People might be just be shopping for eggs at a new Wal-Mart in Tigard. But Steve Martin, whose house overlooks the store, can still see hens pecking in the dirt outside the chicken coops his family maintained there since the early 20th century.
"When I walk through it I’m not walking into Wal-Mart," Martin said recently. "I'm walking into the main chicken barn."
The neighborhood is called the Tigard Triangle – a shape defined by its three edges, Pacific Highway, Highway 217 and Interstate 5. But Martin remembers when it was just a bit of farmland and rural neighborhoods north of Tigard. There was no Triangle then, because Highway 217 hadn't been built.
Pockets of the rural air Martin remembers can still be found in the Triangle – gravel roads, brushy dead-ends, old farmhouses – but today they seem more like relics, standing out sharply amid newly upgraded arterial roads, office buildings and big-box stores like that Wal-Mart, which opened last year.
Tens of thousands of people pass the Triangle daily. Roughly 400 people live there, though nearly 8,000 more come every day to work at places like the headquarters of Oregon's Public Employees Retirement System, or study at a branch of Newberg-based George Fox University. Thousands more shop at Costco, Winco Foods, Babies R Us, Lowes or Wal-Mart.
But it is hard to describe it as united by anything other than its shape, hemmed in by highways.
That might change in the years ahead. In March, Tigard completed a new strategic plan for the Triangle – built on a foundation of making a more definable place where incremental change has reigned for over a generation. It's a vision of community and walkability – befitting a city that seeks to become the Pacific Northwest's "most walkable community".
There's certainly room to work with. The 450-acre Triangle is roughly the same size as downtown Portland. Yet vacant lots abound, making the potential for change evident.
Martin, who served on the Triangle strategic plan's community advisory committee, says its success will depend on better connections to the broader region.
He looks to the Southwest Corridor Plan – a collaborative effort between Metro, TriMet, the Oregon Department of Transportation and several local governments, including Tigard – as a potential conduit to connecting to the broader region and to nearby destinations like downtown Tigard and Portland Community College's Sylvania campus.
Along with roadway, sidewalk and bicycle improvements, the Southwest Corridor Plan could connect light rail or bus rapid transit to the Triangle, and bring new auto, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to improve getting in, out and around by other means, too. But its chief goal is to support the vision the community already has for itself.
Tigard leaders see the neighborhood's future as more than office parks and big-box stores.
The Triangle's strategic plan envisions thousands of people living in the district, walking to shops, offices and services along a new pedestrian spine on Southwest 69th Avenue and a completed grid of streets where many dead-end today.
It plans for as much as one million square feet of office space, mostly concentrated in the south part of the Triangle – almost 1.5 times the office space in Portland's U.S. Bancorp Tower, the largest office building in Oregon – and a new greenway along a wetland now hidden between big parking lots and busy roads.
All those changes would depend on changing the city's zoning code to allow more density in parts of the Triangle. And ultimately Tigard's leaders would need to find as much as $15 million to build new roads and other transportation improvements. Next week, the city hosts several workshops to discuss what those changes might look like.
Though the strategic plan explicitly states its vision isn't dependent on high-capacity transit coming to Tigard – which must hold a public vote before light rail could be built within city limits – Martin thinks that prospect would improve the likelihood the strategic plan's vision could be realized.
One of his longtime neighbors, Carole Rovig, agrees. Light rail or bus rapid transit "would have a big impact," said Rovig, a hairstylist who's lived and worked in her home near the new Wal-Mart for 36 years. "It would be nice so people could get here better. I have some customers who come on TriMet LIFT buses and some come by taxi once in a while, but usually they have to drive because this neighborhood really isn't walkable."
Looking for connections
Getting into and around the Triangle is tough by almost any means. Two overpasses across Highway 217 back up daily; the one direct exit from Interstate 5 does, too.
Transit service is minimal. Just one local TriMet bus comes through the Triangle on 72nd Avenue, every 30 minutes. A more frequent bus runs along Pacific at the Triangle's western edge – too far for many to walk. Bike lanes and sidewalks are spotty, too – which doesn't make for comfort with the Triangle's high-speed traffic.
"There was a day when I could walk out on 72nd Avenue and feel pretty safe," Martin said. "I could take a nice walk and run into five cars total. Today it's busy at almost any hour of the day or night."
The Southwest Corridor Plan might help handle this increased traffic – and provide alternatives. Last Friday, planners for the Southwest Corridor Plan released a memo that explores what transportation improvements could look like in the Triangle, and how they would impact travel in the Southwest Corridor overall.
Read about options the Southwest Corridor Plan is exploring in the Tigard Triangle in the plan's latest "Key Issues" memo, released last week.
Five light rail or bus rapid transit options are on the table for this area of Tigard. All would enter from the north, crossing from either Barbur Boulevard or PCC Sylvania. One option would cut west after one stop in the Triangle, heading directly downtown across a new transit-only structure above parking lots and Highway 217.
The other four options would continue in the Triangle for a mile in a couplet surrounding that proposed pedestrian spine along 69th Avenue, adding another stop near George Fox University, where more employment and educational uses predominate. After crossing Highway 217 on a new bridge that might accommodate cars and people as well as transit, each would use a different route to connect to a station in downtown Tigard, ranging from a branch service to different loops.
Each option has its advantages and drawbacks. Just one stop in the Triangle would mean a faster transit trip to downtown Tigard, shaving four minutes each way from downtown Portland. But heading directly to downtown would mean only one station in the Triangle, and a long bridge over Highway 217 that probably could only accommodate light rail, leaving existing routes into and out of the Triangle for all other trips.
Any of the routes might provide a chance to improve walking, driving and biking in the Triangle, consistent with the Triangle Strategic Plan's vision.
For example, 72nd Avenue might be able to see its sidewalk gaps filled, a street that currently dead-ends today might be connected more easily to Pacific Highway and 68th Avenue could get new bike lanes and safer turn lanes.
The Southwest Corridor Plan Steering Committee will discuss these options at its Sept. 14 meeting in Tualatin. In January, they will choose which to keep studying through a detailed impact study. A final choice isn't likely until 2018.
Change and potential
All around the Triangle, signs of change abut relics of the past. Another new office building will soon open on Dartmouth Street, which connects Interstate 5 into the neighborhood's heart. And Dartmouth's intersection with 72nd was recently upgraded from a four-way stop to a full traffic light, improving existing transit flow while anticipating more.
"It's eerie being here on the weekends. There's no one around." – Carole Rovig, local resident
But at that same intersection, a pair of abandoned homes sit forlonly, weeds growing high as their lots await some new use. Nearby, a vacant gravel lot used recently as a staging area for the construction project provides surprisingly expansive views out to Bull Mountain and the Tualatin Mountains. Around the corner, a dead-end street of modest houses lines up by a shaded apartment complex.
Rovig raised three boys in the neighborhood, not far from that intersection, on a street where all but three of the houses have since been converted to fully commercial uses. "It was a beautiful neighborhood," she said. "The boys, as they grew, played in the dirt trails with their bikes," Rovig said. "They could play in the streets."
But now the neighbors are mostly gone – another left recently. Rovig is ready to go herself.
"It's eerie being here on the weekends. There's no one around," she said. She's considering moving to Vancouver, where her grandchildren live.
Although leaving won't be easy, Rovig doesn't begrudge the change the Triangle is seeing. She just hopes it will help her get a good price for her house.
"It's still very quiet and serene here sometimes," Rovig said. "Even though it's changed, the birds are still singing."