Pedestrian Friendly neighborhoods?

How pedestrian friendly is your neighborhood? Do you have sidewalks to walk on? Do you feel safe crossing a busy street? As Bend, Oregon is growing so fast, we have been doing a lot of urban hiking and comparing the walk-ability of different neighborhoods. Beth and I have a route that we now take fairly often, as the streetscape has recently changed due to new construction. Most suburban neighborhoods in the USA were designed more for cars than pedestrians. In some places, that is slowly changing.

We are fortunate to live fairly close to the park at Bend-Pine Nursery. It is only a couple of miles from our house. The 159 acre park has paved trails for walking and biking, several pickleball courts, baseball and soccer fields, a separate area for dogs to run freely, a fishing pond and disc golf courses. We have been going there they past few years to stretch our legs and sometimes play pickleball. Due to having to cross busy Butler Market Road, we usually drove there and parked the car. Occasionally, we rode our bikes.

Recently, the city has created an extension of busy 27th street, connecting it to Purcell Road. Several new roundabouts were installed, with signaled crosswalks, which makes it safer to walk to the park from our house.

I just finished reading “The Geography of Nowhere”, by James Kunstler, which documents the rise and decline of America’s man-made landscape. In the book, Kunstler outlines the rise of the suburban landscape and how most of postwar construction favored cars, which ended up destroying communities. One quote in particular stuck out. “The unwillingness to think about the public realm of the street in any other terms besides traffic, shows how little value Americans confer on the public realm in general. For instance, traffic engineers who have selfish interests quite at odds with the public good, are dedicated to building more and bigger highways, no matter how destructive these things prove to be for a town.” (Kunstler, p. 138) Kunstler’s theory is that everywhere in suburban America looks just like every other place, which results in a loss of “community”.

The Sunpointe neighborhood that we live in on the Northeast side of Bend has three mains streets which were built in separate phases between 1996 and 1998. The houses are mostly cookie cutter floor plans, with each house being one story and having a garage face the road. Although there is a degree of “sameness”, individual houses have expressed their individuality by different landscaping. In the early years, we had much more of a community feeling. We had block parties and helped each other with yard chores. It was a new subdivision on the edge of town. You could walk out your door and wander through BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land 15 minutes away.

Sunpointe Neighborhood…Yes, that is a Buck walking down the street!

20 years and tens of thousands of new immigrants later, Sunpointe is now surrounded by newer and different neighborhoods. What used to be mostly owner occupied homes have now been converted to mostly rentals. A walk to the new park now brings one through many different neighborhoods, all with different vibes.

A pedestrian route through Sunpointe

Just east of our house, there is a pedestrian cut through connecting roads in the Sunpointe subdivision with the newer Oakview Estates. Oddly enough, there is a high curb where the path meets the street, which is not useful when riding your bike. It would also be a problem for someone in a wheelchair. Rarely do we pass anyone when we walk on this path.

Oakview Estates

Entering Oakview Estates one has a sense that you are in a vastly different “place”. There are no garage doors facing the street. Houses are built closer to the street and parking is in the rear. There are fewer rentals in the area and the price of a home is higher than in Sunpointe. Even though it is a newer subdivision, it is still old enough to have trees dominate the landscape. The walk is shadier. Alleyways help to keep on street parking to a minimum. However, in the last few years, we have seen more cars parked on the street than in the past. Are there more houses with multiple roommates, or is it just more convenient to park on the street and walk into the house?

Back Alley access for parking

Two more streets to the north and we enter one of the newest subdivisions. Most houses are two stories. There are some light poles on the street. Trees on the street are not yet tall enough to have the feeling that you are in a forest, like it felt back in the Oakview subdivision. We don’t see many people walking. Those that are, usually have a dog on a leash with them.

Newer subdivision built within the last 5 years.

One of the things that we notice each time we walk a different neighborhood is the percentage of houses that display an American flag. We’ve noticed anecdotally, that corner houses are more likely to fly a flag that houses in the middle of the street. Since we did this hike just before the election, we also noticed political signs, which can give an outsider a feel for the culture of the neighborhood.

Just by the number of political signs out, we can see that this neighborhood voted predominantly for President Trump. After all, we are in Northeast Bend! Heading north, we leave the newest neighborhood in a few blocks and run into Wells Acres Road, which connects Eagle Road with 27th street. It is a much older neighborhood and was already built up when me moved here in 1997. The lawns are not well kept up and there are a lot of cars with out of state plates parked on the street. This is a neighborhood of transients, and we saw a couple of pickup trucks moving furniture in and out of a couple of places on this walk.

We turned onto Pacific Crest Avenue, a short street that connects to Keyte Lane, another East-West connector between Eagle and 27th. At the end of the street, we can either go East or West and make a loop hike. Today, we went right (East) on Keyte.

The sidewalk runs out on Keyte Lane

Halfway down Keyte Lane, the sidewalk runs out. This subdivision was built long ago, before code requirements were changed. We cross to the other side of the road to walk in the street against the traffic. The state of the asphalt on the road will show you the age of the neighborhood. Locals have painted on top of the frost heaves. People unfamiliar with this road should not drive it at night!

Bumps in the road!

Just before we come to Eagle road, we take a left on Daniel Way and head north again. In just a hundred yards or so, we will come to another new subdivision.

Transition from the old to the new

The cracked road with no sidewalk changes to a new road with a sidewalk on one side. We can hear the nail guns in the background as new roofs are being attached to newly constructed homes. Some homes have already been here for a couple of years.

Contractors parked on Marea Drive

At Marea Drive, we peer down and see trailers, dumpsters, and the trucks of contractors parked on the side of the road. Just across from the new construction lies a large park, the centerpiece of this subdivision. The park has crushed gravel paths, a playground, and some covered picnic tables for individual or group get-togethers (after Covid). There is a grassy area for playing, but most of the park contains the natural vegetation of rabbit-brush, tufted bunch-grass and other flora of the High Desert.

The North side of the park at Mirada

Looking at what types of vehicles parked in different neighborhoods can also give you a window into the culture of the place. There is a majority of pickup trucks parked in front of the houses that are already lived in, which might suggest that this is a working class neighborhood.

Just outside of the Mirada neighborhood lies busy Butler Market Road. In the past, this was not a pedestrian friendly place to walk. Now, new sidewalks have been installed and three new roundabouts were recently constructed.

Notice the ADA ramps
Crosswalk at the roundabout at Butler Market and Deschutes Market

At the intersection of Deschutes Market Road and Butler Market Road, the new roundabout slows the speed of the cars entering the intersection. A clearly marked crosswalk has a median to cross, which gives the pedestrian a safe place to stop in case a car won’t yield. We cross both roads and continue on a paved path to Pine Nursery park. Land is being cleared on the northeast corner to make room for a new subdivision of nearly 1,000 homes.

New sidewalks all the way down Butler Market Road.

Now we can walk on a paved path off the side of the road as we head north towards the park. We cross over the irrigation canal, which has no water in it at this time of year. We pass the entrance to the Forest Service headquarters and walk on the outskirts of the 159 acre Pine Nursery park.

dirt path following the Canal off of Deschutes Market Road
Land being cleared for the Petrosa subdivision (Nov. 2020)
Walking past the dog park at Pine Nursery Park

Walking north on Deschutes Market, we pass by the section of the park designated as the dog park. A fence separates us, but we can see lots of dogs chasing the frisbee or the ball as they run free in the enclosed area. A few hundred yards later, we make the left onto Yeoman Road, still maintaining a paved trail, until we get to the car entrance. From here, one can access the circular paved path that circumnavigates the park.

Lots of visitors to the park today. Pickleball courts in the background

We choose to take the counter clockwise route on the paved trails around the park. Some folks are playing frisbee golf.

a map of the disc golf course
Teeing off for disc golf

We passed by several ball fields. There is also a new soccer field constructed with help of funding from the Portland Timbers profession Soccer club. At the south end of the park, there is a path connecting the park to the new 27th street connector, next to the irrigation canal.

27th street connector

The new 27th street extension is already a heavily traveled road, but there are new sidewalks on both sides of the street and you can pass UNDER the road next to the irrigation canal. This road has already lessened the time it takes making the East-West crossing in the city of Bend. On the east side of the road, new apartments are being constructed.

attempts to alleviate the housing shortage
The busy roundabout at Butler Market and 27th street

As we near the intersection of 27th and Butler Market, the noise increases. There used to be a traffic light here, but no sidewalks. Now, a large roundabout replaces the intersection. It has two lanes. There is a median in the middle of each road and flashing lights that signal when a pedestrian is crossing the road. We push the button, but wait for eye contact with drivers before crossing. Most people respect the cross walk.

Crossing Butler Market Road

After crossing Butler Market, we continue south on 27th street on a new sidewalk. You can see where the old sidewalk ended at the end of the subdivision near Jill Street.

Connecting older neighborhoods with newer sidewalks
A.D.A. upgrades to make access for all

Once we make the left turn onto Jill St. and then a right on Delmas Rd. we are heading back into familiar territory. Things again change quickly, as each neighborhood was built at a different time. You can see the transition from old to new by seeing the change in vegetation on Delmas.

hoing from older to Newer on Delmas Rd.

Delmas leads back to Keyte Lane, after which time we re-trace our steps back home. At the end of Wells Acres Road, we noticed a sign of a proposed development of the few undeveloped acres left in this neighborhood. The plans are to cram 30 more houses in this small space.

The last open space…soon to be developed.

I wonder what style of construction will the builders employ in this new subdivision. Will it have a back alley with houses close to the street? Or will it have front yards with garages showing on the front of the house? James Kunstler quotes, “As a matter of design, the garage in front of the house is a disaster. The gigantic door presents a blank wall to the street. It is the inescapable prominent feature of the house’s front and it disfigures what remains, no matter how elegant. Moreover, when you consider that every house on the street has a similar gaping blank facade, you end up with a degraded street as well as a degraded architecture. ” (Kunstler, p. 129)

Either way, we were happy to be able to safely walk the route that we did and are grateful for the city of Bend helping to make this part of the city a more walkable space. It just may help to recapture a sense of community.

There is one last observation that I would like to make about the route that we took. Without being specific, I noticed discrepancies in the amount of on street parking as well as the number of expired license plates in different neighborhoods. Some expired plates were out of state plates that expired as far back as 2013. This could be a clue as to the economic pain being felt by people of different socio-economic status within each neighborhood.

I hope that each of you, dear readers, will notice some new things about your own neighborhood the next time you wander out. You will notice a lot more on foot that you could ever see behind the wheel of a car, or even on a bicycle. If any of you are intrigued about how to interpret the built landscape, I recommend “The Geography of Nowhere” as a good read.

The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape James Howard Kunstler, 1993. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY ISBN:0-671-70774-4

2 thoughts on “Pedestrian Friendly neighborhoods?

  1. Enjoyed the walk with you and Beth–does this count as my exercise for today? The amount of development is astounding. Thankfully your zoning protects the undeveloped area AROUND Bend.

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    1. The 1973 Land Use Laws does establish an Urban Growth Boundary and somewhat protects the surrounding areas, but the UGB is constantly expanding, and we have seen a great impact on what used to be outside of the city. Thanks for walking with us!

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