a black box where 4 or 5 managers decide What’s Best, and usually it’s What’s Best For The Developer. Not always, but those managers often seem to view the task as how to smooth the road for a project… literally.

Activists have begun asking that Alternative Review at least allow the local NA to have a seat at the table, but the vigor with which the city is defending the Gibbs decision means that they have no intention of changing a thing, and this is the way it will be throughout SW.
Reply

Charley
Charley
6 months ago
Reply to  Stephen

This is it, right here:
“… when it comes to building new housing, the huge number of these requirements/rules eventually add up to a mountain that has crippled new development.“

There are a large number of individually quite reasonable rules and restrictions. All together, they amount to an unreasonable set of limits on infill development in Portland.

So while Mr. Rivers’s reference to flexibility in the pursuit of housing is a rhetorical use of a buzz word meant to cut off criticism, he’s not incorrect.

It is obviously absurd that the guardrail protects the landscaping and creates a convenient place for a drunk driver to pinch off the legs of, say, a surgeon out on a neighborhood walk. But, not being an engineer, I couldn’t possibly understand the many nuances of road/sewer/water/sidewalk design at play here. The fact is that, out of this matrix of competing needs, pedestrians ended up with the short end of the stick, rather than a water main.

I expect to see a dirt pathway (hikers call them use-paths or social trails) on the correct side of that guardrail as soon as people move into that building. The building owner should formalize that path with gravel and nice lawn edging.

Charley
Charley
6 months ago

Is this like the City owned property that constitutes a street strip and sidewalk in a normal neighborhood? I.e., one of those “in the right of way” spaces that the City of course does not actively maintain? Or is the City going to treat it like a park of some kind, given the trees?

I had a graveled crosswalk, and planted trees and plants, in the ROW when I lived in Portland. My understanding was that the City actually owns that space, though I had to maintain it.

I have a hard time imagining that the City is going to show this space a lot of tender, loving care, and it will likely see some foot traffic. Rather than allow this track along their frontage to become a muddy mess, the owner should just put out some gravel.

Charley
Charley
6 months ago

Yes, and I’m imagining that some people would rather walk through those pleasant trees, rather than on the side of the road. Over time, I believe such use will create a boot path of some kind there, and I doubt the City will proactively maintain the landscaping to prevent such use. In that case, it makes sense to have that path look nice, and gravel it.

Well, that’s what I hope, at least!

qqq
qqq
6 months ago
Reply to  Charley

I’m guessing that there could be a requirement for the owner to maintain the plantings on the City property. That could probably be answered by going through the land use review decision.

Also, landscaping required in a land use review generally must be maintained as shown on the approved plans. That makes changing it a zoning violation.

However, that’s almost never enforced, and I’d guess that about 99% of landscaping doesn’t match what was approved after a couple years. And the City only would look at it in the future if someone turned it in for a zoning violation (and hardly anyone would know that it was a violation). So practically speaking, your solution should be able to be done, and I think it would be a good outcome, and big improvement over what was approved.

It would really look bad if the owner did that, and got turned in for a zoning violation and ordered to remove the path that gives people a pleasant, safe route.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  Charley

There are a large number of individually quite reasonable rules and restrictions. All together, they amount to an unreasonable set of limits on infill development in Portland.

According to who?

Charley
Charley
6 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Well, I’ve experienced some tiny amount myself, at least as it relates to the property I own in Portland. So I can vouch for that.

Also, I don’t know if you’ve read much about it, but local housing builders have expressed frustration at the many local regulations regarding building. Local politicians have recently voiced concern that the regulatory burden might be depressing home building, thus exacerbating housing prices, and thus increasing the number of homeless people.

Obviously it’s a very complicated issue, but the basic principles of regulatory burden, as well as supply and demand, would suggest that this is the case.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  Charley

Local housing builders have expressed frustration at the many local regulations regarding building.

Of course they have. I give them as much credence as I do any industry expressing frustration that the government regulates them.

Development is a complicated business with a lot of moving parts, and projects fall through for all sorts of reasons. Before I started relaxing regulations preserving tree cover or protecting wetlands, I’d really want to see more evidence of the problem than a builder pleading overregulation.

I’m also open to the possibility that there are some wetlands and trees that are worth preserving, even if that prevents a particular developer from building a particular project in a particular location.

Charley
Charley
6 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I think we agree on this: the state and City seem to be mostly looking toward loosening *environmental* regulations (wetlands, urban forestry, flood plains, etc), rather than loosening social desirability regulations (allowing more apartment buildings in high end neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Westmoreland, Ladd’s etc).

Anything more than a quadplex, in much of the lots in those residential zones, is still illegal. Those lots are stilll subject to the exclusionary policies intended to make apartments, with their lower cost of living, illegal.

I’d rather have the City say “screw the neighborhood NIMBY’s” and maintain protection for the ecosystem services that our environmental regulations provide.

As to “evidence of the problem”: I think that the obvious and disastrous increase in housing costs, with attendant increase in homelessness, is sufficient evidence.

Charley
Charley
6 months ago

I know some of the value of this particular development is its proximity to the hospital, and others have already noted the location’s inconvenience.

However, if we had not made apartment buildings illegal in most of the City, we would, overall, be spending less energy developing difficult hill sites like this one. Infill in SE neighborhoods could absorb many thousands of units, without the geotechnical and storm water challenges of building on landslide-prone slopes in the West Hills. Ugh.

Just another reminder that allowing anti-housing forces to rule the City was a bad choice.

Dusty Reske
Dusty Reske
6 months ago
Reply to  Charley

 Apartment buildings are illegal in most of the City?

Charley
Charley
6 months ago
Reply to  Dusty Reske

If you look at Portland Maps, you’ll see a ton of Residential zoning (it’s yellow). Most of the land that you could use for housing is zoned this way, and on much of it, City will not allow the building of apartments.

Until 2022, when the State passed a law superseding local authority on the issue, the City could also prevent the building even of duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes!

So, if you’ve ever looked at a big empty lot in a neighborhood, or a decrepit house on a big lot, and thought, “why can’t we put an apartment building here?” it’s because of City zoning.

Watts
Watts
6 months ago
Reply to  Charley

it’s because of City zoning.

Or site contamination, or a reluctant seller, or legal issues, or any number of things that have stalled projects in my neighborhood, sometimes for decades.

It took over 20 years to figure out how to redevelop the prime, empty parcel at the corner of Ladd Ave and Division, and zoning had nothing to do with it.

Bill
Bill
6 months ago

Portland lacks vision and leadership to make alternatives to the automobile safe and supported. The single passenger automobile prevails against all aspirational rhetoric about sustainability.

Transit riders still have a robust Trimet, but hardly visionary. And how much longer if we congratulate ourselves for a tree in our front yard and a Suburu parked beside it?

Pedestrians are a concept but not a value at PBOT. Cyclists fare no better in this rough and tumble environment riddled with potholes and the normalization of homelessness.

Climate change remains an abstraction, or denied outright by well funded politicians. Portland, it is time to step up and move beyond aspirations.