Fears of crime and of “undesirables doing bad things” have fueled another city in the eastern part of our region to say no to a major multi-use path project.
After tallying public feedback from an open house late last month, Metro has decided to suspend all planning efforts for the Troutdale section of their 40-Mile Loop Master Plan because of local opposition. This is a carbon copy of concerns that fueled opposition from the City of Gresham to the same project back in January.
Now, after a year of planning, public events and committee meetings, Metro will pull the plug and put this project on the shelf.
Metro Chief Operating Officer Martha Bennett wrote Troutdale City Manager Ray Young on March 9th to explain her decision. Below is an excerpt:
“Many residents raised security concerns related to illegal camping along trails. Given this feedback, we understand and respect that it would be difficult for the City to move forward with the project at this time. That’s why I have directed Metro staff to suspend the project, honoring our commitment to listen to community input and work collaboratively with local partners whenever we plan trails. We will package up the research and input we have gathered and pass it along to you to inform any future efforts. While this isn’t the result we envvisioned, I am proud that our open and inclusive engagement process allowed us to make the best decision for the community.”
This key expansion of the 40-Mile Loop would have provided a high-quality, (mostly) separated path for biking and walking in a six-mile corridor from Troutdale (near I-84) south to the existing Springwater Corridor Trail. Last month’s open house focused on a three-mile section from downtown Troutdale to Mt. Hood Community College. According to Metro, a majority of residents that have weighed in are opposed to the project. In documents shown at the February 22nd event, Metro listed some of the concerns: “I would like to see the trail, but not until you can ensure the public we will be safe from undesirable people doing bad things,” read one of them. “I’m really concerned about riff raff traffic being in our neighborhood. Yet, I welcome the improvements — not sure how to find a balance,” read another.
Metro has been aware of the opposition to this project for several months and they tried to allay them. But emotions tend to trump facts on these matters.
This exchange from a Metro news story captures emotions on both sides of the issue:
Likely adding to the frustration for Metro is that local residents and city governments clearly want a new biking and walking path between Troutdale and the Springwater Corridor. In 2012, such a path was the highest ranked biking and walking priority in the East Metro Connections Plan adopted by Troutdale, Gresham, Multnomah County, and other local governments.
It’s clear now that the issue of people camping on the Springwater path last summer has left a major legacy that regional trail planners will have to address in every project going forward.
Metro clearly points the finger at former Portland Mayor Charlie Hales for putting them in this position. A Metro trails staffer told us in January that Hales’ decision to not enforce the city’s illegal camping laws was “a horribly failed experiment.” Metro says that decision led to more than 500 people camping along the Springwater.
In their announcement about Troutdale’s decision, Metro again referenced the Springwater homelessness crisis: “Many critics [of the 40-Mile Loop plan] said they were worried by a camping crisis along the Springwater Corridor trail last year, which was sparked by a temporary change to Portland’s illegal camping rules enforcement.”
It’s unclear what happens now. There seems to be agreement that this project can get started again once crime and homelessness issues are solved. But that’s easier said than done. It’s also unfortunate that Metro and its local government partners each seem to think that it’s the other ones’ responsibility to come up with a plan to “solve” this complex issue. As we reported in January, Gresham’s city manager said he requires a “regional plan of action to solve current concerns” before he can support the project. But Metro feels road and path safety plans are up to local jurisdictions to fund and plan. “Just as it would be up to the local cities to decide when to move forward on a trail project, it is also up to the cities to decide how they manage their own trails,” says Metro communications specialist Yuxing Zheng.