With City’s embrace, an ‘Even Better Naito’ returns to the waterfront

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Naito will never be the same.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

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?

A protected place to walk and roll — at least for the next five months.

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.”

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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.

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The screw-in bollards are a big improvement over traffic cones…

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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…

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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…

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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.

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Will Naito wants it to be permanent.

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.”

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Where it all comes together: Gwen Shaw of Better Block and Toole Design Group; Timur Ender, a Better Block volunteer, former policy advisory for Commissioner Steve Novick and now PBOT project manager; and PBOT Capital Projects Manager Gabe Graff.

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.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Naito Commuter
Naito Commuter
5 years ago

“•Waterfront festival vendors must have a permit ($50 each) and can only be parked for a maximum of 30 minutes.”
This is what made Better Naito horrendous last year as it became a de facto loading zone for the festival trucks, which seemed well timed with in-week commuting. It was just very dangerous. You would either be forced into the car lane or if there was a small gap you would have to play chicken with oncoming bikes. I didn’t realize that loading was expressly allowed. Maybe they could give permits for loading in the one car lane?

paikiala
paikiala
5 years ago
Reply to  Naito Commuter

Loading has always been allowed during the festival, even before Better Naito.

Paul Atkinson
Paul Atkinson
5 years ago
Reply to  paikiala

But it was not supposed to be allowed during commuting hours (which IIRC were defined as 6-9am and 4-6pm); that was explicit. And ignored.

Permit use seems much more enforceable. I’m very happy to hear of that enhancement.

OregonJelly
OregonJelly
5 years ago
Reply to  Paul Atkinson

In theory. This is Portland though. Nobody will be enforcing this.

I would love to hear the people who proposed and instituted the permits explain what they feel the purpose to be. Perhaps I’m missing something. To me, it feels like revenue collection and is little more than a hassle for the vendors.

Monkeysee
Monkeysee
5 years ago
Reply to  Naito Commuter

Take the lane! You have a right. Just ride in the lane of traffic…. Get over it.

Chris I
Chris I
5 years ago
Reply to  Monkeysee

Get over what?

Naito Commuter
Naito Commuter
5 years ago
Reply to  Monkeysee

That’s something I hadn’t considered. Can the southbound bicycle lane “merge” (i.e., play dodge the bollards) into the adjacent oncoming northbound car lane? Aside from the obvious stupidity of playing chicken with a car, is that what the bikes are supposed to do?

Ben F
Ben F
5 years ago
Reply to  Monkeysee

The thing is, cars are much more inefficient and space-consuming than bicycles. If I’m riding my bike why should I have to sit behind cars breathing exhaust when I could ride in a bicycle lane and breeze past the gridlock. One of the biggest reasons I ride a bike is so I won’t be stuck in the gridlock madness.

OregonJelly
OregonJelly
5 years ago
Reply to  Monkeysee

Aside from the fact that you apparently don’t know the law ( https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/814.420 ) that’s much easier to do when there are two travel lanes each way.

SaferStreetsPlease
SaferStreetsPlease
5 years ago

Yeah no kidding. The bollards on NE 21st are just GONE and have been for a while. PBOT has made no effort to replace them. Zero Vision.

mran1984
5 years ago

This is not better. I have commuted on Naito for twelve years and this awful. Now I will dodge strollers operated by oblivious folks waddling about with zero sense of what is going on around them. The bollards are possibly the worst aspect involved. Auto traffic on Naito pays attention. People waddling do not and being forced into a bollard with no clear exit point is ridiculous. The extension of the bollards under the Steel Bridge hinders access to the only area that is not constantly full of garbage from the camping that is unfortunately present. Fast bikes take Naito my a$$. Two way bike traffic does not work.

paikiala
paikiala
5 years ago
Reply to  mran1984

anti-waddler.

Art Fuldodger
Art Fuldodger
5 years ago
Reply to  paikiala

*quack quack*

bikeninja
bikeninja
5 years ago
Reply to  mran1984

Unfortunetly there seems to be a tradeoff between creating safer, more comfortable bikeways that will encourage more cyclists and save the world and fast urban cycling. But don’t worry speed demons, happy motoring will soon be over as the oil industry bankrupts itself pumping oil below cost, then the freeways will be ours as the cars and waddlers disappear.

Champs
Champs
5 years ago
Reply to  bikeninja

It’s not even about fast urban cycling, it’s about sanity.

Contrivances like Moody/Tilikum (either end of the bridge, really) put me in a “THIS IS THE FUTURE NEW URBANISTS WANT” mood that makes me want to live off-grid in a Harney County shack. I could ride ten miles into town without *seeing* a traffic signal, much less have to stop for as many as four just to cover a single city block.

Chris I
Chris I
5 years ago
Reply to  Champs

Sounds great. Maybe you should.

Mark
Mark
5 years ago
Reply to  Champs

I share your frustration. The Tillikum is a prime example of overly complicated, unintuitive infrastructure. No thanks.

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty
5 years ago
Reply to  Mark

Long live the over-complicated, over-built, over-crowded new urban awesomeness! Coming soon to a city near you!

OregonJelly
OregonJelly
5 years ago
Reply to  bikeninja

You haven’t established the safer aspect.

Is this the future you seek to implement? Because ten years ago it was bike lanes. How many deaths have been directly related to the poor implementation of those lanes? The it was protected lanes. Now, it’s something that violates every rule of the road we have ever known. Two bi-directional streets positioned next to each other. It’s a shame. Cyclists across the country are fighting for their place on the road and so many Portland cyclists are doing nothing but fighting against them.

Have the “fast bikes use 1st/2nd” signs been installed yet?

Champs
Champs
5 years ago
Reply to  mran1984

I hate the project as much as anyone, but improved signals and Steel Bridge access give me hope.

Let’s give this year a chance. It might be the one where “better” actually means “good.”

OregonJelly
OregonJelly
5 years ago
Reply to  mran1984

agree 100%

dwk
dwk
5 years ago
Reply to  mran1984

I am surprised you are not getting hate mail for this attitude….

David
David
5 years ago
Reply to  mran1984

If you haven’t tried riding it yet, I’d recommend getting out to try it in person. I think it’s great! Much better marked than before, so if people are walking it’ll be more obvious as to where they should be. They’ll probably still go into the bike lane when it’s crowded but unless you’re on a training ride going 30mph I don’t think it’ll be a big deal. And the bollards aren’t spaced so close together that you’re unable to swerve out (though I’m not exactly sure why you’d want to jump in with car traffic, but maybe that’s just me).

paikiala
paikiala
5 years ago

the usual method screws lag bolts into the asphalt to attach a plastic base. Every hit to the base loosens the bolts.

The new version has a wider insert in the street, secured with epoxy. It should hold much better.

rick
rick
5 years ago

Jersey barriers !

soren
5 years ago

I did not notice commissioner Saltzman at the event.

rick
rick
5 years ago
Reply to  soren

or the Lithia car company gobbling up land on SW Canyon Road.

bikeninja
bikeninja
5 years ago
Reply to  rick

Rick what the heck does Lithia have to do with better Naito. Sure, they sell climate change death machines and bought up some of the other car dealers on Canyon but have they gotten their grubby fingers on the Naito bikeway? They have been used to getting their way with small towns, but ran in to a buzzsaw in Washington County when they tried to get out of paying the fees and doing the restoration work when their dealership expansion extended in to a creekside riparian area. Are you thinking they are planning on building a new Lexus dealership in waterfront park?

Bjorn
Bjorn
5 years ago
Reply to  soren

Pretty sure the mayor is in charge of PBOT at the moment, I heard that he took everything back in an effort to produce a better budget and will then reassign bureaus as he sees fit.

soren
5 years ago
Reply to  Bjorn

i did not realize that all the bureau’s are wheeler’s as of today.

rachel not swenson
rachel not swenson
5 years ago
Reply to  soren

just here to say–i dig your icon, sir

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
5 years ago
Reply to  soren

Every new mayor in my memory has done that a while after taking office. Then after another while, they distribute most of the bureaus back to different commissioners than had them before. SOP.

Adam
5 years ago

Great work on this! The spacing of the bollards is close enough to prevent drivers from weaving through them and there are even rows of bollards at intersections to prevent people from driving into the cycleway. Now, if we could only keep this year-round!

Buzz
Buzz
5 years ago

I hate that damn grinder! Now when this reverts to it’s normal configuration there will be rough grind marks the full width of the bike lane every block or two.

Spiffy
5 years ago
Reply to  Buzz

I don’t understand why this city grinds off paint when it’s better to sandblast it off…

TonyT
TonyT
5 years ago

And of course, some in the media are framing this as “Lane Closed!”

Buzz
Buzz
5 years ago
Reply to  TonyT

TFB

Andrew Kreps
Andrew Kreps
5 years ago

Have there been any improvements to education of the festival truck drivers? My top issue while using better naito last year was coming within a couple of feet of the front of a van, hauling a trailer, making a right turn across better naito from the left turn lane of Naito Pkwy, unsignaled. Scariest thing that happened to me that summer, including the driver who decided to play chicken with me _IN_ better naito.

rachel not swenson
rachel not swenson
5 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Kreps

Jaysus, that is OTT
i mainly had probs with oncoming bikes playing chicken with me, they were scared of being right next to the barrier so kept opting to be in the middle. when there are herds of peds on the right, and a dummy in the middle, i opted to just stop and wait for it all to disperse.
truck drivers tend to be unpredictable, i guess they think since they are biggest WE should be looking out for them, not vice versa. If they move, we get outta their way, under their tires or thrown off the road–simple physics.

Adam
5 years ago

I’ve been riding through this for a week or so already and I think it’s great. Much better than last year. I especially like how closely-spaced the bollards are and the row of perpendicular bollards at every block designed to prevent people from driving in the cycle lane. Next step: make it permanent year-round!!

Buzz
Buzz
5 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Of course, I would expect you to cheerlead this, but the only reason it works is because it borders the park the whole way and it could only be done because there are no right turns the whole length of this installation.

Note to advocates: protected cycle lanes do not work well on an actual street grid, only when there is a long length of road where turns across the facility are not allowed/possible.

TYVM.

Adam
5 years ago
Reply to  Buzz

the only reason it works is because it borders the park the whole way and it could only be done because there are no right turns the whole length of this installation

I agree to a point – this is the only scenario where a two-way protected cycleway works. PBL’s work just fine within the street grid as well, but they need to be one-way cycleways. On a two-way street, there needs to be a one-way cycleway on each side of the street along the sidewalk.

soren
5 years ago
Reply to  Buzz

“Note to advocates: protected cycle lanes do not work well on an actual street grid, only when there is a long length of road where turns across the facility are not allowed/possible.”

The same issues exist for conventional bike lanes. Are you also opposed to bike lanes?

Matti
Matti
5 years ago

I hope we can get to something more permanent like this: http://keycity.co/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/seperated-bike-lane.jpg

Buzz
Buzz
5 years ago

Of course, I would expect you to cheerlead this, but the only reason it works is because it borders the park the whole way and it could only be done because there are no right turns the whole length of this installation.

Note to advocates: protected cycle lanes do not work well on an actual street grid, only when there is a long length of road where turns across the facility are not allowed/possible.

Chris I
Chris I
5 years ago

We walked this with our kids last weekend before the science march. There are a lot of selfish comments here that completely ignore the needs of pedestrians. Try to think beyond your own little world for a second.

dwk
dwk
5 years ago
Reply to  Chris I

There is a large park adjacent to this street to walk in I think…

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
5 years ago
Reply to  dwk

Right, and they have been doing so. There’s a well-worn desire path next to Naito where people have been walking. And as of last night, it was a muddy mess.

Spiffy
5 years ago

still no substitute for a real sidewalk and turnouts for loading… peds still roam into the bike lanes, trucks still park there…

no improvement…

Gary B
Gary B
5 years ago

“new PBOT Commissioner Dan Saltzman”

Well that became outdated quickly. I guess we should be talking to Wheeler for now, and who knows in a few months. I must say I’ve been pretty impressed with Saltzman as the PBOT Commissioner. He seemed to really jump in with both feet.

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
5 years ago

Rode it last night. No, it’s far from perfect. Having pedestrians and cyclists so close together will cause problems, especially when there’s heavy pedestrian traffic from an adjacent event. And as with all two-way protected bike lanes, getting on and off it can be a hassle. But it’s way better than we’ve had before.

My nitpick is this: why can’t we just have a proper sidewalk? Why are city parks exempt from the rule to have sidewalks next to the street? I’ve seen this at a number of Portland parks, as well as in Minneapolis too. Is the idea that the parks are so nice and inviting that people won’t want to walk along them, or something? Makes no sense. Put in a damn sidewalk already.

Adam
5 years ago
Reply to  GlowBoy

If I’m remembering correctly, Commissioner Fritz (who else?) was against adding a sidewalk along the east side of Naito because it would take away green space from the park or something.

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
5 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Well, I don’t get to not have a sidewalk in front of my house just so I can have 10 more feet of green space.

Jim
Jim
5 years ago
Reply to  GlowBoy

I do. Whether I want it or not. Hashtag EastPortland.

Mark smith
Mark smith
5 years ago
Reply to  GlowBoy

Oh…so many problems. People and bikes close together. Right up there with North Korea and free cheese lines.

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
5 years ago
Reply to  Mark smith

Free cheese? Where?

Brent
Brent
5 years ago

I’m so happy to see this back again. It makes my commute home so much nicer during the summer. Dodging around people innocently and understandably walking and enjoying the waterfront park path is stressful to everyone. I also refuse to use the southbound regular bike lane on Naito. I’ve had too many close calls trying to use that bike lane. And now that the new courthouse construction took away the only relatively nice connection from the sounthbound Naito bike lane to Hawthorne bridge, I have even less reason to use it. Better Naito is great.

Ted Buehler
Ted Buehler
5 years ago

Thanks Better Block, PBOT, and former Mayor Hales. I’m looking forward to riding this when I’m back in Portland in May.

If you like this, don’t like it, or have comments, be sure to share your opinions with PBOT.

Ted Buehler

Mark smith
Mark smith
5 years ago

Someone is always unhappy.

Andrew
Andrew
5 years ago

Well it’s Friday, I’m sure a few people who have had a few too many drinks may punch a few holes in the line of bollards.

Mark smith
Mark smith
5 years ago

Isn’t it interesting to see how much just one car lane can provide in terms of biking/walking?

1 lane.

Just 1.

A lane this is used perhaps 4 hours a day or less.

1.

Mark smith
Mark smith
5 years ago

Buzz
Of course, I would expect you to cheerlead this, but the only reason it works is because it borders the park the whole way and it could only be done because there are no right turns the whole length of this installation.
Note to advocates: protected cycle lanes do not work well on an actual street grid, only when there is a long length of road where turns across the facility are not allowed/possible.
Recommended 1

Agreed. Probably just need to remove the car lanes. Problem solved!

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
5 years ago

Today a “road work ahead” sign was plopped in this new bike lane, effectively blocking half of it. Somewhere around Alder IIRC.