The “Naito gap” is one of the most glaring gaps in Portland’s vaunted bikeway network. Ever since Portland decided to take down a suspended overpass in 2003 (due to, ironically, safety concerns), the 120 feet across Naito Parkway between Waterfront Park and NW 1st Avenue has prevented people from walking and biking between Old Town/Chinatown and the Steel Bridge.
“Since the shortest path from the Steel Bridge path to Old Town Chinatown is to cross Naito at Flanders or Glisan, many pedestrians and bicyclists make an unsafe and illegal crossing at this location every day.”
— From PBOT grant application
Now the bureau of transportation has a solid plan — and more than half the funding — to finally close the gap. The plan includes a new crossing of Naito for biking and walking traffic, new bike lanes on Naito between NW Davis Street and north of the Steel Bridge, a re-alignment of the existing Willamette Greenway path, and safety improvements to the Union Pacific Railroad crossing.
Last month PBOT applied for a state grant that would fund this $1.1 million project. They’ve already committed $630,000 and all they need is $500,000 from ODOT’s Connect Oregon grant program to cover the rest.
It all sounds good, but we’ve been here before. To say this project is overdue is a huge understatement.
Not only did the City of Portland remove an existing bridge that used to be suspended over Naito in this location back in 2003, they’ve missed several opportunities to address the problem ever since.
In 2007 PBOT completed a $10 million repaving of Naito but that project inexplicably failed to address this gap. A fix has been promised no less than four times since then: In 2007, 2009, 2011, and again in 2013.
Back in 2010 we highlighted five languishing projects and this is the only one on that list that still hasn’t gotten done.
This grant might be PBOT’s best chance ever to rectify the situation.
Here’s how they describe the problem in the state grant application (emphasis mine):
“In 2003 a suspended pedestrian undercrossing of the Steel Bridge ramp was removed at the request of Portland Police Bureau due to public safety concerns. Ever since, there has been a gap of 1100 feet between legal crossings in this segment of Naito Parkway. Since the shortest path from the Steel Bridge path to Old Town Chinatown is to cross Naito at Flanders or Glisan, many pedestrians and bicyclists make an unsafe and illegal crossing at this location every day.
Bike lane gap on Naito Parkway between Davis Street and just north of railroad crossing. Due to constrained roadway geometry and the sharp angle of the railroad crossing, the bike lanes on Naito Parkway disappear just north of the railroad crossing and are not provided again until Davis Street several blocks to the south. This forces bicyclists to move into travel lanes or ride on sidewalks to maintain a direct path, neither of which are safe or comfortable options.”
The need for this project is even greater now that PBOT has installed bike lanes on NW 3rd.
The strange wrinkle in this project is that PBOT has to coordinate these bike/walk improvements with Union Pacific. The railroad company has signed off on the project and, if it’s funded, they’ll be on the hook to install some signficant changes to their crossing. (Technically, the Connect Oregon grant would pay for the railroad improvements and PBOT would pay for the bike/walk improvements.)
Currently, both the Waterfront Park path traffic and vehicle traffic on Naito Parkway cross the railroad tracks just 100 feet away from each other. To improve visibility and safety (and the need for multiple horns), this project would bring the greenway path and (new) bike lanes together and put them adjacent to Naito.
Connect Oregon funds are very competitive. Even with this detailed plan already in place and 57 percent of the funding already in their pocket, PBOT might not get the funding. It would be unfortunate if that happens. But given the long history of the Naito Gap, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org