Comments on City of Portland snow management January 2017

By Don Baack

I am pleased the City of Portland has decided to re examine snow management policies.

I seek to address the following points in this note.

1. Pedestrian mobility during snow events
2. City officials frequently reminding businesses and citizens of their responsibility to shovel snow and keep sidewalks free of ice.
3. identification of problem areas on “near arterial” streets not on the normal snow plowing and sanding list so when resources permit, those streets can be plowed and sanded.
4. Identification of dangerous steets and blocking them to traffic.
5. Identification of key school access streets and priority for plowing and sanding those streets.
6. Working with TriMet to assure pedestrian access to transit stops.
7. Avoid blocking local non plowed streets.
8. Preventive maintenance to prevent some trees from falling onto our streets.
9. Coordination with ODOT to assure sidewalks along State HIghways are not buried under plowed snow.

1. Pedestrian mobility. During snow events, most people where I live do not want to drive but will walk, in some cases long distances, to obtain essential products or services.   The City of Portland does not appear to have policies in place to assure that key pedestrian linkages are identified and steps taken to clear them of snow and make them as friendly and safe as possible. In fact, current snow plowing actions make some key pedestrian facilities much harder to use.

Attached are 3 photos of the sidewalk along the Terwilliger bridge over I5 taken just after the recent 13″ snowfall. You will note that the snow plows have plowed the snow off the entire 48′ deck of the bridge, 3 vehicle lanes and   2 bicycle lanes piling all of the snow on the sidewalks on either side. Note the walker actually walking in the plowed street, the way many of our SW residents use our plowed arterials in the hours just after a major snow event.   I suggest we agree to keep one Terwilliger Bridge sidewalk free of snow and instead move the snow to side of the bridge deck, essentially the bicycle lane, where it can either stay until it melts or be removed to another site. The few bicycle riders can legally take a car lane, and under these conditions they are not moving rapidly anyway. In addition, the sidewalk on one side of the bridge should be plowed just like the vehicle lanes are plowed. Once the snow event is over, immediate action should be taken to remove the snow, sand and gravel from the bike lanes and pedestrian routes.

2. City officials reminding businesses and citizens of their responsibility to shovel snow and keep sidewalks free of ice. The city has the Code in place requiring the adjacent property owner to clear the sidewalk of snow and ice but there is not even the mention of that requirement, or if it is mentioned, it is after days of complaining by frustrated walkers. Portland should have a series of public service announcements, maybe even cartoons on TV, about this that begin as the first flakes start falling, add to it the request to clear storm drains. Salt is a key to keeping shoveled sidewalks from becoming even more dangerous. encourage its use. I understand the discussion of the threat to groundwater, but we on the west side have almost no percolation so it is not a valid argument here. When used on sidewalks, it is not going to rust out my shoes. I suggest each business and business property owner be sent a brochure telling them of their snow and ice removal responsibilities.

3. Identification of problem areas on “near arterial” streets not on the normal snow plowing list so when resources permit, those streets can be plowed. During the recent snow event I walked around much of Hillsdale to observe and photograph problem areas.   Most of the problem areas I observed, beyond almost all sidewalks not being cleared, were on segments of streets with steeper grades, or short pitches. These pitches were difficult to maneuver for two reasons: the snow depth caused most standard cars to start plowing snow due to the low clearance, and 2 the snow provided little traction. My thinking is that the over all mobility of the city would be greatly enhanced if these sometimes short segments were plowed. I am not proposing to plow all our local streets, rather I think plowing and sanding key “connector local streets” will enable more people to get out and about. I would suggest this is a very local issue and would require those people living on those streets to identify the problem areas. The city could set some parameters like percent grade so zealous citizens do not nominate the entire neighborhood street network as probalme areas.

4. Identify dangerous streets and figure out how to block them off to traffic during snow events. Case in point is 300 feet of SW 7th from Chestnut to Terwilliger. In December I saw 5 or 6 vehicles snarled in the corner or in the yard of the adjacent land owner. They all tried to turn downhill from SW Chestnut, misjudged how slick it was and ended up crashing into the nearby tree or other vehicles. Over the years I have seen many similar crashes or problems at this intersection during snow events. Simple solution, block the street at both ends so no one can try to get up or down.   A related action that I think may be supported by the community is to designate some key streets as sledding streets and block them off for this purpose. SW Burlingame Terrace has been a neighborhood sledding street for years. Set up a simple process so neighbors can decide to block off a street for sledding and post it accordingly, like we do for block parties.

5. Identification of key school access streets and priority for plowing and sanding those streets. After a major snowfall, schools need to reopen. However, if we do not plow and sand a minimum of access streets to the schools we put at risk the students riding the school buses, students riding in personal vehicles and students trying to walk to school. I suggest each school community identify key routes for buses and other vehicles to follow so that they could be plowed and sanded, again without screwing up the pedestrian environment, when resources are available.

6. Working with TriMet to assure pedestrian access and safety to and at transit stops. Transit becomes the key backup for travel during snow events. We need to work to encourage as many people to take transit as desire to do so. Plowing the street snow into the transit stop is not going to encourage bus riders to take transit. My friends tell me the MAX platforms were sheets of ice and very dangerous.

7. Seek ways to avoid blocking local street connections when snow routes are plowed. This can be a major problem for local residents.

8. Preventive maintenance to prevent some trees from falling onto our streets. Several trees along SW Terwilliger came down in the storms this year, blocking traffic and requiring emergency crews to remove them. Most of the trees I saw came down because they were infested with English Ivy. English Ivy increases the “sail” of the tree in the wind, it accumulates ice and snow making the tops of the trees over-weighted and the stems fail.   I suggest PBOT establish a program to identify trees along our streets that are ivy infested and A. Take care of the problem maybe with youth work crews, or B. Post the property so the homeowner takes care of the problem. The city code may have to be changed to enforce posting of this kind of issue.   The other less important “tree problems” along Terwilliger appears to be large Laurel and Hollly, invasives that could be removed to prevent future problems.

9. Coordination with ODOT to assure sidewalks along State HIghways are not buried under plowed snow.
I have observed ODOT plowing snow on to sidewalks in the past, I did not have an opportunity to see if that was happening this year, but I have observed gravel on sidewalks adjacent to Barbur which suggests the snow was plowed onto the sidewalk.

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