Opinion: A permanent “Better Naito” deserves better than this

Better Naito kickoff-12.jpg

For better or worse.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales wants to go out with a bang. And in the process he just might blow up his chance to make “Better Naito” permanent.

As we gleefully reported on May 2nd, Hales’ last budget proposal included $1.46 million to redesign Naito Parkway to include a protected bikeway. It’s an idea he’s been talking about for nearly two years now and it makes a lot of sense from a transportation planning perspective. That’s why it’s a shame it might go down with a sinking ship.

Naito should be a marquee street in Portland but it’s held back because it’s dominated by auto traffic. Creating more space on the street to bike and walk would enliven Naito-facing hotels and restaurants and improve safety for everyone who uses it. A report published after “Better Naito” last year showed that auto travel times were not significantly impacted by the new lane configuration, biking went up 56 percent, and the majority of public feedback was “overwhelmingly positive.”

Better Naito was such a success that the City decided to bring it back for three months this summer. Unfortunately Hales’ proposal to make it permanent might be dead within a week.

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Hales included the $1.46 million for Naito as one of several expenditures that are dependent on a business tax increase that was immediately controversial and is now teetering on life support.

Even Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick — who has been extremely enthusiastic and supportive of Better Naito (to the point of literally singing the praises of its organizers Better Block PDX at a press conference last year) — didn’t support the business tax. Does that mean Novick doesn’t want a better Naito? Or does it mean that, once again, a mayor has thrown a much-needed bikeway project into a political fight that it shouldn’t be in. (And it’s worth noting that Novick, who could be this project’s biggest champion, isn’t likely to publicly support it until his gas tax increase passes.)

As reported in the Portland Mercury today, the Naito funding (along with a host of other expenditures Hales wants to pay for with a new tax) is now on the chopping block.

Hales has talked about improving bike access on Naito since 2014. He’s had nearly two years to do the legwork it takes to make this project a reality. But as of last week there are no preliminary designs, no project renderings to capture public and political imaginations and no details about the project that advocates could sink their energy into. It’s as if he just popped it into his budget at the last minute as a moonshot.

The mayor’s final budget could have been an exclamation point on a better Naito and instead it’s still a big question mark.

This project deserves better.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Ted Timmons (Contributor)

I’ve been consistently disappointed in the weak political will of the mayor. He’s using homeless services and safe transportation as political pawns.

BJCefola
6 years ago

Police and homeless services are big issues and I could imagine a coalition getting behind a revenue measure that would address them. But identifying ingredients is only the first step, you then have to ‘cook’ them to bring it together. Not just drop it all in a bowl and expect people to eat it.

soren
6 years ago

I thank the outgoing Mayor for proposing a new revenue mechanism that can be used to fund neglected priorities, including active transportation. According to the Oregonian Novick criticized this proposal and highlighted the Naito Project as one the things that should be cut:

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2016/05/controversy_erupts_over_tax_hi.html

Will bikewalkvote revisit their endorsement of Novick?

With friend like these…

soren
6 years ago

“but I feel what the Mayor has done in this situation is just not smart politics”

I disagree . Accommodation of the PBA and political timidity (use “code words” for cycling infrastructure) has led to unfunded plans and stagnation. The almost-certain to-pass-gas-tax is another example of how attempts to fund road safety are watered down via backroom compromise with big money. Although I have been a critic of Hales’ initial focus on paving there has been a noticeably change in his willingness to support road safety following his decision not to run. On the other hand, Novick’s politics have been a slow-moving disaster for active transport. His PBA-inspired waffling and equivocation on the street fee have set road safety improvements back years. Given Novick’s wealthy donors, I’m not at all surprised that he prioritizes their needs over the needs of people who want safer streets.

Social Engineer
Social Engineer
6 years ago
Reply to  soren

“On the other hand, Novick’s politics have been a slow-moving disaster for active transport”

Novick has at least tried something to get more funding for AT. Where is all this outrage against Amanda Fritz, who has done nothing but impede urbanist efforts, and yet got token opposition on her way to her impending landslide reelection?

Adam
6 years ago

Agreed. Novick at least has a grasp on transportation planning, whereas Fritz is still worried about people biking on the sidewalk.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
6 years ago

I don’t think most Portland voters think of themselves as “urbanists” (which I interpret as supporting a pro-development agenda) — this may be why Fritz remains relatively popular.

Chris I
Chris I
6 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

She definitely has the NIMBY baby boomer vote locked down.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
6 years ago
Reply to  Chris I

That’s quite the stereotype you’ve got there!

Adam
6 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

Well she does claim to represent the neighborhood associations, so make of that what you will…

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
6 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

What do you make of it?

BikeSlobPDX
BikeSlobPDX
6 years ago
Reply to  Chris I

Baby Boomer here — I find this comment offensive. (Actually, I find the term “baby boomer” offensive as well…)

Robert Burchett
Robert Burchett
6 years ago

A. Fritz is sort of like D. Trump in a mirror, kind of looks lefty, but what does she really think? In an email she claimed to have ‘voted for the bicycle plan’. Well, I support the cold fusion plan and the Big Rock Candy Mountain plan.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
6 years ago

Did she?

Eric Leifsdad
Eric Leifsdad
6 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

fund it?

Paul Cone
Paul Cone
6 years ago
Reply to  soren

Actually the PBA and Charlie Hales don’t really care for each other.

BJCefola
6 years ago
Reply to  soren

I think the street fee debacle is 100% Hales’ fault. The concept of a per household utility fee was his baby, going back to his prior tenure on city council. I think when that became untenable he dumped the mess on Novick and sat on his hands, waiting for the city to come back to his preferred solution. That lead to a stalemate that didn’t break until Wheeler came in. Novick’s error was in letting himself be set up as Hales’ fall guy.

soren
6 years ago
Reply to  BJCefola

IMO, Novick’s reluctance to support a public vote due to opposition by the PBA killed the best iteration of the street fee.

BJCefola
6 years ago
Reply to  soren

How much of that was Hales and how much Novick? Here is indirect evidence of what Novick was thinking in January 2014:
“David Sweet, a member of the city transportation bureau’s standing budget advisory committee, said Tuesday that though Novick hadn’t expressed certainty that the proposal would go up for a direct public vote, the commissioner seemed adamant that this November, which will also see two city council races, the national midterm elections and a high-profile ballot measure to allow gay marriage, would be the best time to put a new fee before voters.”

Here is Hales in March 2014:
“We will put a funding measure before the city council, and if necessary, the voters, later this year.”

I read Novick as signalling it would be smart to go to the ballot in November 2014, and Hales signalling he wouldn’t if he didn’t have to (even that’s a charitable reading, he could have been alluding to a ballot reference by opposition groups).

soren
6 years ago
Reply to  BJCefola

Portland Business Alliance: “…we want to commend Commissioner Novick for persisting on this issue and undertaking a collaborative discussion that resulted in a transportation-funding proposal that can be broadly supported.”

A commendation from Sauron.

Granpa
Granpa
6 years ago
Reply to  soren

Shocked, Shocked I say that the mayor is not displaying competence

Anne Hawley
Anne Hawley
6 years ago

One of Portland’s most noteworthy achievements, the removal of the Harbor Freeway back in the day, gets mentioned all the time in the urbanism and active transpo press. The irony is that Naito Parkway is almost a one-to-one replacement for it, and nobody really mentions that.

The City has been willing to rest on that aging laurel while refusing to even acknowledge that Naito is an ugly, noisy, polluting, dangerous car sewer paralleling and blighting one of the city’s greatest assets, exactly like its predecessor 150 meters to the east…let alone alter that sad fact.

Super discouraging.

Social Engineer
Social Engineer
6 years ago
Reply to  Anne Hawley

Naito (or more accurately Front Avenue) existed back then in addition to Harbor Drive. No capacity was added to Front when the freeway was torn down.

See photo here:comment image

Adam
6 years ago

The only reason that the Harbor Drive removal was even able to be conceived was because it was replaced by the brand-new I-5 across the river. We’re definitely still better off without Harbor Drive, but its just something to think about.

Social Engineer
Social Engineer
6 years ago
Reply to  Adam

And the brand new I-405 through residential neighborhoods. Believe me, I know.

Adam
6 years ago

City Council has reverted back to it’s bike-timid, afraid-of-the-bikelash state, showing that the city is again caving to business interests by not allowing Better Block to succeed. Because of the gas tax vote looming, no one wants to mention bikes. Sure, the tax will fund plenty of bike projects, but it doesn’t bode well that the city is still afraid to talk about bikes, even though bikes are in the plan! We shouldn’t have to trick people into voting for bike funding. Who’s to say that after the tax passes, bike projects won’t be the first to be cut due to pressure!

We need to stop all this endless support-building outreach. Our city leadership should be convincing us why we need safer streets. Maybe if you want to fund more bike projects, then un-gut PBOT’s active transportation budget!

Vote for Sarah.

Beeblebrox
Beeblebrox
6 years ago

I just want to point out that the gas tax project list includes several million dollars for “protected bikeways downtown,” which could easily include making Better Naito permanent. So I can see why Novick would prefer to focus on making sure the gas tax vote is successful, and would oppose this business tax which arguably hurts the gas tax cause.

Adam
6 years ago
Reply to  Beeblebrox

IMO, given limited revenues from the gas tax, protected bike lanes downtown would work better closer to the middle of the downtown grid than along Naito. Waterfront Park already is a decent space to ride – except during festival season of course. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Naito should get a 4-2 road diet with dual cycleways, but I’d place that at a lower priority than, say, a cycleway on SW Broadway, 3rd/4th Avenues, or Main/Madison to access the Hawthorne Bridge. Nearly every avenue downtown is too wide and could easily fit cycle tracks.

There are so many projects that need to be done to improve bike access downtown, and a cycleway 200 feet from a bike path seems like it should be a low priority.

Spiffy
6 years ago
Reply to  Adam

as a fair-weather rider the festival season is the only time I ride, so the park path is mostly useless all the time for me…

Adam
6 years ago
Reply to  Spiffy

I do think it would help a lot if the festivals weren’t fenced off and you could just walk/bike though rather than around to get to the waterfront path.

Ben
Ben
6 years ago
Reply to  Adam

This would be true if Waterfront Park had a bike path. It doesn’t. Getting bikes out of the park and onto a smooth path without benches, bollards, stairs, and thousands of pedestrians should be a priority.

rick
rick
6 years ago

When riding from SW Barbur, I prefer Natio compared to SW 6th. PBOT needs to respect Tom McCall.

paikiala
paikiala
6 years ago

Jonathan,

Have you asked the city for any scoping or conceptual renderings for better Naito? Presuming they don’t exist seems premature.

paikiala
paikiala
6 years ago

as opposed to
“Remember the entire idea behind [insert favorite project here] is to try something new. To see what works and what doesn’t. To learn and move forward. It’s a quick sketch, not a masterpiece. It’s a work of art we all get to help create — but if the City doesn’t hear more positive support for the project we’ll never get to see the final product.”
http://bikeportland.org/2016/05/13/lovers-of-great-streets-better-broadway-needs-our-help-183467

Adam
6 years ago

As it stands now, I would not support the idea of simply “make Better Naito permanent” without a concrete plan on how to address turns across Naito and loading zones during festivals.

Of course, I have a solution to those problems though! Instead of a two-way cycle path, make it a one-way path and add a southbound cycle path on we other side of the street. That way, turns are easier (you don’t have to block the oncoming bike lane) and trucks will only block half the path. If they are wide enough (take an entire travel lane) the southbound could even be converted to a two-way temporarily during festivals to allow for loading on the northbound lane.

Of course, Parks also needs to build a sidewalk along Naito, but AFAIK they are not open to that idea for whatever reason.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
6 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Maybe loading trucks could park on the grass instead of in the bike lane.

Adam
6 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

Yeah, it’s not like that grass doesn’t get destroyed anyway, forcing the city to waste water every year trying to grow it back. I would fully support a proposal to rip out all the sod and replace it with crushed gravel, similar to parks in Paris. Leave some green but fence it in so it’s easier to manage and won’t get trashed every year.

Spiffy
6 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

there’s usually a fence in the way…

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
6 years ago
Reply to  Spiffy

If only there were a way to set up the fence 9 feet closer to the river…

Al Dente
Al Dente
6 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

Same with the food cart today!

Grandpa
Grandpa
6 years ago
Reply to  Hello, Kitty

Bad idea: Grass is basically disposable, but the roadside has street trees which represent years of growth and can not be replaced. Tree roots need the pore space in soils and driving on the soil compacts it and crushes the pore space. Parking in the tree root zone can kill the trees. AND There are enough unauthorized appropriations of our park spaces without slicing off portions to be used as truck parking.

paikiala
paikiala
6 years ago
Reply to  Grandpa

Trees can be replaced. Parks and Urban Forestry have a formula for it.
The first five feet behind the sidewalk is public right of way from the roadway, but Parks pretty much vetos even a curb tight sidewalk.

Grandpa
Grandpa
6 years ago
Reply to  paikiala

Sure trees can be replaced, but discarding the green investment of decades and shaving away a portion of park space for parking is a bad deal. Much of the ranting on this blog rails against public support for parking. In this case I agree.

paikiala
paikiala
6 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Adam,
All or nothing usually results in the latter, not the former.

soren
6 years ago

Novick could have simply said he does not support the business fee increase and left it at that but he specifically singled out better naito as frivolous spending. I’m also not sure why you think the person not running for political office is playing “political football”. Criticizing a business tax and singling out bike infrastructure is the epitome of political football. I’d really like to hear the logic behind Hales’ nefarious political motivations for trying to get better naito funded.

Spiffy
6 years ago

there are Naito-facing hotels and restaurants? I had no idea… it’s a hostile area and I’m always focused on getting through it in one piece… there’s no place on Naito to slow down and pay attention to any businesses there… it’s a rush-hour freeway…

Champs
Champs
6 years ago

By all means lament, but remember that it’s just a show. This is more than Catch-22, it’s Genesis 22: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Every budget proposal has these phony sacrifices. If people say nothing, that’s exactly what they’ll get, but if they do speak up, some other priority gets slashed. City Hall now has the cover it needs, and the all-powerful, puppy-hating handsome devils of the Bicycle Lobby will shoulder the blame for cuts to parks, police, housing, etc.

Is it worth the political (or financial) capital? Comparing it to other safety projects, I don’t think so. But that’s just, like, my own opinion, man.

Todd Hudson
Todd Hudson
6 years ago

Charlie Hales succeeded in become a more unpopular and toxic mayor than Sam Adams. That is not an easy thing to do.

Beeblebrox
Beeblebrox
6 years ago
Reply to  Todd Hudson

There’s no way that is true.

Al Dente
Al Dente
6 years ago

Kim’s whatever food cart in the lane was a nice addition today.

gutterbunnybikes
gutterbunnybikes
6 years ago

Once again I say,close it off from the Marriott to the Steel Bridge, demo the ramps, make the current road a permanent paved festival space complete with built in stages and seating and such. The ROI would likely be seen in a couple years of not needing to reseed the lawns. Waterfront park more people friendly, with a beach, playgrounds, some nice gardens and what not. The dead ends from 1st Ave east convert nicely into little plazas or pods or sell off that real estate to fund the turnover – I’m with such a set up a couple hotels would be willing to invest in additions to new lots suddenly appearing next door.

Most the traffic on Natio is just people bridge hopping, there are almost no businesses that require it and only one or two parking lots that access it through this stretch. Just shut it down.

Give Portland Parks Naito as described above in exchange for Eastmoreland Golf course, for a new neighborhood development. ll the golf courses owned by PP&R only net operating costs of $10 million a year. Considering my little 50′ x 100 lot in middle SE is pushing 400k recently, I’m sure the city would appreciate new taxes of developing at least a couple of the golf courses (which is a moribund sport by the way).

mran1984
6 years ago

Naito is currently anything but better. Cell phone zombies strolling all over the street. Vendors consistently abusing loading zones and generally driving without a clue. I commute this pkwy daily. I love the folks who hate golf…funny stuff. At the rate that life expectancy increases I would not expect golf to die in your lifetime, but it is a very difficult game and that is certainly not too popular with many folks today. Is their an “app” that makes this easier…

charlietso
charlietso
6 years ago

What will help is if we all contact each one of the four commissioners and tell them that we support the business license tax which will bring in $8.7 million to fund more than just Better Naito.

I went to the budget hearing meeting on Thursday. There were many people who spoke on behave of the organizations and programs that they want to continue to receive funding for next year. Only two people spoke for the business license tax. $8.7 million can get us more than Better Naito. It will support Vision Zero and more bike/ped projects. Tell Novick, Fish, Saltzman, and Fritz that this is what we want!

Bike Guy
Bike Guy
6 years ago

I have been curious to watch the Naito closure evolve over the last few weeks.

Is ODOT, COP, or Google gathering hard data on trip delays (cars) and usage by peds/bikes/unicycles? This would be key in convincing the public it’s a good idea to implement permanently.

I have my own anecdotal impressions of the project’s effects, but I’ll reserve those for now. Best, Bike Guy

paikiala
paikiala
6 years ago
Reply to  Bike Guy

PBOT did last year, blue tooth as well as other.

Tip Oz
Tip Oz
6 years ago

I commuted to work downtown from Irvington on a bicycle for over 30 years. After the ramp to the Steel Bridge was built, my route, probably over 90% of the time was over that bridge and up the waterfront to the Federal Courthouse. That was such a nice easy route that I do not see the need to put a permanent bike route on Naito, one block, at most, from the existing route. Only during festivals is there any difficulty biking on the existing footpath. Spend that money, effort and political capital somewhere else.

Mick O
Mick O
6 years ago

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
then PBOT and activists took
the ball to the 99-yard line.
Recommended 1

Surely, they didn’t lose THAT much yardage??