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

Posted by on April 27th, 2017 at 2:36 pm

Better Naito launch-19.jpg

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
Guest
Naito Commuter

“•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?

SaferStreetsPlease
Guest
SaferStreetsPlease

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
Guest

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
Guest
paikiala

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
Guest
rick

Jersey barriers !

soren
Guest
soren

I did not notice commissioner Saltzman at the event.

Adam
Subscriber

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
Guest
Buzz

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.

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

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

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

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.

Adam
Subscriber

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!!

Matti
Guest
Matti

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

Buzz
Guest
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.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

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.

Spiffy
Subscriber

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
Guest
Gary B

“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
Guest
GlowBoy

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.

Brent
Guest
Brent

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
Guest
Ted Buehler

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
Guest
Mark smith

Someone is always unhappy.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew

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
Guest
Mark smith

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
Guest
Mark smith
Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

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
Guest
GlowBoy

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