Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on May 5th, 2022 at 11:02 am
The celebration to mark the opening of Better Naito is set for tomorrow (Friday) morning. But the party has already begun.
People on foot, on bikes, and all types of mobility devices have been using the new protected lanes since the Portland Bureau of Transportation announced the completion of the project late last month.
After spending a few hours observing the changes on Wednesday, I think there’s a lot to celebrate!
Friday’s ribbon-cutting comes almost seven years to the day from when we first posted that the design of Naito between the Hawthorne and Steel bridges was in need of a change. Thankfully, PBOT was fully on-board from the start, and while it’s take a long time and lots of activism to get here, the result is a triumph and I believe this project will have a profound impact on our city.
As you can see in the photos and video (below) we now have a physically protected lane for cycling and low-impact vehicle users on Naito Parkway for well over a mile between SW Lincoln and NW Davis thanks to the completion of two separate (but connected) capital projects: Better Naito Forever (between Hawthorne Bridge and NW Davis) and the SW Naito Improvement Project (between SW Harrison and the Hawthorne Bridge).
In the video below, I make a loop from SW Jefferson to NW Davis and then back again, while slowing at key intersections so you can see the infrastructure. Also notice that I wait for all signals and they change relatively quickly as I arrive…
The new facility is a two-way lane separated from other road users via a small, concrete curb. It uses space that was previously a narrow bike lane and two general purpose lanes and it runs along the east side of Naito at the western edge of Waterfront Park. In addition to the lane reconfiguration and curb protection, PBOT has added dozens of concrete medians and steel bollards to fortify intersections, provide a place for people to wait for signals, and give low-impact vehicle users space to make turns.
And speaking of signals, PBOT went above and beyond with this project. This facility is the most Amsterdam-like experience we have in Portland because of the way the bike signals (imported from the Netherlands) ferry users across the entire project, giving them their own protected signal phase and a level of quality, priority, and respect that’s only felt in a few other spots around the city (like SW Moody in South Waterfront and the Tilikum Bridge).
As I rode back and forth along Naito, I never had to push a “beg button” to make a signal change for me. The sensors are in the pavement and where necessary there are big “Wait Here for Green” markings to make it obvious. I was very pleased with the timing and felt like it was responsive and efficient. Signals are a very important part of this project! I know many people don’t obey them, but I’ve always said our behavior and compliance match our infrastructure. That is, crappy bike infrastructure leads to crappy behavior and low compliance; but the inverse should also be true.
Given what I’ve seen so far, I think compliance with signals and basic traffic laws will be a big problem for some people. Several car users either unknowingly or selfishly blocked intersections and crossings — especially where traffic was high near the Hawthorne Bridge ramp at Jefferson. The success of this facility will depend on people following signals and staying out of crossings, and in a society were many people feel compliance with laws is optional, that is a red flag we’ll be monitoring closely.
On a brighter note, Amidst all this excitement about new infrastructure, we should not forget that this project has also forced car users to behave much better. Not only do drivers have much less room to operate (in a lane that’s narrower than the bike lane in some spots) but the speed has been reduced from 30 mph to just 20 mph. Think about that. 20 mph is the default speed for narrow, residential neighborhood greenways in Portland; and that’s the same speed for this major central city boulevard.
While everyone’s likely to call this a “bike lane” or “bike facility”, that moniker just doesn’t do it justice. While I was out there yesterday I saw all manner of people using this newly safe space along Waterfront Park. I love the scooter pavement marking PBOT has added in some spots to reinforce that e-scooter users are welcome.
Overall, the new Naito Parkway is pretty darn great. It raises the bar for high-quality cycling and low-impact vehicle infrastructure in Portland and vastly increases the value of the entire network because of how it connects to existing facilities. This is the type of high-profile, comprehensive, protected infrastructure we’ve been begging for for many years.
It’s been a long road to get here, but I think you’ll agree it’s been worth the wait.
Have you ridden it yet? We’d love to hear your impressions.