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May 2, 2014 – Portland Streets Continue to Deteriorate

Bike-friendly city? A Portland cyclist is attended (and eventually hospitalized) after a crash resulting from incomplete paving around a storm drain.


Portland’s streets, bridges, sidewalks, and traffic signals are in desperate need of maintenance, reports the city’s Bureau of Transportation. Yet the city is putting its transportation dollars towards building more streetcar lines.

Last year, the Bureau of Transportation reported that nearly half the city’s streets were in poor or very poor condition. Thanks to continued neglect, they have breached the 50 percent threshold: in 2013, 54 percent were poor or very poor, while the share in good or very good condition shrank from 30 to 26 percent.

Worse, the city’s annual street maintenance budget of $11.8 million (which includes a one-time-only supplement of $4.1 million in 2013), is a mere $79.8 million short of what the Bureau says it needs to halt the declining condition of the streets. That’s right: the city needs to increase street maintenance funding by 676 percent–not to improve the condition of poor and very poor streets but merely to “keep a significant number of [additional] streets from falling into very poor condition” (p. 34).

Similarly, over the next ten years, sidewalks will need $228 million; traffic signals $188 million; and bridges $135 million more than the Bureau expects to have on hand to keep these assets from deteriorating further (pp. 12, 44, and 64). Together with the streets, these assets are worth $7.6 billion (measured by replacement cost), yet the city is not funding the nearly $1.5 billion needed over the next decade to keep them in their current somewhat poor state of repair, much less what is needed to bring them to a state of good repair.

The news isn’t all bad. The city’s downtown parking garages, which were built as a favor to downtown property owners, have zero maintenance needs because parking fees cover all maintenance costs (though none of the capital costs). The city’s parking meters and aerial tramway also fund their own maintenance. This reinforces the Antiplanner’s contention that things funded out of user fees tend to be well maintained, while things funded out of tax dollars tend to be poorly maintained. We’ll see how well the aerial tram does when its maintenance needs significantly increase in another couple of decades.

The report alludes to this increase in maintenance costs over time when it reviews the existing streetcar lines, the first of which opened nearly 13 years ago. “Although this equipment is in good or better condition” today, says the report, “it will need to be replaced at the end of the streetcars’ useful life, which TriMet estimates to be 30 years.” Of course, no one has thought of where the money for such replacement will come from. Why should they? Portland’s mayor and city commissioners are not likely to still be in office in 17 years when the first line turns 30, and so won’t have to worry about that infrastructure crisis.

Instead of worrying about trivial things like future streetcar maintenance or current street maintenance, city officials dream of building new streetcar lines on 140 miles of city streets. The city’s projects that the first 18 miles will cost $36 million to $41 million per mile (including streetcars). At that rate, a 140-mile expansion would cost more than $5 billion, greater than the $4.8 billion replacement cost of the city’s entire 4,800-mile street system.

This emphasis on clunky streetcars is misplaced. For one, it does nothing for transit riders. From 2005 to 2012, the city of Portland saw a remarkable 20 percent increase in jobs, yet the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports that transit commuting has remained essentially flat. Of the 50,000 new workers since 2005, more than 18,000 drive to work, 20,000 walk or bicycle, close to 11,000 work at home–and fewer than 100 take transit.

Between auto, bus, taxi, motorcycle, bicycle, and foot, nearly 97 percent of commuters rely on Portland’s streets and sidewalks that the city is allowing to deteriorate. Only 2.5 percent of commuters take some form of rail, whether streetcars or light rail, yet these are supported by the bulk of the city’s transportation funds. Welcome to America’s best-planned city.

The Antiplanner



Hundreds of Portland’s roads in poor condition, ‘scathing’ audit finds
Video here at KATU Television Portland

Portland polls on street fee
The Portland Bureau of Transportation is gauging political support for a new $8 to $12 monthly fee that would be assessed to homeowners and renters to help repair the city’s crumbling street system.
Article here at The Oregonian


April 24, 2014 – We need to find a better model for funding transit

I’ll start with one of those stupidly-obvious statements that too often need repeating: Cities, especially larger cities and metro areas, need quality public transportation. They’re a fundamental backbone for success. For distances that reach beyond what is walkable or bike able, people need good options.

Walking the Walk – Urban design from the front lines



Church leaders oppose streetcar taxing district in poorer areas

Kansas City Business Journal


February 21, 2014 – From The Troost Alliance

The Troost Alliance is a network of churches and helping agencies associated with the Troost Corridor in Kansas City, Missouri.

Dear Friends:

A few months ago the people of Jackson County defeated a proposed sales tax for medical research. Now, a new 1% sales tax is proposed for the purpose of extending the new streetcar. If enacted, the sales tax in some of the poorest areas of Kansas City would increase to 9.35%. If the legislature enacts another statewide 1% sales tax, the poorest areas of Kansas City would pay 10.35% – the highest in the country.  Story continued here.


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