Growing interest in and desire for increased access to the Willamette River has created an opportunity to revitalize this public space in the Central City. More people want to get in the water to swim, kayak, boat and sail as well as just sit on the riverbank and enjoy the river scenery.
The Willamette River is at the heart of Portland, but access to it is limited in the Central City. Through the Central City 2035 Plan and the River Plan/Central Reach, the City has been working with property owners, city, state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations and interested parties to identify opportunities along the Willamette River for improved public access to and into the river, as well as a variety of active destinations and enhanced fish and wildlife habitat.
After a series of workshops with stakeholders in the Central Reach, Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) staff developed an Urban Design Concept, which describes ideas for improvements and increased public access along the riverfront. The Eastbank Crescent is the first area to be studied along the Central Reach of the river because a convergence of interests has created an opportunity to act now.
The Eastbank Crescent site is located between the Hawthorne and Marquam bridges on the eastern bank of the Willamette River. The site is bound to the east by Interstate-5. It comprises approximately 3 acres on land and 2.5 acres within the water, including the Holman Dock. The river here is shallow and could provide good habitat for migrating salmon and other fish. And it has been under consideration for a variety of uses and improvements for many years.
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), which owns roughly half of the riverbank within the site, is interested in helping restore fish and wildlife habitat and providing opportunities for the public to learn about the relationship of healthy habitat and migrating fish. The Greenway Trail from the Eastbank Esplanade to OMSI is heavily used by pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as OMSI visitors travelling from the parking area to the museum. The path is narrow and the potential for user conflicts is high, so OMSI is also interested in improving access to the museum.
The Eastbank Crescent is next to the Portland Boathouse, home base for multiple rowing and paddling clubs that use the Holman Dock to launch non-motorized boats. In summer, a rocky beach emerges and swimmers gather and jump off the dock. The Portland Boathouse, however, must relocate and is looking for a new space nearby. Also, the Holman Dock is in poor shape and needs to be rebuilt.
Finally, Portland General Electric (PGE), former owner of the site, has completed in-river clean-up actions immediately south of the Eastbank Crescent and will begin similar clean-up actions at this site in 2017.
To ensure all these features — safe access to and into the river, a new dock, habitat restoration and trail improvements — are coordinated and create a cohesive, well-functioning public space, the City is developing the Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan.
The goal of the Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan is to activate and enliven this highly visible site with views of downtown and the Willamette River. The Plan seeks to integrate multiple uses while minimizing user conflicts, creating a design that is physically and financially practical to build, maintain and operate. Specific uses under consideration are:
- Safe public access to and into the Willamette River, for swimmers and non-motorized boaters.
- Enhanced in-water nearshore habitat for fish.
- Restored riparian and upland habitat for birds and wildlife.
- River habitat education opportunities for OMSI.
- Safe movement of pedestrians and cyclists on the Willamette Greenway Trail through the site.
The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has partnered with Portland Parks and Recreation, the Bureau of Environmental Services and the Portland Development Commission to lead the Riverfront Plan development. A team of consultants with extensive local experience with urban design, landscape architecture and river restoration projects in and along the Willamette River has investigated the existing physical conditions at the site, identifying constraints and potential impediments to achieving the full range of uses. They have developed potential design concepts for the Eastbank Crescent.
Challenges and Opportunities
Areas of shallow water and slower currents are very important for resting and refuge to migrating fish. These “safe havens” are rare in the Central Reach of the Willamette River. But the shallow water area along the Eastbank Crescent is a good candidate for habitat restoration.
The best way to achieve a well-functioning habitat area would be to lay back the steep bank to create a gentler slope as well as opportunities for alcoves and woody structures along the shoreline. The upland portion of the site is relatively narrow, and required setbacks from the piers supporting the Hawthorne Bridge and I-5 further will limit how far the banks can be laid back. Multiple public utility pipes and transmission lines also affect the extent of excavation that could occur. Design alternatives consider how to achieve as much habitat improvement as possible, given the physical constraints of the site.
In the summer months, people gather on the Holman Dock to sunbathe and jump into the river. This creates difficulties for members of rowing and paddling groups trying to launch their boats. It also presents a potential hazard for swimmers that aren’t seen by boaters. For those few months when temperatures lure river swimmers into the water, a multi-use dock results in user conflicts. Design alternatives consider safe ways for people to get into the river and/or sunbathe while avoiding conflicts with boaters.
The Greenway Trail through the site is busy with bicycle and pedestrian traffic in both directions. with bicyclists exiting the Hawthorne Bridge, boaters carrying boats up to 60 feet long from the Portland Boathouse to the Holman Pier, and people heading from parking areas to OMSI frequently crossing the trail path. Developing parallel trails to separate bicyclists and pedestrians minimizes conflicts, but increasing pavement in the Willamette Greenway may conflict with goals for increasing native vegetation and stormwater control. Laying back the bank for habitat improvements could offer opportunities for grade-separated crossings such as an underpass. Design alternatives consider how to maximize safe movement through the site while maintaining adequate area to meet Greenway goals for environmental protection.
Draft design alternatives have been reviewed by affected City of Portland bureaus to consider how well project goals are met, gauge the feasibility of development and operation as a City facility, and provide insight into the range of permits that would be required to complete the project. Key stakeholders in the project, including property owners at and around the Eastbank Crescent, regular users of the site, and state and federal permitting agencies have provided input and recommended refinements.
Three refined design alternatives will be presented at a public open house on June 29, 2016, and a preferred alternative will be developed incorporating community input. The preferred alternative will be presented to the Portland City Council as part of the Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan in August 2016.
The Eastbank Crescent Riverfront Plan will provide the blueprint for improvements at the site, but a detailed master plan with additional community input will be necessary prior to construction. Actualization of the Plan will require new funding.