There are many
complicated rules and regulations which affect how we live on and use streets.
In order to provide definitions of commonly used terms and to clarify some the rules, rights and responsibilities regarding unimproved streets, below are answers to some frequently asked questions we've encountered so far.
What is a street and what is the right-of-way (ROW)?
The City of Portland defines a street “to be any street as defined in the City
Charter, including all area between property lines, and area dedicated to
street use.” This is not a very clear definition but it is the one offered by
the city charter.
The Portland charter offers no clear definition of unimproved streets. For the purposes of this project, LARKE generally considers any street which is not maintained by the Portland Bureau of Transportation to be "unimproved." Typically, unimproved streets are lacking some combination of a paved surface, curbs, and sidewalks.
Why are so many streets unimproved?
There is no exact answer to this question. It is likely that when the Woodstock neighborhood was annexed into the city limits, existing unimproved streets were unfinished at the time of annexation, like many outer SE neighborhoods. Through many different administrations during the last century, the City has never made paving these streets a priority. In the current economic climate, the City does not have the financial means to dedicate toward bringing unimproved streets up to the city standards required for the City maintenance.
What City agencies might be involved in street improvements and maintenance?
The City includes many bureaus which maintain the infrastructure and development
of the city of Portland. These are some of the bureaus that regularly work on
projects within the street:
Who is responsible for maintaining unimproved streets?
Property owners on unimproved streets are responsible for maintenance of the
ROW. According to the city charter, as the property owner, you have both the
right and the obligation to maintain your section of unimproved street maintenance
up to the center line of the street. In Title 17.42 of the city charter it
How flexible is the City about how adjacent property owners use and maintain unimproved ROWs?
While the city requires unimproved streets to be maintained by adjacent property owners, only certain types of work can be done without a permit obtained from the city. Under the Expanded Maintenance Options, the City allows some flexibility in maintenance performed by property owners. As long as the following parameters are met, owner maintenance of unimproved streets is allowed without a permit:
Who is responsible when problems occur in unimproved streets?
Property owners along unimproved streets are liable for any problems which occur as a result of defective conditions of streets. (See Chapter 17.42.030 of the Portland Charter.) The charter also says that property owners along unimproved streets are liable for any claims, judgments, settlements and defense costs the City incurs due to the property owner's failure to maintain, construct and repair unimproved streets. Basically, if the City gets sued because of damage occurring on an unimproved street next to your house, you are responsible party, not the city. This is unlikely to happen, but the City has its bases covered.
What are the repercussions for private uses within the public ROW?
Portland operates on complaint-based system for nuisance claims within the public ROW. If someone complains about private uses within the ROW, the City will send the property owner a letter informing them of their liability for the unimproved street and may require removal of the perceived nuisance. The City does minimal follow-up to such complaints unless complaints are lodged repeatedly against the same property owner.
What standards does a street have to meet to be accepted for maintenance by the City?
PBOT does not want to encourage the construction of poor quality streets, so the bureau sets a high engineering bar to ensure long-lasting and high-quality streets. Portland's existing neighborhood street standards are designed primarily as traffic facilities comprised of two travel lanes, plus either two parking lanes, one parking lane, or no parking, yielding widths of 32, 28, or 20 feet, respectively. In an R5 zone, the full ROW -- including sidewalks, curbs, gutter, parking and travel lanes -- can vary from 35 to 50 feet. The minimum sidewalk width is at least 5 feet and the parking strip varies from 5 to 10 feet depending on the requirements for stormwater management assessed by the Bureau of Environmental Services.
Who maintains improved streets?
If the City accepts a finished street for maintenance, the abutting property
owner is still responsible for the sidewalk, curbs, driveways and parking
strips. However, the City will maintain the curb except when in combination
with the sidewalk damage or if the curb has been damaged by tree roots. Green
streets and public stormwater facilities which are generally found in the
planter strip area are maintained by the Bureau of Environmental Services. The
City also maintains the width of pavement in between the curbs on either side
of the improved street.
A Local Improvement District (LID) is a method by which a group of property owners can share in the cost of transportation infrastructure improvements. This involves improving the street, building sidewalks, and installing a stormwater management system. An LID can also be used to install sidewalks on existing streets that previously have been accepted for maintenance by the City. When an LID is formed, property owners agree to assume responsibility to pay for the project. The cost of new street construction is assessed and then divided among property owners. Financing for the project is accrued either through property owners paying up front for their portion of the cost (usually around $20K) or through a lien assessed against the homeowner's property to be paid off in 5, 10 or 20 years.
Why are some streets improved at certain times without the neighborhood being informed?
City-sponsored street maintenance happens for a variety of reasons. The City decides to perform maintenance at their own discretion, so even when they are not obliged to make improvements, sometimes they do! For example, if BES performs a sewer maintenance project within the right-of-way, the bureau may pave the street after they complete their project. This still doesn't mean the obligation for maintenance has moved from the property owner to the City; it only means the properties on that street did not have to pay for their expanded maintenance options. The important thing to remember here is that even if a bureau does improvement work within the street, unless PBOT accepts the street as up to full city street standards, the responsibility and liability for the street still rests with the adjacent property owner.
Other Questions? Send them to email@example.com and we will try to find an answer!