A trail to Beaverton? Plan gets green light
Thursday, May 24, 2007
By Fred Leeson
Someday, Southwest residents -- and anybody else -- will be able to walk or bike along 15 miles of gentle grade between the South Waterfront and Beaverton safe from high-speed traffic.
Making it happen will take many years and maybe $16 million to $17 million. Thanks to a unanimous City Council vote last week approving the route and giving the go-ahead to look for funding, however, the pieces can begin falling into place.
"This is a valuable first step, just knowing where the route is," says Gregg Everhart, a Portland Bureau of Parks & Recreation landscape architect who helped plan the Red Electric trail. The route in large part follows the path of an electrified rail line Southern Pacific abandoned in 1930. Parts of the old right of way became public streets; some fell into private ownership.
Railway engineers found the gentlest grades when they started laying tracks in the 19th century. Don Baack, a veteran Southwest trails enthusiast, says other potential east-west routes are too hilly for comfortable biking and walking.
When finished, the trail should provide safe access along a corridor connecting parks, schools, community centers and churches. Since it will connect to the Fanno Creek trail system in Washington County, walkers and bikers could proceed as far as Tualatin.
"This section really makes Southwest Portland and the South Waterfront connect to the rest of the region," says Mel Hui, a Metro regional trails planner.
"People in the city and the Southwest are ready to walk and ready to bike," says Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the Parks Bureau. "This is going to be a great addition to Southwest Portland."
Planning the route was not quick or smooth. Planners met for years with residents along the route, many of whom were concerned about litter, noise, homeless campers and the risk of depressed property values.
"In typical Portland style, Parks beat this to death and then wrote an excellent report," says Lillie Fitzpatrick, chairwoman of the Hayhurst Neighborhood Association. Fitzpatrick, who presided over several contentious neighborhood meetings, says she is convinced trail supporters outnumber opponents. No one voiced objections at the City Council hearing.
Chris Hathaway, another Hayhurst resident, says evidence from other urban trails shows no increase in crime and indicates that being close to a trail improves property values. "Trails are a valuable amenity for any neighborhood," he says.
"Trail" conjures an image of a meandering path through a forest. The Red Electric will include some natural areas but also will traverse low-traffic city streets and use sidewalks where available. Painted street lines and signs will indicate routes along much of the way.
In an 11th-hour change, the Parks Bureau decided to avoid Southwest Capitol Highway in the busy Hillsdale area. Instead, the trail would use Southwest Vermont Street, taking pedestrians to an existing trail through George Himes Park while bicyclists travel on Southwest Nebraska Street.
Access to privately owned portions will have to be achieved by purchase or easement. Hui says some money for trail sections might be available from a 2006 Metro bond measure for buying open space from willing sellers. He says Metro would not use condemnation to force any sales.
"The next step," Saltzman says, "is piecing together the funding to make this work."
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