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“It’s going to be uncomfortable” City staffer says about upcoming Springwater path closure

BES staffer Ronda Fast at Bike Advisory Committee meeting last night.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

UPDATE, 6/27: The start date of the closure has been pushed back to July 9th so the path will be open for the busy 4th of July and Waterfront Blues Festival Weekend.

“It’s going to be uncomfortable. We know that. No option will be as good as the Springwater. We know that. But it’s temporary, and at least we have options now.”

That’s how Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) Program Coordinator Ronda Fast described the upcoming four-month closure of the Springwater Corridor path that will impact many Portlanders this summer. Fast was at the BAC meeting to explain how BES will handle the diversion of thousands of daily bicycling trips that currently use the Springwater to get between Sellwood and downtown Portland.

The meeting came just a few days after we reported that BES rejected a detour proposal by the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League (SMILE, the neighborhood association). The disagreement stems from how best to handle thousands of bike trips per day that will be forced off the Springwater and onto other routes due to a major project to salmon habitat at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. BES wants to direct people either to the west side of the Willamette River (on a circuitous, narrow and poorly maintained greenway path), or onto the SE 19th Avenue Neighborhood Greenway — which is 10 blocks east of the Springwater. The neighborhood proposed what they feel is a more direct and safer route on 14th/15th and SE Milwaukie — where they asked for temporary bike lanes in space currently used for on-street auto parking.

BES says the neighborhood’s proposal is not feasible and is “out of scope” for the project.

The intersection of SE 17th and Milwaukie is part of the main route being recommended.

Last night Fast revealed the draft maps of the routes they’ll recommend come July (see below). For riders who opt to stay on the eastside, they’ll push east-west bike traffic onto Spokane and Umatilla to 19th. From 19th, the route will jog onto 20th in the northern section between Reedway and Insley. Insley will then take riders to a couplet on Milwaukie (northbound in a currently unstriped, door-zone bike lane) and 17th (southbound). The official route will then use 17th to cross McLoughlin to reach points north.

Notice they call it “routes” not a detour.

Fast said BES and their project partners at the Parks Bureau opted to not recommend that bike riders use the paved multi-use path inside Oaks Bottom Park that connects Milwaukie to the Springwater (at Mitchell). “That’s not a route we want to showcase as a primary option,” she said. “It’s not one we’re advocating for commuters to use because there are a lot of issues that would be exacerbated, especially with an increase in bike traffic.” Fast didn’t go into any more detail (I’ve reached out to follow-up but haven’t heard back yet); but it’s likely that Parks is concerned with how bicycle users will behave on the path. From the parking lot down to the floodplain there’s a relatively steep incline. And given what I know about how Parks views bicycle riders, I’m sure they assume people will ride too fast and will have collisions with other path users.

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BES plans to do a comprehensive signage plan and Fast said their aim will be to, “Make sure people know in advance so they can make decisions themselves.”

At one point, Fast maintained that they don’t call their plan a “detour.” Rather, it’s a set of recommendations and bicycle users can make up their routes based on their best judgment.

Overall, the presentation didn’t go over well with BAC members.

David Stein held up a photograph of a young girl and said, “What’s being proposed doesn’t fit with our target design user. This isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’… The Springwater is not only a commuter route, but a recreational route.” Stein said he worries about how people will find their way once the path is closed. Fast replied by saying, “I’m prepared to do as much signage as needed… Even street teams on key dates.” “We know how big this is,” she continued. “So we’re pulling out tools in our toolkit that we haven’t pulled out before.”

(Note: The path will be open for use all the way up to the closure site — you just won’t be able to go through.)

BAC member Reza Farhoudi asked Fast why they rejected the Sellwood neighborhood’s proposal. Parks planner Emily Roth spoke up to say they wanted to stay on signed routes that have bicycle treatments and that have the support of PBOT. “The roads proposed by SMILE are not improved roadways,” Roth said. “If people want to use that they are welcome to… This is a project to preserve fish and wildlife… They [SMILE] have a good idea, but those roads can’t be improved as part of this project. It’s just not feasible.”

“I’m just concerned when the needs of parking goes above the needs of bicycle riders,” Farhoudi added. “Parking was not the main factor in our response,” Fast replied. “The main factor was that we have a main route that will be safe and signed.”

Roth then said if people wanted to get off their bikes and walk on Oaks Bottom hiking trails “as a pedestrian” they are welcome to.

The final word came from BAC Chair Rithy Khut who said, “I’m not happy with this process. This is the second time you’ve come to us with this detour plan and just stated, ‘This is happening.'” Khut added that since the city had years to plan for this project, agencies should have “pooled their resources” to install safe bike lanes prior to the closure. Khut also lamented that the committee didn’t have more time to discuss the situation due to other items on the agenda.

“It’s really frustrating,” he said.

One member of the audience at last night’s meeting passed around a flyer (below) of a “Temporary bike lane DIY install concept” and a map showing a green bike lane on SE Milwaukie between Reedway and Mitchell:

We might see some tactical urbanism this summer.

The closure is set to begin July 1st and will last through October.

UPDATE, 4:20 pm: Portland Parks Community Relations Manager Jennifer Yocom emailed to clarify some points, and explain their rationale for not recommending the paved path through the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge park (emphases mine):

“We are communicating preferred options, not detours. We have crafted preferred options that cause as little disruption to the entire bike system and parks system as possible—as you know, this disruption is temporary.

The bicycle options shown on the map are locations where the city has built infrastructure and spent resources to provide safe and enjoyable bicycle routes. The Sellwood Bridge has bicycle lanes and the regional trail on the west side was recently completed all the way through Willamette Park. This makes a trail connection all the way to downtown. PBOT is completing the SE 19th Avenue bike route as shown on the Bike Plan.

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge is managed for many uses – education, wildlife viewing, and walking/hiking for humans, and important habitat for wildlife, including red-legged frogs. It is an important bird areas in the city. Users are required to stay on designated trails in the refuge. The paved trail is often used by school groups (even during the summer) and families to enjoy the refuge. Portland Parks & Recreation wants to ensure all our users have an safe and enjoyable experience in the refuge. We accomplish this by reducing conflicts that may occur. For instance, we have school groups and camps get permits in such a way that there are not too many people in one area at a time. Dogs must be on a leash to protect users and wildlife. Wildlife are often most active early in the morning and later in the evening. The path through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge will remain open and is not shown as a preferred option to reduce conflicts with other users experiences and wildlife protection.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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