Trail group sees “major failings” with North Portland Greenway alignment

Advocates say putting the Greenway Trail
on surface streets (like N. Interstate shown here)
is unacceptable.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The City of Portland Parks & Recreation bureau continues to come under fire for their work on the North Portland Greenway Trail project. PP&R is in the process of designing the route of the paved path that will connect Kelley Point Park north of St. Johns to the Eastbank Esplanade in the central city. However, as we reported last month, many people are disappointed by the chosen alignment in the trail’s southern portion. Instead of staying along the Willamette River and creating a path away from auto traffic, PP&R has focused their efforts on what they consider a “near-term buildable” route on sections of busy, and sometimes narrow surface streets. The route, critics say, fails to live up to the vision and promise of the trail.

“It has been a waste of funds to study Greeley as an alignment. The plan is to be a North Portland Willamette Greenway Trail. A trail located along Greeley is not a Willamette Greenway trail.”
— letter signed by npGreenway core team

Yesterday, npGreenway, the non-profit group that fought and pushed for this project in the first place, sent a highly critical letter to PP&R staff and the project advisory committee. “At this point,” wrote npGreenway’s core team of volunteers, “we are less than pleased with the conclusions.”

Central to npGreenway’s concerns are that PP&R (as their name would suggest) is failing to grasp that the trail is far more than just a recreational facility. To that point, the manager of the project for PP&R is Emily Roth, whose official title is Natural Resources Planner. (This underscores an ongoing issue of PP&R’s management of multi-use paths that play a crucial role in our non-motorized transportation network.)

Here’s more from the letter (emphases mine):

“Our feeling is that Parks staff sees this project as a mostly recreational trail and fail to grasp the importance of it as a daily transportation trail as well as recreational. Their choices of alignment focus on the easiest to achieve possibilities, regardless of the fact they are not close to the best choices for a trail that meets both uses. The trail does not connect to the Esplanade. It does not provide safe passage for the first two segments one would encounter leaving the Esplanade, heading for Kelly Point. It does not provide a useable trail, rather relies on narrow, non conforming on-street facilities shared with high volume motor traffic and light rail to Greeley where you cross to another high volume motorway in a separated path to a tenuous crossing at N Going to connect to another separated path alongside N Going to Swan Island where you may need to cross high volume traffic for Swan Island or continue down Basin to Waud Bluff. If this seems confusing and difficult, remember it also includes steep grades and dangerous intersections. These major failings make the trail non useable for North Portland commuters.

In short, npGreenway feels the effort so far has been substandard on the part of Parks staff. The 2030 Bicycle Master Plan (BMP), adopted by Council in 2010 states goals of increasing ridership substantially in the coming years. The BMP 2030 lists obstacles to achieving that goal, and the primary concern most riders and walkers have is safety. Parks efforts do nothing to alleviate that sense of danger in the Segments 4 and 5. In truth, we doubt any amount of money and effort can make the Greeley segment useable. Its only purpose serves to do a ‘checkmark’ for that segment, to leave it to future staff to untangle. The Cement Road segment is the only possible alignment and efforts to make Greeley an option are dishonest.

For some context, below is the current alignment proposal for section five (note the “ROW required”, which is the route npGreenway wants, versus the yellow “near-term buildable” line on surface streets):

Download PDF

Also in the letter, npGreenway calls for a minimum width of 14-feet based on anticipated demand and the ability to separate walking and biking.

As for the controversial Greeley segment — which PP&R is using instead of the much more desirable “cement road” — npGreenway stated that they “flat out oppose” it. “It has been a waste of funds to study Greeley as an alignment. The plan is to be a North Portland Willamette Greenway Trail. A trail located along Greeley is not a Willamette Greenway trail.”

It’s worth noting that while Greeley is a busy road with fast-moving cars and trucks, the current plans call for a new separated cycletrack. See the cross-section below:

For their part, PP&R says they will “continue to seek an easement across Albina Yard (another name for the cement road)” but they are clearly loathe to upset the owners of the cement road, Union Pacific Railroad. UPRR has clearly stated they aren’t interested in selling or allowing public access; but advocates feel it puts the City in a much weaker future negotiating position if they fail to at least commit to pushing strongly for it. And putting the preferred alignment up on Greeley could make it harder to muster the political and public momentum it will take to push for the cement road. “Things change,” writes npGreenway, “Without a preferred alignment on the Cement Road, the onus of planning puts the Greeley Ave option as the preferred choice when it is anything but that.”

Signatories on the letter include the Co-chairs of the city’s planning advisory committee, the executive director of the Swan Island Business Association, a representative for Daimler Trucks North America, and others.

The current project from PP&R is to complete 10% preliminary engineering plans, garner community support for the alignment, and prioritize which segments should be built first. The draft plan is due mid-February.

If you missed the final open house, the City is still accepting comments. They’ve published an online comment form and the deadline for submissions is tomorrow (1/23). View each of the five segments and learn more about the project on the official project website.