Skepticism surrounds possible Highway 224 changes
During an open house for the city of Estacada's active transportation plan, attendees expressed concern and ire over suggested changes to Highway 224 and questioned the city's process for soliciting community input.
Around 50 people packed Estacada City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 28, to discuss potential changes to the city's streets, sidewalks and bike lanes that were proposed as a part of the city's active transportation plan.
Earlier this year, the city received a $134,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation to create a full-length active transportation plan. Previously, there were two chapters covering walking and biking in the city's transportation system plan. Active transportation refers to any instance of people transporting themselves under their own power, such as through biking or walking.
Estacada's active transportation team, which consists of a public advisory committee, technical advisory committee and several consultants, published a document outlining eight potential opportunity routes for public feedback last month. The goal of the proposed routes is to increase opportunities for walking and biking around town.
Many at the open house took particular issue with a proposal to reduce Highway 224 to one lane of traffic in each direction between Second Avenue and the Highway 211 bridge to allow for separated bike lanes and more opportunities for pedestrians to cross the highway. Missing sections of sidewalk along the highway would also be added.
During the open house, one person in the crowd said it's "not fair to even propose this," and another claimed it was "spending money on a pipe dream."
Karla Alexander told the Estacada News she was concerned about the effect a lane reduction on Highway 224 would have on traffic.
"There would be more congestion coming up the (Highway) 211 bridge," she said, noting that many people who live in the surrounding unincorporated Estacada area take that route to work.
She also expressed concern about losing two lanes on Highway 224 with the city's push for tourism in town and on the Clackamas River.
"If you're increasing tourism, how do you balance that?" she asked, noting that commuters and tourists could be competing for space on the highway if its lanes were reduced.
During the open house, several attendees questioned how the members of the project's public advisory committee were selected and whether they represented as wide a range of interests as they could.
The city posted an invitation for those interested in joining the public advisory committee on its website, and an invitation was also included in a story titled "Plan encourages residents to walk and bike more often," which ran in the Aug. 31 Estacada News. However, because not many people responded to these notices, city staff invited people they knew were involved with walking and biking to be on the committee.
"Pretty much I had to get out there and ask people," said Melanie Wagner, assistant to the city manager and project manager for the active transportation plan update, in an interview with the Estacada News after the meeting.
Wagner acknowledged that "some people were distressed that I was specifically asking walkers."
"It was to find out where our gaps are, and where improvements need to be made. I thought the best place to find that out was from people who are out there walking every day," she explained.
Another question that came up during the open house was whether the public advisory committee could expand. Wagner said this might be a possibility.
"We could maybe add in a couple of people, but we really need to keep it to a workable sized group," she said. "If somebody really wants to (join) they could let me know."
Wagner emphasized that feedback about the proposed opportunity routes is valuable, particularly at this early stage in this process.
"Thank you for the feedback so far. Please keep giving feedback," she said. "We're very early in the process. Any concept that's been presented so far is very fluid. We want it to be a widely accepted community plan."
During the open house, city leaders solicited written feedback from attendees via a survey that asked respondents to rank each proposed route from strongly support to strongly do not support, among other questions.
That same survey will be available on the city's website through Tuesday, Dec. 12. Both a clickable Survey Monkey questionnaire and a PDF version of the survey are available. Initially, the Survey Monkey version did not have the same "General Comments" section that the print and PDF surveys did, but it was added shortly thereafter.
Once the online survey closes, a report of compiled results will be published on the city's website. Wagner estimated that this will likely happen early in the new year.
Next, the proposed opportunity routes will be updated to reflect community feedback. During the spring, there will be another open house for residents to share their thoughts. Finally, the plan will be presented to the City Council next summer.
"At the next open house, things will start to gel," Wagner said. "They're still not set in stone, but we'll try to present something that incorporates the comments and priorities that we've been given, as well as what's feasible based on our technical advisory committee."
The finalized plan will outline projects to be completed over the next two decades.
Wagner emphasized the value of community feedback, particularly at this stage in the process.
"We hear what they're saying about the highway and not wanting a lane reduction, and that traffic is increasing," Wagner said. "We understand all of that, too."
Timeline of Active Transportation Plan
Aug. 2016: City is awarded ODOT grant for active transportation plan; funds go directly to city's consultant.
Sept. 2017: Community members participate in walking tour of city's walking and biking facilities.
Oct. 2017: Public advisory committee and technical advisory committees meet.
Nov. 2017: First community open house held.
Dec. 12, 2017: Last day to participate in online open house.
Spring 2018: Public advisory committee and technical advisory committees meet.
Spring 2018: Second community open house held.
Summer 2018: Plan is presented to city council for adoption.