Is it Time for Our Own “Grand Bargain”?

No, not between the Democrats and Republicans…

Between the City and ODOT.

A little background – a week and a half ago, I took a tour with some ODOT folks of 82nd Ave and outer Powell to talk about what might be in store for these areas as part of our Comprehensive Plan update.

Valentine Khubeyev’s daughter speaking at the vigil in her honor

A few hours later, Valentine Khubeyev was struck by an SUV on the stretch of Powell I had toured, and died of her injuries a hours later. This past Friday evening, I attended a vigil commemorating this tragedy. A lot of frustration (link not working at the moment) was directed at the state of the street and at ODOT.

Now I don’t want to point fingers specifically at ODOT. There are certainly safety issues on City of Portland streets in East Portland as well, and there was a pedestrian fatality recently on Division. Lack of funds for safety improvements is a problem for all jurisdictions in Oregon. But I can’t help wondering if City policies that treat streets as places, not as highways, may ultimately create a better context for investments in safety. The Mayor has posed a similar question.

I recently raised the same point about Barbur Boulevard, where it’s clear to me that it would be much better off as a City street.

So here’s my “grand bargain”. Instead of dealing with these corridors one-by-one, should the City and ODOT negotiate the transfer of all the “orphan highways” in Portland, perhaps as part of the Comp Plan? The obstacle is probably not ownership, but rather funding. In the past, the City has been unwilling to accept these roads until they have been brought up to a certain standard. Maybe it’s time to look past this, and as the first order of business, get these corridors under a better set of policies?


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23 responses to “Is it Time for Our Own “Grand Bargain”?”

  1. Chris, the City Club of Portland made the case for this in their 2010 report on regional transportation:

    “A transfer of state responsibility for orphan highways makes sense. Along with this, ODOT should provide the region with a fair share of state and federal resources
    needed to maintain and modernize these roads….

    “There is a disconnect between ownership and use of the state and federal highways in the Metro Region that do not have limited access. These roads may have highway signs, but they are indistinguishable from other two- and four-lane roads in the metropolitan area. Where they once connected discrete communities, they now are urban streets. ODOT is less qualified than local decision makers to make transportation judgments concerning these orphan highways.”

  2. Drastic steps need to be taken to slow down the average vehicle speeds in east Portland. Most of the arterials are excessively wide with few signals and crosswalks. In most cases, the traffic levels do justify 2 lanes in each direction, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have traffic circles at major intersections, more crosswalks with refuge islands, and more speed enforcement.

    Sidewalks on neighborhood streets are important as well, but I feel like arterial safety should be the priority. Start where people are dying.

  3. It may be the case that the recent Oregonian series on the total failure of the Comp Plan in Outer SE, and the total failure of the city planners to take responsibility( or to indicate any serious intention to improve the situation) has so under-mined Portland’ splanning/transit reputation that ODOT wiill conclude that Portland just can’t be trusted.

    People from East County need Powell, and they have zero reason to trust PBOT’s finances or good faith.

    Sorry, but the Oregonian article suggests that PDX cannot do anything with density and transit without draining resources from the poor outer neighborhoods. To think that 25% of the new residents got un-walkable density into a poor neighborhood without a significant job base or transit or parks. That’s how you did your density- you just shoved most of the new resident families into sub-standard neighborhoods in Outer SE so you could have your little close-in Division Street.

    We’ll see. My trust level with PBOT is near zero. As for the architects of the Brentwood disaster-they should resign.

  4. Mamacita:

    As you note, Outer Southeast had the allowed density increased, but without the added pedestrian, bike or transit service, and without the shops, services and jobs, to make it function as a walkable area. The reason for the lack of infrastructure, as we have seen, is the limited funds PBOT has to work with. As well, although PBOT has the legal right to ask each new project to add sidewalks and even widen the streets, in many cases they haven’t done that, adding to the backlog of transportation needs. In addition, the need exists even where no new projects were built. While BPS can zone areas for commercial and employment, this doesn’t guarantee anyone will build there.

    Perhaps what should have been done is accommodate the increase in housing, that the market has shown demand for, in areas where this infrastructure is already in place, and where there are jobs and commercial services.

    What that would mean, of course, is upzoning the inner neighborhoods. Not just on the transit streets, but also several blocks back from the transit streets, would logically be zoned for apartments, to put these residents in walkable, serviceable areas.

    But of course you know the answer to why the planners didn’t do that. The neighbors living in these inner neighborhoods would object strenuously. The politically easiest way to accommodate more growth was not inner neighborhoods, not Southwest neighborhoods (the articles detailed how they objected), but to locate the new density in outer Southeast, and hope the infrastructure could follow it soon.

    • Dear Doug,

      Thank you for your response. But I believe that if you go back and read your own remarks, you are left with the question: why should I trust the Portland planners given the dismal results in SE? If, as you say, planning is effective, then should some people
      be asked to leave and replaced by planners with better skills?

      The fact remains that the Pearl District, BPS, and the developers are selfish people who just don’t care to engage with car-driving blue collar people who tax dollars they divert downtown.

      If Hales again mentions the property near 12th for a community center, if Novick keeps babbling about tax-payer funded bike share in front of Nordstroms- the decent and moral folks are going to have to stand up and say “this is unfair, selfish and wrong.”

      Brentwood isn’t working folks. This is your planning Bhopal, your planning Exxon Valdez. Clean it up,

    • “Hope” is not responsible planning. Neither is waving or transferring System Development charges from the area. You can’t hope required infrastructure into being, you have to plan for the investment, apply for and direct the funding appropriately and follow through on implementation.

  5. My analysis of the ethical lapses re: Brentwood

    1. BPS, BDS, PBOT and City of Portland are morally obligated to spend
    City money in a way that fosters the well-being of all of Portland.

    2. BPS, BDS, PBOT and City of Portland are morally obligated to
    spend tax money fairly all over the city, and not to favor one class or lifestyle
    over the other,( i.e. promoting the interests of fit, childless tech workers at the expense of working families (and their rainbow of lifestyle/transportation choices).

    3. When we take on a big responsibility (lawyer, doctor) we cannot hide our mistakes under dirt, the way a cat buries its waste. Lawyers must admit and correct mistakes that harm their clients. A doctor must admit that she prescribed the wrong dose and immediately call the pharmacy.

    4. In this case, the City Planners (if competent) would have known about the problems outlined in the Oregonian. But they failed to take any corrective action. This is morally wrong.

    5. Why did it take an Oregonian article to get the attention of the City?

    6. Based on Eric Engstrom’s quotes, there is no intention to address the problems. There is no soul-searching. These are the characteristics of a bad organization. This is the mindset of the lobbyist for the tobacco industry. My institutional interest uber alles.

    6. Planners and developers made a mess, and are collectively behaving like Dow Chemical, i.e. letting it happen and not cleaning it up.

    7. Don’t act surprised when the political tide turns .Once. I had looked to Hales as a moderate, but after reading the two Oregonian articles I now see him as the captain of the Exxon Valdez, drunk on ego. We need a whole new crew on the good ship Portlandia.

    • I don’t think anyone is sweeping anything under the rug. The Portland Plan goes out of its way to recognize the deficiencies in East Portland and the investment needed to correct them. The Comp Plan will follow suit.

      • I have attempted to read both plans, and I find as follows:

        1. Drafted in such a way as to deliberately confuse- filled with jargon
        and vague aspirational goals. Crappy sentence structure,no editing by an english major type person.

        2. Drafted with “pretend” public input.

        3. I was appalled by the community outreach for both Plans- the mis-leading push pull survey drafted by David Evans for BPS (results had to be discarded) the academically dis-credited charettes and visioning exercises, the dubious population growth figures (cherry-picking the years you look at- excluding the recession).

        Everything is hidden in the pile of words you call those plans. Deliberate congestion? Hidden under a pile of “multi-modal transport.”

        Both plans need to be extensively re-written, with goals (deliberate congestion, fewer sfh, differential treatment of certain neighborhoods) spelled out in terms someone with a decent high school education can understand.

        But, the developers would never allow that.

        Who was responsible for the mess, btw? How can we trust an organization to correct a mistake it cannot fully admit?

        • Aha! The evil cabal of “Developers” (ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaaaaa!) raises its dastardly head once more.

          Where is the garlic and cross?

      • Can you point to one recent decision by the City that would cause a rational person with a knowledge of the pertinent historical record to conclude that the
        City has any intention of making a single financial sacrifice for Outer SE Portland?

        Explain the timing of Hales wanting to re-develop the old fire dept. storage on SE 12th and Division.into a fun recreational area.

        • Mamacita,

          I honestly do not contest your view that the city government listens intently — probably too intently — to the wishes of developers.

          That said, it’s not some evil conspiracy. It’s businesses usual forcitiesand towns all over the country to do so. We have a government that responds to the wishes of its funders, and who do you expect has the most to gain by influencing the course of city development trends? Obviously, developers.

          So, not surprisingly, developers do what they can to influence elections and the actions of those whom they have supported.

          The same can be said for municipal unions.

          While this is obviously suboptimal, what is the alternative other than full public funding?

  6. “to put these residents in walkable, serviceable areas.”

    Wrong, Doug. All it would have taken was some money and some design control. We could have cute smaller multi-family stepped down to the existing small houses. We could have had the design with a big shared lawn. A bioswale. A tree. But no.

    Whatever the developers wanted to do in Outer SE, they did. And we got Texas type
    neighborhoods, but without the access to jobs or the low home prices. Worst of both worlds.

    I demand that the City websites start showing the unpaved streets & lakes. Tired of those
    expensive glass pitcher-plant like sculptures in the Pearl while Lents Park is ignored.

    How about it, Mr. Smith? Request pictures from the Outer SE be posted on the BPS website? A picture is worth a thousand words. This is a great time for some one in the planning community to stop following the herd.

    • I agree that if the city were to take it’s entire transportation budget and start putting sidewalks in East Portland, it would help make the are more walkable. But it still wouldn’t be enough. It would take condemning houses and bulldozing connecting streets through many of the blocks so you don’t have to walk a half-mile out of your way to get to a transit line or to a shopping center.

      Would “design controls” help? I don’t know if it would. There are no “design controls” in most of inner Southeast (Ladd’s being the exception). And, there are only minimal “step-down” requirements along Division, and none elsewhere. While this upsets adjacent neighbors, the new apartments being built will allow greater numbers of people to live in walkable areas. Part of that is that the connected grid makes it easier to walk to shops and transit service, and that the increase in population along main streets means shops can locate there and have a built-in customer base, instead of relying on people driving from all over the city.

      It may be elitist to ignore the “blue-collar car-driving” population, but it is also state law that the city must reduce the amount of driving in the city. So, the city is required to favor conditions that make it easier to walk and otherwise direct resources to reduce auto travel. Planning is also an inexact art, and it is not certain that a different set of planners could do any better, given the financial constraints and legal obligations they are under.

      It’s also hard to predict how the development market will react. SE Division Street has been zoned for 4-story mixed use buildings between 34th and 39th for 30 years. Only in the last 3 years have we seen such buildings being built. The 30th to 34th stretch was rezoned about 10 years ago, and it also is just now being built out.

      There are so many other factors, like a “restaurant row” being created because land values were low on Division, like the attraction of closer proximity to Downtown and jobs there, that drove the development on Division, just as an example.

      I’m not exactly sure how the city can create jobs in East Portland, beyond instituting zoning which allows employment, retail or industrial use, or how it can bring about lower home prices. If you make an area desirable, it will have higher home prices. Presumably, leaving streets unpaved and disconnected should in fact cause the home prices to remain lower. Lack of nearby jobs and shopping should cause the home prices to remain lower. I don’t know what the city could do to keep home prices lower.

      • Doug, you make great points and I learn things from you. I really appreciate your politeness too, it keeps my temper from flaring ;)

        But are you missing the big picture? Have the city employees and elected official in charge of decisions that led to this mess behaved in an ethical way?
        Why? Taking the city as a whole, has planning been acceptable and effective? What grade would would give the overall state of Portland right now re: planning?

        I say that Brentwood-Darlington sinks the grade to a D minus. Can’t screw up 25% of the new density and call it competent. 25% of the project is defective. Not a lot of quality control, huh? No solutions just a acknowledgement of that which cannot be hidden, with no one taking responsibility.

  7. Here is my final question, boiled down:

    If, as Doug K says, the following propositions are true:

    1. The city has little ability to bring jobs to an area
    2. The actual way development transpires cannot be predicted
    3. It was impossible to have TOD in Brentwood, so it was okay
    to allow development that met none of the criteria for “smart growth”
    4. Development along Division Street transpired under rules written for a
    different time (that went unnoticed for decades) as opposed to current conditions.
    5. We can live with the situation in Outer SE, because fixing is is too expensive

    My questions are: Why do we have planning, given its lack of efficacy? Why does the Portland Plan describe a world in which planning is a powerful tool for equity
    and prosperity? If our only tool for affordable housing is lack of sidewalks- then we need to put that in the Portland Plan. How do you, Doug, square your comments with the
    underpinnings of the Portland Plan and Comp Plan- which presuppose that planning is mo

    • Sorry- hit enter accidentally ;(

      I just want to know how to square Doug’s remarks on the limits of planning with the Portland Plan and how the Portland Plan presents the efficacy of planning.

  8. Mamacita;

    I have never been under the impression that the Portland Plan would have any concrete effect. It’s effect might be felt in subtle ways in documents later on. Likewise, the most concrete thing the Comp Plan update can do is change some zoning, the Comp Plan designations, and/or zone definitions. Other changes, like transportation priorities, are subject to later changes and regional funding debates and contests, etc.

    I have heard mention of putting more commercial zoning (and employment??) in outer Southeast, to try to correct that housing/jobs imbalance. Will the employers locate there? Will stores locate there? I have read that grocery stores look at the demographics (including education levels) before deciding where to locate. They won’t locate where there are people with only high school educations, is what I got from that article (perhaps in the Oregonian’s “food desert” series).

    My impression of planning, at least in Portland, and perhaps nationwide, is that at best what the city can do is tweak things a little, and jump on board a trend they see happening. The zoning on commercial streets in the inner city areas was ahead of it’s time. Allowing 4-story mixed use was a grand idea in 1980, and finally the market caught up with the zoning in 2006 (condos), and 2011 (apartments), in a big way. This wasn’t zoning for the 1980s, as it wouldn’t pencil out then, given lending practices, but zoning for the 2000s, that was in place 20 years early. So the city, trying for decades to get higher density along transit streets, finally, by trial and error (and a couple of risk-taking developers and bankers) got something right in 2010-2013 (in terms of getting the density they were striving for), and is achieving part of that. (and then had to back down because of neighborhood backlash)

    Now, you see a little synergy happening in Woodstock, with the New Seasons going in (and Green Zebra down the street). Foster Road around 60th shows signs of improvement. Montavilla is starting along that path, thanks to one or two business owners. But, it’s slow, and only partly influenced by planning and zoning.

    I do believe N Williams is a hub of development because of the EG zoning that allowed denser and higher buildings than the CS zone, even, and that the high bicycle use of Williams helped to convince developers that this was a place where things were happening. Plus, the demographics of the area were changing, from people of modest means, to people with more income, so the businesses were attracted to that area. Some would call that gentrification.

    Will the infrastructure improvements in the Division Streetscape Plan help Division develop? It seems that’s happening anyway. Has the Cully Blvd. plan improved the business climate there? I’m not sure how much influence these things have, compared to private developers.

    The city and other governmental entities have done some subsidized multifamily housing. However, achieving (or maintaining) affordable single-family housing continues to be elusive. When the city proposed adding sidewalks and/or paved roads in Cully, some activists there complained that this would raise the home prices and price poor people out of there. So, what’s to do?

    I do agree that in Brentwood-Darlington, the city should have been more aggressive about getting ROWs for street connections, and improve the major streets to make them less high-speed. But such aggressive transportation actions are beyond the relatively timid City Council, it seems. As mentioned, more commercial zoning seems to be needed, too.

    Perhaps Chris can shed more light on this. As you can see, while I believe in the goals of the Comp Plan, I have serious doubts that they will be achieved with the relatively few actual changes with teeth (that is, zoning), that they are proposing so far. I’m not sure that the planning profession in the US has adequate tools to achieve the “equity” goals the plans aspire to. Presumably making most of the city walkable, so people can avoid the cost of driving, for instance, will bring benefit to areas other than the Pearl District and NW Portland. But that’s only one measure among many.

    • Wow, Doug. That is a post full of information, and I will return to it.

      A couple quick observations: Woodstock did not particularly need New Seasons, and there will be a backlash if Woodstock Blvd. gets totally clogged at rush hour.. If New Seasons hurts Ottos and Woodstock Wine & Deli-that will be a sad day. So- yes, that is capitalism, but perhaps nothing to celebrate,

      As for Foster Road, there are a few bike commuters- I am one- and I think I know the rest (for that area). Foster Road is a hell hole for someone trying to walk. The three sex business are icky, and the skinny blonde heroin addict who takes cigarette breaks between old men is a sad sight for Mamacita. I am very good at hurrying past the schizophrenics.

      As for the Portland Plan- why do we have it? If your observations are correct, then
      BPS and the City have been caught exaggerating and mis-leading the public about the limits of planning and the results we can expect. You can’t reconcile your view of planning and the way that BPS presents the wonders of Planning in the comp plan and their unintentionally hilarious Facebook page.

      So, now that we agree that Brentwood Darlington cannot be grown “smartly” maybe we should just upzone and leave alone, after the citizens sue for the sidewalks. Because they were lied to during annexation, and that kind of poor civic character gives me no confidence in the present city gov’t.

      BTW- we could divert funds from the Pearl and close-in. But we choose public art over safe sidewalks in poor neighborhood. That is Portland Planning. Stealing from the poor neighborhoods, giving to the rich, then bragging.


  9. I really appreciate Doug’s input on this issue; he’s been in the trenches for years. I think he and I would agree that transfer of major arterials to PBOT is long overdue. These need to be converted into true multimodal boulevards where one can drive and park but also have the option to safely use transit, bike, and walk. The conversion of through streets to, where appropriate, places, is essential as Portland grows up and welcomes more residents.

    A couple of thoughts on the above discussion of planning, E. Portland, etc.:

    Portland east of I-205, much like a lot of SW (where I grew up), was built up under very lax county standards…no paved streets, no sidewalks, no sewers. Getting those things done later takes a lot of money and time with, traditionally, the cost for streets and sidewalks coming from LIDs. Housing prices, both rents and purchases, are consequently lower in these areas or at least were (Multnomah has become an IT spot, so prices are up there, despite lots of unpaved, sidewalk-less streets…which some residents prefer.)

    Plans are at best aspirational and reflect what we, or at least those who participate in the process, wish to see in the future. The Albina Plan is a good example of how this plays out. A lot of the area around Fremont/Williams was imaged as an area of light industry, ie. jobs, but the market took another direction years later. A plan can permit all kinds of things, but can require little; that has to come from the private sector. A plan can direct public investment of which light rail on Interstate is a good example. And what has occurred in N and inner NE Portland can be seen as success…taking an area plagued by dis-investment (700 abandoned properties) to one of strong development and rising property values. But there are winners and losers. But make a place more attractive, and you attract more people, especially if property values are initially depressed. So watch out Cully, Montavilla, Foster, Lents!

    Affordable housing is tough to build without public subsidies, and URAs are required by the city to put 30% of there resources into the effort…a decision that was met with mixed reviews in the Interstate URA. SE Uplift is the best example of a CDC doing that; Proud Ground is a fine NGO with a strong, if modest record. Reducing dwelling size and not requiring parking are a couple of things that help affordability.

    Equity is also a heavy lift for a city document. The growth of income disparity is a national trend dating back to the Regan years, and income re-distribution, which in my view is long overdue, is something that has to come from Washington DC. The one thing local policy can do to improve job access (ie. light rail and the Swan Island 85 bus)make the good jobs on Swan Island much more accessible to residents of E. Portland. But skill sets have to line up; here PCC is critical, and its good to see the creation of a new campus in SE and an industrial training center on Swan Island. Were these in somebody’s plan?

    The Pearl District and South Waterfront come in for a lot of criticism, but as I recall Mayor Katz wanted to see dense neighborhoods developed in those places…old industrial/brownfields…so that lower density could be retained in Portland’s traditional single home districts on the eastside. Hence, those areas are only subject to higher density along commercial that are well served by transit.
    Enough for now.

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