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Plan for footbridge over McLoughlin at Reedway revived in grassroots effort

DAVID F. ASHTON - Replacing a decades-old rickety footbridge across the Brooklyn Rail Yards just south of Powell Boulevard, this new bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists opened on September 2, 2015.
When TriMet put the asterisk by the proposed Harold Street MAX light rail station on its map, and proceeded to rule out building it in the forseeable future, the agency offered some absurd excuses: Nobody would walk from Milwaukie Avenue east to McLoughlin to catch the train (but apparently no such impediment was anticipated at Bybee Boulevard or Tacoma Street); the one-minute stop at such a station would seriously reduce ridership among Clackamas County residents (who otherwise would have to spend far more than one extra minute navigating McLoughlin Boulevard during commute hours).

But the real reason was understood to be cost – not the cost of building the station itself, but the cost of the associated pedestrian and bicycle bridge over McLoughlin and over the Union Pacific tracks on the Reedway Street alignment that still exists between 23rd and 28th – to give access to the station from the Reed College dormitories, and give the Reed neighborhood its only close and direct access to the MAX line, thus fully realizing the station's potential service.

However, TriMet insisted in public at a SMILE meeting, on the record, that it would have no problem adding such a station at some point in the future if needs were to change.

Perhaps we will have a chance to test the truth of that assurance after all – and end the public transportation deficit in north Westmoreland and Reed – because a grassroots effort to get that bridge built is advancing, MAX station or no MAX station, to solve several significant problems. The focal point at the moment is a letter several Inner Southeast neighborhoods are considering approving. The letter, which seems to have originated in the SMILE Transportation Committee but which responds to long-standing endorsements for the missing MAX station by both SMILE and the Reed Neighborhood Association, has already been approved by the SMILE Board, reportedly also by the Brooklyn Action Corps Board, and is under consideration by the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association, the Reed Neighborhood Association, the Southeast Uplift neighborhood coalition, and apparently also by the Reed College Board of Trustees.

The letter observes that a Reedway Pedestrian/Bicycle Overcrossing at that point has already been adopted in the Portland Transportation System Plan as Project #70049, and has been assigned a project timeline of 1 to 10 years.

The letter enumerates several reasons for building the footbridge. Quoting from the letter:

1. The overcrossing would solve one of the worst connectivity problems in the entire city. There is no way across the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1.1-mile stretch between Holgate and Bybee Boulevards, despite a plenitude of destinations in the area, including Reed College, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, hundreds of family wage jobs in the Brooklyn Industrial Area, and thousands of homes and apartments in the Westmoreland, Brooklyn, Reed, and Eastmoreland neighborhoods. This poor connectivity results in lengthy out-of-direction travel, and encourages driving instead of walking or biking. . .

2. The existing Holgate and Bybee Boulevard viaducts, along with the roads leading to them, are at best substandard, and at worst dangerous and hostile to pedestrians and bicycles. Holgate's is a four-lane auto-oriented viaduct hosting 15,000 vehicles a day, and significant freight traffic, with no bike lanes, and with sidewalks impeded by utility poles and street lights. Bybee at 28th is a curvy, hilly roadway with narrow four-foot bike lanes that are perpetually covered in debris. Both routes would require major reconstruction to become marginally safe and comfortable for people not in cars, and even then they would still be busy driving routes. The Reedway Overcrossing would provide a far superior "low stress" connection.

3. The overcrossing would directly serve neighborhoods that are experiencing rapid and intense development. In northern Westmoreland, over 300 apartments have recently been completed, are under construction, or are proposed in the vicinity of the overcrossing – most with no resident auto parking. Another 900 apartments are proposed further south in Sellwood-Moreland and to the north in Brooklyn. The Reed and Eastmorland neighborhoods are experiencing significant infill and tear-down development of large single family homes. Reed College has constructed new dormitories for 125 students at the northwest corner of its campus, a quarter mile from the overcrossing site. Union Pacific and other industrial employers are at full employment. All of this growth translates into travel demand on our congested streets, while TSDCs add to city coffers.

4. Transit service has been degraded in the area of the overcrossing. The Harold Street MAX light rail station, which would have been located adjacent to the Reedway Overcrossing, has been postponed indefinitely, despite strong support from nearby residents. Making matters worse, the #33 McLoughlin bus was discontinued north of the City of Milwaukie in order to eliminate "redundant service" with MAX, leaving nearby residents and workers with a long walk to the heavily congested #10, #19, and #70 bus routes, or a 20-minute walk to the nearest MAX station. If TriMet were ever to construct the Harold Street Station in the future, the Reedway Overcrossing would provide the necessary connection to Westmoreland and Reed College. Even if TriMet never builds this MAX station, the overcrossing in needed to provide other means of travel for nearby residents who have been left stranded by public transit.

5. The city appears to be forging ahead with at least three other major pedestrian/bicycle bridges. Sullivan's Crossing (N.E. 7th Avenue opver I-84) and N.W. Flanders over I-405 look to be funded and moving forward, and the Brooklyn Pedestrian Bridge near Clinton MAX station appears to have traction as part of PDC's Clinton Triangle redevelopment. These may be good projects, but they're all located just a few hundred feet away from other bridges and crossings where people can walk and bike today. The Reedway Overcrossing is two-thirds to one mile from the nearest crossings, and serving an area with poor connectivity with regards to the Central City. It's only a matter of fairness that the Reedway Overcrossing be advanced as well.

This is a sound and well-articulated grassroots effort, and THE BEE endorses it and hopes the city will advance this project for design and construction. And just maybe, thus relieved of the expense of building such a bridge, TriMet will eventually see fit to add a "Harold Street Station" there – to fill the single longest gap in Multnomah County between stations, on the Orange MAX line.