This year’s debate about Portland’s Bicycle Plan for 2030 has highlighted the lack of adequate resources for safe, two-wheeled transportation.
But lost in that debate was another very important form of wheeled travel in town.
An estimated 10,000 Portlanders use wheelchairs, or have problems with mobility. To get around safely, they need sidewalks with curb cutouts that comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, the 20-year-old federal law that ensures accessibility to public buildings and sidewalks, among other things. That act calls for gently sloping sidewalk cutouts and those bright yellow, bumpy warning strips, which, incidentally, don’t just serve people in wheelchairs. (They also help blind people determine the location of a crosswalk, for instance.)
Shockingly, only 4 percent of Portland’s 37,744 curb corners have those ADA-required cutouts, according to a 2009 report from the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Bringing all of Portland’s sidewalks up to the ADA’s highest standards would take 64 years, according to that City of Portland report.
Michael Levine, an advocate for disabled people, asks why that’s the case “when this is mandated and the bicycle work isn’t.”
The transportation bureau, which currently faces a $650 million backlog in unmet maintenance, recognizes this is a problem.
“We are not shy to acknowledge there are deficiencies in the system that are significant,” says Cheryl Kuck, spokeswoman for the bureau.
But the bureau’s current fixes are inadequate, which is why we’re shining the Rogue Desk’s spotlight on them. In the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, Portland plans to add only another 1,500 to 1,700 cutouts to the city’s sidewalks—an improvement of 4 percent to 4.5 percent. Even if that speeds up the 64-year estimate, it’s hardly revolutionary.
The Bike Plan aims to have 25 percent of all short city trips made by bike.