By Jonathan Maus, editor and publisher of BikePortland
This article originally appeared on BikePortland.org bikeportland.org/2018/12/20/business-owner-uses-attorney-and-electeds-to-fight-trimets-carfree-gideon-overcrossing-project-293425)
Neighborhood transportation advocates in SE Portland are sounding the alarm about TriMet’s Gideon Overcrossing project. They say opposition from an adjacent business owner could shelve the project.
“It’s unfair to me. What it’s doing to my business would require me to move.”said Michael Koerner, owner of Koerner Camera Systems on SE 14th and Taggart. Koerner hired a lawyer who sent a letter to the regional head of the Federal Transit Administration on December 14.
The letter includes criticisms of TriMet and the Portland Bureau of Transportation, questions the need of a bridge, and asks the FTA to require a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement before moving forward.
As reported last June, this project would build a new crossing of the Orange Line MAX light rail and Union Pacific Railroad tracks near the busy Clinton Street transit station.
It would be a much-needed replacement to the crossing at SE 16th and Brooklyn St. TriMet demolished during Orange Line construction in 2013.
The new bridge would go from SE 13th on the south side of the tracks to SE 14th on the north. In March 2018, TriMet said that location was “an attractive option for commuters” due to its proximity to the existing light rail station at Clinton St. (about 300 feet west of the new overcrossing).
The location was also chosen to, “best link to the Powell pedestrian crossing serving the Brooklyn neighborhood to Hosford-Abernethy.”
TriMet began the design process this past spring and the new $14 million bridge was supposed to start construction in the next few months.
Michael Koerner doesn’t want the bridge on 14th Ave. His camera rental business that supplies high-end equipment to the film and TV industry is directly adjacent to the tracks.
As designed, the bridge needs to use existing public right-of-way currently used to access Koerner’s parking lot and loading zone.
Koerner said his concerns about safety and business impacts have fallen on deaf ears at TriMet so he hired a land-use attorney to fight the project.
In a phone call, Koerner said he doesn’t oppose the bridge project, he just doesn’t want it on 14th St. In addition to his concerns that mixing trucks and forklifts with bicycle riders and walkers would be a safety hazard,
He isn’t the only business owner opposed to the project. Several others share his concerns and are actively engaged against it. Koerner also has support from Oregon House Representative Rob Nosse.
In a letter dated December 10 and addressed to PBOT Director Chris Warner and TriMet General Manager Doug Kelsey, Nosse wrote that after talking with Koerner and other business owners on 14th St., “I am respectfully asking that you consider moving the bridge to a different location either up further on 16th St. or even consider 8th or 9th instead.”
“I don’t think your planning is so far along that you could not consider an alternative,” Rep. Nosse continued, “And I think this would be an appropriate compromise.”
According to Rep. Nosse, the planned alignment would make it difficult for these businesses to operate forklifts and access loading zones with large trucks.
“… both Tri-Met and PBOT have failed to provide evidence that the proposal is actually necessary for pedestrians or bicyclists. Neither agency has provided evidence of accidents or injury to either pedestrians or bicyclists at this railroad crossing nor have they provided evidence that the proposed bridge will be useful to bicyclists or pedestrians.
“If Tri-Met and PBOT believe a pedestrian and bicycle bridge is necessary, the Gideon Overcrossing should be placed in a location that will result in greatest utility for pedestrians and bicyclists – specifically in the location of the previous access bridge at SE 16th and Gideon which supports connectivity between neighborhoods, or other alternative locations that have yet to be examined in an EIS.”
Communications Manager Roberta said that’s just not possible. “TriMet and the City of Portland have determined that the project cannot be built on another street,” she wrote in an email. “However, the city and TriMet continue to look for ways to minimized or mitigate the impact on local businesses.”
Altstadt said the bridge can’t be built at any other location because the FTA funding is tied directly to safety issues at SE 11th and 12th, where long UPRR delays cause some people to cross unsafely and even to walk across stopped train cars.
According to Altstadt, FTA guidelines stipulate that a bike/walk bridge must be located close enough to the original location of the safety hazard to “provide a convenient alternative.”
Placing the bridge at 16th would not address the safety issue that is the basis for the FTA funding.
The bridge at 16th would simply be too far away and require too much out of direction travel – particularly for pedestrians – to be a viable alternative,” Altstadt explained.
Altstadt says TriMet and the City of Portland analyzed several other locations and for various reasons, none of them could accommodate a bridge because there was either not enough room for the structure or the project would require condemnation of entire businesses.