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Work set to begin on long-awaited Waud Bluff Trail to Swan Island

Posted by on September 15th, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Drawing of the future Waud Bluff Trail, which could open as early as spring 2012.
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Portland Parks & Recreation announced today that construction is set to begin this Monday (9/19) on the Waud Bluff Trail, a much-anticipated non-motorized connection to Swan Island from N. Willamette Blvd near the University of Portland.

The project was six years in the making, a delay that PP&R says was due to, “many years of working through the complicated details of engineering, property ownership and easements.”

Once completed (which could be as early as spring of next year), the trail will be a vital connection to Swan Island — an industrial hub with over 10,000 employees. The trail will also be a key link to the future North Willamette River Greenway trail which is currently in planning stages. Plans for the trail call for a paved path that will lead people west from Willamette Blvd near the intersection of N Olin and Harvard Street. The project will construct a bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and then head southeast where it will connect with N. Basin Avenue after going down a new stairway (which will hopefully have a tire ramp).

In addition to the trail, the project will come with a new median island and crosswalk on Willamette Blvd to address “long-standing concerns about access to the trail and the TriMet bus stop,” says PP&R in a statement.


Ironically, the trail construction comes on the same day the federal Transportation Enhancements program survived a major scare on Capitol Hill. The TE program funded the project to the tune of $1.175 million back in 2008. The project has been on the books for many years but has stalled for a variety of reasons (learn more of the background via this Neighborhood Notes article back in May).

PP&R warns that during construction, Going Street will be the sole access to Swan Island (see map above).

Veteran Swan Island transportation activist Lenny Anderson emailed me with the news today with a brief comment. “At long last!” he wrote. Anderson and many others have been waiting a long time for this project. It’s great to see it finally get underway.

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  • A. Gnostic September 15, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    It’s a miracle!

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  • Joe Adamski September 15, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    The City that Works. Slowly.
    In fairness, the project is well over the funded amount, owing to the construction boom around the time it was funded, inability to corral additional funds locally and conflicts with the Portsmouth Force Main project that was working at the base of the trail.
    All that is past. Lets get it done.. and npgreenway, too, of course

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  • Scott Mizée September 15, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Yay! We’ve been working on this since 2005!

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  • Hugh Johnson September 16, 2011 at 8:33 am

    I wish we would see improvements to Going street and crossings of death we have to make to get down there.

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    • Dabby September 16, 2011 at 9:15 am

      So true.

      I do not think it will be worth riding through Swan Island to ride this……. It doesn’t appear to start until deep within the island correct?

      I mean I will ride it from the West end and turn around… But why would I ride through Swan Island?

      This is however very good for people who work down there.

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      • Hugh Johnson September 16, 2011 at 9:22 am

        Swan Island itself is not a very bike friendly place. I work down there. Lots of big truck traffic, UPS, FedEx. Lots of aggressive drivers too. We have some brave bike commuters down there!

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        • Joe Adamski September 16, 2011 at 7:56 pm

          another phase of the development of Swan Island is separated from roadway bike/ped facilities and safe crossings. I think everyone realizes the conflicts and challenges. Waud Bluff is a big piece,but building safe facilites to connect it to other routes and the rest of the island need to, and will happen.
          Like anything else,it takes time and money. And strong advocacy, like Swan Island TMA and npGreenway.

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  • Allan Folz September 16, 2011 at 9:06 am

    The problem with this country is every little thing has to be a multi-million dollar mega-project. Sending a few labors out with shovels, a small excavator, and a few loads of gravel is out of the question. We have to have pavement, a bridge, stairs, etc. I wonder if there is going to be an ADA compliant elevator too?

    Obviously the CRC has many other things wrong with it, but as far as over-building goes, these projects aren’t all that different. Both are 10x bigger than needed to solve the problem at hand.

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    • q`Tzal September 16, 2011 at 1:28 pm

      Public works projects follow a simple equation:
      or Litigation.

      All is usually cheaper than Litigation.

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      • Allan Folz September 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm

        Yes, I’m aware. That’s sort of my point.

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  • Lenny Anderson September 16, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Actually the new Trail down Waud Bluff, which follows an existing old service road, will NOT be ADA compliant due to the grade. The stairs will have slots for bikes, but will not work well with trailers. No elevator. The existing path is used by US Coast Guard, UPS and Western Star Truck Plant employees. Construction could take a year. Its been a long wait.

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  • Alain September 16, 2011 at 10:01 am

    To take Allan’s snide ADA compliant remark in another direction, how does this project get around ADA compliance with the staircase? Why not make it a ramp the entire length… Seems a bit odd to me.

    Don’t get me worry, I’m glad this is being built, but wondering why the stairs if you want to provide access to all?

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  • Lenny Anderson September 16, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Because the grade of the existing old road is too steep and cutting a new grade would be prohibitively expensive, if even possible, the project was given the OK by the city’s ADA advisory committee. A ramp on the bottom would have pushed an already expensive project’s costs thru the roof. And stairs are OK since the upper trail was given a pass by the ADA committee.

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    • q`Tzal September 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm

      There must be some variance in Parks & Rec laws that allow for ignoring ADA compliance where it would require destroying nature or is just too durn expensive.

      Was this trail at some point a public road?
      Sat images seem to indicate that there is a lot of traffic on this project path even now and there is a odd segment of crash barrier at the top end that looks as if it was placed to block vehicular traffic.

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  • Jim Kysela September 16, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Great, another piece of the large puzzle starts to get put in place! Thanks PP&R, Lenny and Sarah at the Swan Island TMA, npgreenway and others for sticking with this so long. Know it was a challenge with so many disparate stakeholders to deal with.

    We Swan Island bike commuters are also looking fwd to the Going St improvements that also rec’d funding earlier this year.

    As far as the ‘why would I ride down there?’ questions, on the weekends it’s much more relaxed and there are already accessible portions of river trail to explore with some great views. Keep in mind these segments are part of a much larger plan that have to be fought for in piecemeal fashion.

    Another goal is to someday have access from Swan Island southbound along the river (paved parts already exist but are private) toward the city and link up to the Esplanade and other points. This will not happen overnight, but would vastly improve access from the city to all these jobs on Swan Island, and also serve as a more natural and safer ‘thru-way’ for north-south travel along the Willamette River.

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  • Ted Buehler September 16, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Kudos to Lenny, the NoPo Greenway group and anyone else who made this happen.

    Getting a big new infrastructure link is a huge achievement.

    It was also a lot of work just getting the idea to the table, designed and funded. That work tends to go unnoticed.

    Do you have a dream to fill a missing link in your neighborhood or on your way to work? You could see results like this if you have a good idea, put in some effort, build a coalition and get folks behind it.

    Ted Buehler

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  • Ted Buehler September 16, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I don’t understand why there’s a stairway as part of this project.

    Typically, stairways get put in where there’s only a limited distance between the end of the bridge and where the trail meets the street.

    This project seems to have plenty of runout between the bridge and the street.

    Does anyone know the answer?

    Ted Buehler

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  • DTNA Runner September 16, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I’ll be most thrilled with the replacement of the pea gravel path in front of the National Gaurd, that stuff is like quick sand. 🙂

    As a Swan Island lunchtime runner that has taken this trail a number of times, I have never been stopped by a train at the base of the hill. Which would actually be better costwise considering the amount of traffic this upgraded trail will see?
    -A bridge
    -A level railroad crossing with warning signage

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson September 16, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    An at grade RR crossing was a non-starter. Alta recognized that on day one in their Swan Island Trails Action Plan of 2004. Why stairs? Cost.

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  • q`Tzal September 16, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Re: bridge?
    I can’t imagine that the rail line owner would have been OK with anything that would have increased their risk of litigation.
    By approving a bridge they will decrease the potential number of people that will still cross the rails by foot.

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    • Joe Adamski September 16, 2011 at 8:02 pm

      that’s it, in a nutshell. UP,and any railroad, looks after their own interests first. “Community” is not in their DNA. An at grade crossing would never be approved, even though there has been defacto at grade crossings for decades. This bride lowers the UPRRs exposure to liability, and at no cost to them. To get anything from the UPRR will require giving them 90% for a 100% return. Thats how it is.

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      • Joe Adamski September 16, 2011 at 8:04 pm

        gotta watch my typing. I meant giving 90% for a 10% return.

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  • Ted Buehler September 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Lenny wrote —
    “Why stairs? Cost.”

    C’mon, they’re so skimpy that they can’t bother to put a 500′ long earth berm at the end of the bridge to make it so bikes can ride on it and its ADA accessible? That’s nuts.

    Where’s the Platinum?

    What happened to “putting green transportation first?”

    Lame. Spend 6 years planning something, drop a couple hundred thousand or millions on it, and stop one step away from perfection, rendering what could be a fabulous, seamless part of the city’s infrastructure into a janky connection…

    It’ll work, I guess, but there will be more people driving and fewer bicycling. Folks choose their mode based on travel time, convenience, angst, cost, etc.

    Throw in a big flight of stairs, and you screw up the system for everyone. What about folks with bakfiets, cargo bikes, trailabikes? If you drop off your kid at day care then ride to work, are you supposed to swap bikes somewhere along the way? What about this as a major transportation corridor from North Portland to downtown after they build the NoPo Greenway from Swan Island to the Steel Bridge? Bike Moves? Freight?


    Ted Buehler

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  • Ted Buehler September 19, 2011 at 4:58 am

    Okay, after reading the earlier comments, I see that the dugway ramp itself is not ADA compliant, so that’s why they didn’t feel it was necessary to build a ramp from the overpass down to street level.

    But, I still don’t think it was a wise tradeoff.

    1) Many disabled people can travel on fairly steep slopes, but not on stairs.

    The ADA limit for steepness is a 5% slope. But, just because a slope might be, say, 8%, doesn’t mean that the facility is off-limits to disabled people. Some folks will happily work their hand-powered wheelchairs up it. Some folks that work at Swan Island might buy a wheelchair with mountain gearing so they don’t need to drive to work. Folks with canes and walkers can handle steeper slopes.

    2) Many bicyclists won’t be able to use the stairs.

    Many wheeled vehicles use multi-use paths. Bicycles. A light weight bicycle can be shoved up and down a flight of stairs with a “wheel groove.” But it’s still a pain. Try that with your 40 lb toolbox on your bike rack if you’re a contractor working on a job site. Or a 100 lb toolbox. It isn’t going to happen. How about taking your kids to the beach in your bakfeits? It’s not going to happen. Out jogging and have kids in a stroller, or jogging with kids to the beach? It will be a royal pain.

    3) Stairs suck.

    Let’s face it. Stairs and bikes. Not a good combo. Its dangerous, for starters. Wrestling a bike up a flight of stairs in the rain, with leaves on the steps and slippery wet handlebars. Lots of potential for accidents. Stairs cost time and energy, too. Going down 25′ of steps takes time, and it’s a real pain. Plus, if they had built a ramp instead, you could coast down it and effectively have the workplace 2 blocks closer to home. With stairs, instead of being 2 blocks closer, it’s about 2 blocks further. That 4 blocks is a lot of North Portland that loses its competitive advantage, timewise, of having bikes faster than cars.

    4) This *was* an opportunity to put bicycling at a significant competitive advantage over cars.

    Access to Swan Island is difficult. Only one way in. You have to go through the Going/Greely intersection to get there. If you live in University Park, it’s maybe a 4 mile commute to get to a building that you could hit with a rock from Willamette Boulevard. A good bike path down the bluff would incentivise commuters to get a bike and ride it. But, throw in a flight of stairs? It’s just not the same incentive…


    Also, check out Metro’s trail guidelines for bicycle trails.

    P. 23. Slopes can be up to 12% for ramps. So the distance needed for the ramp would only be 200′, not the 500′ it would require at a 5% slope.

    But nowhere in the Metro document does it identify stairs as being suitable for a bike path…


    I’m unimpressed that our decisionmakers are so “flexible” in building bicycle facilities. Stairs?

    We really need actual standards for facilities. Not just guidelines (like we have now). Relying on ADA guidelines to give us good multiuse paths for good bicycling is a roundabout way to get good design, and in this case it failed when the ADA committee gave the entire facility a waiver. And we see that the guidelines that call for facilities that meet the operational needs of a bicycle have zero pull on their own merit.

    The 2030 Bike Plan calls for updating the 1996 _Bikeway Design and Engineering Guidelines_. Specifically, “…the updated bicycle facility guidelines will address the difference between design guidelines and design standards…” (p. 64).

    I hope they get on this update soon.

    Any comments on these points?

    Ted Buehler

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  • Ted Buehler September 19, 2011 at 5:14 am

    Whoops, should be “Relying on ADA *standards* to give us good multiuse paths…”

    And it’s 4.6 miles to drive from University Park to the west end of Swan Island. It’s not an easy drive, and it’s a lousy bike ride. This was a great opportunity to really hand the advantage to bicycling, for a lot of Swan Island and a lot of North Portland.,-122.70484&sspn=0.048369,0.069523&geocode=FTZqtwId6G-v-A%3BFYphtwIdLHKv-A&vpsrc=0&mra=me&mrsp=1,0&sz=14&t=m&z=14

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson September 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    As part of the NP Greenway Trail alignment study, we can push for a ramp as it may turn out that the most feasible route around the Bluff may be above the RR line and the bridge would then become part of the WGT itself and require a ramp.
    This thing started out a $1/4M on the back of an envelope; now its $2.5M, and the City almost gave the ODOT money back. Property issues and the steep slope among others made this a lot more difficult and costly than originally thought. So it goes.
    The key to optimizing this piece is getting the City to do a deal with the UPRR for the Ash Grove Cement Road south of Swan Island. Without it Waud Bluff Trail works best of Swan Island employees going to work.

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    • Ted Buehler September 19, 2011 at 5:36 pm

      Lenny —

      Thanks for the reply.

      Do you know what the cost difference is between the stairs and a 200′ earth berm ramp? Unless there’s utilities along the right of way, I wouldn’t imagine the ramp would cost much at all.

      And did they consider a 12% slope ramp, or just an ADA compliant 5% slope ramp.

      Nice work getting this built, BTW — ramp or stairs.

      Ted Buehler

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