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Highway 43 unsafe for bikers

Maverick Notes

GENTRYEveryone who’s biked through Lake Oswego knows how terrifying it can be. Highway 43, currently the only reasonable north-south road through downtown, feels like a death trap that forces bikers to give up the expectation, if not the hope, of safe passage through downtown.

There should be a sign on the border between Portland and Lake Oswego that reads, “Bikers: Abandon all hope, ye who enter Lake Oswego.”

That was dark.

But in all seriousness, biking in Lake Oswego could be better. From my house in the Riverdale School District in Portland, the only direct way to West Linn is via Highway 43. This isn’t a particularly appealing option. Highway 43 before downtown Lake Oswego has a narrow shoulder with traffic zooming by you at 45 mph. Once in downtown, the traffic slows down, but the shoulder shrinks from less than one foot to nothing.

The shoulder north of Lake Oswego is anywhere from eight feet wide to less than one foot wide, according to "Lake Oswego to Portland Trail," a 2010 Metro report describing potential strategies to develop a trail from Lake Oswego to Portland’s South Waterfront district. There have been other studies on the area, including one by Clackamas County officials that looked at improving the route. The Oregon Department of Transportation would coordinate with local partners to make improvements to the road, according to Jamie Snook, principal planner at Metro.

Although I don’t usually have a reason for biking all the way through downtown Lake Oswego, I do sometimes on a day ride down to Oregon City and back. But I’m not the only person who bikes this route; in fact, other people actually use it for their daily commute. Doctors who work at the lower campus of Oregon Health & Science University and who live in Lake Oswego have to risk their own lives to save the lives of others.

Though the section from downtown Portland to Lake Oswego is perilous, it’s not too bad once you get past downtown heading south on Highway 43. There’s even an idyllic neighborhood road that parallels the river, mostly traversed by pedestrians. It starts at The Foundry and continues all the way to Mary S. Young State Park.

Wouldn’t it be great if this serene path could continue all the way north to Portland, so that a bike rider could safely and comfortably commute all the way from downtown Portland to West Linn?

What I recently learned is that there is actually a push for a bike route that goes from Portland to downtown Lake Oswego and all the way through to West Linn. It’s known as the “Rails to Trails” campaign, and it hopes to turn the old trolley track that is almost never used into a pedestrian path.

Major obstacles to the construction of this path include obtaining rights-of-way from neighbors whose property borders the tracks, TriMet's desire to possibly use the route for future mass transit, physical constraints and funding. Physical constraints include a tunnel that would need to be lit and a decrepit bridge; these could be dealt with during the project. Funding, of course, is an issue with every public project, and it poses the same problem here.

Fortunately, the 2010 plan describes many potential funding sources. As the plan notes, funding can be acquired from “local, state, federal and public and private sources.” This variety of funding sources relieves the potential financial burden on the City of Lake Oswego. Local sources rely on the city’s residents to approve bond measures, and since the city would benefit greatly from the addition of this trail, I believe that such a measure could be passed.

In Oregon, we have our own funding options for improvement of transit. Additionally, we have a grant that allows cities to develop biking and pedestrian trails, which would apply in the development of this trail.

Federal laws allow for funding of safe roads; in Illinois, these laws are interpreted to limit automobile traffic by offering alternative transportation options, such as biking. A similar strategy could be adopted in Oregon. Finally, for private and public funding sources, there are grants such as the Bikes Belong Grant Program and the Kodak American Greenways Awards Program, both of which award small amounts of money to fund projects such as this.

I understand that there may be some hesitance about funding a public project that not everyone would use. However, I can promise that the bikers of Lake Oswego and West Linn will thank you.

Riverdale High School senior Brian Gentry is one of two Maverick Notes columnists for The Review. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..