A major project that could completely redesign Beaverton’s downtown loop has received its first injection of financial support thanks to the federal government. On Wednesday, U.S. House Representative Suzanne Bonamici and Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley announced a $2 million grant for the Downtown Loop project.
The project aims to re-imagine the couplet of SW Watson and Hall between 5th and the MAX light rail line in order to connect Old Town and Beaverton Central. The streets and intersections on the loop today are dominated by drivers and their cars, but Rep. Bonamici says the future will look much different. “On a recent tour of the Beaverton Downtown Loop, I saw firsthand the challenges that people experience when walking, biking, or using transit in Beaverton’s downtown area,” Bonamici said in a statement.
Senator Jeff Merkley said the project will “make Beaverton thrive. “This federal funding will make Beaverton’s vibrant Downtown Loop safer for pedestrians with wider sidewalks, safer for bicyclists with protected bike lanes, and more easily accessible by public transportation with more bus stops. “
While project will ultimately create much more space for buses, bikes, and walkers, the final vision for how best to do that is yet to be determined. This $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will support moving the project forward into design and development. Specifically, the money will be spent on the design and construction of a demonstration project in the downtown area.
Beaverton City Councilor-elect Kevin Teater rides his bike through intersections on the loop almost every day. “And I fear for my life multiple times a day,” he told me in a phone interview this morning. “The opportunity to really reimagine how that works is incredibly refreshing and encouraging.” Teater said elected officials in Beaverton share a sense that change is needed when it comes to how folks get around and this project might provide an opportunity to do something big. “I think we’ve got the leadership in place that’s willing to ask really bold questions, like dramatically changing the forms of transportation downtown and realizing that it’s a it’s a neighborhood and not just a destination,” he said.
“This grant funding is really meaningful,” Teater added. “And hopefully we can get some good going out of this.”
A parent should be able to send their 12-year-old to a day at summer camp or to run an errand by bike without worrying about them getting hurt (or worse) in a traffic crash. Especially if those destinations are along a regional path managed by agencies who say they care about climate change.
That’s what Tina Ricks thinks. It seems like a simple thing, but after months sloshing around in the bureaucratic mud, she has found out it’s anything but.
Ricks (@tinaintheburbs on Twitter) is on a mission to make the Waterhouse Trail a safe and feasible option for bicycle riders of all ages, and a key part of making that happen is to close a dangerous gap in the path where it crosses Highway 26 on NW Bethany Blvd between Bethany Court and Bronson Road. It’s just ¾ of a mile but it’s a deal-breaker for all but the most confident and patient riders.
I met up with Ricks recently to learn more about what she’s been working on and see for myself how bad current conditions are.
The Waterhouse Trail is a 10-mile paved path that follows a powerline corridor between housing developments from the 158th/Merlo MAX light rail station in Beaverton north to Bethany (unincorporated Washington County). It’s typical of the many paths in this area in that it’s a very mixed bag when it comes to bikeway quality.
Some spots are sublime, but in other places the path is either too narrow, full of bumps, has way too many turns, has awkward and unsafe street crossings, or some combination of all of these.
The section Tina is most concerned with is where the path ends into an industrial park near the busy intersection of NW Bethany and Cornell Road. From there, people are taken from the quiet and carfree path and dumped onto a stressful street shared with drivers where path users are barely an afterthought.
Adding salt to the wound is that the industrial area where the trail ends is full of kid-oriented destinations. There’s a pediatric care office, a martial arts studio, a gymnastics school, indoor soccer facility, and a daycare center.
On Bethany Court, at the path’s southern terminus, parking is allowed on both sides of the street despite parking lots in every direction. “I counted 459 spots on Google Maps,” Tina said as we rode, “But people still want to park on the street.”
A current plan from the City of Beaverton would limit on-street parking to just one side. But Tina is pushing to remove all of it. (At least one Beaverton City Council member seems to support her. “I like your thinking around no parking,” Councilor Nadia Hasan shared in an email to Tina last month.)
If not for a very small sign high up on a traffic pole, we wouldn’t know that the bike route is on a sidewalk going against traffic. (Tina said she’d biked this route for two years and had never noticed the signs until a County staff person pointed them out to her.) As we crested the Highway 26 overpass it was hard to hear each other over the roar of car traffic adjacent and below us.
Putting full trust of our lives into “Walk” signals, and after hitting six beg buttons and crossing four major intersections in the course of just a few blocks, we finally re-connected with the Waterhouse trail and could breathe easy again.
At Bethany and Cornell, Tina points out that crossing is prohibited for non-drivers at the southeast corner so we have to reposition our bikes and use painted crosswalks to get across the ten lanes of traffic, plus a slip lane. Cornell has a 40 mph speed limit and we feel like fish-out-of-water as we navigate our way across.
The Red Tape
Trail gaps are notoriously difficult to close for a variety of reasons, mostly because they’re often seen by governments as recreational facilities and not serious transportation infrastructure. In this case, Tina’s challenge is even tougher because of a nightmare of overlapping jurisdictional boundaries.
In just 3,800 linear feet between the two Waterhouse Trail access points the roads and intersections are owned and managed by three different government bodies: City of Beaverton, Washington County, and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
There has been some collaboration in the recent past, like when the County widened Bethany Blvd a decade ago, they got ODOT to sign off on (but not fund) the wider sidewalks we biked on. But as you can see in the video, even if the County granted Tina her smallest ask — pavement markings to help guide folks through the gap — County staff have told her they could only paint the sidewalk up to the overpass where ODOT’s authority takes over.
What Tina Wants
At the most basic level, Tina doesn’t want her 12-year-old to be hurt or killed while biking here. As she says in the video, she thinks at the absolute minimum there should be much better signage and markings along the existing route.
But that should be just the start. “I would love to see fully protected, Dutch-style bike paths so that a responsible parent would feel safe sending their middle schoolers to bike it,” Tina wrote in an email to one of the many government staffers she’s contacted about this. “So that all ages and abilities could ride the whole Waterhouse Trail, not just part of it. So that this could become a true transportation link as well as a recreational path.”
Tina, like so many other people in our region, is doing this on her own. She’s not connected to any advocacy group, she’s not being paid. She just wants to make .
“My experience with this whole project is that about every week or two of barking up trees, someone sends me a puzzle piece in the mail,” she shared in a recent email to me. “And I have to figure out where it fits.”
Watch our ride-along video below for a closer look at Tina’s project.
Students and parents spent more than a year dealing with the complexities of virtual learning during the pandemic. When schools went back to in-person status, families had a lot to adjust to and reconsider – including how to get to-and-from school. Throughout this adjustment period, the Beaverton School District (BSD) has worked to beef up its Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program to encourage students and parents to walk, bike, roll or take the bus to school.
BSD is the third largest district in Oregon and serves about 40,000 students at 54 schools. They recently published their 2021-2022 SRTS annual report, which gives us a chance to see how Covid impacted student transportation choices.
The more disappointing news first: just like bus ridership throughout the Portland metro area has fallen significantly throughout the pandemic, so has school bus ridership in the BSD – though not to the same extent. The BSD report says the district saw a “4% decline in bus ridership and a correlating increase in the drive rate to school, placing the average drive rate at 37%.” (By comparison, TriMet has seen almost a 50% decline in bus ridership compared to pre-pandemic rates.)
But it’s not all bad news. Students and parents appear to be more excited than ever about walking and biking to school – in 2015, only 12% of BSD students were walking and biking to school, compared with 20% in 2022.
Overall, the report is optimistic. “Schools that participate in SRTS programs, events, and education are more likely to show positive change in both parent perceptions of walking and rolling and mode shift,” the report says. “We must continue our work with the City of Beaverton and Washington County to advocate for improved conditions on preferred routes to our schools and continue to educate and encourage students and families to find alternatives to driving.”
In addition to infrastructure projects, the BSD SRTS program has taken advantage of parent volunteers to help lead groups of students walking to school (known as walking school buses), which can make it possible for kids to walk to school in areas that may be more challenging for them to navigate alone. They’ve also embarked on several educational programs that have given kids the opportunity to learn about transportation and get involved in their school communities.
One of these educational programs was a student-led anti-idle campaign to encourage parents to turn off their cars when waiting in the carpool line. They also took on a traffic safety campaign to remind neighbors and people driving cars in school zones to slow down and be aware of student commuters.
The Beaverton SRTS program isn’t stopping now. This year, Beaverton schools will receive state funding from the Oregon Department of Transportation to make the program even more robust, particularly through educational programs.
And even though school is now out for summer, students can participate in a free “summer bike rodeos” being offered six times throughout June, July and August. The program will teach kids how to ride, offer repair services, and provide free lunch and free helmets to students in need.
Gentlepeople, stop your engines. The Beaverton School District’s (BSD) Safe Routes to School program is promoting an anti-idling campaign, encouraging students and parents to lead efforts against car idling during student drop-off and pick-up time.
Safe Routes to School, a national initiative to make it safe and fun for kids to walk and bike to and from school which has gained support in the Portland area, focuses a lot on the health and academic benefits of ditching the carpool line.
But the environmental impact of driving kids to school every day (and idling in the parking lot) shouldn’t be overlooked. Making it safer for kids to walk and bike to school is necessary for reducing people’s reliance on cars as their primary mode of transportation.
Car engine idling emits a lot more carbon than people might think. The U.S. Department of Energy says “while the impact of idling may be small on a per-car basis, the impact of the 250 million personal vehicles in the U.S. adds up.” If we could eliminate unnecessary idling from personal vehicles, it would produce the same emissions impact of taking 5 million vehicles off the roads.
Students who want to lead a campaign at their school will make materials based on data they gather observing people waiting in cars during pick-up time at their school. After an educational campaign and protest event, where students will hand out fliers to people in their cars, they’ll collect post-campaign data and see how things changed.
Kids can be very effective parent-persuaders, and since turning your car engine off is really not an arduous task, these campaigns could be impactful. As the global oil market is in upheaval because of the war in Ukraine and gas prices continue to rise, this is a good time to let people know how much gas they’re wasting just by sitting in their car with the engine running.
(More Beaverton School District anti-idling infographics.)
Find out more information from the BSD about how to begin one of these campaigns here.
A major suburb just a few miles west of downtown Portland wants a dockless bike share system.
The City of Beaverton (population 100,000) has launched an official request for information (RFI) to learn more from companies that, “can provide useful and relevant information on a dockless bike share program.” Bike-share is called out in Beaverton’s 2017 Active Transportation Plan and city planners say it’s a needed weapon in their fight against congestion which is only expected to get worse as the city grows.
“Metro anticipates that the Beaverton Regional Center will increase by 4,500 new jobs and 10,000 new residents over the next 25 years. As the City continues to grow, congestion on local roadways will continue to increase. As one way to help reduce or at least moderate congestion, the City is looking to increase multi-modal opportunities for residents to get to work, to transit, and in the case of walking and biking, as a general form of mobility and recreation.”
Biking as transportation is — thankfully — being acknowledged somewhat in the search for solutions. However, some advocates are concerned certain proposed bike lanes (on a section of 5th, specifically, which the Bicycle Advisory Committee endorsed) were being used by the city to justify a new ordinance that would, in effect, evict houseless people from staying overnight in vehicles on the street. Washington County just enacted their own ordinance prohibiting camping on-street in RVs. Like Portland, Beaverton is struggling to house all its residents. The city has even decided to apply for an Urban Growth Boundary expansion.
But today, I’d like to outline a seemingly small detail of the bigger parking problem. It’s an example of the kind of mundane traffic decision that should be considered from a carfree person’s perspective, as part of the equity consideration.
And I think it’s worth a call-to-action for people whose preferred or primary mode of travel in Beaverton is a bicycle.
In order to spur economic growth and help businesses keep and attract employees, the City of Beaverton is set to begin work on a complete rebuild of Western Avenue between 5th Street to Allen (about two-thirds of a mile). The location of the project is an industrial zone southeast of the downtown core.
The City of Beaverton has opened a virtual open house for their first-ever Active Transportation Plan. The plan, which also includes walking-related infrastructure of course, will help city staff implement the right facilities in the right places.