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Why are there missing sidewalks in my neighborhood?
As Portland’s boundaries have expanded over the years, missing sidewalks have become an increasingly prevalent problem. Historically, the Portland city limits ended at 82nd Avenue. It wasn’t until the late 1970s and 1980s that Portland began annexing parts of unincorporated Multnomah County, much of which was already developed without sidewalks. Neighborhoods in outer East Portland and Southwest Portland that were annexed into the City typically did not have complete sidewalk networks. In locations where sidewalks were constructed they were often “curb-tight,” lacking furnishing zones or street trees to buffer people walking from roadway traffic. Many of these annexed areas still retain some of their rural character, and they continue to have insufficient infrastructure to meet the needs of people walking.
Per City charter and City code, property owners are responsible for constructing, maintaining, and repairing the sidewalks abutting their property (Portland City Code & Charter 17.28.020). This applies to home owners, business owners, schools and other large institutions, and to homeowners’ associations. Traditionally the requirement to construct sidewalks where they are missing or deficient is triggered when development or redevelopment projects are proposed. As part of the development, property owners must construct or improve the sidewalks fronting their property in accordance with City standards. This is how the vast majority of sidewalks have historically been built in the City of Portland. The mature sidewalk system in inner Portland that was constructed with development (often over 100 years ago) still serves residents today.
City charter and City code also grants the City the authority to require the construction and maintenance of sidewalks outside of the development process. The City can require the construction of new sidewalks, if “in the opinion of the City Engineer a sidewalk or curb or both are needed” (Portland City Code, Title 17.28.030). Traditionally the City has not used this authority to require construction of sidewalks where they are missing in already developed areas. However, while not enforced, City code stipulates that sidewalk construction is legally the obligation of private property owners.
How does PedPDX prioritize new sidewalks and marked crosswalks?
The magnitude of pedestrian infrastructure needs in Portland is significant. The PedPDX needs analysis shows that there are approximately 350 miles of missing sidewalks along Portland’s busiest streets, and a need for approximately 3,520 new marked crossings across the city. This is likely more need than we have resources to address in the next 20 years. To put these needs in perspective, the City has constructed or repaired approximately 230 miles of sidewalks and 2,500 marked crossings in the past 20 years.
While building and maintaining sidewalks remains a private obligation, the City does invest in sidewalk construction frequently, particularly on busy streets that are deficient and could serve a larger number of people walking. PedPDX, Portland’s Citywide Pedestrian Master Plan, used a data-driven approach to prioritize locations where PBOT may invest to build out the pedestrian network. Prioritizing needs using a data-based approach helps ensure we are directing limited resources to locations with the greatest needs first. It aligns our spending priorities with adopted City goals and policies and the public’s stated priorities, and it also creates a process that is transparent and repeatable. A data-based approach to prioritizing sidewalk and crossing needs also helps ensure that we provide needed improvements in an equitable manner across the city, rather than responding to individual requests which may not always be where demands of safety, equity, and pedestrian need are greatest.
In addition to the Pedestrian Network Completion program, Safe Routes to School, Fixing Our Streets, and Vision Zero also occasionally provide funding for sidewalk infill projects that connect students to school or are on Portland’s arterial and collector street network and could serve a high number of people walking. PBOT's capital projects page also includes links to information about the numerous sidewalk infill and pedestrian crossing projects that are currently in design and construction.
How can I find out if there are plans to build sidewalks or crossings in my neighborhood?
While typically sidewalks are constructed through private development, PBOT has numerous mechanisms through which sidewalks and crossings get built via capital projects. Click through the following resources and maps to see where PBOT either has long-term plans or near-term projects to construct sidewalks and marked crossings.
How do broken or uplifted sidewalks get repaired?
The City of Portland Sidewalk Repair Program oversees the maintenance of City sidewalks, curbs, and corners. The program’s goal is to ensure that all sidewalks are safe and accessible for pedestrians and to help prevent injuries caused by defective sidewalks. Portland City Code states that property owners must keep sidewalks in good repair so that they are free of tripping hazards and other safety hazards for pedestrians and people in wheelchairs. Transportation Bureau inspectors assess sidewalks and notify the property owner of needed repairs. In the event timely repairs are not made by the property owner, the Transportation Bureau hires a private contractor to make the repairs and bills the property owner for the costs.
What options do I have to build sidewalks in my neighborhood?
If you wish to voluntarily repair or construct sidewalk in front of your property, you can apply online for a Voluntary Minor Improvement Permit. For more information about this option, you can call 503-823-7002 option 3 or email PBOTsidewalkpermit@portlandoregon.gov.
Another common option for constructing sidewalks is to form a Local Improvement District (LID). A Local Improvement District is a method by which a group of property owners can share in the cost of infrastructure improvements, most commonly for transportation and stormwater. This can involve improving the street, building sidewalks, and installing a stormwater management system. An LID can also be used to install sidewalks on existing streets that previously have been accepted for maintenance by the City. For more information about LID’s, you can contact Andrew Aebi at 503-823-5648 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about PBOT’s Pedestrian Program, contact Michelle Marx at email@example.com
Detailed info on improvement types, how well they work, and cost
Everything you need to know about crosswalks
To report broken or lifting sidewalk for posting and repair, call 503-823-1711.