Background

The Woodstock neighborhood of SE Portland is home to a high concentration of unimproved streets. In general, these unpaved streets suffer from ineffective drainage, overgrown vegetation and undefined edges. Conditions vary significantly from street to street and block to block. Some streets are completely impassable to vehicles due to overgrown vegetation, rough surfaces, or water-filled potholes.

Despite the lack of a smooth surface for bicycles, wheelchairs and strollers, many residents appreciate that unimproved streets provide low-traffic paths for walking and recreation. In many cases, residents are using the right-of-way (ROW) as an extension of their yard for purposes such as composting and planter beds.

However, there is little coordination between the activities of individual neighbors on a block, or within the neighborhood as a whole, for how ROW space could be more actively used in the future. Improving streets to meet city standards – a prerequisite for the city to take over street maintenance – is expensive. More importantly, one-size-fits-all city standards do not fit with the reality of how Woodstock’s unimproved streets are currently used. There is a need for more flexible improvement options that can be tailored to meet residents’ needs.

This issue was explored by the Woodstock Neighborhood during the creation of the Woodstock Neighborhood Plan in 1995, and it has been explored through several city planning processes over the years.  We learned about the issue through the Woodstock Neighborhood Association, which is the official client for this project.  

Unimproved streets are a challenging issue due to the complex nature of the sometimes conflicting interests at play in right-of-way space. Our hope is that the "Roadway Not Improved" project will facilitate a dialogue that will help us to identify common interests and offer alternative solutions for improving, maintaining and using unimproved streets.  Although our project focuses specifically on exploring solutions for the Woodstock neighborhood, we are hoping that our final products -- a toolkit and a final report -- will be relevant for other neighborhoods and for City policymakers.

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