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Getting 'Southwest in Motion'

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Bureau of Transportation is seeking public help in prioritizing near-term transportation priorities for Southwest Portland

CONNECTION PHOTO: HANNAH RANK - Don Baack of SWTrails PDX helped established a network of Urban Trails, which includes this pathway through Stephens Creek Natural Area. He's advocating that certain unimproved trails be recognized in SWIM.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation has begun a process of gathering and coordinating priorities for transportation improvements in Southwest Portland — an effort it's calling "Southwest in Motion" (SWIM).

SWIM is modeled off a similar effort to establish short-term (5-10 year) needs on Portland's east side, called East Portland in Motion (EPIM).

"The processes (for EPIM) were identified originally with the bicycle program as ways to take all of the pedestrian and bike improvements in those areas and start to come up with a nearer-term strategy," said Denver Igarta, senior transportation planner for PBOT.

Currently, Southwest Portland has very few designated pedestrian and bicycle pathways, officials say.

According to an overview of SWIM laid out by Metro, "approximately half of collector and arterial streets have no sidewalks. Of higher-classification roadways with some sidewalks, a significant proportion only have sidewalks on one side... In addition, Southwest Portland has very limited access to low-stress bikeways."SOUTHWEST NEIGHBORHOODS, INC - Southwest Portland has comparatively few safe transportation routes for pedestrians and bicyclists. This graphic is courtesy of Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc (swni.org).

Many Southwest Portland residents have asked the City to produce a plan for their region similar to what's been done on the east side.

"It has been something the community has been asking for and interested in for a while," Igarta said.

Dylan Rivera, public information officer for PBOT, said residents should not view SWIM as a list of every transportation-related concern in Southwest.

"The transportation needs far exceed available resources," Rivera said.

Instead, he said, SWIM will help mobilize PBOT in case any immediate funding were to become available.

"When funding becomes available, it can be very surprising," Rivera said. "It really helps us if we can be ready with priorities from the community. So in two to three years from now, if the Legislature or Metro or City Council comes up with funding for active transportation options, we'll know what is on that short list."

SWTrails PDX, which was founded by Hillsdale resident Don Baack, has been working on alternative transportation options for people on foot and on bike for more than two decades. For example, the group worked with PBOT to create and identify a network of urban trails that includes existing public roads, sidewalks and trails through public parks and wooded areas.

Now, Baack says he's worried that PBOT's approach to SWIM will ignore a set of trails that his team of volunteers wishes to see maintained.

"Unfortunately, (SWIM) ignores the major part of the network of pedestrian connections, which are the unbuilt rights-of-way, many of which are being used right now," he said.

Baack says that if he or one of his volunteers wants to maintain these unpaved walking paths, he currently has to get a permit from the City. He refers to the process as "onerous."

To address and streamline this maintenance process, Baack wants SWIM to include these unimproved rights-of-way. He distinguishes them from the established, marked urban trail system that he says has already been recognized by the Portland City Council. He estimates that 200 to 300 of these unimproved trails are candidates for inclusion.

"(A trail like this) makes it easy to get around our neighborhood, but it needs to be maintained on a continual basis," Baack said.

Igarta says SWIM will not only focus on needs relating to pedestrian walkways, though.CONNECTION PHOTO: HANNAH RANK - SWTrails PDX hopes PBOT will consider upkeep of unincorporated rights-of-way -- like this path near Multnomah Presbyterian Church -- in its SWIM plan.

"The focus of the project is active transportation investments — so that's bicycling and walking, and access to public transit," Igarta said. "But at the same time, buses drive on streets, so those need to be improved. So, these are multi-modal in nature."

Rich Newlands, who also works at PBOT and worked on SWIM before Igarta took over, says the project is still in its early stages. He has reached out to some neighborhood associations in an effort to increase awareness about how people can get involved, and he says PBOT is sending out a survey for Southwest residents to help identify their priorities.

On March 23, PBOT hosted a "Fixing our Streets" open house at the Multnomah Arts Center. There, Commissioner Dan Saltzman and others talked about a variety of Southwest transportation projects, such as the Capitol Highway improvement plan and SWIM.

PBOT says it intends to ramp up outreach efforts in the spring, and that the process of data collection for SWIM will continue for six months to a year.

"There's plenty of time for input," Igarta said.

Contact Connection Reporter Hannah Rank at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.