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Go west, young hikers and bicyclists

by: COURTESY OF METRO - The Westside Trail builds on existing Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District trails in Beaverton. A northward extension would cross the Sunset Highway into Bethany, bisect Portland's Forest Park and end at the Willamette River. A southbound extension would head through Tigard and King City, ending up at the Tualatin River. At a bend in the Tualatin River in Tigard, Metro urban planner Robert Spurlock stands beneath overhead power lines a few blocks from King City. Looking north, the future Westside Trail is a glimmer in his eye.

“The main thing driving this is, people want places away from cars,” Spurlock says. “A place where they can either go to work or school on their bike or go for a jog or a stroll after work or on the weekend.”

Metro envisions a 24-mile, north-south walking and bicycling trail linking westside Portland and several westside suburbs.

The trail piggy-backs on Beaverton’s Westside Linear Park, previously called the Powerline Trail Corridor, a strip of grass shaved into the landscape for electrical transmission lines. The lines hanging from wooden poles belong to the Bonneville Power Administration, while the metal pylons hold Portland General Electric lines. The BPA’s lines run from Oregon City to Portland’s St John’s neighborhood.

Part of the trail’s potential appeal is continuity. By crossing U.S. Highway 26, it enables more workers at Nike and Intel to bike to work or use a combination of bike and MAX.

Learning from Minnesota

Finding long strips of undeveloped land is difficult in a mature American city. Spurlock cites the “gold standard” of urban trails, the Grand Rounds in Minneapolis.

That loop of walking trails was designed in the 1930s to link the many lakes and natural areas around the city.

“They had the foresight not just to plan it, but to find the money and build it,” Spurlock says.

In a more leisurely manner here, with back hoes and cement pumps, a lattice of trails is beginning to overlay the arteries of suburbia.

“A lot of cities around the world are doing the best they can trying to play catch up,” Spurlock says. “And we’re doing pretty well here.”

by: COURTESY OF METRO - Westside Trail wildlifeHe cites the 2006 bond measure that allows Metro to buy up natural areas around Portland for recreation. “Metro raised $222 million and has been spending the money and buying some beautiful properties these last six years,” Spurlock says. He estimates the full Westside Trail could be complete in 10 years, but 20 is more realistic.

Volunteers have counted traffic on the existing part of the Westside Trail at the intersection with Farmington Road eight times in four years, Spurlock says. They estimate that 200 people per day use the trail. By contrast, the Springwater Trail now has an average of 3,000 daily users. That trail starts near OMSI and heads south along the Willamette River to Sellwood, then all the way east to Boring in Clackamas County.

Boosts home values

Like microbreweries and farmers markets, trails are one of the buzzwords used in making a neighborhood seem more natural and livable.

According to Spurlock, property values usually increase around trails, and they are well-policed by the locals.

“Some people whose homes would back on to the trail fear they will attract homeless people and crime. When that turns out not to be the case,” he says, “they become some of the biggest proponents of trails.”

Anita Singh Cardoso at the Hasson Co. is a real estate broker specializing in Westside properties. She rides her bike on the Westside Trail and lives in Beaverton near a proposed section.

“A green space or a bike path immediately puts nearby homes at the top of the market,” she says. “A trail always adds desirability and desirability equates to dollars.”

Singh Cardoso always lists the “Walk Score” of Portland property listings, something Beaverton does not have. She hopes the trail might help Beaverton catch up in walkability.

As for the power lines, they are a hard sell, for their alleged negative health effects.

“But maybe with a trail under them, they’re not so bad,” she says.

(A harder sell is having a large, steel pylon behind your house — they’re ugly.)

If you stand on Bull Mountain at the intersection of Southwest Nahcotta Drive, Sandridge Drive and Mistletoe Drive in Tigard, you can look north and see where the work lies.

The Westside Trail is currently in the master planning phase. If the land were flat, it could go straight to the design phase, then construction. But at steep grades, such as Bull Mountain, the walking path will need lots of switchbacks and the zooming bikes will be diverted to surface streets. There are also many road crossings to negotiate.

Funding is most of the battle. At $1 million a mile, Metro takes the glass-half-full view that trails are cheaper than highways and need far less maintenance. Various small cities chip in for their sections, as does the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District. Multiple grants are written to the federal government, the Oregon Department of Transportation and nonprofits. Spurlock’s team is working on a grant to build a river footbridge in King City to link to the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge and the proposed Tonquin Trail.

The BPA owns one side of the strip and officials don’t mind having the trail on their land, so long as the trails are well maintained and their trucks have access.

Not all welcome it

Just north of Highway 26, some members of the Oak Hills Home Owners Association don’t want the trail running through their private property.

They suggest rerouting the Westside Trail a mile west where the Waterhouse Trail (or Linear Park) already exists.

Kevin O’Connor lives in unincorporated Washington County (like 100,000 other people) and is in a Citizens Participation Organization. He’s an advocate for the trail, and is a recreational biker (“willing but cautious”) who would like to see it completed all the way to Marion County. He especially would use a north-south link across the Sunset Highway.

“At the open house meetings,” O’Connor says, “people fall into three camps: The Wants, the Don’t Wants In Their Back Yard and the Curious. Sometimes people need to do things for the greater good, but you can’t tell anybody that.”

For now it’s important to keep a slow process moving forward, he says.

“Hopefully, the gaps will get filled, and we’ll get a regional trail in 10 years, not 20 years.”