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.
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-823-4120
Commissioner Fish: Nick@portlandoregon.gov, 503-823-3589
Commissioner Fritz: email@example.com, 503-823-3008
Commissioner Novick: firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-823-4682
Commissioner Saltzman: email@example.com, 503-823-4151.
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.
That’s three votes, so this should be funded next week. Nice work everyone!
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org