Guest post: Why PBOT’s top maintenance worker joined us for a bike ride


PBOT’s Jody Yates (seated in a pedicab) on the ride. (Photos: Cathy Tuttle/BikeLoud PDX)

Story and photos by Cathy Tuttle

People who ride their bikes every day are the ones who see poor maintenance in the field. We live intimately with leaf-filled gutters and broken plastic bike lane strips in the same places day after day. We see street trees die and giant potholes reappear again and again in what look like war-torn streets. Then there are the piles of slippery leaves, unreadable road signs, shards of glass, chunks of concrete, thorny brambles, and more. These hazards could injure or even kill someone. And they always make us uncomfortable.

Yet, as important as it is, a well-maintained stretch of asphalt isn’t much of a photo opportunity or ribbon-cutting opportunity. The interview simply does not have the same political momentum as the “new”. This means street repairs, improvements and repairs are often overlooked, underfunded and understaffed.

The City of Portland wants to change that.

Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) Maintenance and Operations Manager Jody Yates shared her time, knowledge and experience with us on Friday, August 26th. yates title the eleventh monthly BikeLoud PDX Policy Ride I’ve hosted, and its topic is what personally interests me the most as we renovate our cities for the future. As an urban planner and project manager, I have always been dedicated to building infrastructure that is easy to maintain, rather than spending money on streets that constantly need to be rebuilt. Yats too.

Jody Yates spent Friday afternoon riding in a three-wheeled electric pedicab piloted by Go By Bike founder and BikeLoud PDX board chairman Kiel Johnson. Yates and the group that came to this Pedalpalooza ride talked for three hours about the materials under our feet (and our wheels) and we barely scratched the surface.

PBOT is responsible for maintaining hundreds of millions of square feet of pavement – ​​streets, sidewalks, bridges, stairs, plazas, and more. Although she only started in February 2022, Yates is able to lead a maintenance and operations division of several hundred people. She brings a wealth of practical experience. A civil engineer for 25 years, Yates has worked primarily for governments in Clackamas, Portland and more recently Beaverton. A thoughtful engineer, Yates was instrumental in starting programs of creative street activation and rigorous asset management. Yates devotes considerable energy to evaluating where and how streets are failing, and clever ways to improve them.

There are three main culprits of pavement destruction. In order of severity, the streets are damaged by: poorly repaired utility trenches, very heavy vehicles and tree roots.

Although PBOT’s maintenance and operations division performs repairs and implements designs generated by other PBOT divisions, Yates spoke of street maintenance as a design issue in itself, how maintenance should be a primary consideration and integrated into new and improved street designs. Streets should be easy and affordable to maintain.

Yates said there were three main culprits for the destruction of the causeway. In order of severity, the streets are damaged by: poorly repaired utility trenches, very heavy vehicles and, a distant third, by tree roots.

Utility trenches are made by gas, sewer, water, telecommunications and other utilities. Yates called out the telecommunications companies for doing a sloppy job fixing the roads they tore up while installing the cables. Yates drew the analogy of the cutting process and utilitarian blankets with a shirt that has been torn over and over again; sometimes repaired with care, but often too quickly. And all tears and repairs end up destroying the “fabric” of the street.

During our visit, we looked at old streets paved with ballast blocks, pitted and pitted asphalt, concrete panels, and even 100-year-old paving material mixes that are still intact because they don’t had not been largely cut.

Road repaving can cost up to $6 million per mile, and with Portland responsible for maintaining over 2,000 miles of road, it makes great sense to keep what we have in good condition.

Heavy vehicles can also quickly destroy roads. Transit stops are reinforced with sturdy concrete panels instead of a few inches of asphalt that tends to buckle quickly under heavy wheels. Walking and rolling people do little to damage streets, but cars also quickly wear paint and thermoplastic, damage curbs and street furniture, and also wear down pavement. A few divisions of PBOT staff under Yates are responsible for repairing damage to paint, furniture, and other public street features.

Street trees are essential to a healthy and resilient city, but their roots can also lift the roadway as they search for water and nutrients. Streets with little or no traffic—like the Park Blocks on the PSU campus—have plenty of room for mature street trees. Lightly traveled streets also require much less maintenance to repair paving, paint and street furniture. Another reason why it makes sense for us to invest in streets that prioritize people walking and riding? They never damage the right-of-way as much as the cars.

Cyclists care about safety and comfort. This is why road maintenance is so important to us. Smooth roads, clear sight lines, few conflict areas along routes, including gate areas and safe intersections. We need clear directional signs to guide us on our bikes. We need enough space to avoid obstacles and wide enough lanes to ride side by side or to pass other people on bikes.

For all of these reasons and more, we look forward to learning more and working with Jody Yates and PBOT on these issues in the future!

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