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New route through rail yard could link up North Portland Greenway

Posted by Michael Andersen (News Editor) on October 28th, 2013 at 1:22 pm

The City and Union Pacific Railroad are in talks about
how to connect the NP Greenway path between
Swan Island and lower Albina.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

As the route of the long-planned North Portland Greenway comes before Portland city council this week, there's a new possibility in the mix that could vastly improve one of the project's most glaring gaps: the segment between Swan Island and the Eastbank Esplanade.

Union Pacific Railroad and city planners are now looking into a possible "alternative" route through UP's Albina rail yard that could allow what the npGreenway group described as "car-free access through Lower Albina." This development comes after Mayor Charlie Hales described on-again, off-again talks between the City and UPRR as "going very well" as of last May. Back then, the Mayor met with UPRR officials to discuss the project.

According to PBOT Active Transportation Division Manager Dan Bower, following that meeting, the president of UPRR committed to finding a solution. Their proposal is to offer the City a 20-foot wide, two mile long piece of land on the east side of the railyard adjacent to N Greeley Ave. The proposal would take path users to Interstate and Russell. Bower says PBOT has done some preliminary designs and cost estimates but they haven't made any final decisions.

The new route would avoid the much-criticized possibility floated a year ago of directing path users uphill to a new separated path on North Greeley Avenue and existing bike lanes on North Interstate. It would also avoid the "Cement Road," a route owned by UPRR that's currently in use by the Ash Grove Cement company.

The dashed green route shows the Cement Road; the pink area is the rail yard.
The possible new alternative route is not marked.
(Image: npGreenway.org)

Francie Royce of npGreenway, the citizens' group that's pushed for years to build the trail, said Friday that she's hoping Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz and the rest of city council will give strong endorsements of a deal with Union Pacific that could include the rail yard.

The language allowing that ongoing negotiation is already in the council's proposed resolution (item 1026).

For the moment, Royce said, her organization's recommendation to the city is that the riverside Cement Road should remain the top priority.

"We're unclear exactly what that alternative is," Royce said. "Until it's very clear that the railroad is willing to make that happen, npGreenway is sticking with the Cement Road."

Sending people up onto the surface streets at Greeley and Interstate, she said, would undermine the concept of the greenway.

"It's a truck route, it's not near the river and it's not compatible with the idea of a Willamette Greenway trail at all."
— npGreenway co-chair Francie Royce on Greeley Avenue

"It's a truck route, it's not near the river and it's not compatible with the idea of a Willamette Greenway trail at all," she said. "It's not friendly to families and moderate bicyclists."

The issue has particular weight because Swan Island, the industrial-zoned area the greenway would serve, is booming as an employment center. Portland Community College is preparing to open a new "Trades Education Center" there and Daimler Trucks North America has just announced a major expansion that'll bring 1,000 more jobs to the area. Good bike connections are especially important on the island because many employees work shifts that don't align with TriMet's service hours.

Other than the Greeley-Interstate issue, Royce said, her group supports the "general alignment following the river." It'll also include a newly funded bike-pedestrian bridge connecting Pier Park and Chimney Point Park near St. Johns, to be built after 2016.

The council's action is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 30th in City Hall, 1221 SW Fourth Avenue.

"We would encourage people to come to city council and/or email city council members to let them know about the trail alignment," Royce said.

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  • Josh G October 28, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    The first paragraph is misleading. The whole goal of the NP Greenway route has always been to go "south from the Columbia River to downtown near the east shore of the Willamette."
    Regardless of whether Cement Road happens, many proposed segments are near the river.
    Here is hoping the Cement Road and Rose Quarter direct connectionsto the Steel Bridge happen!

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  • Ted Buehler October 28, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    The alternate route proposed by the railroad is on the east side of the rail yards (the cement road is on the west side).

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  • Ted Buehler October 28, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    That's great that the Union Pacific and city are talking.

    A 20' linear corridor anywhere is a rare commodity, and to have one offered up is a good offer. It would essentially be a multi use path along Greeley. Much better than riding Greeley itself.

    But, I agree with Frannie Royce in that it is a poor substitution for the Cement Road, and the city should continue to horse-trade with the railroad to get the Cement Road route. Here's why:

    - it's not on the river, but it could be.

    - it's next to a 50mph highway, and it doesn't have to be

    - it takes you up and down a hill, and it doesn't have to. To get from Lower Albina to Swan Island (or, eventually, the Rose Quarter to St. Johns) you'd need to climb up a pretty good hill to Going St., cross Going, then drop back down.

    - it's a half mile longer than the Cement Road Route.

    - the hill (vertical detour) and longer route (horizontal detour) will add about 5 minutes to the commute of every bicyclist, each way, every day, for as long as the route exists. This will disincentivize bicycling by adding an unnecessary time and energy penalty by not negotiating for the most direct, efficient route. There will always be a population in N Portland that will choose not to commute downtown by bike, and a population of Swan Island employees that will choose not to commute by bike, because of this time and energy penalty.

    - finally, the city and railroad are negotiating. The Cement Road is an achievable victory. The city can cough up various peaches and offer them to the railroad. Like, promise of straighter trackage through the Rose Quarter when the waterfront is redeveloped, ROW concessions and expedited permitting for the RR's proposed connecting track from Sullivans Gulch to the south, expedited permitting for any other improvements the Union Pacific wants to make around town, closing of problem crossings with a bridge, etc. All these are business needs that the railroad has that the city can provide, they'll make the RR more profitable.

    Taking more time and finding more $ to trade for the Cement Road would not add much to the time or total project cost of building the N P Greenway from Tillamook St. to Swan Island.

    Want to see this happen? Drop a nice note to Mayor Hales and tell him you think its fabulous that he and the railroad are in open communication, you applaud it, but you encourage him to up the ante and make the Union Pacific a juicier offer to get the greenway route on the Cement Road.

    My $0.02

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    • wilf October 28, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      I think it would go under Going

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      • Ted Buehler October 28, 2013 at 5:51 pm

        "I think it would go under Going"

        Good point.

        I just perused the city's document, linked to above from the City Council agenda page.
        Click on "1026" and download at http://www.portlandonline.com/Auditor/Index.cfm?c=26997

        No diagrams of the new proposed routing on the west side of Greeley along the rail yards.

        But, if it went under Greeley, where would it go next?

        I suppose, with a good northern connection -- a new bridge over the RR tracks in the Swan Island area, as is already proposed as part of the Greenway, that it could be a time and distance competitive route.

        The above post says "a 2 mile section" which is about from Russell to Greeley. If the railroad is offering Interstate to Greeley, maybe it could be extended from Greeley to Emerson, which would make for a very good commuter route from either Arbor Lodge to downtown or St. Johns to downtown, because it would bypass the giant 4-lane, 1-way truck routes at the Going St. entrance to Swan Island.

        Check out "Segment 4" in the .pdf. Page 22. It shows a new trail, which I wasn't aware of, connecting N Emerson pm Swam Island to a new bridge across the RR tracks, and a trail that gradually climbs the Willamette Bluffs emerging near Ainsworth/Curtis/Willamette Blvd.

        If the "Rail Yards East Side" alignment went from Russell all the way up to Emerson, then if would allow a pretty slick connection from Swan Island to the Rose Quarter -- you wouldn't mess with any of the heavy truck traffic on those one way street loops around McDonalds, but instead would be spirited up all the way from Interstate and Russell to Emerson and Basin Ave (a relatively quiet part of Swan Island), with exactly zero street crossings. Or, from for the Arbor Lodge folks, an Interstate and Russell to Ainsworth and Willamette Blvd route with exactly zero street crossings.

        These routes wouldn't be entirely scenic, but they would be effective, efficient, safe and comfortable bicycle thoroughfares. And would have a distinct advantage over the Cement Road option -- they'd bypass the main truck routes, they'd provide a direct route from Arbor Lodge to the Rose Quarter, and they wouldn't cross any active rail lines at a sharp angle (one of the problems of the Cement Road).

        I'll withhold any further judgement until actual route diagrams are available.

        Ted Buehler

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        • Ted Buehler October 28, 2013 at 5:53 pm

          Just checked Google maps, looks like 2 miles does take you all the way from N Russell to N Emerson. So the alternate route proposed in this post may be a time and distance competitive option to the Cement Road for many users.

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    • q`Tzal October 28, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      It's nice to hear UPRR knows a language other than "NO".
      Thank you UPRR for at least agreeing to talk; this is better than we get out of trucking interests on road diets.

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  • Mike Flynn October 28, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    This is a great idea and a great step forward for connectivity in North Portland. Greeley and Interstate, despite what the stencils of cyclists in the shoulder may indicate are not friendly for cyclists. Speeds there often reach 60 mph and there is no physical barrier. I've vowed not to ride either and go miles out of my way using Vancouver/Williams after too many close calls.

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    • wilf October 28, 2013 at 3:52 pm

      I take a different route than Greeley from St. Johns as well. For me, it's the pollution, dust, road spray, noise, etc...

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  • wilf October 28, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Cement Road! It wouldn't be pleasant to be sandwiched between high speed trucks on one side and idling diesel trains on the other as the East concession would create.

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  • MaxD October 28, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    I would add (from North to South)
    1. A “near-term buildable” option: run the trail up N. Van Houten Pl to N. McCosh St. to N. Portsmouth Ave to N. Willamette Blvd.
    2. Between N. Portsmouth Ave and Rosa Parks Way, change N Willamette Blvd to a one-lane plus parking, one-way northbound road. The west half of the street could be redeveloped into a generous off-street trail, separated from the traffic with jersey barriers (until a new curb could be installed). This would provide a beautiful, relaxing, top of the bluff view of the river for thousands of residents.
    3. Replace the stairs on the Waud Bluff bridge with a ramp. While the path may be too steep to accommodate ADA guidelines, it does not preclude access like these stairs. A ramp would open this public facility to families on bikes, parents with strollers, people with mobility issues that can handle an increased grade.
    4. Instead of choosing a route along Basin with lots of industrial driveways and zero connection to the river, route the trail at the base of the bluff. Crossing the rail road tracks at the tunnel may be difficult, but the benefit of being adjacent to the bluff, with no cross traffic seems worthwhile.
    5. The planned off-street trail connecting N. Emerson St. on Swan Island to N. Willamette Blvd could be the preferred "near-term buildable" route.
    6. The “near-term buildable” route could continue between the base of the bluff and the railroad tracks . This would allow a connector path up through the woods to the Adidas Campus. This would also allow crossing under Going Ave. The path would continue between the railroad tracks and N. Greeley Ave. until reaching the Fremont Bridge Overpass.
    7. At the Fremont Bridge, the path could follow along the base of the bridge columns, under the bridge decks, to River St.
    8. An Off-street path on the West side of River Street connect to a widened, 2-way path on the south of N.Tillamook St. to N. Interstate Ave.
    9. Close the Larrabee Viaduct to motorized vehicles, and designate this as an elevated park containing the NP Greenway. There is enough width for separate north and south cycle lanes and a separate pedestrian path. The Viaduct could also accommodate some plantings (similar to the Highline in New York) and gathering spaces. A new ramp down to the West Side of Interstate would need to be constructed to flow around the west side of the Broadway Bridge. Here the path would run along the top of the bluff, across the former Thunderbird Properties. Motorists would use the existing signal at N. Larrabee Ave and N. Interstate Ave to access N. Broadway.
    10. Very critically, the NP Greewnway must not be forced to use N. Interstate, NE Multnomah, NE Wheeler, NE Oregon and NE Lloyd to navigate the multi-modal snarl here. A concerted effort must be made to connect UNDER the Steel Bridge (and over the existing railroad service road) to connect to the Eastbank Esplanade.
    IF the path is routed on the north side of N Greeley Ave:

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  • wilf October 28, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Here's a letter from NPGreenway with contact info of city council members:

    We feel the major talking points are:
    Creating a world class trail as a transportation and recreation facility,
    Support for the proposed alignment from Kelley Point Park through Pier Park,
    Work to procure ownership/easement through or along Crown Cork and Seal property (just westerly of N Lombard) to access the Baltimore Woods section,
    Support the Cathedral Park to Swan Island section with the addition of a ramp up to the Waud Bluff Bridge which would provide better bicycle access, and to show a future connection to the BNSF railroad bridge to connect the west side of the river,
    Insist Council remove N Greeley (east side) as a consideration as it is a high speed, heavily used truck route environment and is therefore dangerous and noisy; is not near the river; and if built would be expensive and provide little incentive to pursue riverfront location (see #6 below),
    Emphasize the CEMENT ROAD alignment from Swan Island to the south (through the Union Pacific Railroad yard) as the closest and most convenient route for commuters and those wishing to be along the river--- emphasize either a shared route or ask them to bridge the tracks (Eugene has 3 bridges across the Willamette River, New York City uses old commuter bridges),
    Use the Larrabee overpass/ramp instead of having users cross N Interstate ---emphasize safety,
    Support for the alignment along the river by the old Thunderbird Motel site across from the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the Rose Garden.
    Please CONTACT your CITY COUNCIL Now!!!

    Here is the list of the City Council members along with their email addresses:
    Mayor Charlie Hales mayorcharliehales@portlandoregon.gov
    Commissioner Amanda Fritz: email Tim Crail Policy Advisor at tim.crail@portlandoregon.gov
    Commissioner Dan Saltzman dan@portlandoregon.gov
    Commissioner Steve Novick novick@portlandoregon.gov
    Commissioner Nick Fish nick@portlandoregon.gov

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  • Todd Boulanger October 28, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Francie…Way to go! (And I thought you had retired to the peace and quiet, boy was i wrong.) ;-)

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  • Lenny Anderson October 28, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    The Cement Road is there and already being used; we just need permission to use it from UPRR!

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  • Joe October 29, 2013 at 8:48 am

    you know if they made more green bike ways it would get us off the traffic clogged streets that most go way to fast on. need more in Oregon
    we have rail that is unused can't wait for the day :) peace and quite

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  • DTNA Commuter October 29, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    This is great news considering the city's response to all of the pleas for safer routes for the hundreds of bicycle commuters on Swan Island was to rocket down Going on the sidewalk and make a hard left turn across two lanes of traffic then ride along a six inch tall sidewalk island between four lanes of traffic and then use the pedestrian cross walk. Alternatively if you come from the St.John's side, you can use the Waud Bluff trail that makes you carry your bike on stairs for the lovely opportunity to again, either ride on the sidewalk or put yourself on the road with the entire UPS/Freightliner factory fleets.

    It's astounding that Cement Road is hinted at finally being on the table. It's already there, it's already being used and avoids having to try and get up the hill back to Greely along Going, where in the afternoon, I can guarantee a week doesn't go by that someone doesn't hit 100mph.

    Nearly every accident that I hear of cyclists getting into down here on Swan Island would have been prevented by using the cement road. The Interstate/Greely intesection has already proven to be fatal and despite measures taken by the city over the past 10-20 years is still taking lives.

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  • Lenny Anderson October 29, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    DTNA: Be at Council tomorrow or else!

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  • MaxD October 30, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I could not go this morning, but I am very curious to hear how it went. I tried to submit written comments, but I never received confirmation. Was anyone there?

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  • Scott Mizée October 30, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    MaxD, Many people were there. check http://www.twitter.com/npgreenway for a few comments that were sent out during the council meeting. Thank you to everyone for the great support! I'm hoping to see a summary or a link to watch a re-run of the meeting on TV soon. --and a summary article from @BikePortland.

    The meeting was very positive in tone and the point to pursue the Cement Road route and drop anything near Greeley was heard loud and clear by Council. Commissioner Fritz affirmed that Mayor Charlie Hales will be the city champion for working with the railroad to get an acceptable alternative to Greeley. Commissioner Fritz also affirmed that she and Commissioner Novick will be supporting Mayor Hales in the effort.

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    • Joe Adamski October 30, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      Among the most eloquent supporters of npgreenway were Lenny Anderson of Swan Island TMA/Business Assoc, Tad Collins of UPS, Jim Kuffner of Univ of Portland, and (I'm sorry I failed to catch his name) a management representative of Daimler Trucks NA. My point being that from a commuter point of view, as well as a business point,this is a desirable endeavour. Having the ability to get a healthy, engaged workforce safely to the office and not have to deal with the expenses of added parking,traffic, etc. is in their interest as much as mine.

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  • MaxD October 31, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    I hope PBOT will get involved with this! They may be a bit more capable than Parks...

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