Last month we shared the news that the City of Gresham had decided to close the Springwater Corridor Trail at night. They said they were doing it “for everyone’s safety” and to bring the trail in line with their other park facilities.
Opposition to the idea came as soon as it was announced. The concern was raised because for thousands of bike commuters every day, the Springwater is much more than a park, it’s a key transportation corridor.
According to official counts of daily bike traffic on the trail by the City of Portland in 2007, an estimated 2,500 people on bikes use the trail each day (that’s based on a count done at the Oaks Bottom area during peak commuting hours and extrapolated over a 24-hour period. The same count found 1,800 daily riders pass by the trail at SE Spokane.).
The crux of the issue became whether or not the Springwater Corridor Trail should be regulated as a recreational facility or a transportation facility.
“…the Springwater and Gresham/Fairview Trails are principally transportation facilities and their hours of operation cannot be restricted.”
— Jeff Graham, FHWA
Now it appears that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has answered the question. When Metro planner John Mermin heard the news of the Gresham’s decision, he contacted the regional FHWA contact, Satviner Sandhu.
Mermin’s hunch was that, because the Springwater was funded in part by the FHWA’s “Transportation Enhancements” (TE) program, it was bound to certain rules tied to that funding. Mr. Sandhu at the FHWA forwarded Mermin’s question to another FHWA employee in Salem, operations engineer Jeff Graham.
Graham informed Mermin that a similar question arose in the ’90s with the Eastbank Esplanade. Back then, the City of Portland decided to close the Esplanade at night due to safety concerns. However, the FHWA informed the City that the Esplanade could not be closed because it served as a “transportation facility and those facilities do not have restricted hours of operation.”
floats on the Willamette River
is also considered a transportation
In the case of the Esplanade, it was determined to be a transportation facility because the City used Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) funds to pay for it. The CMAQ application clearly stipulates that the facility would be built to provide improved air quality in the area by offering a way for citizens to get into downtown by walking and biking.
Now, a similar issue is facing the City of Gresham and their decision to close the Springwater Corridor Trail at night.
The Springwater was funded in part through the FHWA’s “Transportation Enhancement” (TE) funding program. In a reply to Mermin (that was also published on the BTA Blog last night), Graham wrote that according to TE funding guidelines:
“No bicycle project may be carried out (funded) under this section (TE) unless the Secretary has determined that such bicycle project will be principally for transportation, rather than recreation purposes.”
Graham went on to write that (emphasis mine),
“…I’ve concluded that the Springwater and Gresham/Fairview Trails are principally transportation facilities and their hours of operation cannot be restricted. FHWA expects that ODOT (the Oregon Department of Transportation, who doles out TE funds) will inform the City of Gresham that the trails will no longer have restricted hours of operation and will be available for use by the public 24 hours per day.”
Will the City of Gresham will proceed with their closure policy, or if they’ll heed the FHWA’s stance and reverse course like the City of Portland did back in the ’90s?
“We want to make sure we have the right answer before we say anything publicly.”
— Katherine Kelly, City of Gresham transportation planning manager
I reached Katherine Kelly, Gresham’s transportation planning manager, via telephone this morning. She was reluctant to say much about the issue. However, she acknowledged that they are currently in talks with ODOT about the FHWA guidelines and told me, “We just don’t have enough information at this point. We are waiting to hear from both ODOT and the FHWA. We want to make sure we have the right answer before we say anything publicly.” Ms. Kelly said she hopes to have more of a response by next week.
Metro’s John Mermin will update the Multnomah County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee at their next meeting on January 14th.
— For more background, see our December 11, 2008 story, City of Gresham moves to close Springwater Trail at night.