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Mayor Wheeler moves permanent Better Naito talks forward

Posted by on May 24th, 2018 at 12:30 pm

It’s time to talk about the future of Better Naito.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus)

“The Mayor wants one of these options to move forward [and] is interested in Option B.” — Michael Cox, Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Communications for Mayor Ted Wheeler

Now in its fourth year as a seasonal street oasis for vulnerable road users, the talks about making Better Naito permanent are heating up.

This past winter, the Portland Bureau of Transportation commissioned a private consulting firm to develop a report (below) with conceptual designs for a capital project that would replace the temporary plastic delineator wands and paint striping that exist today on Naito Parkway’s northbound lanes from SW Main to NW Couch with a permanent, 20-foot wide path for bicycling, walking, and other uses.

This is the first time the report has been made public. We received a copy of it from Mayor Ted Wheeler’s Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Communications Michael Cox after hearing about from various sources. Here’s the report:

BetterNaito-180226-TM-Summary-Rev2 (1)

The report was completed by David Evans and Associates (DEA) in late February and it offers three options with detailed cost estimates for each one. The three options outline ways to fit a 20-foot wide path for walking/rolling (eight feet) and two-way biking (12 feet) along northbound Naito Parkway. The current configuration is 16-feet wide and uses space of the bike lane (five feet) and one standard vehicle lane (11-feet).

Cost estimates range from $3.4 million to $5.3 million.

Here are the options in more detail:

Option A places the cycle track and sidewalk behind the existing curb to minimize impacts to traffic on SW Naito Pkwy. This maintains both northbound auto lanes, but has the greatest impact on Waterfront Park. ($5.3 million)

Option B balances Options A and C by retaining 2 northbound auto lanes south of SW Morrison St, but removing 1 lane to the north. This balances the competing needs to maintain traffic and avoid impacts to Waterfront Park. ($3.9 million)

Option C removes 1 northbound auto lane and places the cycle track and sidewalk adjacent to the roadway to minimize impacts to Waterfront Park. This retains the maximum number of trees and park area, but does not address stakeholder concerns about queuing or travel time delays. ($3.4 million)

And here’s a comparison of costs and other elements:

The three options.
(Graphic: David Evans and Associates)

Inherent in all these options seems to be a reluctance to significantly impact driving. We see phrases like, “to minimize impacts to traffic,” “balances the competing needs to maintain traffic” and “stakeholder concerns about… travel time delays.” Also note the intention to maintain two standard vehicle lanes all the way to Morrison, a major connection to the I-5 freeway. Option A and B retain the two lanes that exist today.

It’s unclear where this concern for driving comes from given that feedback around Better Naito has been overwhelmingly positive. The city has heard opposition to the project from the Portland Business Alliance, whose spokesperson told The Oregonian on May 9th that, “We continue to be concerned about the impacts of Better Naito.” Michael Cox in the Mayor’s office told us the PBA wasn’t involved in developing these proposals. (See update below for new statement from PBA.)

Current cross-section of Naito.
(Graphic: David Evans and Associates, Tex: BikePortland)

The focus to “maintain traffic” on Naito is also interesting because PBOT themselves has pushed the narrative that Better Naito causes very minimal delays for drivers. Their analysis (detailed in the 2017 Better Naito report) shows that the reconfiguration of lanes results in about a 90-second increase in driving times during peak hours. The extra space for cycling and walking (a.k.a. traffic) also attracts more — and safer, healthier, cleaner, and more efficient — non-motorized trips. Last year PBOT counted more than 12,000 people walking on Better Naito in just one day during the Waterfront Blues Festival. During the five-month period it was installed in 2017, there were 393,173 one-way trips by people bicycling.

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“The position of Better Block is for PBOT to take the current seasonal configuration and make the minimal improvements needed to keep it up year-round, instead of spending millions on a full capital rebuild of Naito Parkway.”
— Better Block PDX

Related and also noteworthy is that each option currently on the table requires right-of-way acquisition from Waterfront Park — including tree removals. The options range from taking nearly an acre (42,000 feet) and 40 trees out of the park in Option A, to five tree removals and 1,000 square feet in Option C. This section of Naito is very wide at 73-feet from curb-to-curb. It’s not clear why none of the options solely uses the existing roadway. A “bike project” that takes any trees and/or space away from Waterfront Park could be a public relations catastrophe not just for Mayor Wheeler and PBOT, but for cycling in general.

I asked Michael Cox from Wheeler’s office about this potential for opposition to park impacts. “This question will obviously feature as part of our outreach strategy and we will listen to concerns raised,” he replied via email this morning. Asked why there wasn’t a “no parks impact” option in the report, Cox said, “We’re looking at all the options, and Option C is in some ways similar to the seasonal configuration. The strategy outlined in the report, based on our request, is how to make it permanent.”

If one of these proposals moves forward and the City prepares to cut into the park, they’d be smart to refer to the 2003 Waterfront Park Master Plan which envisioned, “a new sidewalk along Naito Parkway will be 6–8′ wide through the full length of the park.”

Cox says while the Mayor has signaled a desire to move forward, he hasn’t made any final decisions. “The Mayor wants one of these options to move forward [and] is interested in Option B; but has asked PBOT to do additional outreach work with the neighboring community and ensure the engineering is sound and the cost estimates are accurate or refined.”

Consultants hired by the City of Portland say proposals for Naito through Waterfront Park would be similar to what they’re currently building between SW Harrison and Jefferson.
(Image: PBOT video still)

Looming over this project (and giving it momentum) is the already planned and funded project currently moving forward on Naito Parkway directly to the south. That project will include a full road rebuild between SW Harrison and Jefferson (Hawthorne Bridge) that will come with a 20-foot wide physically separated path. In their report, David Evans and Associates said this facility, “will function similarly” to the options to replace Better Naito.

While that project to the south will require some removal of vegetation, it’s not Waterfront Park — an iconic and beloved piece of land that sits on a former highway.

When former Mayor Charlie Hales proposed the idea of a permanent Better Naito in 2016, he said, “What if we just took that east lane on Naito and went ahead and made it into a bikeway? We really don’t need all those lanes.”

Better Block PDX, the group that piloted Better Naito in 2015 and then handed it over to PBOT in 2017, does not think it’s necessary to impact Waterfront Park. In a statement provided to BikePortland in late March (before this report was available), the group said, “Because we have such limited funds and resources as a City and some areas of town face huge hurdles just having basic safe streets, the position of Better Block is for PBOT to take the current seasonal configuration and make the minimal improvements needed to keep it up year-round, instead of spending millions on a full capital rebuild of Naito Parkway.”

The City of Portland was not in contact with Better Block PDX during the development of the DEA report.

We confirmed this morning that Better Block reached out to the Mayor’s office and Cox said, “We will engage them on the issue.” As for the Portland Business Alliance (who haven’t responded to our request for comment), Cox said they were sent a copy of the report just this week.

If this issue heats up soon, Wheeler could find himself in a powerful position. Not only does Wheeler still control of all the bureaus (he takes them during budget talks and hasn’t doled them back out yet); but both Parks and Transportation are without directors at the moment. Parks Director Mike Abbaté and PBOT Director Leah Treat have both resigned in recent weeks.

The next step in Better Naito’s future is a public outreach process. As we reported earlier this month, PBOT sees the opportunity to update Naito through the Central City in Motion project. The first chance to weigh in on these three options for a permanent Better Naito will be on June 4th when the City launches an online open house for that project.

CORRECTION, 1:57 pm: PBOT analysis shows a 90-second increase in driving times during the Better Naito installation, not a reduction, as I initially wrote. That was a typo/mistake and I regret any confusion it might have caused.)

UPDATE, 5:50 pm: Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, has responded to our request for comment.

“The Alliance has long supported transportation solutions that ensure safe mobility for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians throughout the city. Naito Parkway is a location that must balance the needs of each of these modes; we are encouraged that the city has developed options to provide a permanent bike path in a portion of the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. This option appears to best accommodate all modes, and ensure the needs of all transportation system users are met by minimizing vehicle congestion and providing a truly protected bike path that will complement the planned bike path south of the Hawthorne Bridge. This proposal has the potential to be a win-win solution, and we look forward to continuing to work with the city and other stakeholders on a permanent plan that provides safety, accessibility and mobility for those who walk, ride and drive.”

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

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maccoinnichEdwardGary BHello, Kitty9watts Recent comment authors
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9watts
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9watts

Perhaps we can think of this as a blueprint for how we’ll proceed with taking back our streets as automobility dries up and blows away. Or, put another way, subsequent efforts can’t but be cheaper and simpler now that we’ve seen how a city whose imagination has been captured by fossil fuels approaches a problem like this.

rick
Guest
rick

This would be bloated Naito. The Tom McCall park shouldn’t get land removed. Take it from the car lane.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

I’m assuming that Option C keeps the curb in the same position, but places the sidewalk to the east of it, in alignment with the existing pedestrian landings:

https://goo.gl/maps/VEGRcb9VGKD2

The sidewalk would likely be similar to the sidewalks that were built as part of the Saturday market relocation ~10 years ago:

https://goo.gl/maps/Eq874xjzqNz

That then leaves 16′ west of the existing curb for the bike facility, allowing for a 12′ or 14′ two-way bike lane plus 2′ to 4′ of physical separation from vehicles.

If done well this has the opportunity to improve the park, which is mostly just trees and grass. Some additional types of plantings between the lawn and Naito Parkway could be really nice.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

I assume that Option C is Cross Section #1 in the Central City in Motion Project, and Option A is Cross Section #2.

https://centralcityinmotion.com/

Edward
Guest
Edward

I just realized this report mentions other estimate(s) for an in the street option but the price-point was $13.2 million.

Anybody have a copy of that report and/or estimate floating around? I’m guessing it’s the usual overkill. Build way too many lane / sign / option configurations and then blame bikes for the bloated price-tag.

jonno
Guest
jonno

How about option D: just don’t take out Better Naito at the end of this season. Seriously! Why is this so complicated…

9watts
Guest
9watts

jonno
Why is this so complicated…Recommended 0

I know.
Right.
Remember when the City Club proposed to spend a year studying whether bicycling was a valid thing?

jonno
Guest
jonno

It was a rhetorical question 🙂

Patrick
Guest
Patrick

Unfortunately, cars are not going away nor their use drying-up. Just look at the car commercials on TV and those on the Portland roads. Traffic has done nothing but get worse over the years despite all the bike infrastructure and “pushes” to get people to not use cars. People are not moving here without cars. The better naito seems to work just fine seasonally. Waterfront is not heavily used outside the summer season and there is plenty of room for people to bike and walk along the waterfront using the sidewalk area closest to the water. No need to unnecessarily impede the flow of traffic during the off-season.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Car commercials would be the last place on earth I’d look for evidence that automobility is doomed. Even car buying habits or use are not good places to look. Collective denial can and does take many forms.

Jim Calhoon
Guest
Jim Calhoon

Here is a STREETBLOG USA article on car use increasing and not going away.
https://usa.streetsblog.org/2017/10/10/americas-car-ownership-rate-higher-now-than-before-the-recession/
Other articles in the past put the average age of cars on the road at 12 years. And with new car sales still high combined with more older cars on the road would again suggest car ownership is increasing. We need to support better cycling facilities now because waiting for the day when people drive less is still a long ways off.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Who said anything about waiting?

Greg Spencer
Guest
Greg Spencer

We moved here without a car because we thought Portland was one of a very few American cities where that’d be possible. It’s working so far. In any case, it’s good to see a car fan reading Bike Portland.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Peoples desires to own and operate cars and peoples financial ability to do the same are two different things in the modern world. Auto sales in the last few years have been kept alive through the use of subprime auto loans, which are now defaulting at rate the exceeds the 2008-2009 recession. Oil production has only been kept alive with cheap money doled out by the fed to frackers. The domestic oil industry is now in debt by more than 289 billion $ more than at the begining of the decade and even Exxon is borrowing to pay dividends. I expect we will see a new wave of high fuel prices come on by the middle of summer and easy financing in the auto industry drying up. More and more Americans will not be able to afford the expense of happy motoring, so it will enter a period of permanent decline. And Elon’s model 3 ( which Tesla has decided must now cost $75,000 to keep the company afloat) will not be its salvation.

Craig Giffen
Guest
Craig Giffen

There are especially not going to go away until there is an alternative.

Even if we had a magical car that used zero resources and emitted nothing….it still doesn’t solve the problem of people stuck in traffic.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

We do have a magical car that uses almost zero resources and emits almost nothing, and it doesn’t even have problems with traffic. It has been around for 150 years, it is called a bike.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“There are especially not going to go away until there is an alternative.”

A common misunderstanding that derives from, among other things, our longstanding role in the world as bully. We have gotten used to calling the shots, throwing our weight around, demanding satisfaction. But our ability to do this is coming to an end. Sometimes we don’t get our way. As Bill McKibben has famously noted, you don’t negotiate with physics. We won’t see automobility dry up and blow away because we have lost interest, or endorse this course, but because it is out of our hands. Constraints aren’t things we invite but things that happen anyway.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Yes, having enough energy available for the average American to travel around inside a 4000 lb block of steel, glass, rubber and plastic at a whim was a one time fluke of geologically stored hydrocarbons. It will soon be going away as we suck the last of the economically obtainable petroleum from the earths crust, our atmosphere goes on strike and the rest of the world stops accepting our funny money in exchange for valuable resources. Planning on driving down to the quickie mart in a motorized living room on wheels is not an adaptive strategy that will be successful in the year 2030.

Goin West
Guest
Goin West

Going back to 1977, the last 3 years (2015 thru 2017) are the highest consecutive years of auto sales, exceeding 17 million sold per year. Compare that to the early 1980’s when around 10 million cars were sold. It doesn’t have anything to do with bikes, buses, trains, none of that matters. When the economy is strong people will choose driving a car as their preference, and strong economies will allow people the means to buy cars. If a monumental long term shift was going to happen, it would’ve been 2008-10 during the financial crisis when car sales dropped to 10-13 million per year, but sales returned and set records when the economy bounced back.

Another factor is we’re in an aging society, the older the population, the fewer individuals able to ride a bike as viable transportation. Also, biking is still not a viable option and may never be for suburban dwellers in areas like Hillsboro, Gresham, Wilsonville, Camas, etc. where people are being pushed for lower home prices, better schools, and lower property taxes.

Stats from://www.statista.com

And really, they had to hire a consultant (always seems like David Evans) to come up with these three obvious options?

SafestreetsPlease
Guest
SafestreetsPlease

Our population has grown by a whopping 110 million since 1980. What do those car sales look like adjusted for population growth?

9watts
Guest
9watts

“If a monumental long term shift was going to happen, it would’ve been 2008-10 during the financial crisis when car sales dropped to 10-13 million per year, but sales returned and set records when the economy bounced back. ”

Why would you suggest history can only proceed within such narrow parameters?
The Financial Crisis of 2008 was a constraint, and looming global climate catastrophe is another. Just because the dent in car sales observed during the one (past) constraint didn’t lead to the permanent decline says nothing whatsoever about the prospects of the second (ongoing) constraint’s ability to bring this about.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

If, or when, cars go away, or morph into something else, is a matter of pure speculation. The rise of self-driving cars is far more certain, and even that involves a huge amount of uncertainty as to the time frame and extent of the change.

No rational city planner is going to spend much time on the matter now.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“No rational city planner is going to spend much time on the matter [if, or when, cars go away] now.”

Right.

Any more humor on tap?

Of course you have good company among the planners we have, but claiming rationality for this ostrich-stance hardly passes the laugh test.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

On the plus side, if you have a good handle on how this will play out, you’re in a great position to make a fortune while the ostriches lose their shirts.

9watts
Subscriber

Trading in derivatives on global misfortune isn’t my thing. I’m not interested in being right or in making money but in helping us collectively to avoid the avoidable.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

It need not be either-or.

Greg Spencer
Guest
Greg Spencer

Glad to see Bike Portland taking a hard line on maintaining park space! And also for setting Mayor Wheeler straight on the definition of “traffic”. Yes, it includes people on foot and bikes.

SD
Guest
SD

The waterfront is one of the most highly visited areas in Portland by both locals and tourists. Its weird to have Naito remain a daunting freeway discouraging foot traffic between waterfront park and downtown businesses.

Toadslick
Subscriber

Thanks, Jonathan, for your diligent reporting on this and all the other recent developments regarding bike infrastructure, or lack thereof, in Portland. I have no idea how I’d learn about all this stuff otherwise.

David
Guest
David

Whatever solution is chosen, even if this stays temporary, the practice of using this space as a loading zone needs to stop. It is mind boggling how people in cars and trucks seem to have no problem parking or driving in a bike lane. Legal protections don’t matter if they’re not enforced through policy, policing, and infrastructure.

Also why is there a lane dedicated to storing vehicles on Naito? Couldn’t that space be better utilized by having anything else there?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I would like to see the traffic impacts (how much time does each option “cost” a driver) alongside the price tag for each option. That way we could compare cost vs. benefit and decide what the best approach is. For example: Is it worth $3M to save a typical driver 7 seconds during a 2 hour window each day?

Without some quantification, it’s hard to understand the proposals.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

More PBOT/Gellerisms

WestRiver
Guest
WestRiver

What happens to the southbound bike lane that’s currently there? Are these options based on the assumption that it will remain? What about the parking lane for that matter? Those two lanes occupies 13 ft…so I’m just wondering. It’d be a shame to take land away from the park when there’s already such a wide street.

J.E.
Guest
J.E.

The southbound lanes are not useful in lane-reallocation conversations. The very solidly-built median prevents the city from taking space from southbound lanes to give to northbound lanes. PBOT is also not interested in building protected lanes southbound, on account of the high auto turning volumes. It sounds like they’re leaving the existing door-zone lane for those who want to use it, but otherwise there’s no conversation to change the southbound side of Naito.

turnips
Guest
turnips

why not use the existing southbound bike lane and parking to put all auto traffic in one lane each way on the southbound side? if there’s great bike and ped space in the east lanes, there doesn’t seem to be a need for that existing southbound bike lane.

I realize this idea wouldn’t fly for the usual can’t-rock-the-motorist-boat reasons, but it sure seems like a better option. lease some space for sidewalk cafes &c to recoup some of that exorbitant cost.

Terry D-M
Guest

I looked at the trees species the other day. You can pull the maples without a major issue, but there are healthy fifty year old White Oaks. Those are integral to the park.

Just move the sidewalk to east of the trees, take out the northbound lane and we will be fine.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

“A “bike project” that takes any trees and/or space away from Waterfront Park could be a public relations catastrophe not just for Mayor Wheeler and PBOT, but for cycling in general.”

Let’s hope not, given that the Naito I-405 to Jefferson project will require cutting down more trees than Permanent Better Naito Options B and C would.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

That area is not viewed or used the same way as Waterfront Park.

maccoinnich
Guest

The area south of the Hawthorne Bridge is part of Waterfront, and is particularly well known for being where the Blues Festival takes place.

John prentic
Guest
John prentic

bikeninja
Peoples desires to own and operate cars and peoples financial ability to do the same are two different things in the modern world. Auto sales in the last few years have been kept alive through the use of subprime auto loans, which are now defaulting at rate the exceeds the 2008-2009 recession. Oil production has only been kept alive with cheap money doled out by the fed to frackers. The domestic oil industry is now in debt by more than 289 billion $ more than at the begining of the decade and even Exxon is borrowing to pay dividends. I expect we will see a new wave of high fuel prices come on by the middle of summer and easy financing in the auto industry drying up. More and more Americans will not be able to afford the expense of happy motoring, so it will enter a period of permanent decline. And Elon’s model 3 ( which Tesla has decided must now cost $75,000 to keep the company afloat) will not be its salvation.Recommended 5

Right after peak oil, right? Oh, we were assuredly going to be paying $10/gallon.

Dante
Guest
Dante

This is the opportunity to make a bold statement. Do it right the first time and we can have something that really puts Portland back on top of the cycling infrastructure pyramid. With this, the addition south of Jefferson would make it 4 miles of protected bike lanes. Throw in the 7th street bridge crossing, green loop, bridge over the 405, and a few other projects will really protect our platinum rating.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I oppose giving car traffic higher priority than park, grass and trees.

Make seasonal Better Naito permanent. And don’t spend $5 million doing it.

Justin
Guest
Justin

I commute to this area daily, and love better Naito.

But I would rather see a reversion to normal than a permanenet degradation of the Park (and elimination of decades old trees).

The silliness of this plan… WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT A BETTER NAITO IS! IT’S RIGHT IN THE NAME!

Catie
Guest
Catie

This is a public relations disaster.

I first heard about this on Monday when BikeLoud was updated on the CCIM plan. Since then a few friends have been “Catie why do you look so weepy today?” and I reply with “they’re going to cut down the trees in the park…” and I have been stunned by the responses. People who I have never gotten to come out for a single protest or memorial ride are asking how to send their feedback to city council and when to testify. The waterfront park is not space that the PBA and bike advocates can negotiate alone. The park belongs to everyone.

Paul Frazier
Guest
Paul Frazier

Build for the future not the past. When/where will we have the opportunity to testify in front of city council about this? Waterfront park used to be concrete, now it is one of the biggest green spaces in city, and it is well used! We should oppose adding concrete back to it.

As another reader pointed out, why not take away parking from Naito? Main to Ash (minus a block) appears to have full on-street parking. Taking the ROW from parking seems like a no brainer. 1. Saves trees 2. Makes street more crossable 3. Saves green space 4. gives more room for all traffic.

David
Guest
David

City Council meets every Wednesday at 9:30am, anyone can sign up for three minutes to testify about anything (within reason is my understanding). So no need to wait for this to be on the agenda, at that point it might be too late anyway.

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/auditor/article/9113, more details in this link https://www.portlandoregon.gov/citycode/article/63123#3 (Communications allows you to speak on items not on the agenda).

Dirk
Guest
Dirk

Removing land from a park that was once a freeway in order to maintain auto access goes against the spirit of Portland. I would like to see if there are operational improvements that could be made (i.e. signal timing) in order to provide a reduction in auto delay with just one auto lane NB

Dirk
Guest
Dirk

I would also encourage readers here to make their voices heard by council and the mayor during their decision making process

Matt
Guest
Matt

I’ve driven north on Naito a lot at rush hour. The car bottleneck is always at the Hawthorne Bridge. Once past that, the traffic dies down a lot. Really no need for two car lanes on this stretch between Hawthorne and Steel.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

Why are the southbound lanes sacred in this discussion? Seems to me if Morrison access is critical, just go one northbound lane to the north, and one southbound lane to the south thereof.

Of course that’s a “keep the drivers as happy as possible” approach. If it were up to me I’d just close the stupid Harbor Drive offramp to Naito. It’d cut the northbound traffic significantly, and the remaining cars could easily get where they want in the one northbound lane.