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How Portland wants to finally close the notorious Naito Gap

Posted by on December 8th, 2015 at 10:04 am

naitocrossingmap

The project would build a new crossing of Naito, add bike lanes, realign the greenway path, and add railroad crossing safety features.
(Graphic: PBOT)

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.

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naito_streetview_ped

A new crossing here is sorely needed. This view is looking northeast toward the Steel Bridge overcrossing.
(Photo: Google Streetview)

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 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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32 Comments
  • Avatar
    Gniles December 8, 2015 at 10:14 am

    I’m glad it’s finally getting done, but hoo-boy, that was a long wait for bike lanes and a crosswalk.

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      David December 8, 2015 at 11:07 am

      You might want to read more than just the headline before getting too excited.

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      nuovorecord December 8, 2015 at 11:35 am

      Curb your enthusiasm.

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    maxD December 8, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Sounds promising! I hope they extend bike/ped facilities (sharrows, at least) out Front to Kittridge. Withe new planned Forest Park entrance and the number of apartments, condos, jobs and hotels going in along Front and in the North Pearl, it seems like an obvious connection, and one that only get harder to create as traffic counts increase. I would love to see PBOT get in front of the curb and make a very low-cost investment here.

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      Social Engineer December 8, 2015 at 10:41 am

      PBOT is already planning on new buffered bike lanes on Naito/Front from 9th to at least as far north as 17th where a new office development is being planned.

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        maxD December 8, 2015 at 11:04 am

        I believe it, but my point is that PBOT is always trailing development and need. I realize they can’t afford to build out buffered lanes to Kittridge (that will likely never be necessary), but that route is just getting busier. It provides a really nice recreational/commuter link to Hwy 30/Forest Park. Painting some sharrows or a bike lane would pretty low-cost and simply establishes the route and reserves some space for bikes/pedestrians. AS use increases and road improvements are made, these can be upgraded. I welcome the connection to 17th, but it seems short-sighted to me

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        maccoinnich December 8, 2015 at 12:31 pm

        Are they planning that in an aspirational sense, or are they actually working on drawings to build it? That new building will have 290,000 sq ft of office space, which will result in a lot of new people traveling along Naito/Front every morning and evening. It would be great if the bike lanes were installed from the day the new building opens. Based on current SDC rates for offices ($3.64 a sq ft) the developer will be paying PBOT something around $1 million, which I would think would be more than enough to pay for re-configuring the road between NW 9th and 17th.

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    paikiala December 8, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Not sure the two lanes in each direction are needed for autos. Removing a lane and adding a buffered bike lane seems feasible.

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      Social Engineer December 8, 2015 at 10:36 am

      There absolutely is no justification for four lanes north of Davis. PBOT has been actively considering a road diet with buffered bike lanes here.

      We might even see the southbound Steel Bridge loop on-ramp knocked down at some point.

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    Social Engineer December 8, 2015 at 10:29 am

    This project is a critical component of the Flanders Street Greenway. I hope PBOT is able to win funding and connect this missing link.

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  • Anne Hawley
    Anne Hawley December 8, 2015 at 10:34 am

    Hey, it took me four or five southbound Naito trips from Northwest to the Steel before another person on a bike showed me the secret trick where you leave the bike lane just as car traffic is accelerating into two lanes, and then you cross both of those lane plus a turn lane, plus the two oncoming lanes, then ride on the sidewalk.

    Man, just when I was feeling pretty tricky, they go and threaten to make the whole thing easy.

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    Endo December 8, 2015 at 10:49 am

    From that photo it looks like Naito has four lanes. How about we trim it down to two and give one of the lanes to bikes/peds? That’s a real Vision Zero move (and not one we’ll be seeing from the city any time soon).

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    dwk December 8, 2015 at 11:38 am

    What about the other end of Naitto?
    Far worse situation… Someone at PBOT or the BTA tell us how to get our bikes from Barbur to Naitto safely?

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      Tom Hardy December 8, 2015 at 12:13 pm

      dwk
      What about the other end of Naitto? Far worse situation… Someone at PBOT or the BTA tell us how to get our bikes from Barbur to N…
      Wear bright clothing and ride like a motorist is climbing your back wheel.
      Because they might!

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        dwk December 8, 2015 at 2:05 pm

        Thanks….and you are right.
        Getting from the new max tracks to past the Hawthorne bridge is a joke,
        either take the lane and try not to get killed or go on the sidewalks and try and not hit pedestrians.
        Nice Going BTA……

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      • Avatar
        Robert Burchett December 8, 2015 at 11:06 pm

        Well, it’s a downhill. Get some 45C or larger tires and pump them up to the recommended maximum pressure. Teach yourself to spin, then shift up. They’ll have to break the speed limit to get on your wheel.

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  • kiel johnson
    kiel johnson December 8, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    does the bike/ped crossing include a signalized crossing?

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      Social Engineer December 8, 2015 at 12:17 pm

      There likely won’t be signals there because of ODOT Rail’s concern about cars backing up onto the railroad tracks. But a road diet will reduce the crossing distance and calm traffic speeds, making it much more conducive to cross.

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    Captain Karma December 8, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Yeah, it’s be great if the crossing of the tracks could be done at a for sure right angle, thinking of 6 – 8 months of slimy rain, mold, litter and maybe even some actual leaves. I would still swerve to make a right angle, but then that could cause it’s own problems with fellow riders of bikes.

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    resopmok December 8, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    Am I misreading, or did the article state that half the funding needed was to pay Union Pacific to improve the railroad? When is the city going to offer me reimbursement for the sidewalk improvements I was required to make when I bought my house?

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      Beeblebrox December 8, 2015 at 10:02 pm

      Wait, what? Union Pacific is not required to do anything whatsoever. The city needs to pay them to do the work because it’s work the city wants done. Why would the railroad pay for it? This isn’t anything like your sidewalk situation.

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  • Adam Herstein
    Adam Herstein December 8, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    The bike lanes need to be physically separated, not just with paint. People drive way too fast around this curve and almost certainly will encroach on any painted bike lane.

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    • Adam Herstein
      Adam Herstein December 8, 2015 at 1:52 pm

      How would this project connect to the Better Naito protected bike lanes? Or has that been scrapped since the Mayor is no longer running for re-election? City Council and PBOT have been quiet about it as of late.

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        Beeblebrox December 8, 2015 at 10:03 pm

        It’s not entirely clear, but potentially this crossing could be the transition point from two-way bikeway on east side of Naito south of there to bike lanes on each side north of there.

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    • Adam
      Adam August 14, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      The bike lanes need to be physically separated, not just with paint

      Hey, it looks like PBOT listened to me! 😀

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    Scott Kocher December 8, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    The need for these improvements is huge. Fingers crossed this time.

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    J_R December 8, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    What I find really interesting is that PPB wanted the previous crossing removed for “public safety concerns.” I wonder what that was all about.

    Maybe in the name of “safety,” we could get PPB to issue more citations to people who choke on a soda and kill a pedestrian, for example.

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      Robert Burchett December 8, 2015 at 11:04 pm

      It had the reputation of being a shooting gallery.

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        mark December 9, 2015 at 10:53 pm

        oh no…not that.

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    peejay December 8, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    Meanwhile, Vancouver, BC is putting in nine twelve new physically protected cycleways in their city.

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  • Adam
    Adam August 14, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    This article was written in 2015. It’s currently 2017 and the “new pedestrian/bicycle crossing of Naito from Willamette Greenway Trail to NW 1st Ave” has yet to materialize.

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    Ken September 13, 2018 at 3:17 pm

    Are there any updates on this?

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