Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Portland UGB Trail: A Concept for Building the Region's Bike Network

A regional trail outside of Delft features excellent wayfinding.
I have often said that there is a lot that we can learn from the Dutch. The fact that they have 35% of their trips made by the bicycle is by design, not an accident. I spent the last summer learning with the PSU students about this when we explored the seven communities throughout the 2-week program. There was a lot about land use planning and facility construction that were part of our daily field trips that I am sure I never captured via my blog. This foundation of knowledge is serving me well as I think about the future of the Portland region's trail network.

On a bike ride this afternoon, I found the Gresham-Fairview Trail. I have passed the spot on the Springwater several times, but never explored the link it makes north to Fairview. I recall biking on the Springwater a year or so ago and someone from the City was doing a study of the corridor and a survey of the potential users. Apparently, the trail was opened last year with Blumenauer cutting the ribbon. At the time, when I rode past the surveyor they hadn't yet finished the bridge that would connect the Springwater to the new portions of the trail (the following link has a summary of the project in a text box next to a larger story about Gresham and wayfinding signs). The survey was mostly about use of the Springwater and origin-destinations of users of the Trail. I wasn't aware of the context the time. I must have missed the BikePortland coverage that can be found here.

The trail is a wonderful connection in East Portland. It connects several neighborhoods and is a major spine for the off-street network. The trail may be underused (compared to the Springwater), and it is something that seems easy to overlook because it is managed by the City of Gresham. This is something that Metro's Intertwine could help with, but I digress. It is in a great spot parallel to the I-205 path. The trail doesn't seem to have a good north end connection yet. That will come in Sections D & E as described in the Trail Master Plan.  It may sound like a complaint but often our projects only go so far and there's no common way to designate the end of a trail or a transition from the higher order facility to a shared experience. I found a Ride Report from the Tandem club that similarly critiqued the signage at the  northern end of the trail (I wasn't clear I was at the end) and the crossing of the light rail tracks (I actually got off the trail due to a missed sign) .

So the operative question is how do we build more of these sorts of facilities. It looked like they cobbled together federal, state, and City sources over ten years to get this done. The good news is Metro is active in this and have great staff working on the effort. There are a lot of good projects that have been completed, and the 40-mile loop is one of my favorites.

There's a host of complaints one could make about this. The most important one is why does it take so long? The easy answer, and this is largely speculation, is that we don't own the land, money is scarce (we've spent the bond money on larger natural areas as opposed to trails), an no one is jumping to give us that land like in the Lake Oswego Streetcar case. For this reason, I would focus some of the efforts on communities that are not yet built up.

Outside Portland's Urban Growth Boundary (UGB), the land is undeveloped because our forefathers had the vision to use land use laws to limit sprawl and restrict their use. The concept, inspired by my bike ride, is this:

For lands outside the UGB, or on the boundary itself, the local jurisdiction and Metro should team up to buy right of way to create/preserve a trail facility that would further build the regional network. The land would either be donated by the property owners and valued at the urban price point (assuming it is exempted and brought into the UGB) or Metro could use its Regional Trails resources to purchase the land at 10% above rural prices to provide the landowner some relief to the costs associated with the land use laws.

What about essential nexus?
There is the Dolan vs. The City of Tigard case that put limits on what the public agency could require from a citizen or development, but it seems like this would eliminate that because the compensation would be part of my concept.

Regional trails can serve as linear parks.
The rural equivalent of Portland's Sunday Parkways!
In the Netherlands, there are a lot of great examples of this sort of trail development in the rural environment. I found in talking to folks that some of these are used for longer commutes. They are not all trails and some of them are cyclepaths or one way roads that allow for some passing by vehicles. These facilities stretch throughout the country and there are excellent maps to show you where you are and the direction you're headed.

The system was a little disorienting at first, but if you had a smart phone and a GPS the system would give you instant access outside of the urban area that we would get if we did something similar to my concept above.

1 comment:

Satish Ratan said...

Thanks for the post. Wayfinding signages are very useful and many times it is like a companion for travelers. Even for local people who are travelling in vehicles name signage board are very useful.