From now until the end of September, all Portlanders will benefit from a much more humane Naito Parkway. Along a busy section of our marquee riverfront street usually held hostage by speeding motor vehicles spewing toxic fumes into the air we breathe, people will drive more slowly and there will be much more room to walk and bike and roll.
As I type this, transportation bureau crews are installing the plastic wands and other elements that will help re-allocate space on the northbound (east) side of Naito for about 3/4 of a mile between SW Main and NW Couch. The $350,000 project was supported by City Council last October. Former Mayor Charlie Hales was an ardent supporter of improving vehicle access on Naito. Prior to voting on it last fall he said, “Expanding the public realm for bicycles in this city, and is something we’re still committed to.”
The project represents a significant victory for transportation reform activists led by Better Block PDX. Working with Portland State University students, that all-volunteer group of “tactical urbanists” completed a successful demonstration project in May 2015. That led to another demonstration two months later during Brewfest. Last year the partnership between Better Block, local businesses, waterfront event organizers, PSU and PBOT strengthened and after another three-month trial the City stepped up and decided to make it their own.
On March 31st of this year, area residents and business owners were sent a memo about the 2017 version. Here’s an excerpt that explains what we can expect between now and the end of September:
“… PBOT will install removable white plastic posts to delineate one northbound motor vehicle lane on SW Naito Parkway, converting it to open space for the public to walk and bike and roll safely to Waterfront Park’s festivals and community events. The posts will be installed between SW Main and NW Couch. Better Naito will run from April 28th to September 30th in 2017. In October, the posts will be removed and stored for use next summer.
In related efforts, PBOT will implement a passenger drop off zone on SW Taylor St. just off of Naito to better accommodate people being dropped off for Waterfront events by personal vehicles, taxis, etc. We will also install a new pedestrian signal at SW Naito and Main to improve the safety of that crossing. PBOT will update the traffic signal at NW Naito and Davis to reduce conflicts at the Steel Bridge ramp, installing a right turn signal and bike signal. PBOT will also install white plastic posts to the north of the Better Naito installation between NW Davis and NW Ironside Terrace to better delineate the existing bike lanes.”
Here’s the map of what’s planned:
Given PBOT’s track record with plastic delineator posts (they have an embarrassing history of being uprooted and destroyed by careless or incompetent or just plain mean drivers), we hope these stay put. At the last place PBOT installed a large amount of these posts — the new protected bike lane on NE 21st over I-84 — it only took a few months before all of them were ripped up and gone.
Assuming things stay in place, many people will celebrate this change — and many are likely to loathe it. Even though traffic analysis done last year showed only minor delays during a short peak period for automobile users (about 1.5 minutes in the morning and between 30 seconds and two minutes in the evening, according to The Oregonian) some people were very vocal with their opposition. With that in mind, PBOT will monitor the street again this year to see how the changes impact traffic.
Beyond the physical changes to the street, Better Naito signifies a giant step for people who want healthier streets in Portland. What started as a DIY, low-budget demonstration by grassroots activists with big ideas, has been fully embraced — and now implemented — by the City of Portland. The next step of course is to permanently redesign Naito so that our waterfront can realize its full potential, a.k.a. “Best Naito”.
It will likely take another week or so for PBOT to finish installing everything. Stay tuned for more coverage once it’s all in. Check BetterNaito.com for more info.