Comment of the Week: The quandary of ragged jurisdictional boundaries

Our Guest Post last week by Don Baack focused on southwest Portland’s problems with getting pedestrian and bicycle networks built. The area relies on private development — and the city’s frontage requirements that are supposed to accompany it — to cobble together its networks. The area has the worst sidewalk coverage and most incomplete bicycle facilities in the city, so obviously this system is not working very well.

HJ jumped in to say that it’s not just southwest, that West Hills struggles with the same problem. But HJ added another wrinkle — jurisdictional control. And boy is that true!

When we say “jurisdictional control,” people usually think of all the ODOT-owned orphan highways, but the complications also extend to the ragged edges of our city borders. County lines, unincorporated county lines, and city-borders don’t respect the layout of surface streets, and the locations where they intersect end up being some of the most dangerous spots in the area.

HJ sums up the problems pretty well:

Not just SW. This is happening all over the west hills. For example the French American school is planning a big expansion. They just took over the rest of the corner at Cornell and Miller and will be developing it.

Word on the street is they have tried to work with the various road agencies that control the edges of their property (poor guys get Washington County, Multnomah County, and PBOT to deal with) to get bike lanes and sidewalks established, but have gotten stonewalled. The impact of the school on local traffic has become outright dangerous, yet parents that live a mere block away have no safe way to walk their kid to school. So they drive.

Will anything change with their new development? I’m skeptical. But if we don’t make it happen with this project, which is on the Ronde PDX route, it never will. Locals have been begging for this area to get addressed for over 30 years and the demand lines in the dirt are well worn.

It would be a major step forward to getting folks out of their cars as a sidewalk and or bike lane on Miller in particular would give people in the area safe access to both basic essentials such as groceries as well as public transit.

Nobody seems to want to help because it’s a jurisdictional nightmare spot and because it’s at the edges of everything. CPO1 has declined as it’s the edge of their area and they want to focus further in, BikeLoud never looks past the west edge of downtown, WashCo Bikes doesn’t care because non-Washington county spots are involved. Please tell me how are we supposed to fix this spot?!

Thank you HJ. I don’t have an answer, maybe someone else has an idea. It’s the same problem on SW Scholls Ferry Rd — unincorporated Washington and Multnomah counties, with a tiny stretch of Portland. It seems like an impossible street to fix.

You can read HJ’s comment, and all the others too, under the original post.

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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David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago

Or pity those poor old Oregon public school districts, none of which follow city or county boundaries. (In ND, public school districts are part of municipal governments, including townships in rural areas, while in NC public school districts are run by each of the 100 counties in their budgets along with county courts and sheriffs.)

rick
rick
1 month ago

These places where multiple jurisdictions are located are so frustrating to get things done.

SW Scholls Ferry Road is owned by PBOT from Highway 26 to SW Raab Road. Then Multnomah County owns it from Raab Road to SW Thomas Street. Then PBOT owns it from SW Thomas Street to SW Raleighwood Lane. Then it goes from 35 mph to 30 mph as it goes past SW Raleighwood Lane in the Washington County line to basically the Fanno Creek bridge near Allen Boulevard. However, it is somehow 35 mph in an area from Allen Boulevard to SW Hall Boulevard with duplexes, apartments, condominiums, two public schools, two nearby parks, an assisted living facility, a fire station, and a Portland Parks-owned property of Red Tail golf course.

ODOT owned SW Scholls Ferry Road until September, 1991 and gave / sold it to Washington County in Raleigh Hills and elsewhere. WashCo had the disrespect to remove a painted crosswalk in the 1990s where Scholls Ferry Road by SW Montclair Drive because the Beaverton School District and WashCo “agreed the
safest course of action was to remove the crosswalk” and take kids on a bus 100 feet to get across Scholls Ferry Road. Later this year, a crosswalk with flashing lights will finally get built so kids can cross the street to a school that was built in 1892.

Oddly, the section of SW Scholls Ferry Road has more street lamps per property than the Raleigh Hills area even though there are no apartments in the steep terrain in the Multnomah County or PBOT section.

Fred
Fred
1 month ago

How about some fresh thinking here: how about we take ALL transportation away from each little fiefdom and establish ONE UNIFIED transportation authority for the entire Portland metro area?

We can call it “Metro.”

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
1 month ago
Reply to  Fred

How about a statewide system and call it ODOT?

Wooster
Wooster
1 month ago

Someone told me once that long ago the State of Washington passed a law that all roadways (other than freeways and expressways) are under the authority of the local city/town jurisdiction if they’re within any city limits, even if the maintenance and ownership lies with the county or state. This seems like a clever way to at least have one agency that is mostly in charge of these kinds of decisions, even if they still have to consult with the owner and make sure it doesn’t mess up the asset condition. If it was done in Oregon, it would mean these County roads and all the ODOT orphan highways would be locally-controlled.