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Who’s riding on ‘Better Naito’? A look at how the project is going so far

Posted by on May 10th, 2017 at 5:03 pm

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Traffic on “Better” Naito.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been almost two weeks since the ‘Better Naito’ project opened. I spent some time riding in it and watching traffic yesterday afternoon and I’ve got some observations and photos to share.

Here are some of my takeaways, in no particular order:

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It seems to be getting much more bike traffic than the previous two years of its existence. Maybe this is because people have heard about it enough times to finally incorporate it into their routes — or maybe it’s because the actual materials used to create it and the design overall are much higher quality this year (no offense Better Block PDX!). People might also be responding to the fact that the City of Portland is behind it this year, instead of a scrappy nonprofit.

Biketown users stick to Waterfront Park. I expected to see a lot more Biketown users. After all, the busiest station in the entire system is at Naito and Salmon. Where were all the Biketowners? All I had to do was turn toward the Willamette River. Sure enough, the path in Waterfront Park was full of bright orange streaks. This is how good infrastructure design should work: It influences people’s behavior. Slower riders and tourists taking in the sights like the path, and faster riders who want to get from A-to-B without a fuss can take the bikeway.

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Women on bikes. During my 20-30 minutes out there, it seemed like about half the riders were women. Portland’s official counts usually tally a male-female ration of about about 65/35. My observations are completely unscientific of course, but looking through my camera lens I was genuinely surprised at how many women came by.

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Bike traffic flow was smooth and safe. The two-way configuration (which is also shared with a walking lane) seems to work just fine. I think it helps that the bike lanes aren’t striped down the middle. I ride very slowly and I felt fine even with people passing me on my left and coming at me in the other direction simultaneously. The interaction with crosswalks also felt civil and safe. PBOT has placed “Stop for Peds Here” markings at crossings and there are bike-only signals for bikeway users. Both of those things were routinely ignored when no people were present — but with walkers around, bicycle users stopped and waited. Keep in mind that while I was out there yesterday, Waterfront Park was quiet. In other words, I’m sure Better Naito gets a much tougher test during big festivals.

No sign of errant drivers. I didn’t see anyone driving in the new bikeway. It looks like people have figured out how it works since the opening days.

Riding against flow of auto traffic is a bit stressful. This is where only having plastic wands — instead of concrete barriers — gets tricky: While riding against auto traffic I was just a few feet away from people driving by going about 25-30 mph or so. All it would take is for one person to swerve a bit and I’d be… well… let’s not think about that. Yes, I realize I’m just as unprotected on 99% of my riding, but there’s something disquieting about staring at the metal menace as it comes right toward you with just a flimsy plastic thing as “protection”.

The plastic bollards are surviving! Unlike other installations over the years, it looks like PBOT has found a winner with these new, screw-in bollards. None of the 470 of them were ripped out. I did notice a stack of them on the grass, but later learned from PBOT that they had been unscrewed by a delivery truck during the Cinco de Mayor festival.

New path will connect ‘Better Naito’ to the rest of Naito north of the park. As I’ve mentioned in previous stories, PBOT is working on a project that will bring a new signal and new design to the Naito bikeway between Couch and the Steel Bridge. Ultimately, there will be a two-way bikeway from the path under the bridge to Davis that will connect to ‘Better Naito’. Judging from two new bike curb ramps that have been installed, it appears the plan will be to direct bike traffic off of Naito, up onto a new path in Waterfront Park, then back across the Steel Bridge on-ramp and onto the bikeway. Of course this won’t be live until the signal is ready. PBOT is doing it this way to avoid right-hook collisions at Couch.

Here’s what you see going northbound at Couch:

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These guys beta-tested the new ramp:

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Here’s the intersection with Davis that PBOT seems to be trying to avoid with the new path (yes this person just casually turned right in front of me):

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And here’s where bike users will dip back onto the roadway (intersection of Steel Bridge onramp (right), Davis, and Naito):

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So… who’s taking advantage of the new Naito bikeway? I just happened to take a few “People on Bikes” portraits while I was out there. Looks like a great mix of folks — young and old, fast and slow (as usual, I’ve numbered them to aid with your observations and discussions):

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

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33 Comments
  • dwk May 10, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    Well I ride it everyday weekday and I have been critical but here is my view of it.
    It is a lot better this year except during Cinco de Mayo when there were cars in the lane.
    That will happen a lot more during the busier festivals (and the Rose festival goes on for a couple of weeks).
    As one who’s commute is off of Barbur, the ramp has always been bad but past the light tracks I could just take the lane most days and cruise under the Hawthorne to the bike lane.
    The auto traffic is so backed up because of better Naito that cyclists are forced onto the sidewalks and the waterfront around the Hawthorne to get back to the new lane.
    I hate riding on the walks, it is bad for me and pedestrians (and I ride slow past them).

    So it is a way mixed bag.
    The money from this should be used on the numerous Greenway fixes.
    Is NE 26th ever going to get finished?
    Is the Tillamook and 7th deathtrap going to be addressed?
    These and many others are far more important to us than a tourist route on Naito.

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    • Chris I May 11, 2017 at 3:19 am

      Better Naito isn’t just for cyclists. It solves a pretty serious pedestrian access/safety issue during the summer festivals.

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    • joe May 11, 2017 at 8:16 am

      > Is NE 26th ever going to get finished?

      I’ve been waiting so long for this too and it’s finally getting finished! They added crosswalks at Knott and Broadway yesterday. Signals were still not on at Broadway as of last night. I wasn’t close enough to see if the “stop bars” had been added, so that’d be the last thing missing.

      It’s taken way too long to finish NE 26th and really don’t like how PBOT put in all the signs telling bike users to take 26th when the important intersections weren’t safe or complete.

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      • MaxD May 11, 2017 at 9:34 am

        Agreed! I got routed down 26th heading south only to find the signals at Broadway covered up. Then, following the signs to Wasco which spits you on to NE 28th in the middle osf a construction zone with flaggers north and south of me!

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    • soren May 11, 2017 at 8:16 am

      are far more important to us than a tourist route on Naito.

      20 out of 23 have panniers or a backpack and the other 3 do not look like tourists to me.

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      • dwk May 11, 2017 at 10:26 am

        I am pretty sure that those commuters with backpacks just used the bike lane before unless you think they are all “new” commuters because of this.
        It seems to me that the bike community is bought off pretty easy by the city.
        So grateful for this highly visible project that actually isn’t used that much by cyclists compared to a lot of other areas in the city that get nothing…..

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        • Brent May 12, 2017 at 12:29 pm

          As one of the those commuters, I can tell you, “No”. I refuse to use the regular bike lanes on Naito (especially the southbound bike lane) because of too many close calls. I love Better Naito and use the waterfront path during the fall and winter. However, with increased use during the summer, the waterfront path is too crowded and my commute through is stressful for everyone. Better Naito generally fixes that for everyone.

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      • Kyle Banerjee May 11, 2017 at 10:42 am

        I wouldn’t expect many tourists right now. This area could have a very different complexion once things are going full blast in the summer.

        Recommended Thumb up 4

  • Dween May 10, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Love your people on bikes series! So unscientific, but so interesting to see who is out there.
    Compared to cities in China and Europe where I have seen many more bikers, this group had fewer electric bikes (one at 13?) unlike China where it seemed like half the bikes were electric. Only one dynamo light? Europe had many more practical bikes with dynamo lights available all the time. No charging, no batteries.
    21/23 with helmets: Portland riders must know it is not all that safe out there.

    Recommended Thumb up 8

  • BrianC May 10, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    Cool pictures! Looks like it’s getting a lot of use.

    I don’t work downtown anymore, but I’ve made a few trips to various bike shops east of the Willamette and north of Burnside recently…

    I either pull the hill by Hwy 26 and ride through Forest Park by the Zoo, or take MAX and get off at Goose Hollow. From there I ride up Columbia and over the hill, dropping down to 4th or 6th to cut across to either Burnside or Couch. I either cross the river on Burnside, or on the lower path of the Steel Bridge.

    I much prefer 4th or 6th to go north. (Going south I use 3rd.) I used to take 2nd, but with the new bike lanes I avoid it like the plague. Better Naito feels more like 2nd to me… Checked it out, but I’ll stick with 4th or 6th…

    Your mileage may vary.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

  • Social Engineer May 10, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    Shout out to PBOT’s very own Steve Hoyt-McBeth! #16

    Recommended Thumb up 15

  • SD May 10, 2017 at 9:42 pm

    I like it. Less conflicts. The occasional weirdness so far has not risen above what happens on the waterfront.

    Recommended Thumb up 6

  • SilkySlim May 11, 2017 at 8:38 am

    This is so disappointing… My #1 opportunity to get in a People on Bikes montage, and I missed by 5′ (saw Jon putting away his camera and wrapping observations yesterday).

    But overall, I think you nailed it. Working pretty well for me. I’m impressed by how well people are handling the intersections, yielding to pedestrians and any bike cross traffic, but still generally maintaining momentum and rolling forward. Common sense wins out.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Brian May 11, 2017 at 8:47 am

      Maybe we can get a heads-up for the next photo shoot. One of my most significant, current life goals is to be a “Person on Bike” riding a wheelie.

      Recommended Thumb up 14

  • Jason May 11, 2017 at 9:42 am

    I love it, especially not having to navigate the crowds on the waterfront.

    Although I feel kinda weird stopped at red lights and so many bikes going past me.

    Recommended Thumb up 3

    • Moleskin July 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      Super slow reply but I’ve been wondering about this – I’m assuming bikes are supposed to stop for red lights whilst on BN (and I have been doing so). Is there an official line on this? Does feel quite pointless (and lonely..) a lot of the time though.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Kyle Banerjee May 11, 2017 at 10:12 am

    Definitely better than in the past. Thin bollards placed right on the lines rather than fat cones all over the place create more space. The clear structure and paint seems to encourage better behavior among all.

    I believe the diagonal bollards closing the lane on Naito are needlessly close. When cycling on busy roads with no bike lane (i.e. Naito until after the bridge), it’s good to to carry some speed and slow down after you’re out of the traffic lane. — especially since some drivers like to drive fast on the right and cut someone off.

    Going through the entrance at speed is a tight fit and I’ve clipped the bollards. While this stings the fingers on the bars, the good news is the bollard goes right down and doesn’t destable the ride. This means that those wanting to maximize space can ride as close as they want to the bollards with confidence.

    Likewise, the crosswalk on Main has more bollards than necessary (or than any other crossing). One of the ironic aspects of Better Naito is it seems to presume cyclists won’t already be on Naito.

    I hadn’t noticed the beta ramp. I’m not sure that’s a great idea. Seems like those traveling on the lower level of the bridge should leave the road sooner and those traveling on the upper level should leave later since that section is narrow and there are lots of peds there.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Holtz May 11, 2017 at 10:18 am

    It’s interesting to look at the wide shots. At first glance it appears the car lane is full, while there is plenty of open space in the bike & ped lanes… but if you consider that 10 cars probably are moving fewer than 15 people… then it looks like the street is moving at least as many people by bike or foot as by car. (And the people on bikes are getting through faster.) In other words, for the same investment in public space, we have yet another example of how bike and foot infrastructure yields higher value.

    Recommended Thumb up 11

  • BEL May 11, 2017 at 10:29 am

    I tried it yesterday for the 1st time going north. I followed it to the end where I wanted to turn off to go over to the eastside. I didn’t get the concrete pad that just ended. I went across the grass to get to the waterfront path. Next time I’ll know to turn off before hand but seems incomplete there.

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  • Moleskin May 11, 2017 at 11:57 am

    Great to have this back. I do change my commuting route from the Waterfront Park to Better Naito when it’s there.

    Vaguely related – will Oak and Stark be re-striped any time soon? The bike lane was erased at for a few blocks at the eastern end of Oak during the roadworks over the winter and hasn’t been restored; elsewhere on Oak and Stark they have worn to the point of non-existence and there are no other indications these are bike lanes. I’m seeing more and more cars using these lanes and I can’t entirely blame them.

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    • Andrew Kreps May 11, 2017 at 4:28 pm

      Actually it happened in October. I’ve fought people driving in the bicycle lane and going the wrong way on that street for the past 7 months.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

  • BradWagon May 11, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Not a single Rapha kit?… What a shame.

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  • SD May 11, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    It would be awesome to have a bike path under the Hawthorne bridge to avoid having to go all the way down to the waterfront where it is more crowded.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

    • GlowBoy May 12, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Agree, having the lane end just south of the Hawthorne is a bit of a pain. I suspect PBOT was concerned about how to manage the interaction between the lane and the ramp from southbound Naito to the bridge. Not sure myself how that would easily be solved.

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      • SD May 12, 2017 at 10:41 am

        I was thinking of something that cuts across the grass or the east side of the parking lot under the bridge, but I realize that is Parks and Rec turf, which may be problematic.

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  • GlowBoy May 12, 2017 at 10:08 am

    Here’s why the bollards haven’t been knocked down yet: this section of Naito is a straight line. Part of the reason Portland’s had so much trouble with bollards getting knocked down is they’ve tried to use them to separate cars from bikes precisely at a place where vehicles are curving or turning: coming off the Broadway Bridge, on SW 13th, on the Couch curve approaching the Burnside. That idea just doesn’t work.

    Here in Minneapolis, where we now have considerably more mileage of protected bike lanes than Portland, one difference I’ve seen is that – even with rampaging snowplows about – plastic bollards seem to survive just fine, as long as they’re on a straight stretch of road. They’re almost all intact on the 1.5 mile protected section of N.Plymouth – Plymouth Bridge – NE 8th, even though it’s been there a long time. (On the other hand, one of the few protected lanes that includes a curve – 3rd Avenue near the convention center – has quite a few missing bollards). But on all the other protected lanes I’ve ridden recently – Blaisdell, Washington Ave, Oak Street, South 26th/28th, West 36th – plastic bollards appear to be working out just fine.

    Lesson here: When curving or turning, the only way to separate cars from bikes is something either physically prevents most vehicles from encroaching the bike lane or threatens vehicle damage if they do. Curbs, concrete or steel bollards, planters, Seattle-style 6″ cement dividers, etc.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • SilkySlim May 12, 2017 at 10:46 am

      Open flames, spike strips, electric eels….

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  • Brent May 12, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    If you love Better Naito like I do, please let PBOT know. They don’t know you like it unless you tell them.

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    • Susan vogt May 13, 2017 at 10:58 am

      How is the best way to do that and make sure it gets to the right people? I love bike NAiTO. And as somebody who hit a pedestrian who abruptly ran /cut right in front of me on a walkway ( in another city) it’s really needed.

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      • Susan vogt May 13, 2017 at 11:02 am

        Btw, it was a multiuse ‘walkway,’ Like Waterfront Park

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        • dwk May 13, 2017 at 5:41 pm

          Better Naito is a multiuser walkway. You have a very good change of hitting a pedestrian.
          Before “better” Naito, it was an actually bike lane use only lane….
          This won’t get printed anyway or if it does it won’t matter.
          The owner is trying his best to kill his own site.

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      • Kyle Banerjee May 14, 2017 at 10:25 pm

        This is precisely why I’ve never been a fan. I can accept that maybe it’s the best way to deal with a crowded waterfront. But when the weather is bad, the waterfront is desolate so the risks of mixing peds with cyclists is not justified IMO

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  • GlowBoy May 15, 2017 at 7:08 am

    There’s still no excuse for no sidewalk along Naito. We need to repeal the rule (which seems to exist, written or unwritten, in many cities) that parks are exempt from this requirement.

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