BikePortland

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


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:

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.

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.

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:

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):

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

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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