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New riverside project raises questions about linking east-bank paths

Posted by on January 22nd, 2014 at 9:37 am

The unlabeled parcel, between SK
Northwest and Ross Island Sand and Gravel,
is the site of a new development proposal.
(Graphic: BikePortland)

A proposed service shop and event space for high-end racecars and motorcycles is the latest puzzle piece in the awkward connection between Southeast Portland’s two riverfront bike paths.

As reported last week by the Daily Journal of Commerce, Portland-based Vollgas Motorwerks is planning to redevelop one of the four parcels that currently sit between the southern end of the Eastbank Esplanade and the northern end of the Springwater Corridor, along the Willamette River near downtown.

City plans require any development of the parcel to include a paved pathway that could one day be part of an off-road link between the two paths. After years of legal battle, the watercraft and RV retailer SK Northwest built a similar orphan path in 2009, immediately north of the Vollgas Motorworks property.

However, the northernmost and southernmost landowners of this quartet, the Portland Spirit cruise company and Ross Island Sand and Gravel respectively, both have thriving operations and no active plans to sell or redevelop.


Esplanade Gap-3-2
Where the Eastbank Esplanade ends.

Vollgas Motorworks’ owner and founder, Haithem Toulan, said in an interview Tuesday that he’d be happy to leave room for such a path but doesn’t see the point of paving it until his neighbors do, too.

“Right now, it makes no sense building another orphan, because it just seems to be a waste of money for going nowhere,” Toulan said.

Toulan, who also happens to be the nephew of the late Portland State University planners Nohad and Dirce Toulan, said he’d like to find a different way to give Springwater Corridor users access to the riverside land on his property. He’s waiting for a chance to discuss the options with the city.

“We’re not going to remove the option of doing something across the property,” Toulan said. “We leave within our plan the possibility of the greenway path [between the two corridors] being built at a later date.”

Toulan said he could imagine a deal whereby he and any future owners of the property would be obligated to develop the path once a full connection is possible.

“Right now all I know is that we have to build the path from SK Northwest to the edge of my property, which dead-ends at the water,” Toulan said.

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  • q`Tzal January 22, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Too often I’ve found myself visualizing a pontoon bridge (Eastbank Esplanade style) from the SE Caruthers St terminus of the Esplanade south (hugging the edge of the river) to just south of SK Northwest.
    From there it is a little dicey. There is a plot of vacant land there with a decrepit boat ramp; it doesn’t seem to be owned by either adjacent tenant. If it is in use then the flyover MUP bridge that bypasses Ross Island Sand and Gravel would need to start north of the old boat ramp instead of just before them .

    Given the intractability of the two land holders here the only option may be to go around them.

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    • davemess January 22, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      Doesn’t Ross Island Gravel need boat access though? That would make a bridge around even more complicated.

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      • q`Tzal January 22, 2014 at 2:52 pm

        Yeah, that’s why I said that a bridge segment would have to go OVER their offloading point there.

        Realistically it is the only way to keep bike and pedestrian traffic completely separate from automobile traffic. Anything else requires the mingling of heavy trucks and bikes; we already know how that works out.

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  • Adam January 22, 2014 at 10:12 am

    Wows a, I had no idea SK Northwest had built that isolated trail segment!

    If they were forced by the City to do so, how come the City isn’t just forcing The Portland Spirit owners to do the same for their section of property?

    Is it only required in the event of new development?

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    • paikikala January 22, 2014 at 10:17 am

      Yes. Property owners are not required to meet conditions enacted after they have developed thier property until such time as they redevelop to a different land use or make improvements above a set monetary threshold (20% ex land value???)

      Recommended Thumb up 5

      • spare_wheel January 22, 2014 at 12:41 pm

        isn’t this what eminent domain is for?

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        • Todd Boulanger January 22, 2014 at 1:25 pm

          Eminent domain is a heavy tool for Cities to use…and is very rarely used for bike and ped project connections…now if this was an important regional arterial / highway motor vehicle connection then this would be a different ongoing discussion.

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          • Adam January 22, 2014 at 2:48 pm

            But this *is* an important regional arterial… For bikes! Why is it only arterial for motor vehicles that are ever deemed important? The Springwater Trail IS I-5 for bikes!!

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        • q`Tzal January 22, 2014 at 3:35 pm

          Eminent domain is political poison.
          It is exceedingly difficult to complete the process, often requiring overwhelming positive public support >75%, and even if a politician does succeed they are left with the political stain of being a totalitarian thief.

          There is not even a mathematical majority supporting eminent domain in this case and the potential plaintiffs in the inevitable lawsuits have already proven they will spend vastly in support of their property rights.

          Go around them, not through them. It’ll be cheaper in the long run.

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        • Barney January 22, 2014 at 4:05 pm

          Eminent Domain is great, as long as it is not “your property” being seized!

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          • spare_wheel January 22, 2014 at 4:24 pm

            i’d be happy to be compensated for my property for the public good. it’s called being a good citizen.

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    • RWL1776 January 22, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      “If they were forced by the City to do so”. Well, now doesn’t that sound pleasant! I could only imagine how YOU would feel if the City came to YOUR property one day and tried to force you to do something with your privately owned property. Sounds kinda heavy handed to me, force a private land owner to do as YOU wish with their property.

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      • Adam H. January 22, 2014 at 8:59 pm

        ‘Murrica

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      • Chris Shaffer January 27, 2014 at 1:22 pm

        Happens all the time. You know they’ve widened streets in Portland on occasion, right?

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  • DK January 22, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Until logistics are settled, Toulan’s opinion seems to be realistic and reasonable.

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    • Granpa January 22, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Only if Toulan did not build on the easement as it would be needed to complete the trail, not to dead end the trail into the river.

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  • Evan Manvel January 22, 2014 at 10:52 am

    An important reminder for those who want to patronize pro-bicycling businesses: Portland Spirit ain’t one. Take your parties and your visitors elsewhere.

    Recommended Thumb up 27

    • GlowBoy January 22, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      To be fair, I give Portland Spirit credit for at least having made arrangements for bike parking on its site, which is more than you can say for a lot of “event venues.”

      Especially when you consider the disappointing lack of demand from its customers: I recently attended a party on the Spirit, and arrived by bike. The parking attendant said I was only the third cyclist he’d seen in a number of years.

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  • Hart Noecker January 22, 2014 at 10:59 am

    And with this, one of Portland’s best hidden campfire spots with an unmatched view of the city will be no more.

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  • Glenn January 22, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I don’t live in Portland, but… Could the city use Eminent Domain, and then pay for building the connecting path? I know, this would cost actual money, which is hard to come by _and_ it would be going to the dreaded bicycle special interest group Mafia’s America destroying world domination infrastructure. Sigh.

    I think about Portland while I ride on the fog line on the state highway that runs by our land with _no_ paved shoulder, and frequently, no shoulder paved or not.

    You’ve got a nice thing going in Portland, please keep trying to make it better. You’re an inspiration and an example we can use to refute the apathetic attitude to bikes and walkers by our State and County DOT’s.

    on the Bramblepatch
    Marrowstone Island
    Salish Sea
    Cascadia

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • BURR January 22, 2014 at 11:29 am

    How about actually repaving the section between the Hawthorne Bridge and OMSI with concrete? The asphalt there is not in the best of condition.

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  • Granpa January 22, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Toulan complains that City mandates “Make no sense”, but a service shop and party barn for high end motorheads on riverfront property does? Rules are rules and he isn’t going to develop the site if he doesn’t follow the rules. If his property borders on a kink in the river, then his portion of the path will not dead end into the river, but follow the shore taking even more of his race car/party space.

    I wonder how loud the tuning of a race car (or motorcycle) will be and how that will mesh into the character of the neighborhood?

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    • Peejay January 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      I wonder for how long will modifications to legally licensed and regulated vehicles be tolerated. It’s well known that most of these cars are still driven on the street with varying amounts of illegal modifications. Why is this acceptable, especially when they create hazards and pollution beyond what is legal?

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      • lysenko January 22, 2014 at 9:03 pm

        Most of the modifications are legal, and the minuscule proportion of cars that are modified in such a way that they pollute more don’t appreciably increase the total amount of pollution out there. Most of the people doing this stuff are responsible adults.

        The amount of anger that would be caused by regulating this hobby would probably make it more difficult to pass broader regulations that would affect millions and millions more vehicles.

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        • q`Tzal January 22, 2014 at 11:30 pm

          You don’t need to regulate the hobby, you just need enforcement crack downs to ensure that tge vehicles leaving are safe to be around all other road users. This would require inspecting most if not all vehicles leaving here but this area is swarming with vulnerable road users.

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          • Granpa January 23, 2014 at 12:19 pm

            I can just see the camera crew set up and some midnight purple metalflake muscle car doing smoking burnouts and vision obscuring burning rubber donuts across the bike path for their new reality show.

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  • Unit January 22, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    His recommendation is for the owners to “agree” to develop the trail once the connections are possible.

    Great idea: make the city fight the battle once now, and again later, as whoever owns the property in the future will fight it tooth and nail, like they always do. LOSE-LOSE proposition.

    Just build the trail and quit wasting everyone’s time and $$$ please.

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  • Dabby January 22, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    What if every neighbor in every neighborhood just though “Why should I do this if my neighbors aren’t going to?
    Think how crappy things would be.
    Like the missing section of trail this article is talking about. It is pretty crappy back there.
    Just takes one neighbor to start the ball rolling.
    It appears Vollgas is not going to be a good neighbor.
    How high can we make the fence around them?

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  • don arambula January 22, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Our region is spending in excess of a billion dollars on the nearby Portland Milwaukie LRT project. You would think that we could require a land use and pedestrian and bicycle access that is more transit-oriented. If you want to put your two cents worth in on this district, I might suggest getting involved in the SE Quadrant planning process of the Central City Plan. http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/62130

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  • Jim January 22, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Why can’t they just go around these businesses?

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  • jollydodger January 22, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Looking at the satellite image on google maps, it seems an “easy” fix would be to allow the parking lot of Portland Spirit to be used as a ‘cut through’ – (with warning signage denying/limiting liability during use) – which could drop in from the Caruthers circle where the path deadheads now, (add another thirty or so feet of pathway at the other side of the parking lot) to link with the “orphan path” built by the water sport company…then just open Ivon up as the final connector, avoiding the Ross Island Gravel Co.’s area altogether…or is that just too damn simple a fix? It would only eliminate the Caruthers/4th ave. detour, but that part is invariably heavily trafficked by autos and big cement trucks and is dangerous at most hours except late night.

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  • dwainedibbly January 22, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Trimet screwed up. When they negotiated the new bridge with Portland Spirit, they should have made this path part of the deal. (Spirit claimed the bridge was too low, or something, but they settled for some money and some work on their dock, if I recall.)

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  • dwainedibbly January 22, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I agree that Toulan should not be let off the hook now. If his business fails, will a future owner have to build it? I could see a future owner wanting the same “do it later” treatment since precedent would have already been set.

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  • Aaron January 22, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    So what is actually wrong with the current route?

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    • Doug Klotz January 22, 2014 at 7:46 pm

      It’s not next to the river but goes between warehouses, and is not effectively separated from auto and truck traffic.

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  • q`Tzal January 22, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Portland Spirit’s property line ends at the water. While a Esplanade style pontoon bridge is less preferred than a cheaper path on solid ground it must be said that Portland Spirit Inc doesn’t own the river.

    This could be used as a tool like a crowbar or a 5lb sledgehammer; sometimes all you have to do is point at it.

    The goal is a continuous path where heavy truck traffic does not interact with bikes or peds at all. You’d think Ross Island Sand and Gravel would want safer and more expeditious truck trips at the edge of their property where liability is in question.
    Maybe spillover safety impacts (of private business activities on to public road space) could raise the cost of business-as-usual high enough that the two holdouts would find it in their best interest to cooperate.

    I’d consider the looming threat of litigation less like a physical weapon and more like playing a continuous loop of dental drill noise.

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  • DK January 23, 2014 at 9:06 am

    I’m discouraged by the lack of empathy for one of our local business owners. Business = jobs.

    Fact: The owner’s willing to build the path, once the city negotiaties the logistics with the neighboring businesses. This seems perfectly reasonable, yes?

    Put yourself in the business owner’s position…Would you wnat to spend a couple grand on ~200yrds of trail that connects to nothing? ….Or would you rather hold onto your money until a better plan can be formulated?

    As a community, perhaps we can adopt more of a win-win outlook? If we’re unreasonable with our neighbors, we must assume they will interact with us in kind. Lose-lose.

    -DK

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    • Unit January 23, 2014 at 10:11 am

      Seems perfectly reasonable? A resounding no. If you’d been involved with a situation like this ever before, you would know that agreeing to this sets a precedent that every developer feels entitled to, ensuring nothing will ever get built. Talk to some SW residents about why developers rarely have to build sidewalks in SW and you will understand. Hundreds of property owners are “required” to build sidewalks based on agreements signed decades ago. Exactly zero are being made to do it. Why? Because the city can’t go to a property owner decades later and expect them to agree.

      The only thing this would accomplish is to provide jobs for more lawyers.

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      • DK January 23, 2014 at 11:29 am

        While you make some good points…I think this is something of a cynical view, overlaying previous and unrelated issues onto the current issue at hand. Each case should be approached with an open mind and allowed to stand/fall on it’s own merit.

        If the PDC can formulate a plan that works for all…Toulan will build the trail…He has said as much. If they can’t; he has a valid argument that it’s a waste of time and money.

        The owness is on the city, not the developer, in this particular case. The city are charged with moderating a favorable outcome between the public and the property owners.

        The developer is simply trying to grow his business and put food on his table. Throwing money away on a trail that would currently connect to nothing, or anything else unnecessary to his core business, is simply not good business. As much as it may hurt our feelings, Mr Toulan is not in business to make bicyclists happy. He’s in business to make money.

        If you’d like for the business community to embrace and support our (bicycling) community, we’d do well to return the favor. A little empathy can go a long way between ourselves and our neighbors.

        .02

        -DK

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  • Jon l January 23, 2014 at 9:13 am

    I think all of this has gotten so obsessed with being along the river the entire way.
    Imagine if there were this discussion about cutting in between Oaks Parks and the river on the south end of the trail…

    There are plenty of routes and land that should get some more bike focus that are between OMSI and Ross Island Sand and Gravel.

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    • q`Tzal January 23, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      This is not about water, it’s about safety.
      Simply put: there is NO safe alignment for connecting the Eastbank Esplanade & the Springwater Trail on the surface. And by “safe” I mean as little pedestrian & bicycle interaction as experienced on the aforementioned trails/MUPs.
      As it is people cycling and walking are unceremoniously dumped in to an active and thriving industrial zone. It is crowded and geographically wedged between the river and Hwy 99E. The railroad lines are all active lest a Rails to Trails alignment could offer some relief.
      The only options: go over it, go around it or go through it.
      Going over in totality is an expense that I’ve never seen calculated; needless to say it cost would be big.
      Going around leaves crossing over or under 99E then back to meet up with the other river adjacent trail or simply going over the river. Using the river as real estate has the distinct advantage of staying close to the existing trails and not belonging to anyone that has to be forced legally to cooperate.

      Going through could be acceptable if we redouble our efforts twice.
      Imagine if the disjointed connection between the Eastbank Esplanade & the Springwater Trail had a special pavement surface treatment that made it obvious which way to go AND made it obvious to truck drivers and 4-wheelers that the path is a No-Driving-No-Parking-Zone.
      Imagine if the Springwater Trail exit at the entrance to Ross Island Sand and Gravel had a full traffic light sigal just like the Springwater Trail got at the 82nd street crossing that could be triggered by trail users.
      Imagine if that undeveloped plot had a tax paying business, rather than laying fallow. Something that wouldn’t need lots of extra automotive or truck traffic but would appeal to people passing through the area. Perhaps a bike shop or some non-motorized water sports shop or even something as simple as a locally owned coffee and pastry shop.
      This theoretically could be the cheapest and most rational option but is reliant upon all the local property owners not being irrational obstructionists; past history doesn’t hold much hope for that direction.

      So given a past history of litigious property owners with a h@te on anything bicycle related the over water option actually starts to look like a good idea even with all its ridiculous points.
      This is sad.

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  • kww January 23, 2014 at 10:46 am

    I am very comfortable with using the bike lanes on SE 4th/Water sts. Excellent sight lines and no stop sign now; and less worrying about pedestrians.

    Toulan should build the path, quit whining and find alternate uses for it till the pathway is linked (20+ years probably)

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  • John January 23, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    I have no problems at all with the current route around OMSI on SE Water Ave. I dont see what the big deal is. I ride it twice a week (both directions). Nice bike lanes on Water and relatively low traffic.

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    • freemarketmarx January 23, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      This is not to rag on Jonathan and Michael, who do an exemplary job with this site, nor with Portland’s bicycle advocacy community in general, who I think are largely in the right.

      But, honestly, sometimes I feel like some people around here aren’t happy with a bicycle connection unless it does everything but give you a handjob while you ride.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor) January 23, 2014 at 5:31 pm

        Hey, thanks for the nice words. Personally I’d agree that there are more important street issues around the city, and it’d be pretty weird if the city spent a bazillion dollars to buy out these businesses and build this connection right away. But we’ve only got one big beautiful river running through downtown and I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be looking for opportunities to, over the long run, make the paths along it as safe, intuitive and beautiful as possible. I assume almost everybody (including Toulan) would agree that, other things being equal, these paths would be better if they were connected.

        How should we get there and under what circumstances? Not totally clear; valid tradeoffs involved. That’s why I think it’s a story.

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  • Aaron January 23, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    It’s funny that people feel safer on the bike path. On a sunny weekend, I feel much safer on the road than the East Bank Esplanade.

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  • Supercourse January 24, 2014 at 9:56 am

    The city where everything takes forever……..or doesn’t take at all.

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