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Call to action: Let’s make ‘Seasonal Better Naito’ a reality

Posted by on October 21st, 2016 at 10:08 am

Naito Parkway traffic observations -14.jpg

We can set this in stone every summer for five years if we let City Council know we want it.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Bicycle access through and to Waterfront Park is in dire need of help. And ‘Seasonal Better Naito’ — a project proposed by the Bureau of Transportation and supported by Mayor Charlie Hales — is our best chance to get it.

We’ve heard from various sources that despite the City Budget Office throwing a bit of cold water on the project last week, there’s still a very good chance Mayor Charlie Hales and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick can get the one additional vote from the other three Council members they need to get it funded through the Fall Budget Monitoring Process (a.k.a. “Fall BuMP”).

But in order to grab $350,000 from the intensely competitive general fund where there’s only $4 million up for grabs across all bureaus citywide, they need to hear resounding support from the community. Again.

Yes, we agree that a permanent reconfiguration of Naito Parkway with year-round protected space for walking and rolling is needed. Unfortunately given the timing and political realities we find ourselves in, that’s not just going to happen. We think that pushing for this seasonal project would be a very positive step forward. And most importantly, it could actually happen.

Here’s why we’re asking you to email or call Mayor Hales and the four other city commissioners to tell them you support Seasonal Naito in the Fall BuMP…

Funding and the sure thing

As a photographer I often remind myself of an old hunting mantra: “One in hand is better than two in the bush.” That means when in doubt I shoot the sure thing that’s right in front of me, because I never know if the perfect image I want will ever manifest itself. In this analogy, Seasonal Naito is “in hand” while a more robust, year-round version is “two in the bush.”

PBOT estimates that a year-round, mature version of the Better Naito trials we had for the past two summers (as in, one not implemented for pennies by the all-volunteer nonprofit Better Block, bless their hearts) would cost around $3.7 million. The full version of Better Naito PBOT wants to do would come with first-rate design and materials — both of which come with a price tag City Hall can’t swallow right now.

And right now — as much as we wish we could do everything all at once — a full redesign of Naito Parkway simply isn’t as urgent to a large swath of the community as other infrastructure needs. Equity is carrying the day at PBOT right now. And while that doesn’t mean they won’t invest anything in the central city, it means there’s more momentum (from the public and from funding sources) to spend money in east Portland where a disproportionate number of people fear their streets and all too often die while using them.

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Political timing

Politics is everything. Whatever change you seek in Portland, if you don’t get the politics lined up, it ain’t gonna’ happen. Naito has had the attention of Mayor Hales for over two years now. He went from mentioning it in an off-handed comment in August 2014, to putting together an official (and unfortunately misguided) budget proposal for it back in May, to making a desparate plea to advocates over the summer to help him garner support for it.

Mayor Hales has rolled up his sleeves to make something happen on Naito.

Mayor Hales has played both the inside and outside game to try and make something happen on Naito.

With just a few months left as leader of Portland Hales likely sees this as a legacy project and the Fall BuMP is his last best chance to make it happen. Hales is an embattled mayor swimming in negative press lately for his (mis)handling of the police union contract and the homelessness crisis. It’s also worth noting he was elected in large part by transportation reform advocates who were excited about his experience with rail transit and previous stint as a city transportation commissioner.

But in the past four years Hales doesn’t have one marquee transportation project to his name. When I shared that opinion on Twitter this week, the Mayor’s account replied by mentioning the gas tax increase and bike share. Those are massive wins for Portland, but Hales was just a supporting actor.

Naito would be his project. He could take credit for making a significant change for the better on one of Portland’s most iconic streets.

And if we miss this opportunity, who knows what will happen with new Mayor Ted Wheeler. He’ll come in and face pressure to tackle very high-profile issues like police relations, a growing Black Lives Matter movement, homelessness, and so on. Even if he is supportive of street reform, it’s unlikely he’ll put Naito Parkway front-and-center.

Seasonal Naito is worth fighting for

If we don’t act now and make it clear to City Hall denizens that we want $350,000 for Seasonal Naito, we’ll be giving up a major opportunity.

PBOT would use bollards that screw in-and-out of the roadway.(Images: PBOT)

PBOT would use bollards that screw in-and-out of the roadway.
(Images: PBOT)

The project would create protected space on the west east side of Naito Parkway during the busy summer season. It would vastly improve our waterfront for everyone: While driving we’d be able to slow down and appreciate the urban landscape (a new report from Better Block (PDF) shows that the driving delay is just 30 seconds or less throughout the day); we’d be able to walk, bike, roll, and simply exist without less stress and danger from other road users speeding past in large and loud vehicles. The space on Naito would also reduce demands on the riverfront path in Waterfront Park — which means you could take your friends and visitors on a leisurely walk without getting buzzed by people on bikes who are afraid to use Naito and are hurrying to get from A-to-B.

If this project gets funded we’d have this space guaranteed to us for five years. We’d also have the door to more permanent changes left wide open.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Seasonal Naito is that it would institutionalize Better Block-style tactical urbanism within PBOT. This is huge! If you believe in street reform and want PBOT to be more flexible and attentive to the needs of non-driving road users, you should eagerly support a project that creates a tactical urbanism crew within the city bureaucracy. The thought of PBOT maintenance staff screwing in flexible bollards to create protected space for biking on Naito makes us smile. And it would plant a seed within PBOT that could take root and blossom into very exciting things.

This isn’t the big step many of us hoped for, but can you really argue that it’s not a step worth taking?

If you support Seasonal Naito, please take a few minutes to remind Mayor Hales and Commissioners Novick, Amanada Fritz, Nick Fish and Dan Saltzman (their emails and phone numbers are below). Please keep in mind that none of them oppose Seasonal Naito. In fact, in a budget work session yesterday we learned that Hales has included the project in his Fall BuMP proposal (along with $1 million for Vision Zero work on outer Halsey, watch it here at the 02:14:30 mark) and even Commissioner Fish had positive words to say about it.

We’re close, but there are no guarantees. Here’s the contact info:

Mayor Hales: mayorhales@portlandoregon.gov, 503-823-4120
Commissioner Fish: Nick@portlandoregon.gov, 503-823-3589
Commissioner Fritz: amanda@portlandoregon.gov, 503-823-3008
Commissioner Novick: novick@portlandoregon.gov, 503-823-4682
Commissioner Saltzman: dan@portlandoregon.gov, 503-823-4151.
PBOT: naitoparkway@portlandoregon.gov

Let’s do this! Because a seasonal Better Naito is better than no Better Naito at all.

UPDATE, 3:30pm: We’ve just heard that Commissioner Nick Fish supports the seasonal Better Naito funding request. Fish’s Policy and Communications Advisor Everett Wild sent us this email from Fish in response to a constituent:

Thanks for your email.

I have talked to a lot of stakeholders about Better Naito (Community Cycling Center, Oregon Walks, etc.), read the summary report prepared by Better Blocks PDX, and received briefings from PBOT and Novick.

I am impressed with the breadth of community support (Better Blocks PDX, Travel Portland, Rose Festival, etc.).

The briefings were helpful–and I now better understand the costs and benefits. I also appreciate PBOT’s efforts to relieve congestion in the central city during rush hour.

Here is where I land: I favor an extension of the pilot.

We have limited surplus $ to carve up in the Fall BMP, and a lot of compelling needs. While I am a strong supporter of Vision Zero, the Council ultimately needs to decide which of the transportation safety “ask’s” in the Fall BMP make the cut now, and which are taken up through the regular budget process

Thanks again for sharing your views with me.

Regards,

Nick

That’s three votes, so this should be funded next week. Nice work everyone!

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

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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dwk
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dwk

I completely disagree with this. Money that could be spent much better elsewhere. What is the big need for this? Seriously?

J_R
Guest
J_R

I’d much rather have two or three new rapid flash beacons that will operate for the rest of time than spending $350k on a seasonal project that has relatively minor benefits for a few months a year.

Saul
Guest
Saul

Waterfront Park is one of Oregon’s most visited and cherished public spaces. Over 700k people visit the summer festivals. Better Naito made it more comfortable for all these folks and made it safer for everyone else to travel through the area.

I think a seasonal Better Naito is a huge victory for active transportation in the Central City. Big kudos to the volunteers who made it happen the last two summers.

Adam
Subscriber

Funding priorities in this city are completely broken. The PDC is kicking in $25M to PBOT to renovate a parking garage downtown, yet we can’t seem to find $3.7M for a protected cycleway half a mile down the street? City Hall says they prioritize active and public transport over cars, yet this is clearly not reflected in the budget. World-class cities do not have temporary cycling infrastructure that is removed for nine months out of the year.

“The truth about a city’s aspirations isn’t found in its vision, It’s found in its budget.”

Clint Culpepper
Guest

Robert Burchett
Using the power of cliches, I say it’s low-hanging fruit. Modest budget (less than $1.00 per citizen), available right-of-way, Demonstrated Feasibility thanks to Better Block, attention from local government heads And bureau–persons, visibility. . .there’s more but I’ll stop there.
The Better Block folks are well aware of equity issues and no doubt they know where the real center of Portland is. Maybe their next roll-out will be Lents or something. I’m a fan.
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Don’t forget that while the geographical and population center of Portland is east of 82nd we have 125,000 employees and nearly 40,000 students downtown and even more passing through. It’s hard not to see a project that impacts this many people as important.

Psyfalcon
Guest
Psyfalcon

I think this is unique in that a functional transportation system is completely overwhelmed by the seasonal festivals. Between October and May you can go between the Hawthorne and Steel bridge, and access downtown at many points from both the path and the bike lane on Naito.

Then one day, the fences go up, right to the curb and edge of the path. More people on an effectively narrowed path. People walking in the bike lane.

The Blues Fest alone has 100,000 people attending in 4 days.

Maybe there are better places to spend the money, but this needs to be mitigated somehow….

Champs
Guest
Champs

I just can’t find anything objectively superior about Naito in any configuration, but for the sake of argument it is. Seasonal Better Naito sounds like that semester in middle school when I pulled up my art grade to a B-.

If the waterfront trail is “barely feasible” I have no idea what slow-and-separated people actually want.

For all the trail’s faults, it is still more calm and pleasant than Better Naito. If you so much as Idaho Stop through traffic signals, travel time is basically the same. If you obey them lawfully, forget it. This summer, I saw a few dirty looks for exactly that—and as many close calls with people crossing the street legally. Not a good look!

$350k can solve real problems around the city. That makes its own statement.

Spiffy
Subscriber

no way…

the reason that better Naito is needed is a problem created by the city and not enforced by the city…

I’d rather see the money spent on putting in a sidewalk (and short fence between crossings) on the west side of the park so peds wouldn’t spill into the bike lane…

I’d rather see the money spent on enforcement to keep those peds (and the garbage cans from Bite of Oregon) out of the bike lane…

I’d rather see the $3.7M funding come from a fee imposed on every vendor that wants to use the park over the next few years… they’re the real cause of the problem…

riding Better Naito was a lot more stressful for me than riding next to traffic… unpredictable peds and bikes on both sides of me northbound… head-on traffic and peds in the bike lane… conflicting traffic control devices… anxiety!

I’ll try to remember to email them all in opposition of this fiasco…

Spiffy
Subscriber

“The project would create protected space on the west side of Naito Parkway during the busy summer season.”

they’re moving it to the other side of the road now? I think you either meant “east side of Naito Parkway” or “west side of Waterfront Park”…

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

In the image of bollards shown in the story, and provided by PBOT, I’d like to point out the interesting new PBOT/PPB bike feature called the “bike catcher”, used to capture unwitting bicycle riding criminals. They are guided gently into a small holding pen, where they can be safely escorted to jail.

rick
Guest
rick

It needs a lower speed limit and protected bike lanes.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

I’m disappointed at this entire post.

– There was widespread dislike of “better naito” amongst regular cyclists.
– There are much worse places to have to ride in town
– This is a lot of money that could be put to much better use elsewhere

Lone Heckler
Guest
Lone Heckler

I support a better Naito, but not in the configuration we saw this year. I rode it a few times and decided the thinly-placed bollards with large gaps created a confusing situation for motorists with too many spots to inadvertently — or maybe not so inadvertently — enter the bike lane.

The most recent Google Maps Street View (Naito at Stark) actually shows the Better Naito configuration. One of the sketchiest areas to me was where Stark ends at Naito and cars would be turning left (north) from Stark. Look at the lack of bollards here. It looked to me like drivers could easily be confused about where to go, possibly swinging wide right, thinking the bollards were a traffic lane separator.

I’d like to see concrete barriers and better signage to create a real barrier.

AEG
Guest
AEG

I’m one who travels Naito every day year round and absolutely hated “Better” Naito. Its far more dangerous than the current configuration which, in my opinion is one of the safest areas of my commute between Northeast and Downtown. There is an existing MUP that I avoid because I’m commuting and would like to travel through without worrying about people who are relaxing and not paying attention. Adding those people to a lane of traffic doesn’t make any sense. I’ll be contacting the council to voice my concern about funds being used here. There are places where safety is of great concern- Naito is not one.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

After the hundreds or thousands of posts I’ve read on seasonal Naito, I still don’t understand why the festival fences can’t be moved 20-30 feet further inward, so that pedestrians have a wide grassy area to walk. It seems that would eliminate much of the need for seasonal Naito.

I also don’t understand why the costs of seasonal Naito aren’t borne by the festivals that make it necessary – if it remains necessary after the fences are moved.

I oppose the expenditure for these reasons.

Seasonal Naito is a project that is based on a single premise: that there is no room for walking or cycling along the west edge of Waterfront Park. That’s an artificial premise, created by the festival fences. Why are we spending $350,000 every year – money that doesn’t buy permanent improvement – to fix a problem caused by a temporary fence?

Rob S.
Guest
Rob S.

I also disagree with removing a car lane from Naito. I agree with John Liu and the points he makes. Most of us bike commute through waterfront park and not in the Naito bike lane. That is true even when festivals happen. I mean, it’s kind of silly to stop at a million stop lights on Naito when bikes can breeze right through waterfront park. I think this project is inadvisable. At a minimum, it should be a very low priority.

Robert Burchett
Guest
Robert Burchett

What is crazy? Crazy is having a bike facility cluttered by stoplights put there to regulate MV traffic in the adjoining space. Let us face it, any bike facility put in between Naito Parkway and Waterfront park is going to be affected by pedestrian traffic. Bikes and pedestrians can co-exist if there’s enough space for both, and pedestrians will choose the path that works best for them if the design informs that decision. I think a clear design that announces pedestrian crossings of a bike route would allow us to dispense with signals that parallel the Naito Parkway traffic lights. If a woonerf works for MV, why wouldn’t it work with bikes and peds?

I read the comments above about losing time because temporary Naito had a few people walking, jogging, or parking their Bikeyshare bikes to take selfies(!) Yes it was a thing but not that big a thing. Maybe it took 10 seconds of my time to let a person walking make a decision and get with their program. It’s not a big deal and we can live with it. It’s called sharing, people.