A closer look at the Waterhouse Trail gap on Bethany Blvd (video)

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 Context

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.

About a mile east, Metro, Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District, and other agencies plan to build a new carfree bridge to connect the Westside Trail over Highway 26, but that won’t help this gap and likely won’t be built for several more years at least.

Riding The Gap

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.

Subscriber Post: Noticing The Gaps

End of path at Pier Park.jpg

End of the path and start of a small but very significant gap between Chimney Park and the Marine Drive path in St. Johns. (Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

This post was written by a BikePortland subcriber.

“I feel like Portland is losing its way… Things aren’t connected.”

As a daily bike commuter and a long time road cyclist in places with pretty horrid biking conditions, riding in Portland has generally been great in contrast when I’m out riding by myself or my fellow roadie friends. Since March, however, I’ve been training for the Cycle Oregon weekend rides with my two teens, ages 17 and 13. And as our rides have started stretching out into 40-50 miles and we’ve started collaborating on where to go ride, all of us are noticing The Gaps.

Read more