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All systems go as Better Naito Forever earns unanimous city council support

Coming to Naito and NW Davis.

“I think it’s great. I think it’s iconic… I’m excited to vote aye.”
— Ted Wheeler, Portland Mayor

Just over five years after it first hit the street as a low-budget pilot project, Better Naito received official blessing from Portland City Council this morning.

The project, estimated to cost $5 to $7 million, will permanently re-configure northbound lanes of Northwest Naito Parkway from the Hawthorne Bridge to Northwest Davis and add a new sidewalk in Waterfront Park.

It all started as an ambitious vision from nonprofit Better Block PDX and a team of Portland State University urban planning and engineering students. One of them, Gwen Shaw, now a civil engineering consultant at local firm, testified to council this morning. “It’s been so gratifying to see the evolution of this project,” Shaw said, “This design, puts people first and it’s a design that makes Waterfront Park better, and it’s going to continue to transform Naito Parkway.”

(Ryan Hashagen and Gwen Shaw helped implement the 2015 Better Naito pilot project. Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation worked closely with activists to implement the project from the beginning and took over management of it in Spring 2017. When a list of projects was created for implementation through the Central City in Motion plan later that year, Better Naito emerged as a top priority. The current PBOT-run iteration of Better Naito has been up since January 2019.

Better Naito Forever will come with significant upgrades. PBOT is planning a two-way bike lane protected by concrete curbs and steel bollards, median islands to make crossings safer, new traffic signals, and a new sidewalk along the western edge of Waterfront Park to separate people on foot from bicycle users.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioners had nothing but praise for the project today.

“I think it’s great. I think it’s iconic. I think it’s one of those things that makes Portland really unique and special,” Wheeler said as he described it as a “win-win-win” for Vision Zero, climate action, and public health.

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Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty credited the enthusiasm of Better Block PDX volunteer and leader Ryan Hashagen for helping her see the value of the project. She thanked Hashagen profusely following his testimony today and gave credit to him and other volunteers for gathering the data, “to make sure this [project] made sense” to downtown interests. Hardesty also said, “Sometimes it takes government a little while to move, and sometimes a community of volunteers can move much faster,” which is sort of the entire point of Better Block’s approach.

With today’s vote, council gives permission to PBOT to seek bidders and ultimately award a construction contract for the project.

In just over a year from now, both these projects will be complete.

Adding to the buzz about Better Naito Forever is PBOT’s SW Naito Parkway project which broke ground back in July. That $9 million investment will establish a similar protected bikeway between I-405 and Jefferson Street and will tie directly into Better Naito Forever under the Hawthorne Bridge.

At council this morning PBOT Project Manager Gabe Graff explained that both projects were designed by the same team and will “connect seamlessly.” Graff added that PBOT expects to finish construction on the southern section by July 2021 and the northern section will be completed by winter 2021.

With more — and more humane — access to Waterfront Park for people not using cars and trucks, these two projects will transform 1.2 miles of this marquee destination and vital transportation corridor.

Speaking before her yes vote this morning, PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said, “I think [Waterfront Park] has a lot of unrealized potential and I feel like this project is just another step toward that potential.”


For a refresher on what’s in store for Better Naito, check this PBOT simulation video:

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