Street by Street, Out of the Mud

Wearing my Planning and Sustainability Commission hat, I’ve been following for some time an effort by the Portland Bureau of Transportation know as Street-by-street. The intent is to address the many unimproved streets in the City (many in East Portland, and a few areas in NE and SE Portland).

The source of the problem is that under County zoning rules, developers were not required to improve streets before building homes. So when areas were annexed to the City, they included streets that were not up to City standards. It’s incumbent on the property owner to bring the street up to standards before the City will take over maintenance.

It’s phenomenally expensive to meet full City standards (including sidewalks, curbs and storm water facilities), so the result has been that nothing happens, and these streets stay gravel or dirt.

Street-by-street is an effort to define some alternate standards that are better than mud, but not as expensive as the full treatment, on the theory that we’re all better off with something useful, even if not perfect.

I first encountered this as part of the Cully Plan, where pilot treatments were proposed to address the large gaps in the street network there. More recently the Planning and Sustainability Commission got a complete briefing on the program, and today City Council had a work session on the topic.

Except that today, when it got to Council it was called “Out of the Mud (and Dust)”. I think I detect the Mayor’s messaging hand at work…

And I was happy to see that one of the recommendations from our Commission was included, lowering the target speed for “shared streets” (where a single 16-foot paved area is intended to serve people in cars, on bikes and on foot) from 20mph to 15mph.

You can check out the full briefing presentation here (PDF, 1.5M).

I know some pedestrian advocates who think settling for anything less than fully separated sidewalks is a bad idea, but I’m inclined to think that half a loaf (at less than half the cost), particularly on streets intended to serve 500 or fewer auto trips per day, is better than none.

What do you think?

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