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Rally shows support for protected bikeways and a permanent Better Naito

Posted by on September 19th, 2018 at 12:48 pm

Bike Loud PDX Co-chair Catie Gould addressed the crowd.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Amid bustling, after-work traffic on Naito Parkway last night, dozens of Portlanders came together to send a message: The protected lanes known as Better Naito should stay.

The lanes are slated to be removed this weekend and aren’t scheduled to return until the start of festival season next spring.

That means people like Chris Mommsen and his young daughter Ginny won’t have a safe route to go north-south through this part of downtown. Mommsen works on SW 2nd and uses Better Naito to get between Ginny’s daycare and errands in the Pearl District. What will he do when it comes out? “There aren’t a lot of good options,” he told me. “I think they should leave it in. We need more space oriented to bikes.”

Serenity Ebert rides a trike that she uses as a mobility device. For her, having a safe and direct route through downtown is crucial. “I’d love to see Better Naito stay all year round because I don’t feel safe riding on Naito without the lane,” she shared with me. Asked what she’d do when it’s taken out, she had trouble describing a good option.

“For us it’s not just about Better Naito, it’s about all the access improvements being proposed as part of Central City in Motion.”
— Jillian Detweiler, The Street Trust

Even though a last-minute change in policy is a long-shot (more on that later), advocates for the lanes were upbeat and optimistic. The event was organized by The Street Trust. Their Executive Director Jillian Detweiler said she didn’t want the Better Naito season to end without a public action. Speaking into a megaphone from atop a park bench at Salmon Springs Fountain, Detweiler told the crowd that, “We want to tell the City of Portland that we need safe and convenient bike facilities downtown and in the central city all year long. For us it’s not just about Better Naito, it’s about all the access improvements being proposed as part of Central City in Motion.”

Central City in Motion is the Bureau of Transportation’s effort to prioritize a list of projects that will redesign streets so they work better for biking, walking, and transit. Better Naito is on the current list of potential projects and will likely be a frontrunner for early implementation.

While planning last night’s event, Detweiler reached out to the leaders of Bike Loud PDX to make sure it was a collaborative action. Bike Loud was formed just a few years ago to be a more grassroots and aggressive (louder) voice for cycling access in Portland (a role The Street Trust used to occupy), so it’s noteworthy to see the groups working together. (Detweiler shared via email this morning that, “We have not discussed a relationship going forward, but I think this was a good model.”)

Catie Gould (L) and Jillian Detweiler (R) led the ride. Is it a sign of increased collaboration between The Street Trust and Bike Loud in the future?

Bike Loud Co-chair Catie Gould also spoke at the event. She was part of 100 people who formed a human-protected bike lane to protest Better Naito’s removal last year and she expressed some frustration that it was being removed once again. “A few things are different from last year that should give you optimism,” she said. “We have a new transportation commissioner in Chloe Eudaly and we’re hoping PBOT will get strong political leadership.”

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Attendees filled out postcards addressed to City Hall.

Gould also mentioned the Central City in Motion projects (which weren’t on the table last year). “At a time we’re poised to invest tens of millions of dollars into making protected, separated bike infrastructure downtown,” she said, “it makes it even harder to justify why we’re spending money to take out such an obvious and simple solution.” Gould also made the point that we don’t lack the technical skills to create protected lanes on Naito, what we lack is the political will.

The good news is there are signs that Portland’s political will around these type of projects is growing. The bad news is, there doesn’t appear to be enough of it to save Better Naito this year.

Marshall Runkel is chief of staff for PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly.

That was the sentiment shared by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s Chief of Staff Marshall Runkel, who stopped by the rally on his bike ride home. New to the PBOT commissioner role, Runkel is still learning about the issues and he spent much of his time at last night’s event talking with Bike Loud Co-chair Emily Guise. During my conversation with him, Runkel seemed very supportive of the project, but he was candid about its chances of staying in through the winter.

“We just don’t have the resources or time to do a last-minute save this year,” Runkel said. He was referring to political capital, not funding resources. Right now Eudaly is in a pitched battle over tenants rights and Runkel said the time and effort it would take to handle another potential controversial issue like reversing course on Better Naito, just isn’t feasible right now.

But Runkel said it’s definitely possible in 2019. “We’ll plan to dig-in… It’s possible [it could stay in for good] next year.”

For advocates like Gould, the marching orders are clear: build political support over the winter. “We have a transformational change coming to our transportation system. This is great time to have a conversation about what we want,” she told the crowd, “But it doesn’t happen without strong advocates.”

After the rally, we rode up and down Naito as a group and made our way to the second (of two) Central City in Motion open houses held at OMSI. At this point, PBOT is looking for final bits of feedback about which of the 18 proposed projects have the most potential to be “transformative”. In an exercise where open house attendees used dots to show votes, the Naito project (#17) ranked highest.

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

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Bert
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Bert

Eudaly is ***Personal insult deleted. That’s not acceptable Bert. – Jonathan*** She will undoubtly make transportation in Portland worse, just as she’s done to our housing situation.

CaptainKarma
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CaptainKarma

Sorry we almost had to hear that. Portland has certainly need a turnover in leadership for a long time. Still need more. Looking forward to some 21st century thinking on quality-of-life issues, especially transportation.

Catie
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Catie

The biggest surprise to me last night was how completely empty the CCIM Open House was. I know PBOT has struggled with the right level of public engagement, but this wasnt it.

Doug Hecker
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Doug Hecker

People were riding in the pedestrian part of “Better Naito?” Yikes. But yes, I’m surprised about the lack of stars. For me, I did have the time to go and I road right past OMSI on my way home but didn’t feel the need to stop. For me, any open house is just a way for the city to tell us what they are going to do whether accepted or not. It’s also a time for project man shares to take it personal when the community may have differing ideas. Recently I’ve read comments on this forum about praising project managers for “being bold and have a stiff neck” or something of the sort. But, they do work for us. They should be open to hear concerns without feeling the need to defend some of the ideas they toss out. That’s probably why I chose to go home and crack a beer and enjoy a brilliant sunset over hearing something from PBOT.

Daniel
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Daniel

I stand by my previous comments that the SW Naito project still is nowhere near a priority to me, compared to the other options on CCIM’s list. According to that chart, it *barely* topped the list by way of votes in person, at an event that was hosted just across the bridge from the route itself, and with a rally scheduled to bring people the open house. I would have stickered other things had I been there myself, but my route goes in the other direction and heading down to OMSI after work would cut into my dinner.

Contrast that with the results of CCIM’s online survey (not sure if this incorporated the sticker figures as well): MLK/Grand/6th/7th topped the list at 22%, Broadway/4th (my personal priority) was second at 16%, Burnside at 15%, and SW Naito at 9%. Only Naito has had extensive promotion (here and elsewhere), although you could possibly argue that MLK/Grand/6th/7th is heavily associated with the Sullivan’s Crossing project and therefore has a boost as well.

If I were running PBOT, my vote would be to keep the current Better Naito implementation in place year-round, and then prioritize installing the other permanent projects that fit into the budget for short-term. Instead, it sounds like we’re petitioning for just the opposite – PBOT says that they can’t keep the temporary Better Naito in place due to a lack of political capital and we’re accepting of that, because they promise (for real this time!) that they will somehow find that political capital PLUS the regular money capital they need over the winter.

Toby Keith
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Toby Keith

Still waiting for a “Better East PDX”. Sigh.

Andrew Kreps
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Andrew Kreps

Annnnnd it’s gone, a day early. Solid work PBOT.