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Mayoral candidates to debate on Swan Island: Could bicycling be a sleeper issue?

Posted by on October 8th, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Bike commuters at Daimler Trucks North America on Swan Island-7

This is where the candidates will debate economic
development on Wednesday.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland

The issue of bicycling on and around Swan Island is enjoying a major surge lately and it could take center stage during a debate on Wednesday between mayoral hopefuls Jefferson Smith and Charlie Hales. The topic of the debate is “the city’s role in economic development.” But if you think that means bicycling won’t merit a mention; think again.

First, the debate will be held at Daimler Trucks North America, which is not only one of the economic and employment powerhouses on Swan Island, it also happens to be home to a growing and active nucleus of dedicated bike commuters.

DTNA’s 200 or so regular bike commuters (according to the Portland Mercury) have become catalysts for biking on Swan Island. During the most recent BTA Bike Commute Challenge, the DTNA team logged 22,001 miles in bike trips. That’s almost twice their total mileage from just two years ago.

Another reason it’s likely biking will play a role in the debate is because it will be moderated by none other than Lenny Anderson. While he’s currently the executive director of the Swan Island Business Association, Lenny is also known as one of the most vocal and passionate bicycling and transportation activists in Portland. During his tenure at the Swan Island Transportation Management Association, he lobbied for projects large (Going to the River, the Waud Bluff Trail) and small (several bits of new sidewalks). (Note: Lenny’s replacement at the TMA, Sarah Angell, has kicked bike promotion up a notch and has several exciting initiatives afoot.)

Bike commuters at Daimler Trucks North America on Swan Island-4

Lenny Anderson (middle, blue shirt) with Daimler employees.

Anderson is keenly aware that in order to keep Swan Island attractive to the best employees and efficient as possible for businesses, it must have better bike access. As more people bike to work, output and productive will improve, semi-trucks will have less congestion to hold them up, and — with less space occupied by parked cars — companies will have more room to build R & D labs, inventory warehouses, and other key drivers of economic development.

Anderson is also helping lead a renewed charge to encourage the City of Portland to negotiate with railroad operators to grant public access to the Ash Grove Cement Road. That road could be a flat and direct, north-south connection between Swan Island and downtown Portland; but it’s technically private property. Portland Parks & Recreation spurred a backlash from Anderson and others when they avoided the route in their proposed alignment of the North Willamette Greenway Trail, in favor of routing bicycle traffic up on to busy and narrow surface streets.

(Read more about this in the current issue of the Portland Mercury)

The industrial center of Swan Island is just a stone’s throw from downtown Portland and it’s home to 10,000 jobs. Its high-speed streets full of huge semi-trucks, poor connections to nearby neighborhoods, and general lack of quality bike access has always meant only the very strong and fearless would ever consider commuting by bike. But — thanks to some dedicated riders, citizen activists, and professional advocates — that’s starting to change.

Portland’s next mayor will oversee a new era of bicycling — and potentially an economic renaissance — on Swan Island. This debate will be both candidates’ first chance to explain to voters how transportation can play a role.


    Mayoral Debate on Swan Island: The City’s Role in Economic Development
    Wednesday, October 10th, 8:00 am to 10:00 am
    Hosted by the Swan Island Business Association
    Daimler Trucks North America’s Corporate Conference Center (Corp 8 building, 4555 N. Channel Ave)
    Free: 500 seat capacity so arrive early for a good seat

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  • davemess October 8, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I don’t want to be debbie downer, but biking on swan island is still atrocious and just dangerous in spots. My wife works out there and occasionally bikes to work, I’ve ridden over a few times myself and it gives some of the worst neighborhoods in the midwest a run for their money in poor bikeability.

    I thoroughly commend anyone who bikes out there.

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    • Joe Adamski October 8, 2012 at 5:15 pm

      You are correct partially. Sharing the road with industrial traffic is not for the faint of heart. But if you look on Swan Island, you will find separated trails, bike lanes and in some areas, wide sidewalks. A lot of planning has gone into visioning, planning and hopefully, soon, a workable network of bike/ped facilities. The Waud Bluff trail will soon be completed, connecting N Willamette Blvd to N Basin, down by UPS and Freightliner Truck Plant.
      The biggest challenge is getting ON TO the island. Lenny has been been a diligent steward pushing the “Going to the River” route making the Interstate Blvd down Going St onto the island more workable, safer and more sensible. But should you need to go south, the CR makes much more sense than trying to negotiate the Greeley truck route.
      I believe most business on the Island welcome the opportunity to reduce the number of car trips on to the island, and open a second route. The Cement Road is owned by UP and Ashgrove Cement, but the benefit of opening the CR as a second access would benefit everybody. The traffic jams, which add huge costs to transportation, as well as the concerns should an emergency arise. But most of all, to attract the kind of workers big firms value, workers who moved to Portland for its cycling culture, a safe workable access to Swan Island is crucial. 200 die hard bike commuters in an difficult area would translate to thousands of regular riders, and yield huge benefits for employers. You would get more fit, happier employees. Less valuable land would be tied up for parking lots.
      Union Pacific Railroad and Ashgrove should consider the benefit of selling the Cement Road for that second access to the Island. Rails WITH trails are not novel. UPRR benefits from the relationship with the City as well as Swan Island employers. Maintaining the status quo may be ‘more convenient’ for UPRR, but makes them a pariah with the community as well as their customers.

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    • 007 October 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm

      The air there is so polluted I won’t bike there. I took a motorcycle class there last month. On Thursday night I could barely stand breathing, Friday night was also hideous (the air in the classroom was even polluted). Sat. & Sun., when hardly anyone was working, were okay. Security at the gate (who I think should be wearing respirators) said the fumes were from cleaning ship holds. No wonder Portland’s air is so bad.

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      • Caleb October 10, 2012 at 10:20 pm

        I didn’t know Portland’s air was “so bad”. Can you explain what you specifically mean by those words?

        I’ve never been on Swan Island while ship hold cleaning was occurring, but I’ve been there a few times and never thought the air seemed much different than anywhere else. Am I perhaps insensitive to what I’m breathing?

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    • Brendan October 10, 2012 at 11:31 am

      I do it every day. It could be much better, but it’s really not so bad. Three admittedly bad cross walks get me to and from work each day, a small inconvenience but it can be done! Also the rest of the trip is a gorgeous along Willamette and looking out over Swan Island through the Overlook neighborhood. On the whole I recommend it to anyone who has not given it a try. Be cautious, but don’t let the small problems keep you from riding.

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  • Indy October 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    It would be interesting to find other case studies where a restricted area elsewhere suddenly gained bike/ped access and how it impacted traffic/economy. We can’t be the first to attempt this.

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    • Oliver October 9, 2012 at 8:34 am

      The Rose Quarter Transit Center would be a good example.

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  • Terry D October 8, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Does anyone know if this debate will be televised? The one tonight at 6:30 is on Koin, but I could not find anything for Wednesday.

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  • Marty October 8, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    I started riding to work in 2010 from Kenton. The only time I ride on a sidewalk in this city is once I hit Going from Greeley. I now ride with my daughter in trailer to swan island and feel that it’s not that bad. I just wish police would ticket the people going up/down the hill that are going way faster than the posted 40mph sign.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson October 8, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    We didn’t invite the TV folks, but you never know!

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  • Ted Buehler October 9, 2012 at 12:23 am

    Swan Island definitely deserves a higher profile in the bicycle infrastructure world.

    In 2008 Portland did a “Cycle Zone Analysis” study where they evaluated the suitability of different areas of the city for bicycles.

    Swan Island didn’t even rank.

    Have fun, Lenny, and I look forward to a report.

    Ted Buehler

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    • Joe Adamski October 9, 2012 at 7:11 am

      Reading the map, Swan Island wasn’t even included. For such a vital link, and part of the North Portland Willamette Greenway, this is puzzling.

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    • Chris I October 9, 2012 at 7:45 am

      It didn’t even rank because it wasn’t included in the study. It is grayed out on the map. Did they only look at places where people live?

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  • Heather October 9, 2012 at 12:24 am

    Congratulations to Lenny and Sarah Angell, Swan Island’s TMA Director, for bringing such attention to the island. Lenny’s dedication to Swan Island is mirrored in Sarah’s tireless devotion to support the island’s cyclists. Lenny left the TMA is some capable hands and I admire Sarah’s work. Swan Island is lucky to have such a team.

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  • Spiffy October 9, 2012 at 7:56 am

    the great thing about riding on Ash Grove Cement Road is that since it’s an established shortcut you can’t be prosecuted for trespassing… they’ll need to put up a gate like The Strand did…

    if I worked at Daimler Trucks I’d ride through there as well…

    the city should be able to work out a plan to insert a trail along the river, or use parts of their road…

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    • Terry D October 9, 2012 at 10:57 am

      After the last time the NP Greenway Trail and Swan Island bike access popped up I went down there on a weekend and checked it out. I was surprised at how easy this cement road was to find and ride. No obstacles at all other than the one sign warning you off. Certainly much better than Greeley and the only viable direct connection south.

      Putting a riverfront path from Swan Island to the Eastside Esplanade would require really creative thinking. We could, however, engineer new docks that would have a protected MUP in between and under where the ship docks and loads. This would require agreements with each business and be very expensive as each dock would need to be specially engineered and built from scratch…..and probably has never been done in this way before. It would however be really cool to ride in between a giant ship and the retaining wall knowing that the ship was being loaded directly above you…..

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    • Jason W. October 9, 2012 at 11:17 pm

      Actually, you can get ticketed… by the railroad itself. They have their own police. They take down your name and information. I don’t know what happens though if you decide not to pay the ticket, but perhaps you get put on some sort of ‘list’.

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  • Dan V October 9, 2012 at 9:31 am

    As someone who commutes from Woodstock to St Johns by bike, I’m looking forward to the North Portland Greenway getting built. As the portion through Swan Island is a crucial part of the route, I would prefer that the CR is used and NOT the Going route. I go a long way out of my way to NOT have to ride along Going or Greeley; if I wanted to take a truck route on my commute, I would almost prefer riding along Hwy 30. For many people in St John’s, this could be a game changer in getting them riding to their work (either in Swan Island, downtown, or the Inner Eastside). Putting a hurdle like the proposed route on Going/Greeley would prevent many from feeling safe enough to make that leap to commuting by bike.

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    • Andrew N October 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      It should also be noted that the proposed Going/Greeley cop-out will not help city leaders in their upcoming quest to convince the League of American Bicyclists that our (undeserved IMO) “Platinum” status should be upgraded to “Diamond”…

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