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The Oregonian: PSU students try to improve roads in southeast Portland's Woodstock neighborhood
Author: By Rebecca Koffman
Posted: May 21, 2010

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2010/05/psu_students_try_to_improve_on.html

The neighborhood is looking for creative ways to upgrade its lousy streets
 
Southeast Portland's Woodstock neighborhood has some unlikely advisers on fixing up streets: students.

Since January, five students in Portland State University's master of urban and regional planning program have advised the Woodstock Neighborhood Association on creative, flexible and relatively inexpensive ways to upgrade unimproved streets.

The neighborhood has more than its share: 7.8 percent of neighborhood streets lack some combination of pavement, curbs and sidewalks, compared with 1.9 percent citywide.

Under the city charter, the city will neither pay to improve the streets nor maintain any that aren't built to city standards, which call for curbs, gutters, sidewalks, parking and travel lanes. It's up to adjoining property owners to make the fixes, which can run tens of thousands of dollars -- out of reach for most homeowners.

The student project, dubbed Roadway Not Improved, is an example of recession-era planning, said Matt Wickstrom, the students' technical adviser and the Southeast District liaison for the city's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

"They're looking for ways to achieve community goals with limited resources and existing assets," he said.

Wickstrom proposed the project to the students, who must work with a community client as part of their program. The project's findings will become part of the Portland Plan, a document that will guide development over 25 years.

To start, the students inventoried the neighborhood's unimproved roads and discovered issues such as poor drainage, rough surfaces, overgrown vegetation and undefined edges. Simply, the roads are covered in potholes and are difficult for cars, cyclists and pedestrians to traverse.

"All the strollers in Woodstock are four-wheel drive," said Leah Hyman, one of the students and the land-use coordinator at neighborhood organization Southeast Uplift. Those who live on or near such streets worry about illegal dumping, access, safety and liability.

Next, the students surveyed residents and found that 39 of 60 respondents want all streets to have pavement, curbs and sidewalks. To some, the rough roads are a defining part of Woodstock's culture.

Mark Rosenkranz, for one, thinks paving the street he lives on with his young family would increase traffic. He'd like to see a strip paved that would be wide enough for emergency vehicles, bikes and strollers -- but narrow enough to discourage regular car traffic.

And resident Kenny Heggem would rather see local businesses sponsor projects to turn unimproved stretches into community gardens, informal playgrounds, art arenas or dog agility courses.

Terry Griffiths, the neighborhood association's land-use co-chair, said an overall plan is needed.

"Doing it piecemeal is kind of strange," she said. "It would be viable and wonderful if some of the unimproved streets became bike and pedestrian routes, but it probably shouldn't be all of them, and that gets tricky."

The students have created models of several street uses, all much cheaper than a full improvement. Creating a community garden, for example, would cost an estimated $24,000, according to the students.

The students, calling themselves Larke Planning, are also compiling a step-by-step tool kit for residents who want to collaborate on improvements or temporary uses. They'll also make policy recommendations to the city.

"Existing policy is ambiguous around what people can do," Hyman said.

Finally, they will present their findings -- their inventory, survey and evaluations of designs -- and recommendations to the Woodstock Neighborhood Association and, they hope, to the City Council.