The City of Portland will take down the “Better Naito” project this Sunday night, whether it returns as a permanent bikeway and walkway someday is up to us. That was the message Mayor Charlie Hales gave a group of advocates, city staff, and agency representatives this morning.
This project has been a dream of Hales for almost two years.
“What if we just took that east lane on Naito and went ahead and made it into a bikeway?” he proclaimed while on a bike ride in August 2014. Then the nonprofit Better Block PDX made his wish a reality in 2015 when they installed “Better Naito” — a lane marked off by traffic cones and DIY signage that created dedicated space for biking and walking. That multi-week demonstration was so successful that the City of Portland brought it back for three months this year.
While Portlanders pedaled and walked freely in their new safe zone on adjacent to Waterfront Park, Hales surprised everyone with an attempt last May to make it permanent. He requested $1.5 million for the project out of his budget — money that would have come from a controversial tax hike on businesses. That wasn’t the right strategy to fund Better Naito and the project went nowhere.
Now, with the window closing on his Mayoral tenure, Hales has a new plan to fund what could be the most important piece of his cycling legacy. The current Better Naito pilot project ends on July 31st (this Sunday). With that date near, Hales called a special meeting this morning to proudly announce that he remains fully supportive of making the Better Naito changes permanent.
After riding a Biketown bike share bike with several dozen advocates, city staff, and other agency representatives, Hales gathered the group at the new Ankeny Plaza and laid out his case for the $1.5 million project. He said as Portland grows quickly in the coming years we need to fit more people on our streets. Here’s how the mayor is making the case for Better Naito:
“Another reason we need to think about that evolution from 630,000 to 850,000 people… We have a very successful promenade in Waterfront Park. We have activities out there all summer long and we have a lot of people that commute through there on bike or on foot. There’s not enough space. We need a sidewalk on this side of Naito for pedestrians. We need a permanent bikeway where we now have a temporary bikeway. It’s for capacity reasons. That’s the agenda here: Where can we create additional, non-auto capacity in ways that work? To me, Better Naito is a sterling example of that. So we have this opportunity I hope this year to make that project permanent.
I’m glad we got to be here together with the temporary version of it and I look forward to all of us riding it as a permanent version.”
Hales and his team plan to hammer out details of a proposal in time for the request to be considered at the city’s fall budget monitoring process (known as the “BuMP”) in October. That’s when the city will take a look at how its collected tax revenue stacks up against existing expenses. Since the economy is strong, Hales thinks it’s a “pretty safe bet” there will be extra funds to invest back into the city.
This means that while there’s strong momentum for Better Naito, there’s still a political lift ahead. It might be worth noting that representatives from Commissioner Steve Novick and Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s office were on today’s ride. That’s three of five votes right there. But even if we assume those two are supportive, there’s no telling how the vote will go if/when it happens.
If you have opinions about the changes on Naito, email them to email@example.com and send a copy to the five members of Council: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
The public debate has already begun. Here are a few selected tweet from the last few hours:
— (((PJ))) (@__P__J) July 26, 2016
@tedwheeler I hope you'll consider re-opening the closed lane on Naito to cars once you take office
— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) July 26, 2016
— Old Town Chinatown (@OTCTPDX) July 26, 2016
And Mayor Hales himself has already gone on the offensive. He posted a call for support of the project on his Facebook page today.
Regardless of feedback, the city says they plan to take down the existing cones at the end of Sunday. That means Naito will return to its previous alignment with two standard lanes, an unprotected bike lane, and no space for walking. PBOT spokesman Dylan Rivera said in an interview this morning that PBOT will collect data after Better Naito comes down in order to compare and contrast traffic volumes and travel times. Stay tuned for results of their analysis.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – email@example.com
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