Key issues SWTrails wants included in the trails policy

Here are the key issues SWTrails wants included in the trails policy sent to Novick’s Office on August 20, 2015

1. Allow Neighborhood Associations (NAs) to approve trails in their neighborhoods without the additional requirement to secure adjacent property owner approval.   Prior drafts of the policy included NAs as one of three options in the “Public Involvement and Neighborhood Support” section, but NAs were removed from the latest draft without explanation. If there is sufficient support in the neighborhood for a proposed urban trail on a public right-of-way, a majority vote of the NA should be sufficient to justify granting a permit.  The decision to dedicate a right of way to the public was made when the land was originally platted, typically decades ago, for the purpose of transportation and connectivity, and a proposed urban trail that provides public benefit should require only NA support and not also require approval by adjacent neighbors.

2. A. Include clear language defining the responsibilities and rights of the adjacent property owners: i.e. they have the liability for the trail and responsibility of maintaining the trail and must not block pedestrian access in any way. Add provisions that PBOT or BDS will take steps to clear rights of way or easements of vegetation or other materials to make it possible for residents to be able to use these dedicated routes as pedestrian routes even if an improved trail is not constructed. Include a reference with the phone number and email address for the PBOT department with this responsibility and that of the Bureau of Development Services department to get obstructions removed.
2. B. Include in the notification information how adjacent property owners can arrange for a nonprofit to maintain the trail if a city permit is issued and the nonprofit is agreeable to do the maintenance.

Put 2A and 2B in a new letter sent to the same 8000 plus property owners PBOT sent the original note to about unbuilt rights of way so they clearly understand their responsibilities to provide access and how they can relieve themselves of the liability, cost and responsibility for maintenance of the right of way.

3. If an adjacent property owner has encroachments i.e. fences, other semi-permanent structures, that limit the safe and convenient passage of pedestrians, the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation will immediately assure the encroachments are removed, no matter if a permit for a trail is issued or not. In recent months PBOT staff members have refused to issue orders to the adjacent property owners to remove well documented obstructions to pedestrian passage. In the view of many of us who understand the situation this has led to undue strife in the neighborhood. The City of Portland Bureau of Transportation has in effect been granting defacto street vacations with no criteria, no public process and for a much smaller fee than a street vacation. The adjacent property owner gains the use of the land with no responsibility to pay taxes on it. PBOT needs to protect the users of the trail from those who seek to limit public access, and be sensitive to the needs of walkers who will usually seek the easiest pathway along a route.

4. Request a process to address our dozens of demand trails on unbuilt rights of way, so that if 60% of the lineal foot frontage* of adjacent property owners request the demand trail be maintained by a nonprofit and the nonprofit is agreeable, the city will issue a permit without further process. This will relieve the adjacent property owner of the responsibility of maintaining the demand trail and will remove his liability when the trail is up to city standards.

*Lineal foot frontage is used to better reflect the adjacent landowner’s exposure to liability along the right of way in question.

5. Instruct PBOT to organize and fund one or more partnerships with non-profit organizations to do trail maintenance in specific geographic areas and identify a staff person to be the trail voice for PBOT.

6. Include in the trails policy a statement that no trail will be removed from the walking maps of the City of Portland without public notice that includes the rights of citizens to object and be heard in an objective forum.

Comments:
1. The current proposed trails policy does not appear to foster increasing pedestrian connectivity or increased pedestrian use of our public rights of way. Rather is seems to be a “landowners protection policy” structured to protect existing property owners who are living on land developed with the dedicated right of way or easement put in place “for the public good” to be used for that purpose “forever”.

2. It is our view that if a permit to build a formal trail is not granted, residents will continue to use the demand trail over the objections of the adjacent property owners who will feel they have somehow “won the vote” but cannot stop residents from using the trail and it will continue to be a point of irritation. The trail will continue to be unimproved and in poor condition relative to what it could be.

3. As Portland’s Neighborhoods rewrite their bylaws, most seem to be expanding the size of their boards, and many are providing that the boards follow the popular vote of members unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.

4. We feel the manner in which PBOT chose to engage and seek the opinions from the 8000 or so property owners adjacent to the unbuilt rights of way without explaining the responsibilities for maintenance and liability without also explaining the alternatives available to relieve themselves of those responsibilities was inappropriate. It appears to reveal a bias on the part of PBOT.

5. The non profits seeking to obtain permits should be vetted in a reasonable manner to determine if they have experience and commitment to achieve the desired outcome. We have seen several projects undertaken by well meaning groups that did not have the skills or the commitment to follow through to accomplish the task as specified. The result has been substandard construction and possibly dangerous construction. By vetting the groups in a reasonable manner these kind of issues can be prevented.

6. When construction standards are being discussed, SWTrails representatives should be at the table.

been substandard construction and possibly dangerous construction. By vetting the groups in a reasonable manner these kind of issues can be prevented.

6. When construction standards are being discussed, SWTrails representatives should be at the table.

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