To Sidewalk or Not to Sidewalk?

From yesterday’s Trib:

“The No. 1 amount of calls we get from Southwest Portland is people saying they want sidewalks. The No. 2 is people saying they don’t want sidewalks,” Chlapowski said.

I come down in favor of sidewalks in general. Without them it’s pretty hard to get to transit.

19 responses to “To Sidewalk or Not to Sidewalk?”

  1. What is the argument *against* sidewalks?

    I’m sure there must be a good reason why some residents prefer a “no-sidewalk” atmosphere…. I just can’t figure out what it is.

  2. The article cites “maintaining rural character”, but I imagine many people simply don’t want to pay for them (current code requires that landowner to fund the improvement, although City officials are looking for ways to soften the blow).

  3. Having been out in neighborhoods without sidewalks trying to sell them –as part of the Local Improvement District process– the real issue is that homeowners have taken the public right-of-way as their own, Where sidewalks would go you’ll now find plantings, elaborate gardens, trees…and parking spaces.

    It’s less about maintaining a “rural atmosphere” than about people who drive everywhere not really considering people who don’t…our elderly and children.

    Go out to SE 99th & Powell and walk along the sidewalk where our City park is…oh, sorry, there IS no sidewalk. There’s a rut in the grass and dirt where people walk…but no sidewalk.

    We, the City, require homeowners to maintain existing sidewalks at their expense. We DON’T require them to put sidewalks in in the first place. It’s terrible public policy.

    Sidewalks should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately we lack the political will to demand them of property owners, especially since some of the areas most sidewalk deficient have some of the most expensive homes in Portland, that have already taken the public right-of-way as their own. They don’t want to give it back. Let the kids walk in the street. Keeps ’em on their toes.

  4. I’m mixed on this. Sidewalks without street trees sometimes do nothing but increase cars ability to speed and place the pedestrian too close to the traffic. Channelizing the roadway seems to give drivers more confindence to speed. Local Roads without sidewalks usually are something of a mess which actually slows down traffic and pedestrians in the street can act to teach car drivers to slow down on these streets.

  5. The real issue is the enormous cost to put sidewalks in. And the majority of total cost is based upon the stormwater requirements. I think the goal should be sidewalks on major roads (like Capitol Hwy or Dosch) and not on the local service streets. This issue has gone back and forth for 50 years now – I don’t see major changes coming. A great solution would be to find a middle ground between full street improvements and nothing at all – maybe some sort of bioswale/separated path concept.

    I hate to say it – but bad roads with potholes and no sidewalks do reduce traffic speeds – it keeps motorists on their toes…

  6. No sidewalk? Hell, I’d appreciate just a shoulder to walk on. Many streets in SW (and elsewhere) don’t even have clearances.

  7. current code requires that landowner to fund the improvement, although City officials are looking for ways to soften the blow

    That’s one of the most logical codes I’ve ever heard of. PErsonally, this goes with the mentality that, if you wanna live in the boonies (5+ miles from a city center/town center), you should have no expectation whatsoever of sidewalks unless you want to directly pay for em.

    Just my 2 cents.

  8. I suggest the following logical approach for the City of Portland. Institute a sidewalk maintenance fee, put it on water bills along with stormwater fees, based on feet of frontage on public right-of-way. Any property owner can be exempted from this fee by agreeing to maintain a code-compliant sidewalk. Fees would be dedicated to the maintenance of existing sidewalks, and construction of new sidewalks as determined by public need, not the whims of property owners.

    Property owners near schools and parks might see the City building sidwalks in front of their yards relatively soon. They could then agree to maintain them, and be exempted from further fees, or they and anyone else with an existing sidewalk could continue paying the fee, and have the City do the maintenance. Once an owner agrees to do the maintenance, they and subsequent owners would be required to bring the sidewalk to code (or pay to have it done) before they could go back to having the City do the maintenance.

    There are some obvious inequities in this approach, but I think it is much fairer than the current system, and would significantly improve the pedestrian environment where it is most needed. Any fatal flaws to this concept?

  9. Some streets (narrow, low speed and traffic volume) probably could be retrofitted as “pedestrian streets” that allow cars to share space with pedestrians. Use speed bumps, concrete planters, access limits, that sort of thing. In a lot of cases, this would be much cheaper than installing sidewalks.

    This approach obviously wouldn’t work everywhere, but could make some areas more pedestrian friendly.

  10. i don’t think all streets need to have sidewalks. but in a place with a certain level of population there should be a working sidewalk network, a working bike-path network and a working auto network. we tend to build the third of those first …

    here in NE, there are still a few alleyways and unimproved streets — back in the ’80s, portland had a lot more of those. Folks who live on them like them exactly because they’re low-traffic — drivers go around them, since alternate routes exist, and they become a nicer pedestrian experience than nearby roads with proper sidewalks.

    i agree that homeowners push out various garden/lawn projects into that space, and it would be wise to regulate this so that we have some rules to fall back on if pedestrians get crowded out. but on unimproved NE Emerson St, the homeowners installed a little pedestrian gravel path next to a pretty garden, as well as a bench to sit on and smell the roses. i don’t want to lose things like that by mandating sidewalks.

    on the other hand, NE 64th from Killingsworth to Prescott is a good example of a street that i think needs sidewalks. there’s lots of pedestrian traffic and there’s really no space between people’s fences, the utility poles, and the pavement. can we take away the economic disincentive to ask the city for sidewalks, so people decide based on wiser criteria?

  11. Part of the problem is the City will not compromise; for example: Sidewalks on one side of the street only where the street right-of-way is narrow.

    Furthermore, I can think of many reasons why people would not want sidewalks:

    Unlike many downtown projects, the financial costs billed to property owners.

    Some streets are already too narrow.

    Sidewalks will create narrow streets and eliminate parking.

    Installing sidewalks will require a taking of private property.

    Sidewalks with curb extensions will negatively impact turning movements and add to congestion if coupled with bus tops.

    Curb extensions not wanted.

    The proposed width of the sidewalk is too wide.

    The City will require bike lanes if sidewalks are added.

    Sidewalks will negatively impact traffic flow and are unnecessary on some streets. (Multnomah Boulevard comes to mind)

    Sidewalks create the need for expensive drainage systems.

    The entire street would need to be rebuilt if sidewalks were added.

    Bicyclists won’t help pay for sidewalks.

  12. Same sidewalk problems in urban unincorporated Washington County (i.e West Slope, Raleigh Hills, Garden Home, etc.). The County will not allow/build sidewalks except at the “ultimate” planned improvement width. For most arterials, that’s a minimum 90-foot ROW that does not currently exist. In my neighborhood, the only access to transit and a regional trail is via an arterial with lots of traffic on two 11-foot travel lanes, shoulders as narrow as 6” and an adjacent open ditch. Sidewalks are not going to happen in the foreseeable future which leads me to suggest that maybe we should be talking interim improvements in the form of pedestrian pathways (vs. a sidewalk) on at least one side of a road to give walkers some means of getting around.

  13. Capitol Highway desperately needs sidewalks – cars routinely drive over 40 mph along a stretch of road with only about 1-2 feet from the little white line to where people park their cars, on the stretch from where it crosses Barbur Blvd and I-5 to Multnomah Village.

    There is plenty of land along both sides of the road on that stretch to put in a sidewalk, as there is no precipitous dropoff or bank with trees or gardens – the entire thing is gravel, about 10 feet on each side.

    There also needs to be some sort of pedestrian crosswalk (there are none for a couple of miles); nobody walks down the road because it is sheer suicide: there are also few, if any, streetlights.

  14. I live out here in SW Portland, in a “well-developed” area with curbs and storm sewers. We built our house here in 1986 in an eight-lot infill subdivision. The city’s rules for the subdivision required a full four-foot sidewalk on one side of the street, paid for by the homebuilder. Folks who bought lots on the other side of the street didn’t have to build sidewalks. The required sidewalk had to be built right behind the curb — no “parking strip”.

    The homes in the area were built in different periods starting in the early 1960’s. Some subdivision plans required sidewalks, some didn’t. Some required a parking strip, some didn’t. Makes for a rather silly patchwork where you can walk along on a good sidewalk for a block or two and then the sidewalk disappears and you have to walk on somebody’s lawn or in the street. And then, after a block or three, the sidewalk reappears.

    But this neighborhood is an island in a much larger area where there are no curbs or sidewalks at all. Many of the streets are fairly narrow, with open ditches on each side and no sidewalk or walkway of any kind.

    I like the idea of a semi-paved (perhaps with those pavers that allow ground cover plants to grow through) on one side of a street, but I think that they would not be ADA-compliant. That’s one of the problems that the city faces in adding sidewalks (along with the drainage concerns).

    I’m pretty certain that all new construction has to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That requires sidewalks that are at least three feet wide and not over a certain steepness. A walkway made lumpy by plants growing through the pavers would be very difficult to move a wheelchair on and thus probably not ADA-compliant.

  15. Maintenance is quite low if the original construction is properly done, and there aren’t any trees close enough for their roots to push up/break up the sidewalk.

    Of course, there are always landslides, underground springs, and other sorts of problems which could impact sidewalk maintenance, but they’re pretty unusual.

    For instance, in that recent sinkhole in SE Portland, were any adjacent sidewalks damaged, and, if so, is the city requiring the affected homeowners to pay for the repairs? Seems likely that the city would pick up the bill in such cases.

  16. As Frank Dufay notes, there is really enough right-of-way on most Southwest streets to build sidewalks AND planting strips with street trees. Most of the streets are on 60 foot rights-of-way, just like Southeast. It’s just that the city has not required the entire right-of-way to be graded level when the street was built, and that people have taken over 10 or 12 feet of right-of-way with their private landscaping, and don’t want to give it back. There is room for 2 lanes, parking on both sides, and planting strips and sidewalks in 60 feet. Now admittedly there are some steep slopes adjacent to some streets, and adding sidewalks in the right-of-way would require retaining walls. In some of these cases, it might be reasonable to eliminate the planting strip for a short stretch. However, as soon as you are past the difficult stretch, the plan should revert to sidewalk and planting strip.

    I never understood how sidewalks on one side were supposed to work legally. You come out of your house, and you cross the street midblock to get to the sidewalk? Isn’t that jaywalking? Do we teach kids to stay on the sidewalk, cross at corners, except you can jaywalk to get to your house?

    Likewise for the disabled who happen to live on the non-sidewalk side of the street. Do they cross the ditch in their wheelchair?

  17. I am from stockton california and am trying to get sidewalks in my neighborhood. What are the steps that i need to be taking? I would appreciate help from anyone. thanks alot

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