A long-awaited path between North Portland and Swan Island is finally complete. Yesterday, Portland Parks & Recreation took down the construction barriers and moved their heavy equipment off the Waud Bluff Trail. The new path connects N. Willamette Blvd (at N. Harvard St) to N. Basin Ave on Swan Island (map).
This $3.2 million project, which consists of a 1,700 foot path and a bridge over railroad tracks, has taken nearly eight years to complete. It was awarded Transportation Enhancement grant funds back in April 2005 (part of the funds came from a Congressional earmark sponsored by Representative Earl Blumenauer) and construction began in fall of 2011.
Parks spokesman Mark Ross says the path won’t be 100% complete and officially open until next week; but after hearing it was open to the public as of yesterday, I rolled up to take a closer look.
As I’d approached on N Willamette, the first thing I noticed were are a new row of bike racks at the entrance to the path. They’ve made a nice paved area at the top where you can park bikes and take in the fantastic view of the river, Swan Island, downtown, and even Mt. Hood (on a clear day)!
Unfortunately, access to the path entrance is horrendous due to high-speed traffic buzzing by on Willamette Blvd. Currently, this is a collision just waiting to happen; but help is on the way. Parks says they plan to install a traffic median island and a crosswalk on Willamette at Harvard by the end of next week, “to address longstanding concerns about access to the trail and the nearby TriMet bus stop.”
Crossing the street to access the new path is one concern. Another is leaving the path entrance and re-joining traffic on Willamette. This will continue to be a tricky situation because both auto and bike traffic at this location tends to go fast and there is zero extra shoulder space to merge and/or get up to speed. The new crosswalk, signage, and median island will help a lot because it will encourage people to slow down. Also, the mere presence of more people and the path itself will (I hope) calm traffic.
Once on the path itself, my first impression was how steep it is. It’s literally a straight shot down to the bridge and the path varies in grade from 10-13% (a loss of 100 feet of elevation in 0.2 miles):
This hill will be very tempting to ride down (the only other rider I saw yesterday was a guy doing about 20 mph) and I can only imagine what local kids on skateboards will do. The steepness of the path also means riding up is a chore (if not an impossibility), especially for people pulling cargo/kid trailers.
As we reported in November 2011, a new sign will encourage people on bikes to walk them down the trail. Skateboards, scooters, and rollerblades will also be expressly prohibited. I think some people will gladly heed this advice; but others won’t. According to Parks, the U.S. Coast Guard (based right at the bottom of the path) will take advantage of the steepness and plans to use it for physical training.
I have a feeling the path’s 10-feet of width (which was supposed to be 12, but funding cuts trimmed it down), will be fully utilized in the busy months.
Once down to the new bridge, there are spots to hang out and take in the view. To the northwest, I could see the railroad tracks at the base of the bluff below University of Portland (where the future North Portland Greenway Trail will go!) and to the southwest I could check out Swan Island and the US Coast Guard research vessel.
The bridge itself if beautiful. It has a natural, rusted steel finish and it looks great:
Then come the stairs. This was an issue I brought up back in 2011 and my concerns were warranted. People with bikes will face three very steep flights of stairs. Yes, there’s a wheel gutter on both sides of the stairs, but they are far from user-friendly. For folks that have big bikes with racks (like mine) or cargo bikes or bikes with child seats and/or trailers, the wheel gutters are unusable. There will be some major lifting going on. (I think Walnut Studiolo should have a frame handle vending machine at the top and bottom of the stairs. I used mine and it made the lifting much easier.)
Once I made it down the stairs, I hopped back on the bike and rolled through 700 feet of newly paved path (with lots of nice new native plants alongside it). The path connects directly to N. Basin Ave. If this new path becomes popular with people riding bikes, it could put added pressure to create some sort of bikeway connection on Basin. Currently, it is not a pleasant place to ride. I suspect many people will ride on the sidewalks; but even that will be dicey with all the industrial traffic and large street intersections to deal with.
Fortunately, there are plans in the works (as part of the North Portland Greenway project) to create a high-quality bikeway on Basin Ave. This is great news because it would create a nice loop ride consisting of Willamette Blvd (which is in dire need of better bike access), the Waud Bluff Trail, Basin, and then back up to the Concord Neighborhood Greenway via the sidewalk/path on N. Going Ave.
While not a perfect for bicycling by any stretch, the Waud Bluff Trail is an exciting, new, non-motorized connection that we sorely needed. Stay tuned for details on grand opening festivities planned for May.
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This is great! More please!
Looks cool! Two things:
1. Any chance you’d embed a Google Map of where this is?
2. Post more shots of the new bike! I haven’t seen it since it was in progress at the Ahearne both on Swan Island a few months ago.
Here’s what I could find on Google Maps:
I think this is super cool. Not all paths can be perfect, but what a great shortcut. I’ll think of those stairs as a built in cross season training device.
What about those aging boomers who still can (barely) creek up on a bike? Or young children?
…How did they get down before this path was here? On the other hand, this is great for those who are able to use it!
not friendly to me because of the stairs… my bikes aren’t made to be carried… the easier one to carry is the one I tow my kid trailer with, which I couldn’t use on this trail…
they should have a warning at the top of the trail that there are stairs at the bottom…
those stairs are not friendly to dogs (claws may get caught) or people with a fear of heights (you can see through the steps)…
but it’s a great path for pedestrians…
Provided they’re not in a wheelchair or on crutches.
What about free Teddy bears for orphans? You guys got a problem with that?
Yeah. Not exactly serving the 8-80 set, which I’m hoping the B.A.C. will start to push for more and more (and more) with each new project. Anyway, the “strong and the fearless” should be very happy!
My concern is the traffic on Willamette Blvd at the top of the trail:
“Crossing the street to access the new path is one concern. Another is leaving the path entrance and re-joining traffic on Willamette. This will continue to be a tricky situation because both auto and bike traffic at this location tends to go fast and there is zero extra shoulder space to merge and/or get up to speed. The new crosswalk, signage, and median island will help a lot because it will encourage people to slow down. Also, the mere presence of more people and the path itself will (I hope) calm traffic.”
I am guessing that the city will remove the bike lanes (striping) from the roadway for 100′ around the planned traffic island due to lack of enough road width for car travel lanes, bike lanes, and pedestrian island. I hope they don’t remove the bike striped lanes, but it seems there is not enough road width for the traffic island and the bike lane. This is what they did at this location 1/4 mile away at the Univ of Portland entranceway on Willamette Blvd. The sudden loss of a painted bike lane with the addition of a traffic island pinch point does very little to slow traffic (in the absence of an actual pedestrian trying to cross the street) and actually makes things more dangerous for cyclists passing through. I think the islands are great for pedestrians trying to cross the street, but the city needs to maintain better bicycle lane access through these supposed “calming” structures, since usually what happens is that cars neither slow down nor yield the lane to the cyclist; they try to pass cyclist in the island, and sometimes honk at you to get out of their way. Traffic islands where the existing bike lane stripe disappears are flat out dangerous to cyclists and should never be constructed. There are far too many already installed in this city – and none of them actually cause the cars to slow down (Ladd St is an exception, but there are no bike lanes on it). There is already a ghost bike that is parked at the pedestrian island with disappearing bike lanes at the UP entrance on Willamette Blvd from where a guy was killed on his bike a few years back. It should be a lesson. I hope they do this one correctly, since there is heavy cycle traffic and car traffic through this point on the blvd – especially during rush / commute peaks.
The street is pretty wide right here and could likely accommodate a pedestrian island without losing the bike lane. The bigger issue is people taking the turn too fast and swerving into the bike lane.
I hope that is their plan – they could have removed some car parking and maintained bike lane striping at UP entrance, also, but they didn’t. I love it when drivers try to squeeze past me in the island so they can avoid a few second delay from slowing down from 35 to 20 for about 100 feet -or even accelerate to get in front of me heading into the “traffic calming device”.
There will be plenty of room if they remove a few parking spots on the north side of the street. I expect that this is their plan.
no bike lanes will be removed from Willamette.
Grateful for something vs not. But stairs make it unworkable when I’ve got the 130 pound bike (empty) and then put two kids plus gear for nearly 300# of lifting fun. I’d use the gutter without hesitation although I imagine that to be impossible due to the shape of my bike. Alas maybe we ditch the bike near the stairs and walk. I feel so many complain too much on this site but here I am… complaining.
And I think it’s warranted. There are things that should be done right or simply not done. It’ll help a subset of users so that’s cool I suppose
I’d side with something that serves 95% of the people as compared to not doing it at all.
I guess this is what progress looks like (a penitentiary?), but I preferred the old dirt singletrack. #curmudgeon
My reaction as well, Gabe. The wall of chain link is a real disappointment. I naively assumed it was a temporary construction fence when I saw it go up… which speaks to the cheapness of it, I suppose. A simple railing would have been plenty, and allowed us to actually enjoy the view on the way down. Did actual landscape architects sign off on this..?
For such an astounding scenic overlook the use of chain-link is a particularly greivous insult. I understand there are very real budget considerations & constraints, but this shows zero design sensitivity.
If someone involved in the design decisions wants to chime in and school me on how this was arrived at, that’d be great.
Not trying to out-curmudgeon you, but the trail was paved in the 40’s and 50’s. As a member of the Roosevelt HS cross country team in the 50’s, we used to run out there and go up and down the trail several times one day a week as a special work out. It was paved, but full of pot holes. The neighborhood kids used it to go on “expeditions” down into Mock’s Bottom, which was a wet land then with dozen’s of species of birds and a lot of muskrats. If I mourn anything it is the lost wet lands.
In earlier times, when my mother was a little girl in the 20’s, it was the way sailors from the big sailing ships that moored below the University got up to top of the bluff and then up to Lombard to catch the electric street cars (!) to go into St. Johns. These sailors were mainly Japanese and the kids got to know them and the sailors brought little trinkets from Japan for the kids. My mother (aged 95) has a tiny ceramic bowl a japanese sailor gave her in 1927.
The next time I am in Portland (now an ex-pat in Europe) I will for sure check out this path on a borrowed mountain bike I use when in town. Hope this lasts longer than the first paving job done under emergency conditions and fast during the war.
This is a great opportunity to rejigger the eastbound bike lane . . .maybe add a little protection or separation so that there is more than just a line of paint between riders and 45 mph vehicles.
I wish the city would consider making Willamette a one-way northbound, one-lane plus parking street from Rosa Parks to U of P. They could put a curb down the current center lane, and the rest of the street could be a great MUP. Also, I realize that a ramp cost more money than stairs, but Parks did state there was enough room for a ramp. Well, the last photo shows pretty clearly that you could have put one in. A ramp would not only serve bikes adn strollers, but it also just better universal design. Yes, the path is too steep to qualify for ADA, but there are plenty of active people in wheelchairs who could otherwise use a ramp/stair path that gets up to 13%.
should’ve said, “Parks did say there was NOT enough room for a ramp…”
I see many sharp edges on the bike gutters and the stairs in general, plus the cheesegrater steps could really do a number on ones’ face. Also a few jutting square curbstones on the steep path…. I predict above average serious injuries soon. Not complaining, I’m glad the path is there, just want to minimize spilled blood & guts.
This is a bit off topic… I’ve heard that there is small park down there somewhere, but I’ve not been able to find it, does anyone know where it is/the name? As for the new path… those stairs look awfully difficult to navigate.
Easily one of the lamest path projects to date, with any reference to bicycles.
They make an inpassable on/(off for some) bike set of stairs, cause the railroad has so much control it was all they could do.
A very fun approach downhill approach ramp, nearly irresistable to anyone on a bike, with a locking paddock on top, with the suggestion to not ride your bike down.
Then same ramp, up which most will not be able to ride, to a street where, crosswalk or not, people in cars are NOT going to stop for you.
This is an EPIC fail on everyone involved’s part.
I agree with Gabe. Was much better unimproved.
The N.O.I.S.E. ride used to involve bombing (crashing) your bike down this dirt path.
R.I.P. Bluff’s path down to the tracks.
We loved you when your were still fun….
if I remember correctly, in the past I read that the ramp was tossed out due to railroad ROW requirements…… Anyone?
A mix of things… Back in a Nov 2011 article, Jonathan said that PP&R architect George Lozovoy mentioned that funding was the reason the ramp wasn’t built. But in a follow-up comment, Mia Birk said, “A ramp would have required property acquisition either from the Union Pacific Railroad or National Guard. Both were not open to discussing this so a ramp, let alone the funding for a ramp, was never in the cards.” It sure looks like there’s room for a ramp where the lower path is located, but maybe that’s just an easement where a raised ramp might have required actual property ownership by the city?
What will $30 million in transportation funding buy?
1700′ / $3,200,000 x $30,000,000 = 15,900′ ~= 3.0mi. like Wald’s Bluff Trail
Why does Portland continue to provide wheel gutters that are directly connected to the edge of the stairs?
This drives me crazy, the solution is simple! There needs to be separation from the edge to allow the width of the bike to utilize that space.
Such as: http://bikeportland.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/gutter_amsterdam.jpg
Unfortunately, ADA doesn’t allow it to be out from the hand railing. Creates a “tripping hazard.” In my mind, ideally, the wheel gutter would have been in the center of the stairway–but I don’t think that is allowed either.
It is a little cringe-worthy to cite ADA regulations for a detail on a STAIRCASE! I realize that it probably causes problems for people using a cane, but this staircase should have been a ramp. Trying to put bike infrastructure on a stair is very 1960’s thinking. There is plenty of space for a ramp, just not the capital or the will.
Interesting post, comparing what we can do with what is done in the Netherlands if fun. Rather than a wheel gutter up a set of stairs, here’s an example from outside Rotterdam: http://koonceportland.blogspot.com/2012/07/bike-overcrossings-in-rotterdam.html
I disagree. All you’ve got to do is tilt the bike toward yourself and counter-lean into it. For this, your reward is:
* easy control of the front wheel/handlebars
* not tripping/slipping on a metal rail in the middle of the stairway
* a secure “pin” of the bike against the side of the staircase
* plenty of room for opposite-side panniers
More underwhelming “bike” infrastructure. Frankly I get tired of eating crumbs.
It ain’t bike infrastructure if you have to get off your bike.
So happy to see this finally paved! It’s been nearly 8 years since we began advocating to improve this path. Yes, I agree, it is not the ideal execution of the idea, but–
I was very happy on my trip home the other night through Swan Island when I was able to ride on PAVEMENT all the way up to Willamette Blvd! (with the exception of the stairs, of course.)
oh, and Jonathan–I think you are a bit harsh saying it might be an impossibility to ride up this path. It is much easier now that it is paved than when it wasn’t. –and it is a lot shallower grade than some of the streets in NE that go up to into the Alameda neighborhood.
I wish the city would consider making Willamette a one-way northbound, one-lane plus parking street from Rosa Parks to U of P. They could put a curb down the current center lane, and the rest of the street could be a great MUP.
Why not just remove all of the parking, shift the lanes east, and make a protected 2-way cycle track on the west side?
Oy. There’s SO MUCH space on the bottom side of the bridge for a lovely path that would go all the way. . . instead we get a rusted out staircase. I’d rather they spend the money on something useful, if they won’t go ahead and make something that actually fits the bill. #Waste.
I wonder how the wheel track compares to Gibbs St Bridge? Wasn’t that improved after complaints?
As someone who was misled onto this trail in 2011, I marked this route as PLANNED in Google MapMaker. It’s now submitted as complete.
Can anyone do the same for OpenStreetMap?
I’m excited to check this portion out, and hope it lives up to its potential, and possible gets even better in the days to come.
Also….8 years! Cripes!
Not perfect, but way better than nothin.
Holy cow, this is awesome!
My only nag, is that you have to carry your bike up, what, three flights of stairs. When a new road is built for motorists over a railway bridge, they don’t build it so you have to carry your car up three flights of stairs. It just grates on me. Why not a spiral ramp?
Other than that – wow!
It is also kindof inconvenient for strollers, and wheelchairs :-/
No Strava segment for the climb yet? Man, Portland is losing its edge! 😉
J. Thanks for the fine tour! I am anxious to try it out.
re the stairs…I believe it was a matter of money; this project ended up costing 10 times what we thought 10 years ago. Most of that is due to our poor guessing back then thinking one could just pave the existing path, etc. Due to the bluff’s steepness this has been characterized to me as a heavily engineered structure from top to bottom, not just the bridge. Maybe as part of the WGT, a ramp can be added…get involved with npGreenway today to make it happen!
The new Trail will provide great access to employees at the north end of Swan Island, especially UPS folks who work Sunday to Thursday, 24 hours. Also U of P folks can walk down a catch the 85 Swan Island bus at the US Coast Guard for a 12 minute ride to the Rose Quarter.
re Willamette Blvd. If parking was removed from all the private residences between U of P and Rosa Parks (most if not all have side street parking as well), a full 15′ wide promonade could be installed on the bluff side of the existing ROW…something the Olmsted’s imaged 100 years ago. You could then bike, walk, job from U of P to addias without crossing ONE street! Let’s do it!
A big Thanks You! is in order to Portland Parks who wrote the original grant, to ODOT who funded it, to BES to pitched in CBO $ when it looked too expensive to proceed, Metro for another bit of dough, and of course Earl for even more.
On a weekend, go down WBT and return to the top of the Bluff (actually Mock’s Crest there) via the” Going to the River Trail” along N. Going…its pretty cool too and worth a ride (and J., a story!)
Lenny, thanks for all your efforts in this project, I know it has been difficult to see through.
Thumbs up for walnut gear, I could jog my 40 lb bike up and down those stairs with my portage strap.
Too bad about the stairs. I’ll probably never use it. My biggest disappointment: The new fence at the bottom of the stairs prevents access to riding along the river to Cathedral Park. There are long term plans (currently shelved for lack of funding) to create an east bank bike/pedestrian path from Steel Bridge to St. Johns Bridge. When finally implemented, this fence will need to go.
HATE IT. This city sucks. You suck. Lame. Weak. Suck. I suck.
This doesn’t seem very useful to but the most experienced and hard core cyclists. However, as someone who jogs the bluff regularly, I can’t wait to try it out.
My feelings are mixed. Dude that is awesome! vs. Seriously, it took 8 years to get something this sub par, groan.
I tried it out today. The stairway tire track doesn’t work, but if you can walk up and down stairs and ride a bike, you can probably walk up and down these stairs while carrying your bike. If you can ride up and down these stairs on your bike, you are a boss.
I think this is fantastic. Now can we work on something besides N. Williams?
AWESOME pedestrians trail, almost useless for all but the most established bicyclists… and if you have loads, bags, children or trailers forget it. Hopefully, this will be the last expensive bottleneck we will build as a community…..there was room for a ramp, but sigh….
We rode this as part of the Pi Ride on Thursday night, I didn’t know it had just been opened that day.
The stairs are a piece of work. I could puch my lightweight mountain bike up the gutter, but it was still a challenge.
I’d much rather see a 13% grade path built on a fill to connect the bridge to ground level. That would only take 240′ of run, and wouldn’t have cost very much more than that giant manufactured steel staircase.
It’s an improvement over the singletrack (which is still in place, I think, for anyone who prefers it), but it calls into question whether our design standards for multiuse paths are good enough to guide construction of a bikeway system.
For instance, our multiuse path design standards should include something like “you need to be able to ride a bike on the path.”
it is indeed not a great trail but, as a UPS employee, I am glad it’s finally done. it will make the commute much easier.
What kind of cargo racks are those on the author’s bike? I am interested in them and let me know where we can get them.
For all the curmudgeons out there. Inflamatory rhetoric could backfire on you. In the ‘all or nothing’ PBOT world, if you demand the former, you’re likely to achieve the latter.
Getting involved in the community is a very different thing from anonymous griping on a blog.
I realize this is a bike-focused website, but ped connections are always great to have. The price tag of this one calls into question whether $3+million could have gone to better use? Isn’t that more than what’s needed to improve Vancouver/Williams?
Why a Waud Bluff Trail? 1. over three thousand people work within five minutes of the lower trail head on Swan Island…Western Star Truck Plant, UPS hub, US Coast Guard, Navy and Marines. Access to those jobs just got a lot better via transit (TriMet 44), especially on weekends, on foot for those you live nearby and by bike. I am sure when I lug my 50# rig up the stairs for the first time and will bitch like a lot of you, but am confident that men and women who build trucks, sort boxes and serve in the US armed forces can handle it. It was built for them and without the compelling testimony from UPS, the US Coast Guard and adidas, the money would have gone elsewhere.
The old path was heavily used, was funky at top and bottom and had an open rail crossing where UPRR sometimes parked trains (remember the old Hobo rule?), making the path unsafe. It deserved an upgrade.
So why do we care to get folks to Swan Island jobs without their cars? Since 2000 the Swan Island TMA, a project of the SI Business Assoc., has worked hard to expand the commute options for Swan Islanders for all the usual reasons, but most of all so that parts, products and people that need to move by motor vehicle can get in and out of the area without delay. Its a low cost strategy, and it works. Too bad the Governor doesn’t have the guts to try it on I-5.
I was Director of the Swan Island TMA from 2000 to 2012, and am now the Ex.Director of the Swan Island Business Association and a board member of npGreenway. Swan Island is about to take off in a big way, and I am convinced will have 15,000 people working in traded sector jobs by the end of the decade.
Now for those of you who just want to go for a ride, do head down the new Waud Bluff Trail, but slowly…its a beautiful stretch of landscape, an oak/madrone habitat with lots of bird life, the occasional deer and no doubt a few coyotes. And please stay on the Trail; the short cuts just tear up the fragle bluff, a prominent remnant of the Missoula Floods.
On weekends, traffic on the Island is light, so Basin Avenue is not too intense; once you hit the Swan Island Lagoon (check out the view point to see images of the original Island), you can cut over to Lagoon Avenue and pick of the Willamette Greenway Trail at N. Ballast and head for the River. A 12′ sidewalk/trail takes you contraflow along N. Channel to a small parking lot. Here you can continue down Channel on new sidewalk (“The Captain’s Walk,” named in honor of Capt. R. Head who was struck and killed while walking here in the 90’s. His ship was in the yard for repairs) to the Portland Shipyards or head for the River and a full mile of riverside trail that’s tough to beat. Use the parking access road around Ports O Call, aka Corp 8. Now you are back on the WGT and heading for the Big Pipe Pump Station…its what we are buying with those water/sewer fees, and now the Willamette is no longer the sewer it once was whenever it rained a bit.
Sorry about the dead end at the Ash Grove Cement Dock, but if you glance over the fence toward the UPRR yard, you will see the Ash Grove Cement Road… npGreenway’s, and we hope the City’s, preferred alignment for the Willamette Greeenway Trail south. Now its trespassing! You don’t want to meet Officer Bender!
Now what? Back to the light a McDonalds, using the ped signal (yes we need a bike signal here) to get across Going, then right to the new flasher assisted crosswalk to the north side of Basin Avenue. The narrow sidewalk up the north side of Going Street widens at the RR viaduct, narrows again under Greeley, then widens again to 10′, the just completed Going to the River Trail, to Concord. Note the big bio-swale that will take some of the thousands of gallons of polluted stormwater off Going Strett. Come again!
Anyone good w/ google maps skills want to make up one of Lenny’s route? I have to go get lost down there soon.
Biking Willamette Blvd. everyday to and from work, I wish they’d throw a little money at repaving the road from Portsmouth to where Willamette become Rosa Parks Way. It’s horrendous for many parts of that stretch.
Where did the name Waud come from?