Far from just a recreational trail, the Springwater Corridor is a vital active transportation route for thousands of Portlanders. Unfortunately, it’s also a place many people don’t feel safe bicycling through. In the past few weeks I’ve heard a growing number of concerned citizens who feel like certain sections of the Springwater in Southeast Portland are becoming too crime-ridden and dangerous to travel through.
Heidi Swift, who writes the Grit & Glimmer bike blog and writes a column in The Oregonian told us she was bicycling on the Springwater and almost ran into someone who came “stumbling out of the bushes.” “I never take it when it’s dark,” she added, “It’s really dicey back there and I definitely don’t feel safe.” Swift says the area between SE Bell Avenue and 82nd (where you turn off Johnson Creek Blvd) is the worst. “When I’m riding through that section at dusk or dark, I think about all the self-defense skills I know: my voice, fighting from the ground, my proximity to help, etc. I’m on full guard. It’s a shame, because it’s such a useful path.”
Jennifer Dynes, a resident and mother of two who lives right along the Springwater at SE 87th shared similar concerns with me via email a few weeks ago:
“I am not a commuter or sport cyclist, but I enjoy cycling and have ridden bikes all my life. I want to pass the love of biking and the Portland biking ethos to my children, ages 8 and 10. It would seem simple, since we live on SE 87th, right next to the Springwater Corridor bike trail. The problem is when I try to bike there I find myself wending my children through groups of drunk people, drug dealers, garbage, shopping carts, gang scrawl and aggressive dogs. I cannot enjoy the lovely (and salmon bearing) Johnson Creek because I am afraid of people living in the bushes.
I find this situation unacceptable… it is not the fault of the neighborhood, but of the Parks Department and the city for allowing an essentially lawless zone to fester on Springwater Trail.”
And then a few days ago I heard from Danny Knudsen, a North Portland resident who frequently rides the Springwater in the same area as the woman above. Danny wrote:
“This last weekend myself and two other riders witnessed a person shoot drugs out in the open pathway in front of kids and other riders. I have seen this on a ton of other rides and I also state that I wouldn’t ride that area (SE 82nd-ish) late in the day…
I have seen much more and would love to take you and the Mayor out for a ride to show what I have seen. This needs to stop!”
One of the issues with a shared-use path like the Springwater is that it doesn’t get the same amount of traffic, law enforcement attention or streetlights that a standard roadway does. It’s also managed by Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R), not the Bureau of Transportation. That detail reflects the feeling that it’s a recreational trail and therefore doesn’t need the same amount of maintenance and other resources.
However, the Springwater was funded by a Federal Highway Administration transportation grant and as such it is supposed to be regulated as a transportation corridor. This fact was made clear by the FHWA themselves back in 2009, when the City of Gresham considered closing a portion of the Springwater at night due to safety concerns.
They couldn’t, said the FHWA, because, “the Springwater (and Gresham/Fairview) Trails are principally transportation facilities.”
PP&R spokesman Mark Ross says the area between SE 82nd and Foster is “heavily patrolled” by Park Rangers. “They don’t do scheduled ‘sweeps'” he said, “but they do respond to calls for service and complaints.”
PP&R data shows that rangers have made 149 visits to this area in 2011. That’s compared to 116 visits in 2010. In the past two years, they’ve removed 219 camp sites and have written up individuals with 76 warnings and 57 exclusions (which prohibit the person from returning to the area for a specified amount of time). Ross also notes that budget cuts have led to a ranger staffing reduction of 50% in the past year “So we are doing much more with significantly less.”
Check out the stats below to see more about what park rangers have been up to:
When it comes to handling yourself on the Springwater at night, Brock Dittus, who lives near SE 87th and can see the Springwater Corridor from his living room window, says people should just take ordinary precautions.
“My wife make a practice of staying to well-lit areas when she’s alone… However, an adequate and bright light can provide visibility to cyclists using the path, and I don’t think twice about riding through here on my way to or from home.”
As for concerns about seeing people use drugs or doing other sketchy things, Dittus says it’s like wild animals; “don’t get in their way and they’ll leave you alone.”
If you ride in this area of the Springwater and have a safety concern that requires a park ranger, call the PP&R Security manager at (503) 823-5459.