“If we had $50 million in hand, would we spend it developing one corridor or do we want to spread the love around the city?”
— Roger Geller, City of Portland bike coordinator
Trail advocates are polishing up their comments on the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030.
Backers of the Sullivan’s Gulch Trail — a path still in planning stages that would run from I-205 to the Willamette River along I-84 — say they’re concerned that the new plan does not give off-street paths the respect they deserve.
(Graphic: Sullivan’s Gulch Trail Committee)
Paul Manson with the ad-hoc Sullivan’s Gulch Trail Committee says he thinks trails should play a larger role in the plan. According to Manson, the plan “focuses on the shared on-street network.”
“Trails are too often treated as just recreational facilities. We really want to see separate non-motorized routes called out as the platinum standard for bikes.”
Citing the overwhelming success of trails like the Springwater Corridor and the Eastbank Esplanade, Manson says, “Trails are too often treated as just recreational facilities. We really want to see separate non-motorized routes called out as the platinum standard for bikes.”
Manson is particularly concerned with two parts of the Plan: How it seeks to remove the current classification of “Off-Street Paths” and the fact that the Sullivan’s Gulch is called out as a “Tier Two” priority. Here’s an excerpt from a draft copy of the Sullivan’s Gulch Committee’s comments:
“By removing off-street paths as a classification, we worry that this type of facility will be lost as an option in future transportation planning. We believe that separate, non-motorized facilities including pathways, provide exceptional benefits that cannot be replicated through shared motorized on-street facilities.”
Currently, the City of Portland has three bike-related street classifications, “City Bikeways”, “Local Service Bikeways” and “Off-Street Paths”. PBOT transportation planner Denver Igarta says the term off-street paths refers to a facility type, and they plan to create more of a “functional hierarchy” for bikeway classifications. In the new plan, off-street paths like the Esplanade and the Sullivan’s Gulch will be labeled as “Major City Bikeways” (the top classification in the hierarchy).
Manson, and other trail advocates like longtime activist Lenny Anderson, feel like the Sullivan’s Gulch should not be listed as a Tier Two priority. “Tier one [about $100 million in projects] is a status quo funding scenario… It’s what should happen even if there was no plan, it is low hanging fruit. Tier two gets to the iconic, defining projects we need to see.” says Manson.
“The challenge with limiting your planning to your funding is that you are then hostage to the old way of budgeting.”
Lenny Anderson, who works as the manager of Swan Island’s Transportation Management Association, has made also voiced concerns about the lack of what he calls “signature, transformative projects” like the Springwater or Esplanade.
Anderson has worked on the Willamette Greenway Plan and feels — much like Manson feels about the Sullivan’s Gulch — that it should be “on the cover of the Bike Plan, not in Tier Two for development in 20 years”.
PBOT bike coordinator Roger Geller said he wants to see the Sullivan’s Gulch trail built too, but that he’s trying to make decisions based on providing “the highest level of comfort for the most people as quickly as possible”.
Geller says that’s why PBOT is aggressively pursuing bicycle boulevards. “They are the most affordable for us to implement and we thing they offer the most bang for the buck.” One of the problems with Sullivan’s Gulch, he says, is that it will be “tremendously expensive” to build [an estimated $25-50 million].
“If we had $50 million in hand, would we spend it developing one corridor or do we want to spread the love around the city?”
Geller also said PBOT is unlikely to dive fully into support the Sullivan’s Gulch in the plan at this time because it’s simply not ready for prime time. It is currently undergoing study and analysis and the main landowner, Union Pacific Railroad, could decide to not even let the project happen. “It has significant ownership and operational issues,” says Geller. “I think if the environment [surrounding the Sullivan’s Gulch Trail[ was different, you’d see us able to give it a higher priority in this plan.”
That being said, Geller feels both the Transportation and Parks Bureaus have a strong track record of supporting development of off-street paths, but Manson thinks they haven’t gone far enough. “The city can do more – people want it and we can plan for it.”
The Bicycle Master Plan will get a public hearing tomorrow evening at Planning Commission (see full details here). You can make comments on the Plan until November 8th by emailing bicyclemasterplan[at]pdxtrans[dot]org.
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In the past I’ve been a huge fan of off-road bike paths and a supporter of the np greenway; but then I set off down the Springwater after dark. It was absolutely terrifying. I was alone, out of sight of any passers-by, blind even with bike lights, and then blinded by others’ lights as they approached, and passed, too close, too fast. As a woman I felt far too vulnerable, to unseen creeps in the bushes and troublemakers on bikes overtaking me. I will NEVER ride off street in the dark again; I always want to be where someone can see me, where I can get help if needed, where I can see all around me. Unfortunately if they feel unsafe in the dark, off-street paths are a pretty lousy commuting tool this far north; I don’t know if I can support them any more as a high-priority use of transportation dollars.
This is the first I’ve heard of the Sullivan’s Gulch trail, and I have to say – it would be awesome for that to come to fruition. At the same time, I trust PBOT’s judgment about the risks of the trail project and agree that making the investments which will have the most immediate impact should receive higher priority. That sounds like wise pragmatism.
A year ago I spent several days cycling around Arlington, VA with friends. The city has a large network of off-street paths often running alongside freeways. (bikearlington.com has on-line maps if you are interested.)
I had mixed feelings about this approach. The paths had many walkers, runners, and cyclists all mixing way too fast with too many short sightlines. It seemed quite dangerous. Better than getting out into heavy traffic on an arterial, but not as good as a good bike lane along a street.
My vote is to use the funding to improve the on-street cycling infrastructure.
how can the City expect 25% mode split in 20 years when a full 40% of cyclists fit in the ‘interested but concerned’ category..that is, they aren’t going to ride unless they feel very safe. We wont accomplish anywhere near that goal with totally onstreet projects. Off street Trails provide that backbone to the system, encouraging folks to ride much of their trip on trails and venture off for the completion of their trip.
Poorly designed trails should not serve as the example. We have some of the best bicycle facilities planners in the nation here in PO. We have an engaged community base. We can build Platinum level facilities to go with that trophy in City Hall.
Off street trails are great. The reality is they cost a lot and take a very long time to develop. In a place like Minneapolis they have made them a priority and they have awesome trails. They also have sub-par on street facilities. It shouldn’t have to be an either/or, but that is how the current funding stream sets things up.
The question I’ve always had about Sullivan’s Gulch is the health impacts (if any) that might occur from cycling next to an interstate.
btw, Gellers $50 Million quote is misleading. npgreenway is quoted at 9 million, Sullivans at quoted at around $12 million. These are the only Tier Two projects. all other trail plans are not included in the current plan.
This would be a great east-west corridor!
Not the same experience as the Springwater, though. Much more like the I-205 bikeway because of the proximity of the I-84 freeway. Obviously, considering Roger Geller’s comments, the actual building of the trail is fraught with obstacles beyond PBOT’s immediate control (which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pursued) and they do have to manage resources for the big picture.
As for E’s (@1) comments about safety – whew. I know men who are frightened of riding at night for fear of “unseen creeps” and “troublemakers on bikes overtaking” and I suggest to her the same as they softly hear from me: Don’t ride where yer not comfy or ride with a buddy. And for them (the guys) – grow a pair or maybe, just grow up. Stupid stuff can happen anywhere, any time of day – are you prepared for it in broad daylight? Would you drive an automobile at night without adequate lights? (bike lighting is certainly available which will light up the Springwater – and it’s not those cute little flashing toys which are mostly just a nod to legality whilst riding on well-lit streets and don’t do jack to illuminate the roadway) (no, I don’t know what E rides with, I’m just sayin’)
Granted, the Springwater isn’t as well lit as the I-205 bikeway and it gets kinda murky back there further east, between yards and hedgerows, but to condemn off-street paths in general based on living a fearful life is a little short-sighted. Has E ridden the better-lit Esplanade or I-205 paths and felt safe enough? Then why not speak up for well-lit paths, maybe even the placement of those panic phones found on college campuses (yeah, I know, they’d probably be harvested in just a few weeks), rather than suddenly losing sight of the great utility of long-route off-street paths.
I like off-street paths as kind of bike expressways with limited access, connecting different parts of town as a supplement to the city bikeways. I don’t see it as one or the other.
The Spring Water Corridor is great when I’m headed that direction, and it would be valuable to have a central east-west path, but I think Sullivan’s Gulch is a terrible idea. Vigorous exercise in a noisy valley filled with exhaust? No thanks.
How about off-street, in the ‘hood, elevated pathways? See, the cool thing about bicycle freeways is that you can build them without creating the massive, polluting, noisy physical and social barriers of their motorized brethren. Sandy and Foster would be my first two picks (maybe Stark, too). But they don’t even have to be aligned along existing roadway. Separated, safe, efficient, convenient, covered/wind-shielded, elevation-controlled roadway…I can dream, right?
“If we had $50 million in hand, would we spend it developing one corridor or do we want to spread the love around the city?”
I understand this line of thought, but the ironic thing is that the route that Sullivan’s Gulch would serve has become the most ignored portion of the bikeways plan. The east-west Tillamook route is the only designated ‘boulevard’ route in close vicinity, and it has some serious problems as a bike boulevard. If you look at the map of current and developing bike boulevards, the line that Sullivan’s Gulch would serve has just about the least density of boulevards.
If this plan is going to be ignored, please “share the love” by creating an actually logical and safe east-west route near I-84 into town.
I gotta echo the comments already made. There’s a special place for off-street paths that should be prioritized. This situation is analogous to transit infrastructure. Make improvements to exclusive right-of-way for major corridors and simultaneously work on the system development. If we ever want a major mode shift, we gotta have some paths off-street. As long as driver’s licenses are as cheap and easy to get as a bag of groceries, streets will be dangerous for bicyclists.
I’m someone that will ride on just about any street if it comes to it, but I would choose transit over those environments any day of the week, despite my desire to bike everywhere…
P Finn (@ 9), I like the image of “elevated pathways,” “in the hood” – especially, “don’t even have to be aligned along existing roadway.” Do any such places exist outside of yer dreams?
Modular construction, rapid assembly, people and bikes are light compared to cars – surely the engineering would require only a fraction of the materials for elevated train or auto roads. Why not run ’em down a network of urban/suburban back alleys (minimize construction interference to automotive traffic). Doesn’t the city already own the alleys? Wouldn’t homeowners like to get a little cash for those unused corners of their backyards where the structural supports might obtrude?
Bonus: Make it a dedicated bicycling tollway (with a minimalist fee) requiring gated card access to reduce the presence of excluded non-cyclist users (after all, cyclists cannot access the otherwise usable freeway pavement) and it would create the first true bike path in the nation (as all others instantly devolve to MUPs the day they open).
If you’ve ever had the view while riding the El in Chicago or elsewhere, wouldn’t it be a gas to get that while in the saddle and just going about yer daily ride business? Surely such a thing couldn’t cost any more than the Sullivan’s Gulch project…
Roger referenced the most important point of all, but perhaps he should have led with it: Union Pacific owns the right of way.
Railroads, as you likely know, settled the West for the white man. Their property rights are second to nobody’s. Even the federal government has a hard time compelling railroads to do anything. The City has no leverage.
By contrast, the City owns and operates (nearly all of) the streets in Portland. Nobody questions the potential attractiveness of the Sullivan’s Gulch trail, but it’s not a project the City would – or should – lead with.
That said, the Sullivan’s Gulch is incredibly attractive as a potential bicycle highway
A lot of attention to Sullivans Gulch,but don’t forget north portland greenway. Connecting the esplanade through Swan Island, Cathedral park and out to rivergate and kelly point park. Connecting all the neighborhoods and job centers along the route. Much of the alignment is already in public hands,and good relationships with many of the private owners, who are simply waiting for something to happen.
Springwater was a rails to trail,with one property owner to deal with. It is a great recreational trail,but not a great transit trail. npgreenway would be that great transit trail and a signature project to show the value of off street trails and the importance of good design and planning creating a trail system that actually gets folks out of their cars and riding to work. Which is the stated goal.
Oh, and being I have your attention, go to npgreenway.org
Lots of good comments here that I think reflect the nature of making difficult decisions for infrastructure with limited funding and many unknowns. I’d like to address a couple of them to ensure there are no misunderstandings.
$100 million is certainly not a status quo funding scenario. If it were, then we’d be well on our way to being a world-class cycling city. In the period between 2000 and 2007 the Portland Bureau of Transportation spent approximately $2.7 million dollars (total, not annually) on bicycle capital projects. More than that was spent by other city agencies on some trail projects using funding that came in part from Metro and urban renewal districts. But, the agency principally responsible for developing the city’s transportation infrastructure spent only 0.7% of its capital budget on bicycle infrastructure (we spent additional funds on programs and maintenance). This reflects both the scarcity of funds allocated to bicycling–as well as the fact that we can do much with little when it comes to bicycle transportation. It’s one of the reasons bicycling offers the best return on investment for transportation dollars.
There is currently an effort underway locally, regionally and nationally to shake loose more federal transportation dollars with the next reauthorization of the federal transportation bill. At it’s most ambitious we hope to create a national $2 billion dollar fund that would provide $50 million to each of 40 communities around the country to develop better bicycling and walking infrastructure and supporting programs. Were that effort to be successful we could hope to see that funding roll in over a six-year period probably beginning sometime in 2013. We also have a request in for $25 million that would allow us to build more than 100 miles of bicycle boulevards. Such an effort would allow us to build low-stress bikeways within approximately 10 blocks of 80% of Portlanders (if not more). Of course, none of this is a sure thing.
However, if we squint our eyes just a bit, we can reasonably identify $70 million in funding over the next 10 years. That includes significant support from federal sources, more funding from Metro, and increased funding at the local level.
The construction cost of both the npGreenway and Sullivan’s Gulch trails are together estimated to be more than $60 million. Actual project costs will likely be more than double that amount. These estimates are extremely low confidence because we’re not yet aware of all the construction issues. That’s why we have several hundred thousand dollars that we’ll be spending to conduct design studies for both trails. Work on Sullivan’s Gulch is slated to begin this year, while funding for the npGreenway will kick in in a year or two (not sure of exact timeline at the moment…). Until we conduct these design studies we’re not sure of what all the issues are, but we have enough of a handle on them to recognize that the engineering will be significantly more expensive than anything we’ve ever built for bicycle transportation. Both these trails are also hampered by ownership challenges as we’ll have to get the blessings of Union Pacific railroad just to assess the property for construction, let alone actually conduct the projects.
Of course, we also recognize the potentially transformative nature of these projects. We understand quite well the value of trails and can clearly see the benefits the Springwater and Eastbank Esplanade have brought to the city. It’s the reason that we always have and continue to prioritize trail funding in our funding requests for the federal transportation dollars that are funneled through Metro. It’s why we have funding for design work for both the above-mentioned trails and construction funding for a segment of the Red Electric Trail in SW Portland.
The fundamental issue we’re dealing with is how to provide access to low-stress bikeways to the most Portlanders as quickly as possible. Our work and understanding point us toward continuing to emphasize the development of bicycle boulevards and other low-stress routes as quickly as possible.
Of course, our plan also directs us to be flexible (as we’ve always been) and to respond to and seek opportunities as they arise. Placing these prominent trails in Tier Two reflects their special nature. Yes, they are potentially transformative projects. Buut we do not yet know enough about their constuctability. In addition, together they would cost more than the construction of hundreds of miles of boulevards and dozens of miles of cycle tracks.
Again, our goal is to create conditions that will get as many people riding as quickly as possible; for the time being it seems that is best accomplished with an on-street strategy that emphasizes our popular boulevard streets.
NPG is good, too (and maybe more needed – don’t know which would bear more traffic).
Hey! An elevated North Portland Greenway bike freeway would be even better-er! Imagine illuminated 1950’s-“futuristic” fluorescent purple and pink and green transparent canopies covering twisty, organic-looking Art Nouveau support-legs and lamp standards along the river with cyclists flying along at all hours! At least the elevated aspect would ameliorate some of the Superfund status of some of that choice property…
In the past, I’ve heard people wax enthusiastic about a major bike ‘trail’, or ‘bike-way’ paralleling Sullivans Gulch. Such a path could certainly have great potential to allow the movement of many numbers of non-motorized commuters, by bike, on-foot, and low speed EVs. Really, something like this should be scaled about 20-25 feet wide to realize maximum potential.
Anyone that’s driven I-84 and seen the terrain through which this highway travels, and who is noting the reference in the above article to landowner, Union Pacific Railroad, probably has some idea where the bike trail alignment might wind up. The railroad runs right in the gully just north of the highway. North of the railroad, the terrain rises steeply 300 feet or so, then flattens out, beyond which, exist streets, buildings, houses.
If the bike trail alignment were to be anywhere close to the highway, the railroad, or somehow located on the face of the bank, it seems like people using the trail would be subjected to a huge amount of noise and pollution. Bob #5 and mechanic Mark #8 mention this issue in their comments.
Of course, something is better than nothing, but since a considerable amount of money is involved, the return is likely to be greater if a trail were sited up where the terrain flattens out, away from the noise and pollution of I-84. But then, maybe Portland drivers will make a wholesale conversion to hybrid or electric vehicles, and the pollution from I-84 will disappear.
I like bike boulevards but I wish more could be done to reduce motor vehicle traffic on these streets and across them. Motorists –people in general, but motorists are inherently more dangerous– can’t be trusted even to look both ways at a stop sign, and I’ve nearly been hit more than once because of this. It sure would be nice if we could have separated infrastructure so I didn’t have to trust my safety to people who might not be paying attention.
I commute by bike daily from southeast to near the airport, and if the sullivan gulch trail were available I would probably ride it and the 205 path most days even though it would add a couple miles to my commute, because I could relax while riding instead of constantly covering the brakes wondering if that truck is going to pull out right in front of me, that car door is going to open suddenly, or that car behind me is going to speed up and turn right right in front of me.
I understand that creating a new path would be expensive, but I think the safety and peace-of-mind benefits from separated infrastructure are well worth the cost.
Sometimes i bike, sometimes I walk, sometimes I bike sometimes I drive… am I less likely to look when I cross traffic?
Also I think that people who use bike ways should realize that those of us who live on and near them drive down them on occasion. I have often been harassed by bikers for driving down my own street. I find these moments funny, because I would rather be biking them, but sometimes I need to drive.
Currently, the City of Portland has only two bike-related street classifications, “City Bikeways” and “Off-Street Paths”.
Not true. The majority of streets in Portland are classified as Local Service Bicycle Streets.
Thanks for catching that GLV, I added that to the story. — Jonathan
On Swan Island we just built a small piece of the Willamette Greenway Trail along Channel Avenue where the BMP suggests “in street” facilities. The BMP must respect and reflect what the Swan Island TMA has done and continues to do on Swan Island for bike (and pedestrian) access.
The just completed Channel Avenue section of the River to Lagoon segment of the Willamette Greenway Trail is a 12′ (above the curb in public ROW) trail
with swale and must be the model for future sections of the WGT on Ballast,
Lagoon and Basin Avenues on Swan Island. The BMP needs to honor this with purple “multi-use, separated designation” on maps and in text. This kind of facility not only delivers a real trail facility for recreation and job access, it also completes missed pieces of the sidewalk network for intra
Island travel by foot and bike.
“Going to the River” (the Going Street sidewalk) is an existing separated
multi-use path that needs to be acknowledged on BMP maps and text; why was it left off entirely? It is sub standard, but so is the WGT on the west
side south of downtown. “Going to the River” is now being widened to 10′ with
a crash barrier over the UPRR tracks as part of the Going Street bridge
seismic retrofit, and that must be what the BMP calls for in the future for
the entire length of this key Swan Island access facility between Interstate and Basin Avenues.
In street facilities on Swan Island are non-starters and should be removed
from maps and text. Why suggest those of us on bikes should play tag with semi tractor-trailors?
We will continue to build the Willamette Greenway Trail thru Swan Island with or without the help of PBOT, but it would be a lot more fun if the BMP would reflect what we have done and respect what we intend to do.
Lenny Anderson, Project Director, Swan Island TMA
Speaking of Sullivan’s Gulch, does anyone know what the status is on building a bike/ped bridge over I-84 at 7th Ave? Pipe dream? In planning? Obstacles? I wonder about that every time I’m taking the detour via 12th Ave to go south.
I spent the summer working in Seattle, and they have a very large network of “non-motorized” paths up there. I don’t care for it. Not because there’s anything wrong with these paths (besides the fact that they’re often out of the way, and beside the fact that there are lots of inconvenient or unsafe street crossing to negotiate, and besides the fact that they’re crowded with walkers and dogs and strollers, who weren’t commuting in a hurry like I was, and gave me a hard time for being in a hurry). But mainly because of the “bang for the buck” issue.
Those paths cost tons and tons of money. And they add very little connectivity-per-dollar compared to a good bike lane network. For instance, to leave my neighborhood here in Portland, I go from bike lane to bike lane, all the while, having very few interactions with drivers (which I prefer). In Seattle, in order to even *get to* an off street path, I’d be braving fast moving cars on crowded streets- two lanes of 35 m.p.h., with parked cars on the right! That’s a recipe for confrontation, and believe you me, there were several.
I’m all for riding vehicular style, if you’re comfortable with it, but the bike lane streets are LOTS more comfortable for me. And every time we spend 10$ million on a path for joggers and late night drug deals, we’re forgoing an opportunity to make an arterial street safer, faster, and more convenient for real neighborhood connectivity! It’s an opportunity cost that is unacceptable.
For instance, I see on my latest bike map that a section of North Portland Blvd is slated for bike lane treatment (to connect two existing segments). I wonder if more money in the pot would speed that process up? I know for sure that less money in the pot will slow that process down.
The fact is we need both trails and in-street stuff. Just as there are times and places where trails don’t cut it for some, I find several streets with bike lanes utterly unsuitable for bikers…N. Greeley, Broadway/Weidler over I-5 to name a few. I don’t think some paint, dots and a few signs on already quiet streets will inspire more Portlanders to either spend serious money or get onto their bikes. Signature, high visibility and exciting projects do that, and trails are just that. PBOT has been and continues to be just too timid and reactive…and this starts with Adams leadership or lack thereof. Platinum status should have been awarded to Portland cyclists, not to the city, for it is the former who have taken to the streets in great numbers, taken the lane, literally by force of numbers changed the complexion of many routes with precious little help from PBOT.
With all due respect, our trail advocates are missing the point that their respective trail projects are not the best return on investment given (a) existing resources, and (b) likelihood of attracting as many new cyclists as possible right now.
Sorry to be more blunt than Portlanders typically prefer, but that’s the City’s view and it’s well supported by facts. That doesn’t mean off-street trails are a bad idea per se, or that the two trail concepts being offered in this thread are bad ideas either. No question Portland would be best off with all the on-street investment the City is recommending right now as well as these two and other trail opportunities.
Sullivan’s Gulch, in particular, is an amazing opportunity in the heart of the city to never put your foot down en route to downtown and back. Indeed, it’s an awesome vision. North Portland Greenway would result in fewer riders due to lower densities in North Portland but has tremendous potential as well.
But cost is real. And taking on Union Pacific is like paddling up Niagra Falls. These are huge burdens. And our neighbor to the north, Seattle, is a great example, as Charley #24 noted. The Burke Gilman trail – the heart of their system – is a nice piece of infrastructure. But for most Seattle residents, it’s neither convenient nor effective for daily use.
Look at the 30%+ mode split cities like Copenhagen. The heart of their systems is the cycle track, the dedicated lane a bicyclist shares with nobody. It is as unambiguous as it is ubiquitous. The Danes accommodate the bike the same way Americans accommodate the automobile. Wherever you want to go, most of your trip will be made safely and effectively on a cycle track.
Portland isn’t ready politically or financially for widespread cycle tracks. We still have to endure carbon neanderthals predicting armageddon to our commissions and council if we even suggest a modest shift towards true modal choice. And we have a splintered and unfocused bike advocacy community that speaks with 100 small and often squabbling voices instead of one steady roar.
The first major wave of investment in this plan is the boulevard, a high-rate-of-return investment. A broad network of well-designed boulevards, complementing Portland’s existing bike lane network, should increase mode split and therefore political will for the shift from bike lanes to cycle tracks. Off-street trails nicely complement the on-street network, but will never be tier one priorities.
Geller was blunt when he said $50 million for one trail isn’t the best strategic investment. But he was right.