In 2015 it was just a wild idea by a few ambitious urban planning activists: What if we reconfigured Naito Parkway so that there was more room for biking and walking?
That idea led to the first iteration of “Better Naito” by the upstart group Better Block PDX. With a few thousand dollars, a few traffic cones, and some wood pallets stapled hastily with astroturf, they cordoned off the eastern lane of Portland’s marquee waterfront street. It wasn’t pretty; but it worked.
After years of being held hostage by the fumes and fear created by people speeding by in cars and trucks, people who wanted to travel through and/or enjoy Waterfront Park under their own power finally had room to breathe and to safely walk and roll.
The City of Portland liked the idea so much they allowed it to return a year later.
This morning, Better Naito took its biggest step yet: It opened as a project funded and implemented — not by an activist group with the City’s permission — but by the City itself. Using $350,000 (over five years) passed by City Council last year, the Portland Bureau of Transportation has taken the baton from Better Block PDX. The result is a project that has taken the project up a considerable notch (no offense to our friends at Better Block!).
At the launch event this morning a spokesman for the City called it, “Even Better Naito.”
Using 470 consistently-spaced plastic bollards that are neatly screwed into the pavement, the new lane looks much better than previous years. Starting just south of the Salmon Street Fountain, there’s now a physically protected lane that runs just over a mile all the way north to the condominiums past the Steel Bridge. Unknown to me before today, PBOT has also added the screw-in plastic bollards to the newly buffered bike lanes between NW Davis Street and Ironside Terrace (across the tracks from Union Station).
In addition to the bollards, here are the key elements of the project:
- New signal at Naito and SW Main St (complete, just waiting for electricity from PGE).
- New 20 mph speed limit (down from 30 mph).
- New intersection treatment at NW Everett and Naito that will make it like SW Salmon with a left and right turn lane and a bike-only lane in the middle.
- New bike-only signal at NW Davis to separate straight bicycle traffic from people turning right onto the Steel Bridge ramp (about a month away). This signal will also trigger a project to make the existing bike lane from Davis to the Steel Bridge two-way, so that bicycle users don’t have to ride the Waterfront path through the Japanese Historical Plaza!
- Bike-only signals at Morrison, Taylor, Salmon, and Pine.
- A loading zone using two parking spaces on the NW corner of Taylor.
- New loading zone hours for Saturday Market vendors: 5:00 am to 10:00 am Friday and Saturday (to unload) and 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm on Saturday and 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm on Sunday (to pack up). These hours are significantly compressed compared to the usual permit which allowed vendors to load and unload any time between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. Their new permits also require them to park as close to curb as possible so as not to block traffic in the new protected lane.
- The entire length of the project will be monitored by Parking Enforcement and everyone is encouraged to call 503-823-5195 to lodge complaints.
- Waterfront festival vendors must have a permit ($50 each) and can only be parked for a maximum of 30 minutes.
The screw-in bollards are a big improvement over traffic cones…
Design details like this matter a lot. Note how PBOT has ground away the bike lane symbol to maintain the curbside area as a walking-only zone…
I was very happy to see that PBOT has also extended the bollards to the existing (and permanent) bike lane north of Davis that connects to the Steel and Broadway Bridges. PBOT is now working on a project that will create a contra-flow bike lane between the Steel Bridge path and where Better Naito begins south of Davis…
At this morning’s launch event, PBOT Director Leah Treat said Better Naito is part of the City’s effort to “Encourage people to get out of their single-occupancy vehicles and bike and walk and take transit more,” during the busy summer construction project season. She also referred to the project as, “The largest temporary street transformation in the country” and said it’s the perfect companion to Portland’s busiest Biketown bike share station at Salmon and Naito.
The CEO of the Rose Festival Foundation, Jeff Curtis, said the new lane is, “A great enhancement to the waterfront.”
And Will Naito, the grandson of Bill Naito whom the street was named after following his death in 1996, wants to see it become permanent. “I ride here on my bike commute on a daily basis and I’m thrilled… hopefully this is the next step to getting this cycleway as a permanent part of our transportation infrastructure.”
“Hopefully this is the next step to getting this cycleway as a permanent part of our transportation infrastructure.”
— Will Naito, grandson of Bill Naito
“As I was riding in this morning through the Japanese American Historical Plaza,” Naito continued, “I thought about what this project would have meant to my grandfather and his legacy. I think he would have been very happy to see this evolution of transportation in our city.”
Like many evolutions and revolutions, things that now seem obvious were once considered outlandish. No one knows that better than Gwen Shaw. Now a professional transportation engineer with Toole Design Group, I first met Shaw in 2015. She was sitting on a curb on Naito with a clipboard and a pencil counting bicycle users and walkers on one of the first mornings of Better Naito. She was a student at Portland State University back then and worked closely with Better Block PDX. She was downright giddy this morning as she biked toward the press conference that would launch what was once a crazy idea into an official piece of infrastructure.
Speaking about the City of Portland during her remarks, Shaw said, “We pushed their limits a couple years ago and they’ve come back with endless support and structured opportunities to make projects like this happen all over the place. Seeing this project evolve and become what it is today has been amazing. Having PBOT take ownership and expand it further and seeing what we can do in the next five year is the most exciting thing.”
As you can imagine, not everyone will be excited for these changes. And you can bet City Hall is hearing their voices. It’s also worth noting that PBOT has a new commissioner. Former Commissioner Steve Novick was Better Naito’s biggest cheerleader (he literally jumped up and sang and cheered at last year’s launch); but new PBOT Commissioner Dan Saltzman might still need to be convinced of this project’s value and necessity. Please consider sharing what you think by sending an email to NaitoParkway@PortlandOregon.gov and/or leave voice message at (503) 823-4321. Online you should tag your social media feedback with #BetterNaito.