Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

PSU grad students want to ‘Activate’ Waterfront Park

Posted by on April 24th, 2014 at 11:15 am

Waterfront Park is typically considered a bright spot in Portland’s urban planning legacy. And it should be. After all, it used to be an urban freeway known as Harbor Drive that was closed in 1974. In its place is the tree-lined park we now enjoy and that has become one of the city’s best public spaces.

But how can take Waterfront Park from good to great? How can we make it a more attractive and accessible place for all Portlanders? Those are some of the questions being asked by a new project dubbed “Activate the Waterfront“.

The effort is being led by Watermark Planning, which is six graduate students from Portland State University’s vaunted Master’s of Urban and Regional Planning program (MURP). They’ve partnered up with city agencies (including Portland Parks and Recreation and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability) to develop a Downtown Portland Waterfront Activation Plan. The project is a six-month endeavor that will fulfill the student’s degree capstone requirement.

bike lane on Naito Parkway

What is this big arterial doing here?!
Downtown Portland on the left, the Willamette River on the right.
(Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)

When I think of Waterfront Park, I can’t help but see how much greater potential it has for public access. Currently, it’s cut off from the rest of downtown by the auto-dominated SW Naito Parkway. Naito represents a major failure of Portland planning. Despite a $10 million facelift in 2007, it’s a relic of the automobile age. Instead of a people-first orientation, Naito puts the through movement of automobiles at the top of the pyramid. Bicycling on Naito is nowhere near world-class. It has only a standard, 1990s-style, five-foot wide bike lane. The west side bike lane is mostly in a door-zone and crosses freeway access ramps. The east side (adjacent to the park) is a bit better, but it also offers no separation from cars and it lacks key connections in the south and north (and after years of promises, PBOT still hasn’t fixed the notorious ‘Naito Gap’).

As a result, development on the west side of Naito — which, given its views and location should be one of the most vibrant, dense, and valuable commercial areas in the central city — is lackluster to say the least. It’s marked by surface parking lots, vacant buildings, and has no major restaurants or outdoor seating.

Waterfront Park path-4

A nice path, but it’s far from the serious bicycle transportation facility we need.

Another result of Naito being so car-centric is that the majority of bicycle traffic opts to use the multi-use path on the river’s edge. This is problematic because of the huge public demands on that path. It is swamped with other users during sunny days and it’s routinely blocked by the many privately-run festivals that overtake the park during the summer.

It should be clear to anyone with an eye for transportation and bicycle planning that there should be a dedicated bicycle facility on the west side of Waterfront Park from Riverplace in the south all the way to the northwest industrial area.

Sorry for the opinionated digression, but suffice it to say I was thrilled to hear about this project!

I met one of the Watermark Planning staff at a recent meeting. She said the “activation strategy” they’ll create will then be plugged into the Central City 2035 Plan, “with the goal of making the waterfront and the surrounding blocks a vibrant place all year round.”

Bicycle access is one of the key issues they’re looking to address in the project.

In order to garner more public feedback, they’ve developed two online tools and they’ve got a big event planned for this weekend.

They have a very cool map app that allows anyone to click a location and leave a comment. Here’s a sampling of what folks have already contributed:

“Naito Parkway is Boring. Need businesses that activate Naito Parkway and streetscapes that attract peds.”

“A beer garden by the [Salmon Street] fountain!”

“Convert one of the traffic lanes on Naito to sidewalk and a bike lane.”

“protected two way cycle track and grade separated ped walkway on park side Naito”

They’ve also created an online survey that asks how often you visit the area, how you get there, what activities and improvements you’d like to see, and so on.

And this Sunday, Watermark Planning is hosting a “Day at the Park” from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm (event info via Facebook). This event will include several activities and will happen rain or shine. They’ll check out sports equipment, do some arts and crafts, and “demonstrate several activities and amenities that could occur there regularly in the future.”

PSU MURP capstone projects have led to many great things in the past and this one sound particularly exciting. If you care about the future of Waterfront Park and want to see it come alive and have better bicycling access, consider offering your feedback and get involved with the project.

— Learn more at ActivateTheWaterfront.com.

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

  • F.W. de Klerk April 24, 2014 at 11:35 am

    This sounds well and good but I don’t think Naito parkway is going anywhere.

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  • Charlie April 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    Hmm… Not sure how I feel about this. One the one, I agree that Naito Parkway is gross, and really detracts from the appearance Waterfront Park. But then, it does a good job of directing traffic away from the smaller streets downtown, and it allows people with mobility issues easy access to Waterfront Park. And no matter what bike faciities they put in there, I’d still probably prefer biking along the waterfront where there’s no cars and no traffic lights (although it does get really chaotic there when it’s too crowded).

    What do you think of marking a designated bike lane along the waterfront?

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    • Todd Hudson April 24, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      You’d have to make a huge sacrifice to have a bike lane along the waterfront. Simply putting a stripe down would be insufficient. Building a cycletrack adjacent the sidewalk would mean removing all the trees. Putting a cycletrack on the opposite side of the trees would take so much area that festivals might not be feasible.

      Biking along the waterfront during the summer sucks. Last summer, I had to swerve and nearly crashed due to homeless people having a fistfight.

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      • rick May 13, 2015 at 6:46 am

        trees can grow back

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  • Spiffy April 24, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    The east side (adjacent to the park) is a bit better, but it also offers no separation from cars and it lacks key connections in the south and north (and after years of promises, PBOT still hasn’t fixed the notorious ‘Naito Gap’).

    and of course the myriad of obstacles present whenever there’s an event in the park… obstacles such as barricades, cones, people, or trash cans…

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  • Spiffy April 24, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    I-405 was finished in 1973… Harbor Drive was demolished in 1974…

    as Sigma said a couple days ago, we didn’t get rid of Harbor Drive, we just moved it further west…

    the urban freeway is alive and well living under an assumed name in the Freeway Protection Program…

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  • Chris I April 24, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    We need to activate the east side of the river, by removing the east bank freeway…

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    • Spiffy April 24, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      we need to literally bury it…

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    • Reza April 24, 2014 at 1:30 pm

      What does this have to do with a post about Waterfront Park?

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      • Spiffy April 24, 2014 at 1:53 pm

        they removed a freeway on the west side and now we have Waterfront Park…

        if they remove the freeway on the east side then we can have even more waterfront park… plus getting rid of the blight that the freeway provides in its shadow…

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        • CaptainKarma April 24, 2014 at 2:05 pm

          …and the noise!

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        • Todd Hudson April 24, 2014 at 2:32 pm

          This is incredibly unrealistic. It’s not even relevant to the subject at hand. We should focus on what is feasible, not fantasize about tactical urbanist utopias….

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          • Chris I April 24, 2014 at 3:33 pm

            The Marquam bridge is going to need to be replaced at some point. It’s better to have a progressive plan in place, so ODOT doesn’t just replace it with an identical bridge.

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        • Reza April 24, 2014 at 9:28 pm

          I think the dismantling or burying of the Eastbank Freeway is a little beyond this group’s mission.

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  • Chris I April 24, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    I love the idea of a cycle track on the west side of the green space, but I see two major drawbacks: removal of “usable” space from the park, and user conflicts during large events.

    What if we were to push for a multi-use space? During most of the year, when events are not being held, or if the event is small, the space would be used for bikes. During large events like the Jazz Fest or OBF, the organizers could use this space for entry lines, queuing space, etc. The events would get just as much room, and bikes would get safer infrastructure for the rest of the year.

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    • Spiffy April 24, 2014 at 1:16 pm

      so bikes would still be 2nd class vehicles?

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      • Chris I April 25, 2014 at 8:19 am

        Only during events. And during events, you still have the bike lanes on Naito. We have to be realistic. The city is not going to allow a cycle track to consume thousands of square feet of prime tourist-income producing waterfront real estate. However, if we compromise and give them the space during peak season, we will get to enjoy a world-class cycling facility the rest of the year.

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    • Robert Burchett April 24, 2014 at 6:41 pm

      There are two seasons in Waterfront Park. Winter, and Events (I include set-up, teardown, and grass repair. I can’t name them all: Bite, Brewers, Cinco de Mayo, Blues, what else? Naito can’t go on a diet for bikes, but if you’re moving in a carnival, no problem.

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  • maccoinnich April 24, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Jonathan / Michael – has there been any progress on closing the Naito gap since your last article about it, in July of last year?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 24, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      Nope. At least I don’t think so. I haven’t heard a peep about it. Then again. I haven’t asked. Pretty ridiculous IMO!

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  • David April 24, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Using Google Maps to generate comments in brilliant. Anybody know how they did this?

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  • megawonk April 24, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    maybe the city needs to be less zealous with using the grassy open space. between all the festivals held there and the canadian geese sh#$%ing all over the place, and the bum resort at the north end of the park by the steel bridge its not really that invititng of a space. when its not occupied by some carny festival passing thru, the grass is either a sandy mess or covered in goose feces. the space is fine, the living element needs to be cleaned up.

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    • eddie May 4, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      “bum resort?”

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  • Reza April 24, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    A protected 2-way cycle track on the east side of Naito is the obvious solution here. Something needs to be done to get cyclists off the main path and in their own space.

    But the Naito Gap looms large…

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    • JNE April 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      Talk about second class! Get cyclists off the main path, really?!?!
      I ride along the waterfront to work all the time and love being next to the water, and I gladly trade off speed for the view. I don’t mind going slow, even if it means going walking speed or slower to avoid others enjoying the promenade. If you want to pedal fast just get on the freaking bike lane on Naito.

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      • Reza April 24, 2014 at 9:25 pm

        Second class? It’s about having a safe, continuous place to ride without having to crawl at 5 mph or endanger pedestrians. Cycling on the main path during the summer months is a hazard to everyone. And the bike lanes aren’t much safer, since you’re weaving through multiple highway ramps. The bike lanes also abruptly end south of Jefferson Street and north of Davis Street. On some of the worst pavement in the entire city.

        Those conditions, my friend, are truly second class.

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        • wsbob April 25, 2014 at 12:56 am

          Bike lanes on Naito definitely ought to be refined and improved as needed. Whether the city will ever have a strong enough argument to build a first class cycle track on Naito, possibly displacing some of the road’s current motor vehicle volume, I don’t know. Seems like the city could though, somehow scratch out a couple extra feet on each side of the road to have the bike lanes be a bit better for riding. By the way, if the posted speed limit is above 25mph, bring that down to 20, maybe between the hours of 7am and 7pm.

          The city has gotten carried away with the festival occupation of the park. Visually, the Farris Wheel and carnival lights look great on the waterfront, but the festival occupation assault on the senses and sensibility, is just nasty: the amazingly stinky mud and grass, cyclone exclusion fencing along the main path, a bunch of different bad recorded music tracks from each ride or concessionaire, playing loud all at one time.

          Charging people just to walk down the center of the park through all that mess, if they don’t want to be squeezed between the cyclone fence and the harbor wall, really takes the shine off this park. In the summer during the brief span between festivals when the grass has recovered some and the park is relatively quiet, even on busy weekends, it’s big enough that it can be a great place to kick back in the sun, play fetch with the dog, and so on.

          Numbered amongst development on Naito, are some big time hotels that aren’t too bad by any scale. Good chance the hotel owners think favorably on the festival season. Development north of Yamhill on Naito is kind of shabby in places because of extensive space devoted to surface parking lots. The ‘Goodman touch’, may have something to do with their boring contribution to Naito streetscape ambiance.

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  • Josh G April 24, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    history buffs, don’t miss the slideshow the group has put together: http://vimeo.com/89218729

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    • Spiffy April 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      wow, you can really see how we went from boat-centric to auto-centric in the 30’s… it’s amazing that it took almost 100 years for the people to claim it…

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  • megawonk April 24, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    also, concerning cycling on naito, id actually call it quite useful for getting across downtown and avoiding riding on 3rd or 4th. the naito gap you speak of is awkward, i agree. i avoid it and take waterfront if im coming from the north though. a cycletrack from the burnside bridge to the hawthorne bridge would be a great compromise. its seems to be working over by the lloyd center on multnomah.

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    • spare_wheel April 28, 2014 at 7:35 am

      imo, ne multnomah is a failed facility. hopefully sw multnomah won’t be sabotaged in a similar manner.

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  • Craig Harlow April 24, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    As a result, development on the west side of Naito — which, given its views and location should be one of the most vibrant, dense, and valuable commercial areas in the central city — is lackluster to say the least.


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  • megawonk April 24, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    ^^^blame nimbyism for part of that lack of density. that whole stretch of down town bordering naito has really low height restrictions (75′). chinatown is the same way for alot of it. talk to charlie hales about the density issues. he’s the boss…

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  • Granpa April 24, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Activities that do not take over spaces are fine. Designated activities that eliminate the flexibility of the space are a bad idea. And what in the heck is wrong with open park space with NO activities. Jelling out in the park without an activity is itself an activity, therefor the park is activated. Do I get my masters diploma now?

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  • kittens April 24, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    I honestly think the park is “active” enough. Perhaps too active during the summer when the festivals ruin an otherwise nice park and cut off the river from the city with tents and chain link fences everywhere.

    We need better pedestrian access at the terminus of each street, a full-length sidewalk and cycletrack on the West side of the park, better maintenance landscaping, lighting and the park is fine for another 40 years.

    It doesn’t need to be hardscaped or chopped up with gee-gaws

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  • megawonk April 24, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    the city needs a dedicated spot for the carny season, lets see, cinco de mayo, dead grass, rose festival, dead grass, pdx pride, less dead grass, blues festival, cheap beer cups,/dead grass…you get the picture. in the name of tourism the city sacrifices its best grassy urban asset to hold a 3 month fesitval of dopiness….i dunno, id start there….

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    • JNE April 24, 2014 at 5:36 pm

      Yes! I hate the Carny season down there. Just thinking about it firing up next month gives me the blues.

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      • megawonk April 24, 2014 at 7:18 pm

        ^^^^seriously, its kind of annoying. i suppose the city has some long stranding contract to uphold with carny vendors or the like but its not like we are hurting for tourism promotion. the only people that really look forward to rose festival it seems are far out, suburban tourists anyway. why not ship the whole damn thing out to a proper fairgrounds, not a big city park. not to be the doom and gloom public booster but rose festival is kind of retarded anyway. yay a parade and dragon boat race….just keep waterfront a park, like normal cities have. oh wait, portlands not normal…..well parts of it should be…..

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  • megawonk April 24, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    with the exception of blues festival, every single one of those events could be held elsewhere. cinco de mayo and the rose festival carnival could be moved out to the washington fairgrounds or held at oaks park, and the rest could be moved to pioneer sq. or 1 of the cities huge parks….it doesnt get nice here until june and by that time its of no use trying to hang out down there…..thats the problem psu students. tell your planning teachers that please. k thanks!!!

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    • Chris I April 25, 2014 at 8:22 am

      Holding OBF somewhere else would be a terrible idea. These are the tourists that we want staying in the central city, and more importantly, they want to stay in the central city, that’s where all of the good breweries are! If you moved OBF to the expo center or Wash Co Fairgrounds, it would absolutely kill attendance.

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      • megawonk April 25, 2014 at 8:53 am

        notice i said with the exception of blues festival. yes i agree, it no use having something called “river front” blues festival without a river.

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        • Chris I April 25, 2014 at 12:24 pm

          I’m talking about the Oregon Brewer’s Festival.

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  • dwainedibbly April 24, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Naito needs a road diet, badly. Use that space for some protected bicycling infrastructure and you could reduce some of the congestion on the MUP.

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  • gutterbunny April 25, 2014 at 7:44 am

    Is there really a reason that you couldn’t remove all auto access on it from say Columbia (to preserve the Marriotts auto access) or Clay if Marriott doesn’t need it) to the Steel bridge? You’re only really shutting off access to the Hawthorn and Morrison bridge. The cloverleafs for Morrison could be demo’d and the lots sold for development.

    There aren’t many businesses with the entrances on it, it’s not really much of a corridor for delivery trucks. There isn’t even that much street parking on it.

    Seems like you could easily make it a large pedestrian mall. Keep it open,and paved (though perhaps with something with a little more style). That way you got a place where the festival’s ( best place would probably be just south of the Steel Bridge where the road veers west opening up more space once the onramp is removed) can be hosted without shutting off the prom and destroying the grass.

    Also with the permanent festival space and not needing to plant grass between events you could probably even squeeze in a few more events every season.

    And with no festivals in the grass, you can do stuff like add playgrounds and other things to add more appeal.

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    • gutterbunny April 25, 2014 at 8:13 am

      Afterthought >Installing a permanent big stage/amphitheater for the festivals would allow the city to host regular concerts as well.

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      • megawonk April 25, 2014 at 9:02 am

        my first vote is lets start with rounding up the geese. the grass eventually grows back in spots but the geese just migrate to the unused grassy parts and start crapping all over the place. portland parks and rec does not really seem to care. its the same story over at laurelhurst, willamette park, wherever there is a grass and a water supply. if geese show up at the new park on overton all those rich condo owners will put up a stink. you cant have a pleasant park experience with a flock of grass eating poo machines walking around. seriously. its gnarly.

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        • Daniel L April 25, 2014 at 10:20 am

          Yeah, don’t let that nature interfere with your nature experience.

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        • wsbob April 25, 2014 at 11:34 am

          Not sure why it is, but the geese seem to like to hang out mainly on the amphitheater lawn. They kind of make a mess, but doo-doo is soon just organic fertilizer, unlike the petroleum derived fertilizer likely being used to grow the turf.

          Except for it being used for seating people attending the blues festival, I’d probably be inclined to feel it would be better if the amphitheater were landscaped with lots of big rocks, natural grasses and other plants. Trails to walk across the expanse of the expanse of the amphitheater bowl, which would be better for walking than that crummy open cobble walkway near and across the bottom of the bowl. With this, the geese could do their thing, and people could enjoy watching them while walking through that section of the park.

          At any rate, outside of somehow eradicating them, paving the space or putting buildings on it, it may be very difficult to get the geese to move along. Could be, the area the park is on, may have been part of their flyway for generations, genetically programmed into their survival makeup. Difficult also, to persuade birds to move away from airports, even with big jets, blasting through their home constantly.

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          • Chris I April 25, 2014 at 12:26 pm

            Most of their historic habitat has been paved over. We either need to kill them all, or deal with the minor inconvenience a few times a year…

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  • MaxD April 25, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Waterfront Park seriously needs its northern edge and extension north beyone the Steel Bridge. Is that path supposed to be public?

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    • gutterbunny April 25, 2014 at 3:36 pm

      If it’s the one I’m thinking of it is a public path, not a bad ride up that way either.

      The condos/apartments are kind of in the way of extending the park north of the steel.

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      • megawonk April 27, 2014 at 10:53 am

        at that point, i think the trail is private property kind of like the western side of the willamette loop down in johns landing.

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  • hamsa April 27, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    In order to “Activate the Waterfront” you’ve first got to “Take Back the Waterfront”… from all the Street Kids & Homeless people that basically live and sleep all over the Waterfront Parks!

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  • Joe April 28, 2014 at 8:47 am

    yes Naito needs a road diet for sure. little signage for water front so everyone understand riders use this would be nice too, its full with some walking 5 wide and the joggers. lol

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