The Portland Parks & Recreation Bureau (PP&R) has placed about two dozen large boulders around a lot on the northwest corner of the intersection of Southeast 111th and the Springwater Corridor path (map).
A reader sent us images taken yesterday that depict a ring of boulders that prevent anyone from driving onto what was formerly a piece of land used as a parking lot to access the Springwater and Beggers Tick Wildlife Refuge. For the past several years, like many open spaces and natural areas around Portland, the lot has been used by people who live in their cars and/or in tent encampments. The person who sent us the images (who asked to remain anonymous) said they’ve seen the same type of boulder usage just south of SE Foster Road at the Brookside Wetlands area.
“That parking [at the Springwater] was a good thing for the folks that live up the hill on Mt Scott because of access issues,” the person said. “I would not take my 3 year old down Mt Scott to get there via bike. The traffic and the road grade are big factors why.”
The Springwater Corridor is owned and managed by PP&R and we’ve confirmed with a spokesperson for the agency that they installed the boulders. According to PP&R’s Mark Ross they were put in place to prevent people from driving onto the Springwater and into the natural area.
People driving cars on local multi-use paths has become much more common in the past few years. So too has people living in cars and/or leaving them parted-out and abandoned on properties along parks, natural areas, and paths. Willamette Week reported in January that 1,035 people lived in their cars in Portland as of December 2021.
PP&R has struggled with the issue of cars on their properties, because steps taken to restrict driving on paths can also make it harder for bicycle riders and other users to access them. This came to a head back in January when we reported on the poor placement of large concrete barriers on the Columbia Slough Path in north Portland that created a safety hazard for some users.
The use of boulders to prevent access to specific places has become relatively standard procedure for the Oregon Department of Transportation. It has also been controversial. When ODOT placed dozens of them to displace an encampment along I-405 in southwest Portland in 2019, City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who now oversees the Bureau of Transportation, was so “outraged” by the move she filmed a video of herself standing in front of them and urged people to contact ODOT.
Also this week, a reader sent us the photo below of a poorly placed steel bollard on the west side of the North Failing Street Pedestrian overpass of I-5. It was installed by Kaiser Permanente to prevent people from driving from their parking lot onto the path and into grassy areas at the edge of their property.
Efforts to crack down on people using open spaces for illegal parking, driving, and camping seem to be intensifying. In February Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced a new prohibition on encampments adjacent to freeways and high crash corridors (and no, SE 111th is not one of them).
We’ve reached out to Commissioner Hardesty’s office for comment and will update this story if/when we hear back. We’ve also reached out to Parks Commissioner Carmen Rubio for comment and are awaiting a reply.