Report from Portland Pedestrian Summit II

My experience of Ped Summit II began when I boarded the #45 bus in downtown Portland. Over the next few blocks, 3 or 4 more transportation advocates boarded the bus, and on the way to Multnomah Village, the driver regaled us with the comparative advantages of the #44 versus his #45 to get us to our mutual destination.

Mayor Potter welcomed us to the summit (Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams is off at Railvolution this week). Updating us on the New Orleans evacuee status (off again?) the Mayor reminded us that a major earthquake awaits Portland sometime in the future and building community networks (like Pedestrian Advocacy) is critical to disaster preparedness.

The summit was hosted by activists from SW Trails, led by Don Baack, chair of SWTrails. Many of the presentations focused on the work of this organization and their effectiveness in getting trail projects done. Some of their “get it done” tactics include:

  • Building a bridge over a creek for $500. The project is list in the Transportation System Plan for $95,000.
  • Creating stairs from railroad ties rather than the more expensive poured concrete.
  • Using ground up asphalt and concrete recovered by PDOT from repaving projects for trail surfaces.

Since these projects are not up to ADA standards, some concern was expressed about accessibility, but the general consensus was that since the City would not build ADA-standard projects in the same locations for many years, if ever, having non-ADA trails was better than having no trails at all.

The key to success in getting these projects done is getting buy in both from neighborhood associations and the adjoining property owners. The importance of this work is reinforced when you understand that only 15% of streets in SW Portland have sidewalks!

Wendy Bumgardner, the Portland-based guide for (with a million online readers) gave us an in-the-flesh presentation of the health benefits of walking and told us how to locate walking clubs (Volkswalking) in the region.

A discussion of pedestrian challenges included vocal complaints about poor pedestrian detours and lack of mitigation for sidewalk closures due to construction projects.

And we were reminded to call 503 823-SAFE (PDOT’s safety line) when we encounter a pedestrian safety issue.

The Pedestrian Summit is one of the few city-wide gatherings of transportation advocates and I sincerely hope this series will continue!

3 responses to “Report from Portland Pedestrian Summit II”

  1. I appreciated the efforts of the summit, and especially learning more about the work of SW Trails. However, when we consider that 85% of the streets in SW have no sidewalks, and there’s no real plan to add those sidewalks, or even improve substandard streets, I would like to have seen us devote time to coming up with a strategy for adressing the deficiencies. We shouldn’t accept at face value that there’s “little money” and likely won’t be. I don’t think we can settle for less than we need, with SW kids continuing to walk in the streets, while our elderly –and handicapped– get left out altogether because we can’t afford to do better. We have to do better.

    I’d like to see an analysis as to how and why a $500 bridge can replace a $95,000 PDOT capital line item. Why have neighborhood streets and sidewalks become prohibitively expensive, and what can we do about it?

  2. This was a really great summit and interesting throughout. The SW Trails examples of successes were fascinating.

    One thing about accessibility – these groups ALSO advocate for improving sidewalks and crossings to ADA specs, and making safe crossings and safe routes to school. That is where the big money must and will be spent. But those of us able-bodied enough to climb stairs and who enjoy a natural surface should also have access on public right-of-ways to enjoy an off-pavement walking experience. When money is tight, it is great that a volunteer organization can make that happen rather than have to wait decades or lifetimes for it to come from public coffers.

    Do we want to enjoy walking in our own neighborhoods in our own lifetimes? We can have it both ways – spend the public money on important sidewalk and crossing connections. And don’t get in the way of folks making walkable paths on public right-of-ways with the approval and consent of the neighboring landowners.

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