Today is the last day — at least for now — to experience a ‘Better Naito’.
For the past two weeks a partnership between Better Block PDX, the Portland Bureau of Transportation, the Portland Rose Festival, Portland State University and others, transformed Naito Parkway into what they called “a public space for all.” Instead of one measly narrow bike lane and two roaring standard traffic lanes, engineers devised a plan that opened up half the roadway to people not driving cars.
It’s the Naito Portland deserves.
Redesigning the Naito streetscape has been on the back of many people’s minds for years and Better Naito presented the city with a unique opportunity to try something new and see what happens. This style of try-before-you-buy is new for Portland, a city where we usually form visioning committees before even thinking about making any tangible changes to our infrastructure. Think of it as a living, breathing open house.
“These type of innovations don’t happen if led by government.”
— Art Pearce, PBOT policy, planning and projects group manager
During a tour of the facility last week attended by local politicians and other policymakers, Better Block’s Ryan Hashagen put it this way: “This project allows us to have a civic conversation that doesn’t feel so cataclysmic.”
Since May 22nd, the space was signed and marked for two-way walking traffic and one direction (northbound) for bicycling. Then yesterday a new phase of the experiment was turned on — the bikeway became bi-directional with the addition of new signs and markings and a bicycle-only signal installed by PBOT.
In the past two weeks, volunteers with Better Block — in close partnership with PBOT — have used high-tech equipment (like bluetooth traffic sensors) and good, old-fashioned pen-and-paper to collect as much data about Naito’s use as they can.
According to a volunteer who I saw counting bike riders this morning 75 people cycled by between 7:00 and 7:30 am this morning (45 northbound, 30 southbound).
So far, the project has worked. In fact, both activists and the powers-that-be can’t stop reminding us who well it’s going. It hasn’t engendered the same type of excitement and buzz as Better Block’s demonstration project on SW 3rd Avenue last fall, but this is a different kind of project. Where 3rd had hay bales and ping pong tables, this project lacks that plaza feeling. Even so, many people appreciate having the extra room to breathe on Naito — whether they’re riding or walking.
On the flip side, I’ve heard quite a number of people complain about the trucks and cars that routinely park in the space. Just this morning, as I enjoyed the amazing connection going southbound from the Steel Bridge path right onto Naito, the three large vans parked right in front of me at Couch were a buzzkill. I went around and kept riding, but other people gave up and crossed Naito to use the existing southbound bike lane.
Personally, I was hoping for more robust design and materials to really bring home what it would feel like to have a world-class, protected public space and bikeway on Naito. What good is a demonstration if it doesn’t really mimic the desired future condition?
But the reality of the project bears noting. Better Block is doing this on a shoestring with volunteers and it’s only a two-week pilot. They’re working with a lot of constraints (federal maritime security rules, permitting and insurance requirements, just to name a few). Allowing freight loading and parking in the space was one of the compromises Better Block was willing to make in order to get a full embrace of the project by the City of Portland.
And there’s something to be said for what a strong working relationship Better Block has managed to forge with PBOT and its other partners.
City Commissioner Steve Novick was literally jumping up-and-down with enthusiasm for Better Block during a speech at last week’s policymakers tour. At one point he even chanted their name: “Bet-ter Block! Bet-ter Block!” PBOT’s Active Transportation Division Manager Margi Bradway piled on the praise, saying, “This is PBOT’s dream to be able to test something like this.” And PBOT project manager Greg Raisman added, “I can’t imagine a better type of public involvement.”
Even the Rose Festival is fully behind this. In years past, lines of customers wanting to get into the City Fair event would spill out into the Naito bike lane. Rose Festival Waterfront Activities Manager Steve Bledsoe told me on Tuesday that having more space for people on Naito has, “improved accessibility and safety.” “It’s beautiful,” he added, “We’re enjoying it and it’s taken a lot of pressure of our security and staff. We will definitely encourage the city to do it again next year.”
When Rose Festival talks, City Hall listens (and then PBOT isn’t far behind).
PBOT has desperately needed this type of prodding to think outside the box and do big things. “These type of innovations don’t happen if led by government,” admitted PBOT Planning Manager Art Pearce on Tuesday.
So if you think this is just a flash-in-the-pan pilot, think again. Just like Better Block’s work on 3rd and Burnside has spurred real talk of a total transformation of that area (stay tuned), this pilot project on Naito (barring any major failure in the next few hours) will likely leave a lasting, positive impression on city hall and PBOT staff.
In the short-term, PBOT says it’s likely they’ll consider this treatment (with biking in one direction) during other Waterfront Park festivals this summer. As for the more ambitious, two-way biking treatment, the words I’m hearing from PBOT’s Pearce are very reassuring. He said they are watching the data very closely and a two-way protected bikeway on Naito Parkway could be considered in their upcoming Central City Multimodal Safety Project (a.k.a. the project that will create a network of protected bike lanes downtown).
Seeing Better Naito in action these past two weeks, making something like this permanent seems like good common sense.
Have you ridden Naito during this test period? What are your impressions?
It was unfortunate that many of the cones gradually migrated into the bike zones. Gently nudged by passing motorists.
Better Naito was better as a one-way. As a two-way, the path is too narrow as people tend to ride closer to the middle. It also makes it impossible to pass people riding slower than you. Riding southbound, it’s un-nerving to ride so close against car traffic. I also saw someone nearly get right-hooked heading southbound this morning.
I’ve suggested to PBOT to make two separate one way cycle tracks on either side of Naito. This would allow for more passing room and make people riding more predicable to people driving. As a two-way, the cycle track is just too cramped.
I agree…and so does Mikael Colville-Andersen:
So you finally had a protected bike lane like you’ve been asking for. And it’s still not good enough. Now you want two? I really hope you’re joking.
I thought the two way-way variation was great. Having a dedicated, protected, southbound bike lane made the southbound commute an absolute pleasure compared to the other usual options.
And passing other riders was easy enough even in yesterday’s crowds, simply wait for an opening and pass safely. If the cars have to give up a passing lane, so should the bikes. It’s called compromise.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a vast improvement over the existing bike lanes. I’m just a firm believer in doing something right the first time, and the two-way configuration is sub-optimal. There’s a reason the two-way design has fallen out of favor in Copenhagen:
I hear you, we all want things done right.
But it’s not realistic to want expensive facilities when we still have roads without any facilities. I still have to commute on some roads without a bike lane. There are kids in Portland who have to walk to school in the ditch because there’s no shoulder.
Funding is painfully finite. What’s going to make our roads better and attract more cyclists. A few miles of luxurious cycle track, or a citywide network of calm streets and bike boulevards.
The 2-way design makes sense here for access to the park and the long stretch with no turns across the lane, but intersections are the dangerous bit. I wouldn’t want a permanent installation to be 2-way without a concrete barrier and in the long run, it would need to be wider. Passing space for bikes isn’t the same thing as passing space for cars. Imagine kids riding abreast with parents and leaving space for commuters to pass. I look at this shared space split three ways and see just enough for a one-direction bike-only lane.
How many entrances to the park do you need for motor vehicles, and how often are they used? Compare that to the frequent cross streets where you risk a right hook on the other side of the street.
You need several, but their use is concentrated during the summer. Normally the vendors get a permit to block the curb lane for loading and unloading. Any long-term road diet will need to consider moving these vehicles to on-site loading zones as well as the other uses of Naito that fully close it for running events.
“southbound bike lane made the southbound commute an absolute pleasure compared to the other usual options.”
So you liked the southbound lane but do not want an equally stress-free northbound lane? There is space on Naito for another protected bike lane so why not install two?
The two way variation has a southbound and northbound lane. The one in the cover photo.
i see one very narrow lane shared by people biking both directions. these are exactly the kinds of facilities that are linked to crashes and collisions in other cities. we can do better.
10′ +5′ sounds wider than Springwater or the I-205 MUP.
It’s called “feedback from users”. This is how we help create the things we need and want, by providing feedback on how the project went and what could be better.
I for one have enjoyed these lanes. It wasnt until the ships came in that the Steel Bridge was connected to Naito. Though I have been yelled at by a few cars who thought bikes need to stop at all the red lights. So while the design seemed to develop over the week I am sad to see it go. Much nicer than the Waterfront. This is what we need more of: Bike/ pedestrian only trails everywhere!
Except, aren’t you required to stop at a red light if the perpendicular foot traffic has a walk signal?
“stop for peds”
Very exciting stuff! Any feedback on the motor-vehicle traffic impacts? Curious how loud the other voice will be in the coming discussion.
The split is about 50/50 maybe slightly in favor of the change.
Loved it. Making a left into Oak from Northbound Naito was “exhilarating” but even that worked pretty well (and one lovely driver, seeing me looking over my shoulder from the bike lane, even held back to let me cross over to the left turn lane for Oak; big thumbs up were exchanged). With something more permanent than a line of cones that can be darted through, I’m guessing this turning arrangement would change anyway. Normally I’m a Waterfront park user, but having the lane on Naito made all the difference in the world and I’d use this every day if it were made permanent. Traffic was queued up a bit further, but my impression was it was still flowing pretty ok, just not in the fast way it does when you have two relatively lightly-trafficked lanes.
I’d advocate for two separate one-way tracks as well. Additionally, it would be great to see this Naito project extended in some way to provide connection to the South Waterfront area to connect with Tilikum Crossing and OHSU’s waterfront properties. The south end of the park may not be as busy at this time of the year, but it heats up with the Blues Festival and on into the summer. We need better connections and ways to separate pedestrians, bikes and cars in this part of downtown.
I’m glad to see positive momentum around this effort. I really appreciate the approach taken with this temporary pilot program.
I’ve been riding it everyday, to and from work. It is a vast improvement over the waterfront path in terms of congestion and needing to be mindful of pedestrians.
Having a two-way protected bikeway on Naito would be a dream come true and would open the waterfront path to fully embrace pedestrian priority. Also, if they build a two-way protected bikeway, I would be happy losing the current southbound bike lane on Naito. That thing is scary.
Finally, I’m also looking ahead to the new Multnomah Courthouse that will be constructed over the Hawthorne bridgehead. The only bike connection from southbound Naito will be taken away. A two-way protected bikeway on the eastside of Naito would maintain an easy connection to the most used bike bridge in Portland.
I have been riding this everyday to and from work, great job to all those involved.
Yes. That’s why I always hop onto the sidewalk…safely… at pedestrian walking speed… and not in the DT core… if there is one.
That said… totally legal move if you are a pedestrian… yet drivers still get irate from time to time. Can’t stand our freedom I guess.
I’ve had countless occasions and passed it up every time.
I’m not trying to change the world, I just want to get somewhere quickly and easily. 2nd and 3rd don’t have complications like seas of people crossing the street, red lights, ad hoc parking spaces, or access to/from the Burnside Bridge. Riding 14MPH in the center lane isn’t flashy, it just does the job.
Taking the traffic lanes does the job until you are going uphill, or the signal cycles are faster than 13 mph (which is true along 3rd south of Stark).
The idea is great and I’ve mostly enjoyed the change. I agree with Adam and think the one-way bike traffic was WAY better. Although many people were fairly respectful of the boundaries, there were plenty of pedestrians wandering into the bike lanes (walking in both directions) to navigate around. No big deal at first, but adding the southbound bike traffic made it feel like the waterfront pathway. The reason I ride on Naito is to avoid that!
To cycledadpdx and John – the cones at each intersection say “yield to pedestrians”. I want to interpret this to mean we can go through the reds as long as we yield to peds, which makes a lot of sense. I was not sure about this though – Jonathan, do you know what the organizers intended?
Rode it last night and loved it. Make it permanent, with concrete barriers!
I had a wonderful experience riding contraflow from Steel Bridge to Salmon yesterday. I anticipated the two way version would be problematic but to my surprise it worked out really well. It felt surprisingly spacious. I think designing for this is honest about the sort of directions people will want to bike along Naito on the park side.
Kudos to Better Block, PBOT, Commissioner Novick and all those who poured their energy into working through the technical and political challenges involved in making this happen.
Thanks PBOT and Better Block, nice work.
& Thanks to NACTO for putting Interim Designs in the Complete Streets Handbook.
didn’t ride it, but I drove next to it a few times…
not extending it all the way north until the lane ended past the Steel Bridge meant that as soon as it opened back up to 2 lanes people were in a hurry to speed and wasted no time cutting around me and flooring it…
coming from a perpendicular street you are faced with a “lane closed” sign that made it seem that you couldn’t go north on Naito… this was very confusing the first time… since the turn lane wasn’t blocked I crept forward into the intersection but didn’t start actually turning until I could see that there was indeed still one lane open… I think they could have done a “lane open” and a “lane closed” sign for each lane just to be clear…
it also seems that jaywalking was a lot more prevalent, likely because there weren’t as many lanes to cross so it seemed safer to do… or maybe just because there were more people in the area…
I’m sure it didn’t go that far north because of ODOT Rail’s influence at that crossing. It’s sad…
I’ve ridden this every day to and from work and I absolutely LOVE it. I think a lot of the confusion or wandering into other lanes would be alleviated by a permanent build out and lane markings. I think the 2-way cycle track would be great if there were no pedestrians…they’d have the whole waterfront already anyway.
And very limited access points when festivals are setup. That’s why they did this, people were walking in the bike lane because they crossed the street and had the sidewalk blocked off. Unless you narrow festival grounds to make room for a sidewalk or break up the festival grounds every block for people to walk to the waterfront how are you getting rid of pedestrians from the bike path?
Does everyone know that the Better Blocks thing was an add-on to the normal lane closure done so vehicles supporting the festival had a place to load and unload, not the other way around?
The Steel Bridge ramps on Naito to be closed permanently and demolished.
I think he’s saying they “should” be demolished. I agree.
Yes, I left out the crucial word “need” in that sentence. Doing so would make the connection between the bridge and the future Flanders Street greenway much safer (and legal!).
I didn’t get to bike this, but walked it many days during the lunch hour. Even before fleet week, I was surprised how many people utilized this for both walking, but mainly joggers.
Car traffic also never seemed to be an issue in the travel lanes. I don’t see why doing this to the southbound side as well would be an issue. In fact if it could connect to the existing circular ramp behind VQ to go easy on the Hawthorne bridge.
May as well experiment for the next festival and start making it routine. Then it will be even easier to make it permanent.
I was very frustrated yesterday when I had several cyclists salmoning towards me. It was a total surprise as there had not yet been any markings indicating such travel. It did not stop until I had a fellow cyclist coming down from steel bridge white knuckle skidding towards me as I passed through the intersection. Today, with the new, bidirectional markings, it was better. I appreciated the lengthened version to the underpass, too. For the project to be most favorable, in my opinion, one way travel on both north and southbound lanes is best. Otherwise, I preferred it how it was prior to the experiment, encouraging faster moving cyclist to take Naito, and slower to take waterfront.
And, still, the simplest, most effective solution to the peds in the bike lane problem (which is what is being addressed here) is, tada, put in a sidewalk.
This is my daily route as I make my connection from SW 1st, to Naito, to the Steel Bridge. Normally, dropping down from SW Harrison onto Naito as it heads under the Hawthorne Bridge is a bit sketchy with traffic and trying to maintain my lane until the bike lane officially starts but with the project, traffic is diverting to the left lane earlier. This has made my commute so much better it’s ridiculous. I hadn’t realized how intense that bit of time had been until having an alternative. Also, not having to dodge pedestrians in the bike lane has been amazing! Overall, I LOVE this concept and fully support making it permanent!
I ride Naito daily and I liked it. It was a little confusing but by the end of the week I had the lower deck of the bridge connection figured out. I was one of the riders who crossed Naito to go southbound on Friday morning. Parking in the lane should definitely be out! If it were permanent I think clear signage and markings would make it simple. Thanks Better Naito!
Better Naito was fantastic. Here’s how to make it work even better:
(1) Never put festival fencing right up to any path. It makes for dangerously poor sight distance at curves/intersections;
(2) The Naito bike/ped route must connect to the Steel and Hawthorne bridges; and
(3) People living along the waterfront need options that are more appropriate than camping in the paths. The current situation isn’t fair to anyone.
While I’m normally leery of a 2-way bikeway on a 2-way street, it works well in this case because there are no intersections (and thus no right/left hook conflict) on the east side of Naito, other than the Steel Bridge Ramp (which should just be closed and demolished, in my opinion). One-way bikeways on either side of Naito will never be as comfortable, since there are frequent conflicts with turning vehicles. So I would support making the 2-way bikeway on the east side permanent.
I think the reason people seem to think the one-way version worked better was because the space for pedestrians took up enough space that 2-way felt too narrow. The solution to that is to pave a sidewalk on the Naito side of the park, which is what should have been done when they built the park in the first place. It was very short-sighted to think that people would only want to walk along the waterfront path and not along Naito.
Would’ve put a sidewalk on Naito long ago but for the roots of the big trees along there, per Parks.
For decades now, Portland has been touting the fact that we took out the Harbor Drive freeway and put in Waterfront Park. Our dirty little secret is that we kept Front Avenue (now Naito) and have, over the years, incrementally turned it into a rebranded version of Harbor Drive. I’ve worked downtown for the last 20 years and have always dreaded crossing Front/Naito on foot just to get to the park. Too scary due to the fact that, until recently, the walk signal told me to cross at the same time that the traffic signal told the car operators to turn across the crosswalk to get onto Naito (thanks, Peter Koonce, for making it a bit better, but could you protect me just a bit more? I’m not a sprightly 25-year old any more, and there are many others who walk slower than I).
I also ride my bike on Naito regularly, and WOW! that new configuration is really great!
Now is the time to come clean, Portland. You’ve held up the demolition of Harbor Drive as your badge of honor so long that the gilding has worn off and the cheap tin is starting to show through. Make the protected bike lane permanent, build a sidewalk to give pedestrians the safety and dignity we deserve, and do the same for the southbound side.
I’ve had 3 recent close calls at the intersection pictured above…cyclists traveling north a high rate of speed, running the red light as I entered the intersection on a green.
Potential typo: “…powers-that-be can’t stop reminding us who well it’s going…”
and from the quote, “We’re enjoying it and it’s taken a lot of pressure of our security and staff. We will definitely encourage the city to do it again next year.”
I love it! It feels much more safe than the narrow bike lane, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to look around and beware of what’s going on around you. It would be great if more areas of the city could try out these pop-up transportation ideas. It would give the planners opportunities to be a little more creative, and they don’t have to commit to spending thousands of dollars.
I rode this once and had to negotiate around six large trucks and buses parked right in it. I wasn’t impressed.
That’s because you were the visitor to the festival’s lane closure for…a truck loading zone!
This morning was a spectacularly bad performance from the City of Portland. Hawthorne Bridge access restricted- with no signed detour or reroute info – forcing ppl coming from Ladd’s to pedal on MLK for 2 blocks to reach the bridgehead. Steel Bridge raised at 8AM to let the giant War Machines exit the city, and “Better Naito” became Crappier Natio, with the expanded lane removed, plus countless Carney Vehicles parked in the bike land and some dude going the wrong way in the bike lane on a golf cart. Full on mayhem. Nice job communicating all this Portland.
Platinum? More like Plastic.
Yeah – festival cleanup was a bit inevitable but mostly I really missed better Naito. It was definitely better.
I hope here was not the only outlet for your complaint.
Agreed. It was nice, albeit a bit flawed in its design…
But my point was I thought it a lame crescendo of poor communication and timing for Better Naito, plus the other annoyances listed, to happen all on Monday morning at peak commute time, with no alternate route communication. But then again, it seems to be typical of PBOT (?) to not communicate crucial info at the point of use.
In comparison, I’ve just returned from living in Warsaw Poland for the past 4+ years, where they’ve added 56km of separated cycle tracks, last year alone. That is on top of the almost 100km already there. Both cities are roughly similar in terms of physical span, population and density. Imagine if PDX had approximately 75 miles of separated cycle track! We’d be worlds ahead of anything in the US. Warsaw is considered barely keeping pace with the European standard. I’d even go out on a limb and say Warsaw is not a great cycling city (yet), but they keep working on it. More people are cycling every day. Bike share is booming. Here, we’re too busy talking about how unique we are, painting dandy crosswalks and wanking on about minutiae while expecting change without truly changing anything.