A fund drive to underwrite a pedestrian bridge connecting the Wildwood Trail above West Burnside Street is halfway to its $2.5 million goal.
Charlie Swindells, chair of the capital campaign for the Portland Parks Foundation, says the 180-foot-span with decorative elements reminiscent of ferns along the Wildwood Trail could become as iconic as the Benson bubblers.
Appearances aside, the bridge is critical to safety. City data show 51 crashes in the last decade, including 21 “lane departure” crashes, one fatality and two serious injuries, as runners and pedestrians attempt to cross three lanes of speeding traffic.
The problem is hardly a secret. A description of the trails between the Hoyt Arboretum and Pittock Mansion on the privately owned tourism website Oregon.com puts it like this: “the [Wildwood] path crosses Burnside Street—a busy, frightening highway you’ll have to cross at a run.”
The campaign to mend the most significant break in the 30-mile Wildwood Trail—the crown jewel of the city’s renowned 40-mile “Intertwine” trail system—is in its home stretch. Two decades after a 1996 city study yielded thoughtful plans but no funding, this fundraising campaign has emerged from its “quiet phase,” Swindells said.
More than 60 individuals and a dozen foundations, boosted by a half-million in city dollars, have generated $1.3 million for the project.
“We’re putting together a project team with the intention of bringing the project to the 30 percent design completion stage by late this year or early 2017,” Parks Foundation Executive Director Jeff Anderson said. “We feel like we’re about halfway there. This is definitely one of the reasons that the Parks Foundation was created: to provide a way for the community to provide an extra margin of excellence for the parks.”
Excellence—and safety. Locals and Wildwood Trail users such as Portland State University’s cross country runners are familiar with the Navy SEAL-like challenge presented by the trail’s crossing of a major arterial where cars frequently travel 45 mph around a curve. Runners and pedestrians scramble down the embankment, watch for an opening, and then sprint for it..
One survivor of a Wildwood-Burnside close call, Kathy Ragain, provided a narrative that was included in the Parks Foundation’s grant application to Metro: “What I understand from observers is that I was in a running motion, made contact with the car, was rolled back (the back of my head broke out the passenger side window) and then … I was thrown to the ground. What I speculate happened is I looked to the west
and then to the east. I apparently thought I had clearance if I ran but maybe I didn’t check back to the east. This is speculative because I have no memory of it.”
Portland Bureau of Transportation accident data for the previous decade (most recent figures available are for 2005 to 2014), said spokesman Dylan Rivera, include two instances in which a car stopped for a pedestrian, only to be rear-ended by another car.
In a letter of support for the Parks Foundation’s 2015 proposal to Metro, PBOT director Leah Treat wrote that West Burnside’s pedestrian crash rate is “three times the citywide average.” Anderson said the most recent figures for the spot show 20,000 cars passing per day; meanwhile, 80,000 individuals use
the trail each year.
“This is a safety issue for everybody,” Anderson said.
Safety vs. budget realities
Safety challenges notwithstanding, it’s tough to ask taxpayers to foot part of the bill for a “gorgeous” bridge in the West Hills, Swindells said, when there are parks-deficient neighborhoods in other parts of the city and a $500 million parks and roads maintenance deficit. The bridge’s projected cost has grown to $2.5 million, the fig-
ure Anderson quoted, significantly higher than the $1.5 million projected cost used in the Examiner’s 2013 story, “A bridge over terrifying Burnside.”
The Parks Foundation’s January 2015 application for a Metro Nature in Neighborhoods Capital Grant shows government contributions as one-third of the project’s total, then listed at $2.335 million.
So Swindells is hosting fundraisers, talking to foundations and hopes to find a major corporate sponsor to match contributions from the city and Metro. The final dollars for the bridge will come from crowdfunding, Anderson and Swindells say.
“I’m calling it an icon of Portland’s built and natural environments,” Swindells said.
While noting that it took decades for the bridge to rise through the city’s long capital project priority list, Anderson said, “We’re getting the wheels rolling on the actual implementation … The steering committee feels confident that there’s great momen-
tum, feedback and response from the community.”
The Parks Foundation hopes to fully fund the bridge during this, its 15th anniversary celebration year. The construction timeline is under two years, a clock that will start ticking when the fabrication of the bridge’s metalwork begins, Anderson said.