Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 31st, 2017 at 9:42 am
Sorry Portland Business Alliance, but the evolution of downtown streets will continue with or without your approval.
The business lobbying group (known around here as “the PBA”) that used to have considerable sway over downtown decision-making, made their opposition to the Better Naito project clear last week. And while the PBA might feel better when the temporary biking and walking-only lane gets removed in September, they’ll soon realize it’s just one of many moves the Portland Bureau of Transportation is making to update downtown streets. And those updates are all aimed at doing the same thing as Better Naito: create more space for biking so it becomes safer and more convenient for more people.
With Better Naito, a new (permanent) path to connect to the Steel Bridge, and several other recent developments, the future of Portland’s downtown bike network is taking shape and Naito Parkway plays a leading role.
Here’s how just a few parts of this emerging bike network figure into that future…
Naito getting even better
A new bike path emerged in Waterfront Park last week. PBOT has installed a wide strip of black pavement in Waterfront Park near the Japanese American Historical Plaza. The path begins at NW Couch and ends one block later at Davis. As I alluded to on May 10th, the path is intended to serve as a safer way for northbound bicycle users to cross the tricky intersection of Davis, Naito and the onramp that leads up to the Steel Bridge. By taking bike traffic out of the curbside bike lane, PBOT can create a safer angle between right-turning auto users and northbound bike users at the intersection.
The new path is part of a larger project that will include a new bike-only signal at this intersection and a new, two-way connection between Davis and the Steel Bridge. The signal is coming soon and will give bicycle users a separate signal phase to cross Davis at the Steel Bridge on-ramp without worrying about cross traffic. This signal is key because it will handle two-way bike traffic on Naito. PBOT plans to sign and mark the existing, 12-foot-wide Naito bike lane for north and southbound traffic from the paths in Waterfront Park at the west end of the Steel Bridge to Davis. This new bi-directional bikeway will feed directly into the Better Naito lane.
And Naito’s resurgence as a bikeway doesn’t end at the Steel Bridge. While PBOT recently added a buffer and plastic wands well north of the bridge, there are also plans to install more bike lanes as far north as 19th to accomodate new residential development.
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Two Flanders crossings
The promise of the Flanders bikeway is well over a decade late. When the City of Portland created the West Burnside-Couch couplet without any bike-specific infrastructure, they made a deal with the then-Bicycle Transportation Alliance that they’d create a bike boulevard on Flanders Street from the Willamette to northwest Portland. Currently Flanders isn’t a part of the bike network because it dead-ends at I-405 and at Naito. But both of those gaps will be filled relatively soon.
The Flanders bridge over I-405 is funded and expected to be open by 2019. Adding to that good news is PBOT’s imminent intention to create a crossing of Naito for walkers and bicycle riders between the Steel Bridge/Waterfront Park path and Flanders in Old Town/Chinatown (directly in front of Oregon Department of Transportation Region 1 headquarters). A safer crossing between the Steel Bridge and Flanders would allow people on bikes to easily connect not only to Better Naito, but also to the bikeway couplet that already exists on 2nd and 3rd avenues.
$9 million in protected bike lanes coming soon
Adding into this mix is PBOT’s Central City Multimodal Project. You might have forgotten about this project because it’s taking forever to roll out. It has now been well over four years since the city first began planning a network of protected bike lanes downtown. The good news is PBOT has amassed a war chest of $8.8 million to build them (thanks to a $6 million federal grant from Metro and $2.8 million from the new gas tax fund). We don’t know what streets will get the new protected lanes; but it’s safe to say that bicycle circulation on Naito will be impacted and improved by whatever goes in.
PBOT expects to start building these new bikeways next year.
The network effect
A bikeway network follows this basic rule: every new connecting piece adds exponential value to the whole. And with each new piece, and every new rider who uses it, the public and political urgency to do even more rises too. This is the positive feedback loop that will finally move the needle for cycling in Portland.
When you stand back and look at all these ongoing projects, it’s reasonable to think that downtown is poised for a major explosion in bike use. (And let’s not forget the Biketown effect. The success of those orange bikes has created a new level of urgency among electeds and city staffers to make streets in the central city safer for cycling.)
Which brings us back to Better Naito. PBOT has promised stakeholders that the existing lane will be returned to its previous use (a standard lane and a bike lane) at the end of September. To make the politics work, PBOT will have to keep their promise and remove the big protected bike lane at that time no matter how successful the project is. But given Better Naito’s popularity and the fact that a high-quality bikeway in that location is imperative to future transportation plans, I would be shocked if PBOT didn’t find a way to make it permanent before spring 2018.