In Fact, Portland City Hall Does Maintain Gravel Roads

I’m not sure when I last encountered a street featuring one of those puddles so vast you can see Harry Potter’s Patronus on the other side.

ROADSIDE ATTRACTION: A food cart pod along a gravel road in outer Southeast Portland. (Joseph Blake, Jr.)

In your story on Portland’s unpaved roads, you wrote, “Not only will the city not improve them, it won’t even pay to maintain them in their current state of shittiness.” In fact, we do maintain gravel streets in Portland! The Gravel Street Service (GSS) is a cost-effective, short-term solution for residents who have asked us for help improving the condition of the gravel roads they live on. —Hannah Schafer, Portland Bureau of Transportation

One of the many perils of reaching one’s 40s and 50s (that stage we call, rather optimistically, “midlife”) is realizing that things you remember doing perhaps two or three years ago actually happened during the Clinton administration.

I mention this because I heard from many readers who recall, just as vividly as I do, mud-bogging their way along cratered streets reminiscent of no man’s land at the Battle of Verdun. Naturally, we assume these moonscapes are still there, unchanged—after all, didn’t we see one just a few months ago, when we went over to Josh’s house to watch the series finale of Friends?

Now that I think about it, though, I’m not sure when I last encountered a street featuring one of those puddles so vast you can see Harry Potter’s Patronus on the other side. It happens that I spend a fair amount of time in and around the Cully neighborhood,* an area long known for sudden, unplanned off-road adventures. Right now, though, I can’t find any examples of those two-ruts-and-an-alligator mudholes I remember.

That’s not to say there aren’t any, however. Over the past three years, 90% of gravel roads have been serviced, but those that serve only one or two homes (or those that GSS equipment can’t handle for technical reasons) may remain forever jacked.

Even when the GSS works as advertised, some readers have complaints. One cited “clouds and clouds” of gravel dust, while another noted that his potholes were already coming back. Several preferred the roads in their pre-graveled state, either because it made passing drivers slow down (or, better yet, take a different route) or because the gone-to-seed roads were an opportunity for shared urban space.

I stand by my assertion that the city won’t bring unimproved streets up to code. However, it appears that in many cases it will pay to maintain them at their current level of shittiness. Dr. Know regrets the error.

*No, I don’t know anything about your missing silver. (It’s plated anyway, you cheap bastard.)

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