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Putting the spotlight on the Sullivan’s Gulch Trail

Posted by on March 30th, 2011 at 10:04 am

Looking west into the gulch. The yellow
lines are proposed trail alignments
from a 2004 study.
(Photo: Portland State University)

Next week (4/6), the Portland Parks Board will hold a public meeting in St. Johns. The meeting notice caught my attention because one of the three “important” agenda items is the Sullivan’s Gulch Trail.

Why am I sharing something seemingly so minor as a meeting that will include a discussion of this project? Because for some reason (at least from my perspective), the Sullivan’s Gulch Trail needs all the attention it can get.

I can’t figure out why no local politician or high-profile community leader has come to the forefront as a major champion of this project. The upsides of a dedicated, non-motorized corridor along I-84 from East Portland to the Willamette River via Northeast Portland and the Lloyd District seem obvious and immense.

The Sullivan’s Gulch Trail project would do just as much (if not more) for regional mobility, economic development and public health than other major projects at a fraction of the cost.

Perhaps if advocates and the City officially changed the name from “Trail” to “Corridor” we might see it given more of a priority. For most people, “trail” connotes recreation and it short-changes the very high transportation value a project like this has. On that note, perhaps it should be handled by PBOT and not the Parks bureau?

As we reported back in December, the City of Portland recently appointed an advisory committee for the project and they’re in the process of creating a “concept plan” that will go in front of City Council in January 2012 (yes, you read that right, just a concept plan by 2012).

If you think this is a great project (and who doesn’t!?), consider showing up next Wednesday to tell the Parks Board and Portland Parks and Recreation staff to speed things up a bit. The meeting is April 6th in the auditorium of the St. Johns Community Center (8427 N. Central) from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.

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  • single track March 30, 2011 at 10:42 am

    if its by I84 why is the meeting all the way up in st johns? thats a 45 minute ride from buckman

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    • Paul in the 'couve March 30, 2011 at 10:46 am

      I was confused by that bit for a second as well. JM was comparing the public profile enjoyed by that project (the I-84 corridor) to the obscurity of this project (the Sullivan Gulch Trail). I had to read it twice to catch the meaning. The Sullivan Gulch trail is planned as a North/South route through the center of North Porland.

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      • Paul in the 'couve March 30, 2011 at 10:49 am

        No – I am sorry I screwed that up and no way to delete my obvious misinformed foolishness.

        Sullivans Gulch is the I-84 corridor?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 30, 2011 at 10:55 am

      The Sullivan’s Gulch (east-west along north side of I-84) is not to be confused with the NP Greenway (the north-south project along Willamette).

      Why the meeting in St. Johns? It just is. Last I checked, geographic proximity of agenda items is not always a consideration for meeting locations.

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  • Brad March 30, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Simple – it’s not “sexy” enough. It is a fairly simple build that can be done in a quick fashion with a small budget. They could get it done inside of one year but where’s the fun in that? Voters will forget by the next election cycle.

    Now, roll out a convoluted “bike plan” that costs big bucks, two decades to complete, and keeps lots of mid level city bureaucrats and union laborers employed, and outlets like BikePortland breathlessly praising your leadership and you have created political gold and a certain amount of job security for yourself (“We can’t let Mayor / Councilperson X lose when we are SOOOOO close to the promised land!”).

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 30, 2011 at 10:58 am

      “fairly simple build” hmm. I’m not sure dealing with private railroad company that owns the right-of-way and the construction of a wide paved path could be considered simple.

      As for your mention of the bike plan… I don’t even really follow your comment.

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      • Brad March 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm

        I am stating that politicians often overlook or ignore cost effective, simple solutions like this in favor of huge bloated initiatives that fill their coffers and feed their egos. No politician has stepped up for this seemingly simple and good idea but they have performed all manner of financial gymnastics, pseudo-greenwashing, and garnered loads of face time to support the 2030 Bike Plan which offers no guarantees of ever being built out due to its price tag or shifts in political will over the next twenty years.

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    • Chris I March 30, 2011 at 11:22 am

      I agree, this is not a simple project. There are ROW issues, particularly because Union Pacific owns the tracks. They are very unfriendly to ROW infringements for political and liability reasons. They aren’t confident enough that their trains won’t derail and take out a bunch of pedestrians.

      The other issue is land stability. If you have ridden MAX along the gulch, you have probably seen the landslide near 21st Ave. This trail will need to be cut into the hill at several locations.

      I really, really would like to see this happen, though. I live 2 blocks from the gulch, so this would save me a lot of time.

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      • matt picio March 31, 2011 at 9:18 am

        Definitely not simple. Hurdle #1 is getting Union Pacific RR to come to the table. Then, they will likely demand the city perform studies, at city expense, to ensure that the construction, operation and maintenance of a trail will not increase the risk of, or cause a landslide. With the trail alignment above the tracks, their first concern is any event which could disrupt revenue. If trains aren’t moving, UP isn’t making money. A second concern is that bikes/peds can’t end up off the trail and on the tracks, whether on accident or on-purpose.

        Assuming they find no serious issues with the study (and it’s likely they would), the issue then becomes convincing the railroad to cede that land or permit an easement – and as with the Steel Bridge catwalk, the city would have to assume all liability associated with the project. These are not trivial concerns, and the process I just described will likely take 18-24 months.

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    • BURR March 30, 2011 at 11:25 am

      All the good flat ground in Sullivan’s gulch is already taken up by the highway and the railroad; building on that slope is anything but ‘simple’, and will require either extensive cut and fill with slope-stabilizing retaining walls or cantilevering the trail over the slope on a trestle bridge most of the way.

      Despite that, this project is a no brainer and should have been completed long ago…

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  • Paul in the 'couve March 30, 2011 at 10:51 am

    I guess the meeting is in St. Johns because it is a regular PPB meeting and this is just one item on the Agenda.

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  • julie March 30, 2011 at 11:05 am

    The project is being handled by PBOT– However the two bureaus have an agreement where Portland Parks & Rec does all the outreach. This is just the tip of the iceberg for the project and I think the public will hear a whole lot more very shortly

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  • jordan March 30, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Getting this project built would be a great asset to the city. I imagine it connecting East Portland to the rest of the city as a “Bike Freeway.” It would also connect the Gateway Green with the rest of city.

    As a side note if you are interesting helping with the Gateway Green you can volunteer on Saturday April 16 to clean up the site with SOLV and the NWTA.

    http://www.solv.org/programs/event_details.asp?eventID=18708

    I also echo why is it in St. Johns?

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  • EmGee March 30, 2011 at 11:28 am

    We will need the Sullivan Gulch Bike/Ped Corridor eventually. But to my mind there are other bike projects that should be done first, considering our limited resources.

    There are adequate routes on residential streets between the Rose Quarter and the I-205 bike corridor. Sullivan Gulch will be faster. It will also be less pleasant: noise and air pollution from I-84. Very similar to the less pleasant parts of the I-205 bikeway experience. It will be good for bike commuters.

    In contrast, the NP Greenway connection between the Steel Bridge and Kelley Point Park will not only serve at least as many bike commuters, but will be a destination ride all of itself. The future of Portland’s burgeoning bike industry lies in encouraging out of towners to make Portland a major part of the vacation itinerary. Projects like NP Greenway bring in tourist dollars, a very green source of income, and also increase the market our frame builders and component manufacturers can reach.

    Projects like Sullivan Gulch are definitely useful; there are times when I would like a faster way to get from Lloyd Center to Chinese Village Restaurant on 82nd, than my current best route up Tillamook to 74th, etc. But projects that generate more bicycling in town and bring in more vacationing dollars strike me as more appropriate for now, times being what they are.

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    • snapbrim March 30, 2011 at 12:06 pm

      “There are adequate routes on residential streets between the Rose Quarter and the I-205 bike corridor.”

      I respectfully submit that most of the aforementioned routes – in the common parlance – suck. And I further submit that any unpleasantness associated with this prospective bike trail would seem like a fairy tale compared to riding on Sandy Blvd.

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      • craig March 30, 2011 at 1:10 pm

        Yikes! Sandy? Try Going, Klickitat, or Tilamook instead.

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        • snapbrim March 30, 2011 at 1:19 pm

          Depends where you’re trying to go, I suppose.

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          • snapbrim March 30, 2011 at 2:20 pm

            And how quickly/efficiently you’d like to get there.

            But I guess my real point is, I think there is a real need for this path on the East side. It seems like EmGee is more excited about cycle tourism than bike commuting. Me, I’m kind of the other way around. I find the prospect of increased commuting way more thrilling than imagining all the out-of-towners that might like to come and hang out on the North side greenway. I love the idea of promoting bikes as actual, nuts & bolts transportation that can make people’s everyday lives simpler and better. The benefit is a lot bigger than just a more convenient route to your favorite Chinese restaurant.

            And, for the record, Klickitat, Tillamook and Going ain’t so great in my book.

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          • craig March 30, 2011 at 2:25 pm

            Tilamook, Going, and Klickitat aren’t bike freeways, for sure–they’ve got their share of stops and busy crossings–but when it comes to safety and comfort with respect to motor vehicle usage, speed, and driver courtesy, in comparison to a guantlet like Sandy there’s night-and-day difference. Amstertam or Utrecht we ain’t–but Scottsdale we ain’t either, thank .

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          • craig March 30, 2011 at 2:26 pm

            …that was supposed to say, “thank (fill in name of patron saint of them that ride bicyles).”

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    • matt picio March 31, 2011 at 9:22 am

      This will be a widely-used corridor. The alignment would permit under-street grade-separated crossings, meaning no stops and no conflicting traffic. And Sullivan’s Gulch has a more gradual grade than the hills on the parallel routes. Also, easy bail-out points to the MAX for those are are too tired/cold/wet to keep riding. Cyclists are tired of “adequate” routes – they want a premium route E-W that doesn’t involve biking clear down to the Springwater.

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  • single track March 30, 2011 at 11:47 am

    This city needs transportation infrastructure that moves bikes fast, this “corridor” would do it and matches nicely with the interstate and blue line.

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  • paul March 30, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Thanks John!! Seriously, this thing NEEDS to get built.

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  • Stig March 30, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    It’s health and safety gone mad to require a completely separate path and realignment for pedestrians and cyclists.

    Pave just to the side of the tracks there and it’s good to go. I wish that was done for all rail.

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  • Stig March 30, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    It’s health and safety gone mad to require a completely separate path and realignment for pedestrians and cyclists.

    Pave just to the side of the tracks there and it’s good to go. I wish that was done for all rail.

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    • matt picio March 31, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      “Just to the side of the tracks” means between the tracks and the MAX tracks – the other side is sloped, and excavating the bottom of the slope isn’t practical (nor cheap) either case has a lot of potential problems.

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  • Velowocky March 30, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    I agree with Jonathan that depicting the project with the term ‘trail’ is both misleading and kind of trivializes its importance. A corridor sounds more like a viable transportation plan. The more we can do to change the perception of bicycle riders as just hobbyists the better.

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    • q`Tzal March 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm

      Trail = recreation and fun
      Anything adjacent to Sullivans Gulch = loud, ugly, smelly(gridlocked auto exhaust): not fun.

      And thus the Sullivans Gulch connection will be ignored because a trail is not built for utility.

      We can call it a “connector” all we want but that won’t affect the political landscape. What ever road type name succeds “trail” needs to come from the federal level DOT engineering standards such that bicycle freeways such as Sullivans Gulch “Trail” are not regarded by local politicos as just another goof-off project to steal funding from.

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      • matt picio March 31, 2011 at 9:24 am

        Not as loud as you think – the trail would be hundreds of feet from the freeway. Far quieter than crossing the Bryant ped bridge. And smelly isn’t that likely either, since prevailing winds tend to rapidly change the air in that corridor. I-5′s design traps exhaust, I-84 does not.

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  • Alan 1.0 March 30, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I really like that 2004 image in the article because (a) it shows that the route has been studied for a long time (high time to build it!) and (b) the proposed alignment is nice for biking and walking. High on the bank of the gulch like that means less grade to climb at access points to surface streets and moves it away from the exhaust and noise of the freeway and rails.

    Simple to build? Not really. In addition to the side-slope, drainage and soil stability issues already mentioned, there are some squeeze points to be negotiated, for example the Sandy Bvd crossing or 28th St and adjacent warehouse.

    Connecting the Lloyd district (presumably with good connections on to downtown) with an easy, direct route to the I-205 MUP will draw *lots* of users, even increasing use of the I-205 path as it pulls cyclists from Vancouver on the north to wherever the tipping point for downtown-bound travelers on the Springwater Corridor is on the south.

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  • PorterStout March 30, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    “Bike Freeway” is exactly how I was picturing this. There are probably lots more folks that would consider commuting by bike downtown if they had a fast direct route that they didn’t have to share with cars. Without stop signs and cross traffic this will be much faster from East Portland than riding through neighborhoods, some days maybe even faster than by car. The key to getting more bike resources/infrastructure/public acceptance is getting more people on bikes and getting them invested in it. Focusing on major commuting improvements like this is the way to get more butts on seats. This addresses a huge gap in access right through the middle of town and doesn’t “take away” any existing lanes of vehicle traffic in the process. I’m liking it.

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    • q`Tzal March 30, 2011 at 5:50 pm

      Look forward to racing the MAX downtown.

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  • Jill VW March 30, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    We need this path!

    I prefer “path” to “trail” – less confusing.

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  • snapbrim March 30, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    (fill in name of patron saint of them that ride bicyles).”
    Madonna del Ghisallo
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_del_Ghisallo

    But, personally, I ride with St. Jude.

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  • Paul Manson March 30, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks for raising this! I just left a meeting with city staff on this project. The committee of residents that have been pushing for it are frustrated at the timeline too. The main challenge is how it is funded – it requires a tortuous ODOT-City Council process. The very earliest we can get the study started is May. With a 9 month planning process and a month or two more for the Council to bless the plan – the concept plan is really not going to be done until April, 2012!! Only then can engineering start.

    Parks is leading this because PBOT does not manage project outside the right of way normally. But your instinct about the “corridor” is right. We have called it the Sullivan’s Gulch Corridor, but the name has not taken in formal circles. Trail does suggest a winding forest lined trail versus the direct, safe and fast route we seek.

    We need continued reminders to City Council members to remind them that this is a priority and a goal.

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    • Alan 1.0 March 31, 2011 at 10:19 am

      I know how frustrating it must be, but you and the committee deserve tremendous kudos for pushing Sullivan’s Corridor MUP along as far as you have…congrats! April 2012 isn’t really that far off, and if you do get the council’s blessing, when do you anticipate the route might be open for travel? Could it be by the end of that summer?

      BTW, do you really mean ODOT? How come they get involved?

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      • Paul Manson April 2, 2011 at 12:54 pm

        The funding for the trail study comes out of federal transportation dollars that are administered by ODOT, and awarded via a Metro process. So a formal agreement is needed for each funding items between the City, Metro and ODOT. Luckily, Metro is not needed in this cycle, but the IGA process is taking a year alone. Very frustrating, but it is how we fund our transportation planning process.

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  • Chris I March 30, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    If they aren’t already talking with Union Pacific, The Federal Railroad Administration, and the Businesses located next to the ROW, they should be. This is going to be a long process.

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    • Paul Manson March 30, 2011 at 6:09 pm

      Outreach has begun with both all property owners along the route and with the railroad. The UP conversations are still early, but at there is a dialogue.

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  • Aaron March 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    This seems like a perfect project and way over due.

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  • J Greene March 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    I agree the Sullivan’s Gulch Trail deserves all the attention it can get. I wish I could make the meeting, but I’ll be out of town.

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  • Greg March 30, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I would love to see this built.

    I frequently walk over I84 at the 12th ave bridge, and the smell of exhaust is hardly noticeable compared to riding downtown with all the clunkers. I suspect that being high above the interstate’s surface, like the proposed alignment, helps with that.

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    • Chris I March 31, 2011 at 9:23 am

      We also get a buffer of the MAX line and freight rails. I think this will be similar to the I-205 path, which I have no problems riding on. At least we know it won’t be like the I-84 path east of 122nd, yuck.

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  • paul in the 'couve March 31, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    craig
    …that was supposed to say, “thank (fill in name of patron saint of them that ride bicyles).”

    Our Lady of Ghisallo Patron Saint of Bicycling

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    • craig March 31, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      Yep, snapbrim noted it above.

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  • JR March 31, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    When will the City propose a bond measure to pay for serious bike system improvement projects like this?? If they don’t, I don’t see how the bike master plan will ever be realized.

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  • huh March 31, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    if we tell UP that bike trail can be built as erosion control, maybe UP would be willing to accept that… that would be a win-win proposal.

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  • Paul Johnson April 1, 2011 at 10:43 am

    I’ve always been of the opinion that cycleways should be handled by the transportation departments and not the parks departments. If you need to know why, consider the safety features and design of the I205 cycleway, built from the ground up for speed, to the Westside Regional Corridor, which winds around, has hills so steep novice cyclists have zero hope of climbing, and entirely lacks proper intersection treatments at key intersections including Millikan Way and Farmington Road.

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  • Cat April 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Just want to chirp in with my support for this project, particularly since I’ll be working Wednesday night! I can see why it’s going to take a bunch of work. I live near the landslide on NE 21st, which is interesting to stare at as I walk by but seems indicative of some of the ground stabilization challenges.

    Anyway, I would ride the bleep out of the corridor, path, trail, whatever you want to call it!

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  • jim April 2, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Before this goes too far, has anybody planned anything for public safety? This looks like a typical area for big trouble. Are there going to be bicycle police (or motorcycle police) patroling this route? Is there going to be extra money in the police budget for this? It is going to require special resources, not just as easy as having a patrol man checking the school yards…

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    • Paul Johnson April 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm

      I believe the fact that it would be bringing people through these currently troubled locations on a frequent basis was part of public safety sell. Worked for Marine Drive and the Springwater Corridor.

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