New route through rail yard could link up North Portland Greenway

New route through rail yard could link up North Portland Greenway

The City and Union Pacific Railroad are in talks about
how to connect the NP Greenway path between
Swan Island and lower Albina.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

As the route of the long-planned North Portland Greenway comes before Portland city council this week, there’s a new possibility in the mix that could vastly improve one of the project’s most glaring gaps: the segment between Swan Island and the Eastbank Esplanade.

Union Pacific Railroad and city planners are now looking into a possible “alternative” route through UP’s Albina rail yard that could allow what the npGreenway group described as “car-free access through Lower Albina.” This development comes after Mayor Charlie Hales described on-again, off-again talks between the City and UPRR as “going very well” as of last May. Back then, the Mayor met with UPRR officials to discuss the project.

According to PBOT Active Transportation Division Manager Dan Bower, following that meeting, the president of UPRR committed to finding a solution. Their proposal is to offer the City a 20-foot wide, two mile long piece of land on the east side of the railyard adjacent to N Greeley Ave. The proposal would take path users to Interstate and Russell. Bower says PBOT has done some preliminary designs and cost estimates but they haven’t made any final decisions.

The new route would avoid the much-criticized possibility floated a year ago of directing path users uphill to a new separated path on North Greeley Avenue and existing bike lanes on North Interstate. It would also avoid the “Cement Road,” a route owned by UPRR that’s currently in use by the Ash Grove Cement company.

The dashed green route shows the Cement Road; the pink area is the rail yard.
The possible new alternative route is not marked.

Francie Royce of npGreenway, the citizens’ group that’s pushed for years to build the trail, said Friday that she’s hoping Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz and the rest of city council will give strong endorsements of a deal with Union Pacific that could include the rail yard.

The language allowing that ongoing negotiation is already in the council’s proposed resolution (item 1026).

For the moment, Royce said, her organization’s recommendation to the city is that the riverside Cement Road should remain the top priority.

“We’re unclear exactly what that alternative is,” Royce said. “Until it’s very clear that the railroad is willing to make that happen, npGreenway is sticking with the Cement Road.”

Sending people up onto the surface streets at Greeley and Interstate, she said, would undermine the concept of the greenway.

“It’s a truck route, it’s not near the river and it’s not compatible with the idea of a Willamette Greenway trail at all.”
— npGreenway co-chair Francie Royce on Greeley Avenue

“It’s a truck route, it’s not near the river and it’s not compatible with the idea of a Willamette Greenway trail at all,” she said. “It’s not friendly to families and moderate bicyclists.”

The issue has particular weight because Swan Island, the industrial-zoned area the greenway would serve, is booming as an employment center. Portland Community College is preparing to open a new “Trades Education Center” there and Daimler Trucks North America has just announced a major expansion that’ll bring 1,000 more jobs to the area. Good bike connections are especially important on the island because many employees work shifts that don’t align with TriMet’s service hours.

Other than the Greeley-Interstate issue, Royce said, her group supports the “general alignment following the river.” It’ll also include a newly funded bike-pedestrian bridge connecting Pier Park and Chimney Point Park near St. Johns, to be built after 2016.

The council‘s action is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 30th in City Hall, 1221 SW Fourth Avenue.

“We would encourage people to come to city council and/or email city council members to let them know about the trail alignment,” Royce said.

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