Thursday, January 12, 2023

Make Portland Normal

Portlanders are very much fans of the slogan "keep Portland weird!" For the most part, I agree -- I'm generally a fan of Portland's various quirks and idiosyncrasies. I definitely count myself as a Portland booster!

Nonetheless, there are a few areas where it'd be nice for Portland to act like a normal American city. I'll give two examples:

1) Fluoridate our damn water, like a normal city!

Finding out Portland is the largest U.S. city to not fluoridate its water is I gather a rite of passage for new Portlanders. I always thought of anti-fluoridation activists as falling in the same category as anti-vaxxers and chemtrailers, and on reflection, I still do. There is absolutely no reason why Portland needs to have unfluoridated water.

73% of Americans have fluoridated water. It's clearly fine. Don't be weird about it.

2) Maintain your streets, like a normal city!

Before I talk about this, I need to briefly rant about Portland's street grid, which (particularly in the west part of the city where I live) is by far the most confusing of any city I've ever driven in. I hate driving in Portland, which is full of absurd seven way intersections and freeway entrances that look like alley ways and poorly signed lanes which inexorably force you to cross a bridge.

Still, all that, I can forgive -- in part because I respect that Portland's hilly geography probably makes a straight grid functionally impossible, in part because it's too late to fix now without digging the entire city up.

But what I can't fathom is why, throughout the city, random, seemingly normal streets are unmaintained by the city.

To be clear: I don't mean "the city has fallen behind in providing maintenance." What I mean is that there are many regular streets that get normal, local through traffic, that the city intentionally disclaims responsibility for maintaining.

This is the best explainer I've seen for the phenomenon, and it doesn't explain much. And it means that you could be driving to a friend's house only to discover that the route suddenly becomes a pot-hole ridden cart track. Check out this interactive map -- the random red portions? Those aren't maintained by the city. They're listed as "private" roads, even though for every relevant purpose they are just as public as any other road. They're not some isolated track that only connects a few houses over private property. They're part of the normal street grid! And this is encoded into statute somehow!

Here's an example from my own neighborhood. The subdivision I live in is 14 city blocks long, west to east. On the west side, most streets outlet onto the "main" road, but on the east side only one street does (Coronado). The only way out of my neighborhood going east is via Coronado. And wouldn't you know it if Coronado is unmaintained for its last four eastbound blocks, leading to giant gaping potholes on my unavoidable route to work each day. Coronado isn't all unmaintained -- from west to east it's (a) unmaintained for two blocks, (b) maintained by the city for six blocks, (d) non-existent for two blocks (it doesn't go through all the way), and (e) unmaintained again for the last four blocks.

Don't be weird Portland -- just take responsibility for your own street grid.

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