Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Can I get to Jackson Bottom on TriMet or by bike?"

Jackson Bottom Wetlands, photo by Annee von Borg
Jackson Bottom Wetlands' 710 acres, "treasure of the Hillsboro community," offer trails, interpretive displays, panoramic views, bird watching, potential wildlife sightings, and a premier education center, not to mention "tranquil sanctuary" and thousands of homes to 200 species of animals.

In anticipation of volunteering there for two March tree plantings as part of our Roots & Shoots service-learning group, we were temporarily confounded by the Preserve's FAQ answer to this post's title:

"We don’t recommend it. We are located over a mile from the nearest TriMet stop, and Highway 219 [Hillsboro Highway] is not safe for pedestrian traffic. Only the most experienced and confident bike rider would likely be comfortable biking on 219, as well." 

Our first year in Oregon (2010) we visited twice: once with grandmother from Connecticut and once with local friends, berry stained after picking at a nearby farm.  And loved every minute there!  We had a car then and never questioned accessibility.  Now after more than two years carfree, it seems absurd that safe access to a free, health promoting, educational, and recreational community resource, no less a public park, should be limited, essentially, to people with cars, effectively excluding those without.

at the wetlands, 2010
not-yet-carfree kids & friend
Undaunted by memories of 219's speed limits, I (carfree mom) set about mapping a route from the nearest major mass transit stop, Hatfield Government Station, to check the validity of the FAQ's claim.

Google Map's virtual person helped me look for bike lanes, sidewalks, and speed limits from the comfort of my computer, all without interacting with a single vehicle.  Here's what Google person saw:

Points A-B: 25 mph speed limit on city streets, sidewalks with limited gaps, but no bike lanes for most of the half mile segment. Est. biking time: 4 mins.

Points B-C
: Speed increases to 40 mph for .3 miles heading out of town, bike lanes, no sidewalk.  Est. biking time: 57 secs.

Points C-D
: Now we're talking rural road, highway - 55 mph speed limit for .7 miles to Preserve entrance via designated left turn lane, bike lanes present, so sidewalks.  Est. biking time: 3 mins.

not-yet-carfree kids at the wetlands 2010 grandmother visit
Now I'm really wondering why you can't get to Jackson Bottom by bike.  My wonder is not because I believe every rider should necessarily feel comfortable with each segment of the journey, no matter how short the ride.  My wonder is why one more mile of road was not simply designed for lower speeds to accommodate safer access to a City of Hillsboro Parks & Recreation destination. 
ALGEBRA POP QUIZ: If the speed limit was lowered from 55 mph to 40 mph for about 1 mile on Hillsboro Highway, how much more time would drivers need to allow to reach their destinations? ANSWER:  About 25 seconds
mom's bike outside the Education Center
Again undaunted (or still nuts, depending which family member you ask), I loaded my bike on the Max last weekend in between errands, pedaled the < 10 minute uneventful route from Hatfield, and found the Preserve's travel warning to be both entirely true and entirely untrue at the same time.  It's all a matter of perspective.  While "experienced and confident" with two years' biking for transportation under my belt, I am by no means an expert cyclist.  While "comfortable" biking on 219 on a quiet weekend afternoon, I can't say I was enthralled by the speed of passing cars, although all allowed ample passing space.

Photo by Casey Parks, The Oregonian, 12/30/11
And while I successfully biked to the Preserve myself - in spite of some washed out, narrow, and damaged sections of bike lane - am I comfortable with the idea of our smallest child biking on the highway?  Or Moses with his physical handicaps?  Men twice my size have looked at me in awe saying how they bike only on the sidewalk.  And just over a year ago, we were mostly there ourselves.  Again - it's all a matter of perspective.

Jackson Bottom Wetlands, photo by Annee von Borg
My current perspective says there's no way 1.5 miles of road should prevent residents without cars from reaching a public educational and recreational resource. The route, while easily navigable by bike for some, may pose challenges or raise concerns for pedestrians, seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children.  And while we aspire as a family to be active transportation activists and to build "the future Oregon where bicycling is safe, convenient, and fun," we have no desire to become martyrs for the cause.

mom's bike at the north lot
A couple of email/phone contacts to Jackson Bottom staff revealed that there is actually a north parking lot entrance to the Preserve less than a mile from Hatfield Government Center.  It is reachable by bike before the the speed limit hits 55 mph.  There is sidewalk accessibility most of the distance, and wide enough shoulder to continue walking when it disappears.  From there, it's a one mile walk to the Education Center, although Bobcat Marsh Hiking Trail is usually closed from November through the end of March.

walk one mile through the Preserve to the Education Center
We've organized two events sponsored by Resources for Health aimed at "normalizing" active transportation while raising awareness of carfree access to the Preserve.  We're looking to minimize risk with enhanced safety in numbers (plus whatever other support we can wrangle from local enforcement and other bike/walk advocacy orgs).  One event will focus on pedestrian access, while the other highlight the bike route on a group ride.

If you're local and would like to join us, here's the details, sign up on Facebook!

If you agree that 1.5 miles of road should not separate the public from a public park, join us to help "normalize" active transportation in Hillsboro. Walk/bike from home/TriMet to Jackson Bottom Wetland Preserve's north lot. Bobcat Marsh Hiking Trail, closed Nov-Mar, will be specially opened for us to walk the last mile together to the Education Center.

There you can walk the trails or stick with us and volunteer to plant with Friends of Trees in partnership with the City of Hillsboro and Clean Water Services from 8:45am - 1pm. Gloves, tools, and all necessary guidance provided. Please wear sturdy shoes and dress for the weather. Rewarding fun and exercise guaranteed or full refund :)UPDATE: PEDESTRIANS PLANTED AT THE PRESERVE! SEE THE PHOTOS

Roughly 60% of citizens are "interested but concerned" about biking for transportation. Whether you're part of the majority, the 7% "enthused and confident," or even (especially!) the 1% "strong and fearless" please join us in "normalizing" active transportation in Hillsboro. Don't you agree that 1.5 miles of road shouldn't separate the public from a public park?

Meet at Hatfield Government Station to bike
the last 1.5 miles together to Jackson Bottom Wetland Preserve . From there, you can (1) continue along the 23-mile Jackson Bottom Loop (2) park your bike at the Education Center and walk the trails (no bikes on Preserve trails, please) or (3) stick with us to plant in partnership with the City of Hillsboro and Clean Water Services from 9am-1pm. Gloves, tools, and all necessary guidance provided. Please wear sturdy shoes and dress for the weather. Rewarding fun and exercise guaranteed or full refund :)

Just remember to follow the rules -- park your bike and enjoy trails on foot!