Another summer is on the way, and the story is familiar: Waterfront Park has become such a success that people on foot are spilling onto the bed of Naito Parkway, the five-lane street that runs beside it.
During festivals like the Cinco de Mayo event that wrapped up Tuesday, the park is fenced off by barriers that are typically dragged right up to the curb, forcing the many people walking to the festival to use the bike lane — and forcing the many people biking on Naito directly into car traffic.
But though the problem isn’t new, more people seem to be wondering this spring if something could be done about it.
Just Tuesday, Mayor Charlie Hales tweeted about an idea he’s mentioned several times: a physically separated path that could replace the rightmost northbound traffic lane on at least part of Naito, presumably north of the Hawthorne Bridge where auto traffic is relatively light.
Hales isn’t the only one. At the invitation of Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick’s office, I stopped by Naito during rush hour on Tuesday to check out a phenomenon one of Novick’s policy advisors had identified as worrisome.
The advisor I was meeting, Timur Ender, had reached out after getting some photos of his own over the weekend:
Festival visitor’s take on Naito: “I hate Portland”
Ender says the city has been hearing from some constituents, too. He forwarded this note that local attorney Scott Kocher sent to Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz on April 30:
Is there any way your bureau could ask the Cinco de Mayo folks to move their cyclone fence a few feet back from Naito Parkway downtown so that there is room for people to walk on the grass (or, really, the goat path that serves as a sidewalk) instead of in the bike lane?
Festivals make cycling on the Esplanade waterfront path impassible. Considering the waterfront path is (I suspect) the most heavily-used cycling corridor in Oregon, that’s kind of a big deal. But, it’s fine. When there are crowds, people walking along the water should get priority. This darned fencing, however, blocks people from walking along Naito, and forces people who are on foot into the bike lane. That forces people on bikes into the vehicle traffic, which is dangerous. That is the situation right now.
Thank you for this sort of attention to detail that will make Cinco de Mayo safe and comfortable for everyone, and make it possible for the thousands of people who ride bicycles along the waterfront to use the Naito bike lanes instead of the Esplanade waterfront path, as your bureau’s recently-installed signage asks.
Standing on Naito late on Tuesday afternoon, I started asking a few people in the constant stream walking between the fence and street what they thought of the situation.
“I hate Portland,” said Meagan Seibt of Tigard, who was visiting the festival with two friends and walking in the crowded space along the fence. “Too many people, too many cars.”
An unexpected demo
Then, while I was there, a frightening thing happened: inside the festival, someone was shot. First responders pulled into the rightmost traffic lane beneath the Morrison Bridge and proceeded to set out orange cones in the rightmost lane all the way south to the Hawthorne Bridge to prevent any conflicts with their work.
Fortunately, the victim survived. And purely by coincidence, Portland had just created a temporary live demo of what Naito Parkway would look like during rush hour if its rightmost northbound lane were converted to a mixed-use path.
People didn’t quite know what was going on, so they still tended to hug the curb. But you could see in people’s body language that the lack of cars passing three feet away made it a dramatically more comfortable experience.
What about the auto traffic?
North of the Hawthorne and south of the Morrison, it turned out that one lane was plenty of room for northbound cars to queue up during each signal cycle without spillover. The real question, I realized, was what would happen to traffic where the lane closure started. So I walked down to the south side of the Hawthorne Bridge. Here’s what it looked like there, looking south:
As you can see, the right lane of Naito south of the Hawthorne Bridge is taken up largely by people waiting to turn right. For those who aren’t, the rightmost lane only appears after the Hawthorne onramp — so it doesn’t add any capacity to this chokepoint. North of the Hawthorne, the second auto lane is mostly just a passing lane.
I walked back and talked to some more people about the temporary road change.
“As a cyclist it’s great,” said Alejandro Savransky, pedaling northbound on Naito. “I know that people won’t be walking in the bike lane or if they are, I can go around them.”
Luis Juarez, walking to the festival ticket booth with a young girl who I assume was his daughter, had a slightly different take.
“It’s going to be good for people walking, but not for the traffic,” he said.
I asked Juarez whether, on balance, he’d rather keep the lane dedicated to walking and biking or return it to an auto lane. He considered for a moment.
“I would say leave it like it is,” Juarez said in thickly accented English. “You’ve always got to look for ways for people to walk.”
A history of experiments
Tuesday’s brief traffic pattern change wasn’t the first time Naito has been temporarily improved. Back in 2009, expansion of the Saturday Market led to a short-term barrier-protected path in almost the same space.
It’s clear that Commissioner Novick and Mayor Hales are looking urgently for a solution to the current Naito problem and are hoping to come up with some ideas in the next few weeks, ideally in time for the Rose Festival CityFair that begins May 22. Ender sent this statement on Wednesday from Novick’s office:
We are very concerned with the conditions we saw on Naito this past weekend. Kids in strollers and seniors were within inches of 35mph traffic without any physical protection. The environment on Naito did not conform to the vibrant pedestrian atmosphere the city is trying to foster for our visitors and it failed to meet a minimum level of safety for the traveling public. Our office has already started the process of communicating with Rose Festival to ensure the same issues do not repeat themselves later this month.
This is pretty strong and clear language from the commissioner’s office. It’ll be interesting to see exactly what he’s got in mind to make things better on Naito.
Great piece, Michael.
Isn’t it interesting how everyone not in a car gets to duke it out on the narrow strips? When we hold the Belmont Street Fair, we do it in the Street! And everyone loves it, because the cars and buses have to do somewhere else for a day.
Ahhhh…..the spring and summer of private events in our public park. It’s a shame that our public waterfront park, the jewel along the Willamette gets fenced up and inaccessible for months. The cyclone fencing is a total eyesore and ruins the great space where people play frisbee, sit and ponder, and enjoy the views. Welcome to Portland! Where you have to pay to come into our park.
Oh, and here’s your 2 feet of walking space that you have to share with bicycles, trucks and delivery vehicles.
AND then we have fence it off to reseed it EVERY SINGLE YEAR.
You almost nailed it, I fixed it for you:
North of the Hawthorne, one lane *is* plenty of room for northbound cars to queue up during each signal cycle without spillover.
There are no right-turns North of the Hawthorne that really would queue up blocking other traffic. It’s time to make Northbound Naito one lane (with occasional left turns into the city core)
Southbound is a different story since it’s the approach for many points South.
Close the two outer lanes of Naito, convert them into single-direction cycle tracks, and create a sidewalk where the bike lane used to be next to Waterfront Park. The cycle tracks should extend all the way to the Fremont Bridge to allow for full access to the Pearl and NW districts (and avoiding perennially-car-choked Pearl District streets).
A two-way cycle track would not be the best solution here. One ways give more room for passing and don’t put people riding bikes right up against oncoming bike traffic.
I agree, Adam H! A two-way cycletrack seems short-sighted and likely to fill to overcapacity very quickly. As residential/commercial/retail continues to expand up Front Ave and north of the Pearl, the City should establish bike lanes and sidewalks all the way up Front to Kittridge. I also think a new Forest Park entrance should be developed here. Maybe a Singletrack system east of Leif Erickson could fit in here?
Because…that’s not a busy auto route at all and there’d no be adverse effects of removing 50% of the lane capacity on that stretch of Naito.
Number of lanes ≠ auto capacity, as shown in the post. Strange but true.
Wow! This would make Naito so nice…for all users. Thanks Michael for the update.
And my 3 cents: I have to wonder about how preplanned events (and construction) can privatize and close sidewalk space without triggering ADA review and suits in Portland?
ADA: the accessible paths are still there and alternative paths exist across the street.
The Parks Bureau rents out park space and Council determines the rules, and the sidewalks on the east side of Naito are in the park.
RE: construction, how do you propose to fix underground stuff without going in through the surface somewhere?
What a great problem to have. Looking forward to seeing what the solution looks like.
Seems pretty simple: jersey barrier starts at Naito and Jefferson, forcing the right lane on Naito to exit onto the Hawthorne Bridge. Barrier continues north on Naito and ends just before the Steel Bridge ramp. At this point, a northbound bike lane begins, solving the “Naito gap” problem under the steel bridge. This bike lane would continue north on Front Ave, at least as far as Kittridge in the industrial district.
Cheap, safe, very little impact to car traffic.
I would LOVE to see Cinco deMayo set up ON Naito and keep the waterfront park open to everyone!
Terrific coverage, Michael. Not building a separated bike/ped facility when they rebuilt Naito was a huge mistake. It could still be converted, either seasonally or permanently.
I love when thousands of people from the suburbs and exurbs drive to Portland and complain about all the people and the traffic.
“Too many people, too many cars.” <–Said the Tigardian (?) who, I'll make a hefty wager, brought their car here.
Other than that, yes please! And maybe those festival set-ups will serve as an extended demo for them to make the change permanent.
And it is worth noting that Tigard residents recently voted against high-capacity transit improvements for their city.
One thing you learn about people that drive a lot: they love complaining about driving, traffic, parking, etc, etc.
Remind me again what are the options for getting from Tigard to Portland /without/ a car? Oh yeah…
(When I just looked it up, it’s 90 minutes and involves 4 bus transfers)
What website are you looking at? You hop on the #12 in Tigard and you are downtown in about 40 minutes, no transfers. And if you are going at rush hour, the 94 express bus does it in 35 minutes.
I was looking at maps.google.com. Maybe it’s not pulling all/the correct data from Trimet?
bus 45, too
Even without pedestrians in the bike lane, conditions on Naito are bad because of the narrow bike lane (glorified shoulder) that forces faster bikes to merge with fast-moving lane-changing traffic in order to pass.
While there is a sign on the waterfront that says “fast bikes take Naito” there is no sign on Naito that says “slow bikes or pedestrians take the waterfront.”
Second-class infrastructure for second-class citizens.
all bike lanes are glorified shoulders.
Generally could use more glorification or sweeping.
One of the problems with Waterfront Park is that they hold far too many events on it. For most of the summer the majority of the park seems to be barricaded off for one event or another. Hopefully some of the events will be able to move to Oregon Square when it’s completed in a few years.
Very good point. I don’t like festivals or anything that exposes my pasty skin to the heinous rays of the sun (and my person to people in hordes). But if they have to happen in such profusion, by all means put some of them somewhere else!
Looks horrible down there during the summer months whether it’s the roaming bands of homeless stinking it up with pot or their litter or it’s these festivals with their ugly barricading.
How am I supposed to get second hand high if I’m not riding on the Waterfront? I guess I can make due.
This solution is pretty easy and needs to happen. When is the rally?
East bank freeway removal would free up a ton of festival space. 🙂
Naito needs an overhaul. It has been reported lately that a flashing crosswalk might be installed at Naito and SW Whitaker which would be a nice connection from Barbur to OHSU by the south waterfront.
Indeed it does. If we’re talking overhaul, let’s “de-freeway” the whole southern stretch. There’s simply no reason for the Barbur to downtown part to be 4-5 lanes, high speed, with on and off-ramps (or pseudo ramps). What a disaster it is. Take out lanes, put in blocks, add sidewalks and bikeways, fix the Ross Island bridge connection….could be a great multi-use arterial through Lair Hill.
Oh, and if we’re just talking a flashing crosswalk, seems odd it wouldn’t be at Gibbs and Naito, so it’s a straight shot to the ped bridge. I get that intersection is broader, but so what.
SW Whitaker has a bus stop on Barbur and a trail connects to Terwilliger there.
Remember when we needed a freeway instead of Waterfront Park? Hope some day we can say, “Remember when we needed a freeway on both sides of the river?”
I agree that Naito needs help but I don’t think everything needs to be done there. Surrendered to cars and people on foot, there are bicycling alternatives.
If you’re casually taking in the waterfront, a trail is already there. It’s the antithesis of the freeway it replaced, and should remain one.
If you’re not out to smell the flowers, the 2nd/3rd couplet looks viable. It already has well-timed lights and a separated route beneath the Steel Bridge. You can’t say any of that about Naito.
For some, pulling up a freeway and replacing it with a park is enough, but pats on the back are hardly due. Harbor Drive was expendable because ODOT built an even bigger freeway blocking the OTHER side of the river, then Front became a five lane stroad called “Naito Parkway”. Motor vehicle throughput has never been threatened. Irony defines this place.
They actually build two. I-405 went in around the same time. One can only hope that at some point in the near future, I-405 will be the only freeway through downtown; and it also happens to be the one that can most easily be capped.
Perhaps there needs to be a companion article…how well (or not) ODoT did with their TCP and the actual work zone for the Denver bike detour north of Kenton up to Delta Park.
Maybe we can each take a turn getting shot to make this alignment more permanent for everyone? Who’s up?
Maybe it’s time to look at surrendering one of the “other” lanes on Naito to the overflow foot and bicycle traffic during “festival season”…
NO. there is a perfectly good sidewalk on the west side of Naito. they should be there.
There’s a perfectly good highway on the other side of the river. People driving should be there.
OK. but this article is about people in the bike lane on Naito when there’s an empty sidewalk about 80 feet to the West.
And if someone told you to bike somewhere else under similar circumstances how would you react?
The people trying to walk to the festival entrances? You think they should cross the street, navigate the on/off ramps of the various bridges and then cross back over? Have you ever walked in this area during a large festival?
yes, I have. They can cross at the festival entrances quite easily. I’ve done that exact thing countless times. you’d prefer them in the bike lane?
No, I would prefer a proper sidewalk on both sides of the street. Hence this entire discussion. You appear to be advocating for keeping Naito at 2 lanes, forcing pedestrians to travel extra distance (and waiting several minutes for crossing signals) so people driving cars can save a few seconds.
A sidewalk on only side of the street (especially a major street) is not appropriate for an urban condition.
“presumably north of the Hawthorne Bridge where auto traffic is relatively light…”
Slightly off-topic, but I think this is a perfect example of why we are stagnating. I realize the above is an assumption, not an exact opinion from City Hall et al, however it is accurate as far as how we are approaching traffic issues.
Unfortunately, this is the type of backward design thought that holds us back from real infra advances. Seems we will only consider adding bike projects when they absolutely won’t impact auto traffic. I think our standard should be exactly opposite.
Instead of building to not lose space for cars, we should be building to win space for bikes.
I blame Obama.
Does the road even really need to be there between the Hawthorn and the Steel Bridge? There is no parking on it – very little off of it, very few business entrances and those that are there would likely be better served by a new Waterfront Park.
And before you say it’s needed, remember it was once I-5.
Just shut it down, move the festivals to the paved part – perhaps spruce it up a bit, like an permanent amphitheater by the Steel, brick it over, couple food trucks a visitors center (that could double as an event ticket office) move Portlandia down there where people will see it. lawn stays green, prom is clear, and everything is as it should be.
Obviously the solution is to raze all buildings between Natio & 1st Ave, extending the entire park west turning Natio into Portland’s widest MUP with public green space on both sides.
Not what I was saying at all. I’m saying build a world class pedestrian (sure throw a cycletrack through it – though I’d probably stick to riding the prom) facility that rivals the best in the rest of the world.
A place where you can hang out and recreate, while a festival is going on.
Right now Parks and Rec, makes choices with the park, take away a few blocks and we get park and festivals, more and bigger festivals especially if the paved area is built to facilitate this idea.
Interesting enough, Paris did something similar in 2013 on one side of the Seine, with great results, and is looking to do it to the other side now.
I wasn’t responding or replying to you in any way; I didn’t read a single comment before I dropped that joke comment there.
That being said a lot could be done easily to reduce automobile and freight demand on Natio thus placing further pressure on underutilized blocks west of Natio across from the park.
If enough individual blocks are park blocks on both sides you can reasonably say that there are no automotive destinations requiring parking or even access.
At the very least it would be reasonable to declare Natio to be a Sunday Parkway every time some big festival is going on. This would be a good idea safety-wise even if no development is removed from the blocks between 1st & Natio.
But to propose demolishing building on several blocks just for extra park space? I’d hoped that it was ridiculous enough on its face. Guess I forgot Poe’s Law.
I agree! This road has limited utility, it poorly designed as an urban street (morte of a state highway feel) and create a significant pedestrian barrie tothe river. Creating a plaza between Hawthron and Steel would create some very valuable real estate for Parks, better serve the rest of Portland by leaving some of the riverfront during the summer months, and improve the property values/uses along Naito. Of course4, there would be significant costs to transportation to weigh, but this idea should not be easily dismissed, IMO
I hope they don’t fill the bike lane with garbage cans after Bite of Oregon again…
It’s called living in a city. Be flexible and slow down, enjoy the humanity. If someone is out walking, they have the right-a-way, slow down and don’t scare them. Period. Walking should always take precedence. Always. When we limit walking, or make it inconvenient or dangerous, we only are imprisoning ourselves.