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Opinion: Do Our City Leaders Really Care?

[April 25, 2024]

Submitted by Don Baack

As our city government reorganizes itself to operate more efficiently, there has been a lot of talk this past couple of years about silos. Bureaus as silos, silos within bureaus. But what’s happening right now on SW Capitol Hill Road compounds silos to a new level of inefficiency. It also illustrates how the piecemeal way sidewalks get built in the southwest results in so many gaps.

The simple outline of the story goes like this.

Hi-LO Trail

A few years ago, SWTrails successfully lobbied state representatives Senator Wagner and Congresswoman Salinas to fund a new trail, the Hillsdale to Lake Oswego (Hi-LO) trail. The Hi-LO happens to include a segment along SW Capitol Hill Rd between 19th Ave and Nevada Court. Capitol Hill Road is a busy neighborhood collector in the Hillsdale Town Center. State funds came through in 2021, and Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) planners were tasked with designing the new sidewalk segment. The planners decided it would sit on the east/south side of Capitol Hill Road.

Habitat for Humanity

Meanwhile, north of Nevada Court, Habitat for Humanity acquired, also with state funding, a parcel of land from the Greater Portland Bible Church. The land has about 400 feet of frontage on the west side of SW Capitol Hill Road. Habitat proposes to build 52 housing units on the parcel. City regulations call for a developer to build frontage improvements like sidewalks and bicycle lanes when new facilities are built and the Development Review desk within PBOT oversees those right-of-way requirements.

But rather than requiring sidewalk and bike facilities that could possibly connect to PBOT’s work being done to the south, Development Review proposed a walking and bicycle path along private, Habitat for Humanity property—30 vertical feet above the street! The proposed path would dead-end about 300 feet north of the existing Nevada Court right-of-way. In other words, Development Review proposed a path which is up a steep hill, above the roadway, and does not connect to anything.

Closing the 300-foot gap between this proposed path and the nearest other right-of-way (SWTrail #3 and Capitol Hill Road) would require investment by either the City of Portland, the Greater Portland Bible Church, or a future land purchaser. The connection, if built to existing bicycle route standards, would require about 300 feet (30 feet vertical at 10% grade) of steep grade from Capitol Hill Road.

So, to recap, on the same road, one PBOT silo has designed infill sidewalk from the Safeway on Barbur Blvd to Nevada Court (partially funded with the state money secured by a local non-profit), while another PBOT silo (as part of code-required frontage improvements) is requiring a developer to build a public path on private property, above street grade—a path which will not connect to PBOT’s southern sidewalk infill. It’s not exactly the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, maybe the north and south hand?

The result is pedestrians walking in the street for the final 1000 feet of dangerous road from Nevada Court up to the intersection of Capitol Hill Road with Bertha Blvd.

Neighborhood pushback

In response to neighborhood complaints, Habitat offered to contribute funding for a sidewalk on the east side of Capitol Hill Road, across the street from their property, in lieu of the uphill path PBOT was requiring of them. An east-side sidewalk would have partially filled the 1,000 foot sidewalk gap, and at least established a roadmap for future sidewalk infill. PBOT responded with a firm "no."

This disjointed funding and implementation is why southwest Portland has so many gaps in its already paltry sidewalk network, and why the bicycle network is so incomplete. Unfortunately, this particular situation is not unique, similar scenarios play out all over our neighborhoods.

When all this was brought to the attention of the commissioner-in-charge of PBOT, Mingus Mapps, he declined to take any action.

The City of Portland has neglected southwest sidewalk and bike infrastructure for half a century, even as the climate and pedestrian death crises have so visibly worsened in recent years. Our part of town badly needs representatives who will advocate for making our streets safer.


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