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Citizen's View: Vision of bike/pedestrian path along trolley line deserves study

Lake Oswego is part owner of an underutilized public resource — the Willamette Shore Line right of way between Portland and Lake Oswego. The Jan. 2, 2015 draft of council goals includes the following statement under long-term goals: “Consider the feasibility and options for a bike/pedestrian trail on or near the Willamette Shore Line.”

The first step in this process is answering the legal and policy questions associated with the use of the Willamette Shore Trolley line as a bike/pedestrian route. Our city attorney is analyzing issues that relate to putting various segments of the line to uses other than rail, and the involvement of multiple governments.

Tri-Met, which holds title to the line on behalf of government consortium owners, expressed support for investigating the multi-use path idea and offered its resources to help consortium members understand associated property rights. Tri-Met emphasized that any project should be implemented in a way that preserves the current alignment for future rail service. Questions to be addressed include:

WHO will provide the means of community outreach to ensure all parties are fully on board for use of the right-of-way as a bike/pedestrian pathway?

WHAT will a multiple-use pathway development need to absolutely preserve the acquired alignment for future streetcar service, 10 or 50-plus years from now?

WHEN all portions of the right-of-way are owned outright, does the trolley or any other rail service need to operate in order to maintain ownership of the right-of-way?

WHERE the right-of-of way is not owned outright, can outright ownership for any use be acquired?

HOW will Willamette Shore Line Consortium members, as owners of the right-of way, be provided with a solid understanding of property rights and implications of right-of-way acquisition?

This goal is a modest first step. Legal answers will likely be available sometime in the third quarter of 2015. It does not conflict with the council goal to first bring our roads and other basic infrastructure up to established standards.

Once the initial questions are answered and all parties are in agreement regarding the concept, we can address financing. There are a variety of possible financing sources available, including but not limited to Lake Oswego, Multnomah County, City of Portland, Metro, Oregon Department of Transportation, State of Oregon Parks and Recreation Recreational Trails program, the 2018-2021 Metropolitan Transportation Investment Program and the 2019-2021 Regional Flexible Funds Allocation program.

There are no guarantees, but at least there is potential. The connection between Portland and Lake Oswego and on to Oregon City has the potential of being a world-class bike/pedestrian addition to our city. Public access to the Oregon City Falls development, along with the possible West Linn Arch Bridge project, provides opportunity to begin creation and use of a significantly underutilized public asset.

The vision of a pedestrian/bike pathway is easy. Implementing it will be hard. Recall that in “Winnie-the-Pooh,” there is a significant moment when Winnie is asked whether he wants honey or milk with his bread. He ponders that for a few moments and replies, “Both.” If you are Winnie-the-Pooh, you can avoid thinking about decisions. However, if you are a politician, you cannot avoid addressing the challenges and payoffs.

For now, let’s continue with the modest first steps to determine if the vision is possible. Let’s plan with optimism and a sharp pencil.

Jeff Gudman is a Lake Oswego resident and a member of the City Council. This column is a reflection of his own views and not necessarily those of the council.