Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Railroad tracks on NW Naito near Steel Bridge all smoothed out

Posted by on August 31st, 2011 at 9:43 am

Newly replaced railroad tracks on NW Naito, just north of the Steel Bridge.
(Photo © J. Maus)

A project to smooth out two sets of railroad tracks on NW Naito Parkway is complete. There used to be severe bumps and gaps in the road just north of the Steel Bridge overpass; but now the track panels have been replaced and people who have been injured while biking over the bumps are breathing easier.

On July 24th, just over a week before the Portland Bureau of Transportation announced the project, a woman (who will remain anonymous) crashed while negotiating the tracks during a group ride. She suffered a serious wrist injury which required surgery to insert a steel plate and pin. The woman’s doctor says she’ll never regain full range-of-motion. (I’ve asked both Union Pacific Railroad and PBOT if the track replacement project was a response to the woman’s crash, but have yet to hear back. I assume it wasn’t because of the short time window (less than two weeks) between her crash and the project getting underway.) (UPDATE: Both PBOT and UPRR say the project was completed as part of regular maintenance.)

Scott Batchelar is another person who will be glad to know the tracks have been replaced. “When I saw the new tracks I breathed a huge sigh of relief,” he wrote via Twitter. Batchelar rides in that area often, but said he used to avoid the tracks because of “how tricky and dangerous” they were. He says he’s had three “big spills” while riding across them. “I referred to those tracks as my personal enemy because of how many times they had gotten me.”

There are other bumpy tracks in need of replacement in Northwest Portland near Union Station. Hopefully those get replaced soon.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • SilkySlim August 31, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Finally! This has been the worst part of my commute for nearly four years. Pretty happy to have things smoothed out.

    I distinctly remember my first spill there – my bike went out from under me so quickly that I actually landed on my feet!

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  • Ben Waterhouse August 31, 2011 at 9:58 am

    While the tracks are now perfectly rideable, I’m sticking to the detour through the park. A week after the project was finished, I nearly hit another cyclist who was crossing Naito just after the tracks (an inadvisable and probably illegal practice that is very common) and blocking the bike lane. Because I was coming down the rise before the bridge at speed, when I swerved into the curb (to avoid hitting the other rider) I destroyed my front wheel and went right over the handlebars, landing on my face. I applaud the city for removing one hazard, but this intersection of fast-moving car and bike traffic is still problematic.

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    • Spiffy August 31, 2011 at 10:43 am

      I don’t think it’s illegal to make a left there coming southbound to get onto the path ramp across the bridge… obviously people should be watching for oncoming traffic…

      I’m confused… I don’t even think there’s a northbound bike lane there to block at that point since it seems to start after the path ramp… if you’re heading north you’re not in a bike lane… not sure how somebody in the bike lane caused you to swerve and fall… but don’t go hurting only yourself to avoid collisions with idiots…

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  • OnTheRoad August 31, 2011 at 9:58 am


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  • ambrown August 31, 2011 at 10:01 am

    This is great news! However, I have a few nitpicky concerns.

    1) When the project was finished, there was a huge pile of sand or dirt or something right where the Northbound bikelane on Naito picks up; considering how many cyclists are making a sharp right turn there after crossing the tracks at the pedestrian sidewalk further east, it’s remarkable that no one fell. Haven’t we seen reports that gravel and debris in the road lead to a surprisingly large percentage of bicycle crashes? It’ll be a great day when PBOT has enough clout to seriously address the issue

    2) Speaking of that sidewalk, the new asphalt connecting the path to the ramp up and over the rails is somewhat uneven. This may be a good thing in that it’ll require cyclists to slow down before crossing the tracks, and there are usually many pedestrians through that stretch worth slowing down for. But on my first ride over it I nearly crashed.

    and one major concern:

    How soon until we get bike lanes or sharrows or something for the full stretch between NW Davis and the other side of the tracks? In one of Jonathan’s previous write ups, it sounded as though more work may be coming, and I just want to put in a voice saying that a ped crossing from NW Davis to the esplenade, and some bike infrastructure, will be greatly appreciated and is sorely needed. Naito becomes a mini-highway under the Steel Bridge!

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    • Ben Waterhouse August 31, 2011 at 10:09 am

      For that matter, does PBOT have any plans to address Naito’s other eccentricities? For example: are cyclists actually supposed to use that absurd detour of the southbound lane after tracks that shunts riders onto NW 2nd? And how are we intended to access the Hawthorne Bridge from the southbound lane? The 360-degree turn onto the blocked-off onramp seems like it couldn’t possibly be the official solution, but the only alternative is a four-block detour.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 31, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Glad others on this thread are pointing out the shortcomings in bicycle access quality on Naito. It really is in need of an overhaul to make it work better for bicycling… Just add it to the major corridors in the Central City where bicycles are not on same level as motor vehicles or transit in terms of access quality (SW Broadway, Lovejoy/Pearl, connections to SW Portland, etc…). Maybe it’s time for some neighborhood greenways downtown!

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    • Alex August 31, 2011 at 10:28 am

      I’ll echo what you’ve mentioned before, Jonathan. Naito is ripe for some two-way cycle track action!

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  • David M August 31, 2011 at 10:45 am

    I ate pavement a few months ago on these very tracks, even got a stitch in the chin because of it. I work in the old Port of Portland building and there really isn’t a great alternative without circling the block. I am glad that the tracks are smoothed, but this area is really bad. I like to call it the Naito Speedway, because vehicle traffic is going waaaaaaaay too fast 90 percent of the time, and it can be tricky to navigate the tracks and watch for cars driving clearly in excess of the speed limit. I would love to see and feel that this area needs to be improved and some speed control added for the cars as well.

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  • Brandon Van Buskirk August 31, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Also, when are we going to get a crossing at Flanders….this is a huge missing opportunity to expand bike commuting in the downtown core.

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  • Alex Reed August 31, 2011 at 11:22 am

    This is a good step, but far from enough. Given that the tracks are not perpendicular to the road, which seems unlikely to be fixed anytime soon, more accomodations must be made for people on bikes. If I had my druthers, I would double the width of the bike lane in this location to allow for a zig-zagging perpendicular crossing of the tracks. I would also highlight the recommended zigzag maneuver track in green.

    And slow car speeds tremendously. And as long as I’m dreaming, I’d like a pony too!

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  • Hart Noecker August 31, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    I’ve noticed Union Pacific making improvements everywhere lately. Good to see Amtrak and U.P. gearing up for more rail business.

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    • matt picio August 31, 2011 at 12:47 pm

      U.P. deals with a lot of lawsuits each year due to conflicts between people of all modes and their trains. If a change can be made for less than the cost of going to court, they’re all over it. A lot of improvements can be encouraged simply by figuring out how much the cost of doing nothing is and presenting it to the company/agency in question.

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    • Chris I August 31, 2011 at 3:48 pm

      If U.P. had their way, Amtrak would not exist. I assure you, and improvements in passenger rail and pedestrian crossings are not done voluntarily.

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  • Champs August 31, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    I certainly can’t hold them liable for everything that happens there. I have seen someone shoulder a bike between railcars like the coupling was just a CX barrier, just because the train stopped for a moment.

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  • Steve B August 31, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Awesome! Now let’s get the Naito Gap, at this point years behind schedule, filled in stat!


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  • Wayne August 31, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    If I recall from the last SW get together Jonathan held, the stretch of Naito all the way through to the Fremont Bridge is under ODOT jurisdiction. Part of my regular commute, I see people driving way too fast through here every morning.

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    • OnTheRoad August 31, 2011 at 5:46 pm

      Wouldn’t it have to be designated a state highway to fall under ODOT’s jurisdiction?

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      • Wayne September 2, 2011 at 1:34 pm

        The guy from ODOT, Ron, I’m pretty sure, said this. It’s considered an extension of Barbur/99W which is under ODOT. I thought it was strange I could be mistaken.

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  • Alain August 31, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Huge improvement!

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