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News Blog: How does PedPDX decide where we build sidewalks and mark crosswalks?

(April 23, 2019) Why do we prioritize sidewalks and crosswalks? Everywhere we look, we see places that need to be improved to provide a safe, inviting, and accessible pedestrian network. Despite these clearly-defined needs, the City has limited resources to address them, so we use a data-based approach to make sure we are meeting the greatest needs first. Today we’re looking at the history of sidewalks in Portland and how PedPDX, the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) pedestrian master plan, uses data to prioritize where new sidewalks and marked crosswalks are installed.

History of Sidewalk Development in Portland

In Portland, property owners are responsible for constructing, maintaining, and repairing the sidewalks abutting their property. This applies to home owners, business owners, schools and other large institutions. 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.

However, 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. 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.

Annexation map of Portland

The majority of streets with missing sidewalks lie within already developed neighborhoods that were annexed to the City of Portland in the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s.

How does PedPDX Prioritize New Sidewalks and Marked Crosswalks?

While building and maintaining sidewalks remains a private obligation, PBOT does invest in sidewalk construction frequently, particularly on busy streets that are deficient and could serve a larger number of people walking.

The magnitude of pedestrian infrastructure needs in Portland is significant. The PedPDXneeds analysis shows that there are approximately 350 miles of missing sidewalksalong 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.

Benefits of a Data-based Approach

Given the high volume of missing sidewalks and pedestrian infrastructure, how do we decide what to build? 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.

Public Input Guides Prioritization

To get a sense of what matters to Portlanders, we asked which sorts of places are most important to improve for walking. The PedPDX Citywide Walking Priorities received over 5,400 survey responses. Portlanders’ top priorities all revolve around the topics of demand (places where people are walking), safety (where people walking have been killed or injured), and equity (where people rely on walking). Those topics were used to construct the PedPDX prioritization methodology.

Public feedback on project prioritization

Equity

To align PedPDX with the Citywide Racial Equity Goals and Strategies, PBOT’s Racial Equity Plan, and the public’s stated priorities, PedPDX prioritizes pedestrian investments in locations with high equity needs. Locations with the highest equity needs receive the highest score (9-10) and are indicated in dark blue in the map below.

As best practices for measuring equity and PBOT and the City’s approach evolve over time, PedPDX will reflect evolving practices and apply PBOT’s most current methodology and data for measuring equity.

Pedestrian Network: Equity Map

Safety

Pedestrian safety was also a key priority expressed by community members in the Walking Priorities Survey. Prioritizing safety ensures that the most dangerous street segments are addressed first, making the city safer for those most at risk. Pedestrians are disproportionately represented in traffic crashes, so prioritizing investments in locations where we see or expect to see pedestrian crashes helps us meet our Vision Zero goal.

The PedPDX safety analysis identifies street segments where pedestrian crashes have historically occurred as well as locations where roadway and behavioral characteristics are potentially correlated with pedestrian crashes. These risk factors include streets with three or more travel lanes and locations with speed limits over 30 mph.

Streets with the highest scores are those with the most crash history or risk factors and are indicated in red in the map below. Street segments with the lowest safety scores are those with the lowest pedestrian crash history and risk factors and are indicated in blue. As safety conditions change over time, the PedPDX safety analysis will be revisited and updated with current data.

Pedestrian Network: Safety Map

Pedestrian Demand

Prioritizing demand means improving streets that provide access to important walking destinations – goods, services, jobs, and transit, to name a few. It also helps improve walkability and pedestrian vibrancy as expressed in Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan. To score pedestrian demand, PedPDX groups streets into four categories, in order of priority:

  1. Pedestrian Districts: “Centers,” as defined by Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan, with high levels of current or expected future pedestrian activity
  1. Major City Walkways: “Corridors” and “Main Streets,” as defined by Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan, where pedestrian destinations exist or are expected to in the future
  1. City Walkways: Other busy arterial and collector streets
  1. Neighborhood Walkways: Residential streets that are designated as Safe Routes to School or Neighborhood Greenways.

Higher point values are allocated to streets where more people are expected to walk (indicated in dark blue in the map below), such as within designated “Centers.” Lower point values are allocated to streets where fewer people are expected to walk (indicated in light green). These are typically Neighborhood Walkways located along residential streets.

Pedestrian Network: Demand Map

Adding it Up

The individual scores for equity, safety, and demand are then added together. Street segments with the highest aggregated equity, safety, and demand scores are indicated in purple in the map below. Street segments with lower aggregated equity, safety, and demand scores are in lower tiers, with “Tier 5” as the lowest scoring (and lowest priority).

Prioritized Pedestrian Network

In theory, sidewalk and crosswalk gaps on streets with the highest scores (tier 1) will be addressed first. However, other factors will be considered in identifying near term sidewalk and crossing implementation opportunities, including leverage opportunities, funding sources, project readiness, and feasibility. As needs in top tier locations are systematically addressed, sidewalk and crossing gaps in lower tiers will be subsequently addressed. Visit our interactive map to see this information in more detail.

Share your feedback with us!

Visit www.PedPDX.com for a video walkthrough of the plan, to read the Public Review Draft, scroll through interactive maps, and take our online survey until May 3, 2019.