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What’s next for the Springwater Trail? Filling in the gaps

Posted by on December 21st, 2009 at 10:12 am

Three Bridges opening celebration
The Springwater Corridor Trail is
a major commute thoroughfare
and recreational facility.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The Springwater Corridor Trail is the closest thing Portland has to a bicycle superhighway.

When the trail is complete, you will be able to walk, run, skate, or ride your bike from the Steel Bridge all the way out beyond Gresham without ever sharing the road with a motorized vehicle. For now, only two major gaps remain, both in inner Portland, where you must exit the trail and wind through city streets.

The southern gap routes you through quiet, residential streets in Sellwood from SE Umatilla close to the river to SE 19th. The northern gap, from the current trailhead at SE Ivon to the beginning of the Eastbank Esplanade at OMSI, is by far the worst of the two, crossing through a major construction zone and the entrance to a gravel depot, creating a safety hazard and a signage and enforcement conundrum.

So what is the current status of these gaps?

Story continues below

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The northern gap crosses several properties. Development permits for these properties are contingent on the owners providing right of way for the trail; prospects for each vary.

In the graphic below, a red dotted line shows an approximation of the City’s preferred trail alignment:

It’s been over a year since we reported that land owner SK Northwest gave up its protracted battle over including the trail in their redevelopment. The capitulation was a victory for trail supporters and the City, but no action has been taken since.

PBOT’s Kurt Krueger told us on the phone this week that SK Northwest is “in the door with the building permit” and on the verge of redeveloping the property, including the trail segment and an extension out to Division Place. Krueger suspects that development will begin in spring or summer of 2010.

Construction zone near OMSI
At the detour around the northern gap, trail users
share the road with gravel trucks andconstruction.
(Photo © J. Maus)

But that trail segment will only be a dead end until right of way through private property to the north and south can be secured. The property immediately to the south is slated for redevelopment, Krueger said, including its segment of the trail, but the project has been delayed for over a year now, because of the economic slowdown and other permit issues.

“They don’t want to provide that trail.”

The property to the north of SK Northwest is owned by the Portland Spirit, and poses the greatest difficulty. “They don’t want to provide that trail,” Krueger said. “They have been extremely resistant almost to the point of threatening. Until they sell, or come in and redevelop, I don’t see any way we can get that trail unless the city comes in and condemns the property.”

The task of condemning part of the property would fall to the Parks Department, Krueger said, but due to funding shortages he doubts that such action will be a priority anytime soon.

trucks near Springwater entrance-2.jpg
A truck parked in the bike lane on the
northern detour forces this family into the road.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The southernmost of the four properties is owned by Ross Island Sand and Gravel, who have no foreseeable plans to move or redevelop their lot, Krueger said. “So what we’d have in my best guess is you’d come down the Springwater running north and you’d still have that one little interaction where the sand and gravel trucks are coming out at SE Ivon.”

By comparison, the southern gap (see below) has a gentler history and kinder prospects. It requires users to make a detour through quiet, pleasant residential streets in Sellwood.

Red circles show current termination points of the trail.

Mark Lear and Kyle Chisek, PBOT staff who are overseeing the detour, say that some of the funding needed to complete this part of the trail exists, and that Metro is negotiating with the land owner, Dick Samuels, over purchasing more sections of the right of way.

Bike camping at Champoeg St. Park-146
One of three bridges that traverse
a former gap in the Springwater.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Mr. Samuels most recently sold Metro the land for the Three Bridges connection of the Springwater out to SE 45th; and he also owned some of the northern right of way that has already been bought and built. “He’s a great partner,” Chisek said, “and while we can look at getting more right of way in the future, the line still has some use and he’s still considering his options with it.”

“Metro is fairly sure they can narrow the gap further, possibly all the way to Linn Street,” Chisek said. “It’s up to the rail line owner. Metro is not going to condemn, they want to negotiate with a willing seller.”

But, Lear and Chisek said, they have a greater hope than completing the trail which is to fill in the southern gap with a combination of new trail and bike boulevards.

Part of the current detour already takes you along the new Spokane Street bike boulevard, which had its grand opening on Saturday. (The southern trailhead of the northern section is currently at Spokane rather than Umatilla due to sewer line construction that runs through February.)

Chisek says that there are several options for making the connection. The neighborhood, he says, wants the trail to go across Umatilla and down 19th Ave, “but that could change.”

Spokane St. Bike Blvd - by Adams Carroll-6
Part of the newly completed bike boulevard
on Spokane Street.
(Photo © Adams Carroll)

Another option being weighed by the Parks Department and Metro is to purchase the land to expand the trail south five more blocks to the quieter SE Linn, and give that street the full bike boulevard treatment.

Both of these options, Chisek said, would allow for “creating Bike Boulevard improvements similar to what we’re doing on Spokane but a little more advanced. If we have the funding for it we’ll be able to a little more, like a signalized crossing improvement at 13th. If we’re doing Linn, SE 17th will need some kind of signal work. Or if we want to connect [the boulevard] with Spokane, we’ll have to look at something at Tacoma and 19th.

These options will be discussed at the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE) general meeting on January 6th; both Chisek and Lear plan to attend.

Federal funding to “fill the gap” has been allocated, Chisek said. “We hope to begin design as soon as we have an agreement with ODOT and Metro in 2010. Depending on the design and the work needed, we may also begin construction next year.”

Tour of Tomorrow
Much of the trail runs alongside
a working railroad track.
(Photo © J. Maus)

“This is really a unique project and opportunity to show case how our boulevard system is on par with — and even have advantages over — a traditional trail network,” Lear said.

A former rail line, the Springwater connects central Portland south to Sellwood, then east through the Johnson Creek area and east Portland to Gresham. It continues unpaved all the way to Boring. The train line’s heyday a hundred years ago saw the development of multiple towns and neighborhoods where trains stopped to pick up and drop off passengers and produce.

Planning for the current multi-use path began in the early 1990s. The section connecting the two gaps between SE Umatilla and SE Ivon was built in 2005. In a new era of bicycle oriented development, it may come to serve a similar role as it did as a rail corridor of building communities and strengthening connectivity between them.



- We’ve been covering the SK Northwest saga since April, 2006 — check out our full coverage. Also browse our Springwater Corridor Trail tag for more stories.

- Other trails being advocated for — that are likely to run into similar, if not stranger challenges — include the North Portland Greenway that would run north along the Willamette from the Steel Bridge to St Johns, and the Sullivan’s Gulch Trail that would run alongside I-84.

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Comments
  • Jim Labbe December 21, 2009 at 11:37 am

    We can thank the handful of the tenacious citizen advocates who convinced the city to buy the Springwater Corridor right-of-way in 1990 for much of what we have in the Springwater Corridor today. We also can thank the voters who passed the 1995 Greenspace Bond Measure and initially funded the trail development. Something to inspire us as we work to complete the Corridor and other regional trails in the Portland-Metro region.

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  • Stig3 December 21, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Portland Spirit is blocking and almost threatening in their responses? I rode their sternwheeler this year with my family. It makes me sick. I wish I had known. They can forget about any more business from me.

    Sam should just bang heads together and connect the trail.

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  • Andrew (#1) December 21, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Wouldn’t it have made more sense to drop the east side of the planned MAX bridge right on top of the Portland Spirit bunker, thus utilizing Trimet’s condemnation expertise? It would be nice to see Trimet rip out a source of evil, for once, instead of the usual historic buildings.

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  • hanmade December 21, 2009 at 11:56 am

    On the souther section (in Sellwood), why is it that the trail just can’t run alongside the rail line? It follows a pretty obvious path in your photo.

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  • Bent Bloke December 21, 2009 at 11:59 am

    I’m looking forward to the repaving of the existing trail from Sellwood to Gresham, and the paving of the gravel section to Boring. And I’d really be stoked if the proposal to extend the trail to Estacada (the Cazadero Trail) gets approved!

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  • drew December 21, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    The city of Gresham considers bicycling nothing more than a recreational activity, and makes illegal the use of the springwater trail after dark. This is a thorn in the side of what is an important transportation corridor for bikes; an even bigger problem than the small gaps IMHO.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) December 21, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    drew,

    the springwater is NOT illegal to be on after dark. The trail itself remains technically open (they realized they cannot close it because it was built with federal transportation funds)… but the land surrounding the trail closes at night. I’ll try to follow up with more clarification from Gresham Parks folks.

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  • Patty December 21, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Wow, Chisek calls Samuels a good partner. That’s great news.

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  • Patty December 21, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    @hanmade: Property owned by Samuels, the rail operator. If purchased by Metro, tracks would need to be realigned to make room for the trail. That’s the portion being negotiated by Metro per article.

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  • Stig3 December 21, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    -The Gresham portion of the trail is signed ‘Gresham Parks – Closed from sunset to sunrise’ or words to that effect.

    -The repaving effort is from SE 92nd to just beyond Powell Butte. It was going to happen this year, but rescheduled to 2010. See earlier articles. Can’t happen soon enough. My rims are cracked from riding on it and all of my fillings have been shaken out. Lower my tire pressure? Heck no. It’s all about performance!

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  • KWW December 21, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Why not interview Portland Spirit to get their perspective?

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  • Elly Blue (Editor) December 21, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Keith, we’ll be talking with Portland Spirit for a follow-up story that focuses on that issue. This story was intended to be about the city’s plans regarding the two gaps — the Spirit’s involvement is definitely a whole separate can of worms.

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  • drew December 21, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    The signage on the trail in Gresham led me to conclude that the trail is closed after dark; but it’s nice to hear that is not the case. I doubt I am the only person with that impression. Would be helpful if the city changed the signs to make them accurate.

    Thanks for the clarification Jonathan. Looks like I had no cause for concern while cruising thru Gresham a few times this year during the night…

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  • Aaron December 21, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Thanks for posting this article. While I’m deeply saddened by Portland Spirit’s attitude (particularly since they use the Esplanade to board the ship), I think the more important issue is to improve connections in the East counties. It is at least possible to travel both gaps on little used roads (the northern section is minimally used on weekends when most timid cyclists use it). On the contrary there are NO low traffic options beyond the paved section of the trail in the Gresham/Boring area. And I would DEEPLY like to see the trail repaved as soon as possible.
    Thanks Stig3

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  • Judy December 21, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    I am hoping this coming year that those biking the Springwater Trail will start following the stop signs designed for those biking. I have watch 50% to 65% of those bikers ignore the stop signs and expect drivers to just “know” they are biking. Someday a biker is going to be killed. Many years ago car driver were warned to drive defensively for their own safely. I wish more bikers would bike defensively, too. For me in a car, I am must also do my best to watch that other cars don’t hit me. Bikers need feel the same for their safety.

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  • Richard December 22, 2009 at 9:10 am

    This trail is a great asset to our city. I would like to see some of the sections in the South East cleaned up with passes made by patrolling officers. There are the sections that are ‘closed’ after dark.

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  • Diego December 22, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    The biggest problem with the Portland Spirit issue is that they don’t want a bunch of people riding bikes through their property when they are holding events (mostly private parties and weddings).

    While I understand this point of view, it’s also a good public relations practice to partner with your community rather than fight against it. If their PR people were smarter, they would use this as an opportunity to form community ties and market the hell out of it (e.g. We love Portland and its people! Look how we’re living up to our namesake!).

    Unfortunately, the management of the company mostly comprises East Coast business people and other transplants who are used to using the traditional cut-throat business practices from 50 years ago. I guess they are hoping that Portlanders are too naive to notice.

    Send them some mass emails if you feel so inclined – they are all publicly available here: http://www.portlandspirit.com/contact.php

    You can copy and paste this list right into your email program:

    Execs and Managers:
    dan@portlandspirit.com; dennis@portlandspirit.com; lorio@portlandspirit.com; rlewis@portlandspirit.com; mindy@portlandspirit.com; tbolger@portlandspirit.com;

    Everyone:
    dan@portlandspirit.com; dennis@portlandspirit.com; lorio@portlandspirit.com; rlewis@portlandspirit.com; mindy@portlandspirit.com; tbolger@portlandspirit.com; ssmith@portlandspirit.com; jeff@portlandspirit.com; kaye@portlandspirit.com; michael@portlandspirit.com; sales@portlandspirit.com

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  • Dan Yates December 22, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    When this article came out I called Elly to correct some of the misinformation, but did not hear back. I have since read that Elly Blue has stated that she will call the Portland Spirit and do an independent story on our impact on the gap in the trail. With the posting of the emails of my managers I thought I should not wait to clear up a few things.

    If someone would like to communicate with the Portland Spirit please do it through me at dan@portlandspirit.com or at 503-224 3900. I am the President of the Spirit and I am a founder of the company.

    The trail and how it relates to the Spirit is a very frustrating and involved story and I look forward to clearing up some misconceptions.

    I am not anti-trail or anti-bikes. As President of the CEIC the last two years I have worked to keep a balance of transportation options through the district. This includes expanding the Routes to the River program, promoting freight safety, removal of unused rail lines on 2nd Ave and better pavement.

    I wish the trail across the Spirit land was as simple as the other trail and bike issues in the CEIC. Unfortunately,the Portland Spirit must comply with the MTSA (Marine Transportation Security Act of 2002). In a nut shell the MTSA prohibits unrestricted public access through properties that are covered by the MTSA. That is why the North Reach Plan could not expand the current trail system along the Willamette. I have no choice about being covered by the MTSA. It is Federal Law that the City has been very slow to accept and only recently has the City planners started to realize its impact. To be perfectly honest I hate the MTSA as it is expensive for us to enforce and creates a great deal of confusion. I have lobbied for years to get it modified as dinner boats do not belong in the same category as international cargo ships.

    It is true that the Portland Spirit has been to court several times to stop the enforcement of the trail across our property and as long as the MTSA is law and the Portland Spirit is in business we will follow through with our obligations.

    Just as an aside..what is the problem with being from the East Coast? I moved here 16 years ago to start the Portland Spirit. I am proud of our company, its five boats and over 200 employees. My home town (Castile, NY) pop of 2,000 is like lots of small town. But if it will make you feel better my General Manager, Executive Chef, Sales Director, General Manager of the Columbia Gorge, and Operations Manager are all local natives.

    If anyone has any questions please contact me at my email or by phone. I look forward to Elly’s call too.

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  • Elly Blue (Editor) December 22, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Dan Yates, thank you for chiming in. I am also looking forward to talking with you — unfortunately when I’ve called the number you left with us, nobody picked up and there does not seem to be any voicemail. Sounds like you’re in the office now, however.

    Best, Elly

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  • Stig3 December 23, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Dan,

    So the security requirements of the MTSA is the only problem standing in the way otherwise you’d be delighted to help?

    The Portland Spirit’s Cascade Locks dock is adjacent to an open public park. Is that subject to MTSA as well? What is the difference here?

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  • Dan Yates December 23, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Stig3

    I am sorry but I am restricted by the MTSA and can not go into the differences. I can say that there are several other concerns.

    1. Our office building is in the middle of the proposed trail.

    2. The cost of replacing the office is substantial.

    3. We have talked to the City several times about the cost of building the trail on our property and they have been unwilling to assist.

    4. The security issues are real and may be workable, but the Spirit can not agree to something that would put us out of business. This issue is complex and the regulations are confusing.

    5. I have spoken with Elly Blue and we spoke about 30 minutes. I am sure there is an update coming.

    I hope this helps.

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  • Stig6 December 23, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Dan,

    1. From the satellite graphic there’s plenty of room for a narrow paved trail without demolishing your office building.

    2. Yes, everyone likes new offices. You want more money. How much compensation are you seeking?

    3. Where are the discussions breaking down? Could it perhaps be that the City of Portland doesn’t feel that it’s necessary to buy you a new office building?

    4. Earlier you stated that public access cannot run through MTSA properties. If a trail was built and the land owned by the city, it would be public property not bound by the MTSA perhaps? Or is a fence/wall still needed? Chain link or concrete? Razor wire? The Cascade Locks dock is no fortress, but then you didn’t disclose whether that dock is bound by the MTSA. That dock is adjacent to public land and operates similar vessels. I suspect you’re making a business decision to use the MTSA to get more money from the city.

    5. Thanks for engaging BikePortland and us on this forum. I look forward to the updates.

    All of the above is just my opinion. I’m not looking for legal problems.

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  • Ethan December 23, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Is this a shell game? I feel like we’ve been down this road before with Wayne Kingsley (Chairman of Portland Spirit’s parent company) in regards to the adjacent parcel’s development into a personal watercraft sales and service nightmare.

    Lets all see if we can understand the complexities of these federal requirements:

    http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_09/33cfr128_09.html

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  • amanda December 26, 2009 at 7:02 am

    Hmmm… I think priority should be completing the trail through the Sellwood area. The segment that goes behind the properties (Spirit, Ross Island Sand) works fine, in my opinion, for bikes. If the city ends up someday owning those properties, I’d like to see them redeveloped with a public use in mind — maybe a fishing pier and a dock for small craft. I think a bikeway can actually limit access to the river and I’d love to see even more access to the water especially if Ross Island actually becomes a public amenity. I think the Spirit could function as a possible anchor tenant in that scenario but it would require some imagination and some redevelopment. I don’t know… something to think about….

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  • Dan Yates December 27, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I am sorry it has taken me so long to reply but I was without computer the last few days while celebrating Christmas. First, Sitgo..Even if we get past the MTSA there is the Greenway rules that need to be dealt with. A major point of conflict is the servicing of the vessels. We fuel, restock and maintain our vessels at our office location. The city is adamant that the trail must be open 24 hours a day. When we refuel (up to two hours a week) we can not have the public in the middle of the evolution. The same is true for food/beverage/linen deliveries (several times daily from various vendors, and repair work. That is one reason the trail may work running over the top of the office building as it would provide a separation of traffic.

    The problem with dealing with the city is no one is really is in charge. The five commissioners are all basically equal and it is hard to get them to agree on something like this. Most of them are aware of the gaps in the trail and possible fixes, but it is not a priority to them.

    I am sorry, but I really can not go into the details of the MTSA. I can say it is more involved and complex than what Ethan linked to. Way more involved..he just touched the surface of the rules. You must remember rules are one thing…how they are enforced is another. There have been companies put out of business because of the MTSA.

    As for Amanda, I agree with you. The State legislature when it crafted the state goals,which are the basis of the Greenway code, it allowed for river- related and river dependent commercial and industrial users to be exempt from being forced to put the trail in on the set back. This means the trail could be located in other places like Stigo suggested. Portland was very aggressive in the 1980′s and adopted their greenway that only protects River dependent industrial users from the trail placements. This and other issues put the City in legal conflict with the US constitution on takings issues. See Nolan and Dolan for US Supreme Court decisions in the 90′s and 9th Circuit decision Kelly vs City of Eugene in 2000′s. All these decisions reinforced property rights and placed standards for Government to meet before taking land from some one. I know Ehtan thinks Wayne has been playing games with the City on the SK property, but it really was the city playing loose with our constitutional protection. I have not done justices to the legal issues relating to the trail as it is complex.
    As it for legal decisions they hardly ever resolve conflicts completely.

    The trail is a wonderful amenity, but it needs to built fairly and not at the expense of all other types of river users as Amanda pointed out.

    There has not been enough creative thought into getting the maximum benefit out of the Willamette for the most people. I hope this blog can flesh out more ideas and maybe a process that can work in the future.

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  • matt picio December 28, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    hanmade (#4) – it will run alongside the existing rail line, once the city finishes negotiating with Dick Samuels, the owner of the Oregon Pacific Railroad. OPRR owns the property, and earlier this year rebuilt the Umatilla crossing and relocated the rail northeast of it’s previous alignment – a necessary condition to make way for the trail. The existing trail next to the tracks was possible because the city paid to relocate the rail to its current alignment. The city got a new trail, and OPRR got the city to pay for the rail realignment (which effectively gave them new track at no expense to them). This bargain worked for both sides, because OPRR doesn’t have a high enough operating margin to rebuild their track, and the city doesn’t have enough money to purchase/condemn the land outright.

    Samuels has been a good neighbor and is very involved with the community – OPRR was formed when Southern Pacific started providing shoddy service to the company Samuels owned and other customers on the line. He believed he could provide better rail service, so he bought the line outright from SP and purchased locomotives to run the freight. He also hosts the holiday train each year that is pulled by the city’s 2 operating steam locomotives. It’s been a great collaboration, and although the current process to fill that gap in the Springwater Trail is progressing slowly, it *is* progressing.

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  • matt picio December 28, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    The MTSA and other post-9/11 legislation is one more example of why Cascadia needs to secede from the United States.

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