Imagine a trail that made it easy to bike from the Eastbank Esplanade in downtown Portland all the way to St. Johns and Kelly Point Park. Picture something like the Springwater Corridor — a beautiful, carfree waterfront route that goes all the way down to Sellwood before turning east to Gresham and Boring.
Done right, the way advocates and residents have been championing it for years, the North Portland Greenway could be that trail — “The Springwater of the North.”
By running parallel to rail lines, just as the Springwater does, the North Portland Greenway could provide a safe, flat, waterfront route north for everyone from St. Johns families to Swan Island workers. In 2005, referring to it as the “North Willamette Greenway Trail,” the BTA counted this project among our Top 40 Projects in our Blueprint for Better Biking.
Unfortunately, the plan presented at last week’s North Portland Greenway open house was not quite “The Springwater of the North.” The BTA’s Project Advisory Council member Ryan Palmer attended the meeting and shared details of the proposal with our advocacy team. We have one major concern and some important details that need to be addressed.
Major Concern: Segment 5 and Swan Island
This plan gives up on the vision of a connected waterfront trail between St Johns and the Eastbank Esplanade by ending the multi-use trail at Swan Island and diverting southbound traffic onto a complex network of bike facilities with a steep hill. Segment 5 is the major section of concern.
In Segment 5 there is an existing, railroad-owned road between the Broadway Bridge and Swan Island, known as the Ash Grove Cement Road. Many Swan Island bike commuters use it, illegally, to commute to and from work for obvious reasons: it’s direct, it’s flat, and there aren’t any cars on it. It has long been assumed that the ideal North Portland Greenway route would use this route and, through further negotiation with Union Pacific, would continue southward to the Steel Bridge, completing the Eastbank Esplanade.
Instead of a direct route from Swan Island, the current plan sends southbound traffic onto a complex and dicey network of bike facilities, through the Rose Quarter Transit Center, and down to the Steel Bridge. That route is considerably more complicated, slightly longer, and includes a formidable hill. Now is the time to advocate for using the Cement Road alignment. It may not currently be feasible but it is the best long-term goal and now is the time to support this safe and direct route
While Segment 5 is a major concern, there are other important details that we need to address, explained below.
Waud Bluff Bridge
If you don’t have a boat, there are three routes down to Swan Island: Going Street, the Cement Road (illegal), and the Waud Bluff Trail. The Waud Bluff Trail, which connects Swan Island to the University of Portland area, has been a popular route for Swan Island workers for years and a newly repaved trail with a new bridge will soon open. Unfortunately, the new bridge will have a flight of stairs at one end which will be problematic for people on bikes and completely impassable for people using trailers, wheelchairs, and electric scooters. Segment three of the proposed North Portland Greenway, which goes directly past this stairway, will be challenging to engineer since part of it runs on pylons between the river and the railroad tracks alongside Waud Bluff. When funding is secured for this segment, plans should include retrofit of the Waud Bluff Bridge to include a much-needed ramp for those who can’t use the stairs. Now is the time to ask for this key connection to remain in the long-term project plans.
Connections between the trail and the adjacent neighborhood are essential. In addition to the Waud Bluff trail, N Van Houton Pl. and N Edgewater St., in particular, are obvious potential neighborhood access points. They will require repaving and improved track crossings in order to serve their purpose.
St Johns (Segment Two)
In order to connect the waterfront railside route with Pier Park and already-built inland trails, the plan calls for routing through neighborhood streets in St. Johns. If trail users are going to have to share the route with cars, it must be on quiet, low-traffic, low stress neighborhood greenways. While the streets proposed are relatively-quiet neighborhood streets, there would need to be further traffic calming and a signalized crossing of Lombard installed. Without improvements, these neighborhood street sections would be weak links in an otherwise top-notch off-street trail system.
Building this trail is complicated and will certainly take years. Property purchases and easement negotiations need to take place and millions of dollars will need to be raised. Some parts of the trail are already built, but other puzzle pieces will take years to put in place. Even though some elements of the project are not feasible at this point, it is imperative that the planning process for this project aims for a complete puzzle, even if some pieces are going to be costly and politically-difficult.
With your help, we can give the project staff the encouragement and support they need to put forward a bold and aspirational plan — a plan for “The Springwater of the North” — at the next open house on January 9th.