By David Krogh
Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has been receiving substantial publicity lately and much of it is negative.
Here is a composite detailing several media reports.
Sidewalk Repairs: PBOT is in charge of streets and public sidewalks, but residential owners adjacent to public sidewalks are responsible for sidewalk maintenance and repairs.
Most of the time, the City only gets involved via complaints. However, when residents have work done in the public right of way such as a new sewer line installation to their house, PBOT inspectors will not only look at the site of the work, but also at the neighboring sidewalks.
Cracks of over ½ inch or raised (tripping) areas will be required to face repairs or sidewalk replacements, regardless of if they are creating safety hazards or not.
Resident Kyle Bell was contacted by PBOT a few months back after inspectors visited his neighbor’s site. Bell agreed to let the City do the repairs and a City authorized contractor did so with an estimated cost of $5000.
The new cement is already cracking so Bell has raised issues with the City about the situation, especially how PBOT goes about citing neighbors.
KGW (and later other news outlets) investigated and found that both PBOT interim director Chris Warner and PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s home sidewalks are also in violation of PBOT’s condition standards.
They say they are aware of this, but have not as yet instigated repairs. Bell has asked “Is there a separate standard for PBOT officials?”
Mayor Wheeler’s home sidewalks were also substandard and he took it upon himself to hire a contractor and have timely repairs made.
Seated Scooters: Last month’s Southeast Examiner discussed PBOT’s new one-year pilot project for e-scooters (The Scooters are Back).
The program expects up to 15,000 scooters to be within the City by the end of the year. PBOT has just approved two companies (Razor out of California and Shared out of Tacoma) to provide 725 seated scooters for rent.
PBOT has indicated a hope that having a variety of scooter types available will encourage a wider variety of people to ride a scooter instead of a car as a means to alleviate traffic congestion.
City Audit Slams PBOT: Portland voters authorized a ten-cent per gallon gas tax in 2016 intended to provide for street repairs and safety oriented projects.
PBOT was to provide annual updates, but instead, provided incomplete and inconsistent information to those tasked with monitoring the projects.
A new study from the City Auditor’s Office reports unrealistic schedules are causing projects to be behind, and, significant cost overruns for those projects completed or close to completion.
Portland approved the gas tax after years of street maintenance funding problems largely caused by the City Council rerouting money intended for street maintenance to other funds such as arts projects and public school budget support.
Debates on street funding reached a head when then-Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick attempted to create a street maintenance fee (tax) to recoup the transferred moneys. That proposal did not work and subsequently led to the gas tax.
Chris Warner blames PBOT’s delays on implementing the tax-related funding system.
“PBOT had to quickly ramp up its project planning and delivery practices to meet the demands of managing the new funding stream,” he wrote in response to the Auditor’s report, mentioning too that launching the new Fixing Our Streets program to implement the projects has added to the delays.
Per Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s office, twenty projects have been completed thus far and another twenty-one are earmarked for next year.
The tax measure authorized a collection of $64 million for street projects and $39 million has so far been received. Eudaly has indicated she intends to send another gas tax proposal to voters in 2020.
Warner has indicated PBOT will hire an outside auditor to monitor the projects’ funding progress and to provide reports which PBOT has been remiss in preparing thus far. This, he says, is his pledge to increase transparency.
The City Auditor’s Office wrote a scathing report on PBOT’s street maintenance in 2013, during a time when maintenance projects were primarily restricted to arterial streets.
The report stated the City Council lacked a realistic strategy in dealing with street maintenance and that as much as a third of the City’s streets were already in a “poor or worse” condition.
The audit suggested it would take ten years and $750 million to meet street maintenance targets. The audit found PBOT has “too many goals and no coherent priorities,” and recommended the City Council develop a transportation strategy to better guide bureau street project spending.
If oversight is not improved, Portland’s roads will continue to fall short of goals for years to come, the audit stated.
Vision Zero Two Year Report: Vision Zero was created with the primary intent of reducing vehicle to pedestrian accidents in several high accident areas. As first reported by KOIN, the study shows most high accident locations are on the eastside, where many streets still lack adequate pedestrian improvements.
Vision Zero improvements used to promote pedestrian safety include reducing traffic lanes (such as on SE Foster where four lanes of travel have been reduced to two); addition of bike lanes; improved crosswalks and barriers to protect pedestrians and bicycles; extended curbs; speed limit reductions; and other measures.
An ODOT grant of $7 million will be used by the City to continue the program. What the program does not do, is provide street upgrades to reduce traffic congestion.
Portland has long been in the top twenty cities nationwide for excessive traffic congestion and long commute times, yet the City’s focus historically has been more oriented towards promotion of mass transit and bike lanes as opposed to street upgrades or traffic management measures.
PBOT staff have indicated to The Southeast Examiner that Vision Zero does not reduce congestion and may actually increase it on those arterial streets where the program is reducing street capacity (termed “road diets”).
Critics warn that City leaders cannot continue to ignore traffic congestion if they expect continued growth to occur and be reasonably accommodated.
To see the report, see bit.ly/2Y5mv9x.
Bus Only Lanes: Jamey Duhamel, policy director for Chloe Eudaly, has announced a proposal by Eudaly to create miles of bus only lanes within the city.
As first reported by Willamette Week, the proposal is intended to improve bus commute times while encouraging drivers to take the bus and avoid substantial increases in traffic congestion.
“To cut lanes down when you have more cars is not common sense,” says Jan Shleifer, business owner on SE Foster where Vision Zero is cutting travel lanes by half.
However, Eudaly and her advisors are looking at ways to urge drivers to ride the bus as a means to reduce traffic congestion rather than to provide street upgrades to improve traffic flows.
TriMet spokesperson Tia York has indicated that buses stuck in traffic congestion cost TriMet and the public both time and money. Dedicated bus lanes should improve service times.
PBOT has yet to identify bus lane locations, however, the downtown area is likely to see the first large-scale use of such lanes. Right now about thirteen percent of commuters use transit and Eudaly hopes this amount will be greatly increased with bus lanes.
The downside of this is that it will likely increase traffic congestion and commute times for those in cars.