TriMet's announcement surprises Sellwood, Westmoreland

The special SMILE 'safety workshop' held by the neighborhood association's Board on March 16th was focused on issues relating to S.E. Tacoma Street - particularly at its intersections with S.E. 13th and S.E. 17th - and concerns relating to plans for the new Sellwood Bridge.

It was a 'listening session' for the Board and residents, in which area officials and experts on these subjects brainstormed possible solutions. And several interesting ideas were put forward.

But the biggest surprises came in a casual announcement by a TriMet representative:

'By the way, when the new Sellwood Bridge is completed - bus service will NOT return over the bridge between Sellwood to downtown.' The reason for this decision is not clear, but it may well be due to the plans for a MAX light rail station on the east side of McLoughlin Boulevard, just south of the Tacoma Street overpass, to provide rapid transit to downtown.

If so, it would mean that Sellwood residents needing to commute downtown will have to make do with current indirect service via Bus 70, hike a mile north to Bybee Boulevard to catch Bus 19 downtown, or walk many blocks east (after MAX is finished and opened) and find their way across the potentially dangerous Tacoma Street overpass - dangerous, because at present there is no planned pedestrian route over the overpass which does not involve crossing traffic lanes or onramps.

Clearly, bus service from Sellwood across the Sellwood Bridge and along Macadam Avenue served a very important purpose, and was discontinued only when safety weight reductions on the current bridge barred running buses over it. A substitute Bus 41-T was not well-ridden at first, but when it was cut back to just running at commute times it began to fill nicely - at which point TriMet discontinued that, too.

However, that same casual announcement at the SMILE meeting also revealed that the MAX plans are even more draconian for residents in the northern part of Westmoreland.

It's a matter of record that the original light rail plans announced in the mid-'90's (before being cancelled for a time, leading eventually to their resurrection in the current project), had included a station at the north end of the neighborhood. At that time, it was to be on the north side of McLoughlin opposite S.E. 18th, with a pedestrian footbridge over McLoughlin Boulevard to provide access for north Westmoreland.

When the current plans emerged, that station was gone, and the maps showed instead the longest section of this line with no station, in Multnomah County, would be between Holgate and Bybee. THE BEE brought attention to it, and residents called for a station there to be put back into the plan. TriMet with reluctance penciled in a 'potential' station on the southeast side of the intersection of McLoughlin and Harold Street. This station would be right where people in Westmoreland have been crossing the street via a traffic light to catch northbound buses (#31, 32, 33) into town for decades.

However, despite mostly favorable response to the proposed Harold Street Station from Westmoreland residents, and recent resolutions of support from SMILE and also the Reed Neighborhood Association (Reed would get its only direct MAX access at this spot, with a pedestrian bridge crossing the Union Pacific rails at Reedway Street), TriMet cut 'construction compatibility features' for this potential future station from its current plans, even though the cost savings are less than the cost of one house - $100,000.

Local residents, with tongues only half in their cheeks, have suggested car washes and bake sales as a way of getting this tiny budget item back into the MAX billion-dollar construction budget, and two Metro Counselors have written letters to TriMet imploring that this minor budget item be restored. But, there is currently as yet no indication that TriMet is willing to do so.

TriMet has already announced that bus service will decline in Westmoreland as MAX service starts east of McLoughlin, with the rationale that it will be less needed, with the light rail service nearby.

But if the Harold Street Station is never built - and the failure to restore that $100,000 construction expenditure would, admits TriMet, make it very unlikely a station could EVER be built there - north Westmoreland will certainly continue to need the current bus service it currently has, at the very least.

Which is why the other half of that TriMet comment at the SMILE safety seminar came as a shock:

It was the revelation that buses 31, 32, and 33 will end at the Milwaukie Transit Center when MAX is completed and running - bringing Clackamas County residents to the station to take MAX into Portland and back. No more service by these three buses further north - on McLoughlin at Harold Street and at S.E. 17th.

That means north Westmoreland would lose the main downtown commuting buses it has always had - but without gaining any compensating access to MAX. Remaining for the neighborhood would only be two buses - bus 19; and bus 70 to the Rose Garden Arena and Memorial Coliseum area.

These two surprise revelations mean that Sellwood in the future can expect less transit access downtown than it now has and will certainly need, and that north Westmoreland will see itself isolated from the new mass transit grid now being planned.

This is not a step forward, and we hope TriMet will reconsider.

THE BEE joins SMILE, the Reed Neighborhood Association, and others, in asking TriMet to

• Restore direct bus service from and to (or through) Sellwood, when it is finished, via the new Sellwood Bridge and Macadam Avenue.

• Either restore the miniscule $100,000 construction budget item at Harold Street to make a future Harold Street Station at least possible, or maintain one or more of these three bus lines all the way to downtown Portland with stops at Harold and 17th on McLoughlin. AAnd those buses should stay in service on that route until the Harold Street Station is actually built!

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