NW Portland street tour #1: Naito, Front, Thurman, 15th and more

NW Portland street tour #1: Naito, Front, Thurman, 15th and more

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A man rides north on NW Naito just south of the Fremont Bridge.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Part of NW Portland Week.

There’s simply no better way to understand a place than to experience it first-hand. That’s why each day this week I’ll be biking around northwest Portland to observe street life and infrastructure. I’m on the look out for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Our focus this week is the entire northwest of Portland — from Burnside and the Willamette River to the West Hills and Highway 30. It’s a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started…

Here’s the route I took today (doesn’t show excursion onto the Willamette Greenway path):

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New bike corral outside the Society Hotel on NW Davis at 3rd.
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Eastbound on NW Davis crossing 3rd.

For today’s ride I explored NW Naito/Front (it’s Naito south of Fremont Bridge, Front to the north) and the outer reaches of the Pearl District.

Naito/Front could be one of Portland’s marquee streets — but its potential is unrealized because it’s designed primarily for the use of cars and trucks. If we redesigned Naito/Front with more space for biking and walking it would attract the type of commerce and activity befitting a great city.

In the mental map of most Portland bike riders Naito is somewhat forgotten north of the Steel Bridge. That’s due to it being the last direct connection over the river until the St. Johns Bridge many miles up the road. The infamous “Naito Gap” in the bike lanes and a railroad crossing also might have something to do with it.

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Inside the “Naito gap” where the bike lane suddenly drops as it goes under the Steel Bridge.

Another reason is that until very recently the land north of the Steel and Broadway Bridges was relatively undeveloped and lacking in destinations. Now that’s changing as big residential and mixed-use projects are going up as fast as developers can finance them.

North of the Steel Bridge the bikeway is an uninviting 5-foot wide bike lane next one standard lane and an auto parking lane. Auto speeds here are pretty low so it’s not a terrible biking environment, but it’s certainly not as comfortable as it should be. The bike lane goes to NW 9th, which makes a nice and direct connection into the Pearl District near Fields and Tanner Springs parks.

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Bike lane between Steel and Broadway bridges.
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Naito bike lane headed north toward NW 9th.

Then the bike lane stops suddently at 9th.

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North of 9th the speed limit also goes up five miles an hour to a limit of 40. At this point (right under the Fremont Bridge) Naito is very wide with five generously proportioned standard vehicle lanes (two in each direction and a center turn lane). If there was ever a place for a major road redesign that allocates more space to biking and less space to driving, this is it!

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Plenty of room for a fully-protected bikeway.
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With so many new residents, this area has huge biking potential — but we must build inviting places to do it.

As I biked north on Naito I saw a decrepit sign for the Willamette Greenway Trail so I rolled out to the riverfront. I always enjoy riding along the river!

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Bike lockers with cool flair behind an industrial park.

There are several great pieces of the greenway path north of the Steel Bridge, but unfortunately they are just that: pieces. Because the path only gets built as new development comes in, it remains a tantalizingly nice, yet frustratingly incomplete patchwork of access.

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A piece of the Willamette Greenway Trail just south of Fremont Bridge that I never knew existed until today.
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Where the path stops – directly under the Fremont Bridge.
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I took this photo from the path and the new construction just a few feet away will include new path. Hopefully the two pieces connect.
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I couldn’t help but compare these nice paths along the river with the inadequate bike lanes on Naito. Why is one valued so much more by city planners than the other?







Between the Broadway Bridge and NW 21st Avenue there are just two gaps in the Willamette Greenway Trail. One of them is the Centennial Mills property and a former horse stable that used to house the Mounted Police (both of which the Portland Development Commission is currently prepping for development of both real estate and the future trail). The other gap is very small and just north of the Fremont Bridge. Once these two gaps are filled we’ll have a full one mile of paved riverfront path.

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Red boxes show gaps in the Willamette Greenway Trail.

That’ll be nice to use as a more leisure-oriented path, but what about Naito? With all the new development and nice new pieces of trail going in the city has done almost nothing to improve bicycle access on Naito/Front Ave.

At the new Waterline Apartments immediately north of the Fremont Bridge, developers have built an entire new neighborhood. There are retail storefronts, a nice wide sidewalk on Front, and a wide and comfortable path on the river. They’ve even built a new street (NW Riverscape Street) between Front and the river.

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New street between Front and the river.
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Retail with the Waterline Apartments development.
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With all this new development (including this new office building coming soon across from The Waterline) I expected a commensurate improvement in bike access. To my surprise however, out on Front Ave we’ve still got just an outdated and uncomfortable 4-5 foot wide unprotected bike lane.

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With such major investment it seems like a missed opportunity to not have updated the street as well.
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NW 17th and Front: Plenty of room for protected bike lanes.

I rolled inland (away from the river) at NW 17th. This area feels like it’s on the cusp of major growth. There are new buildings going up everywhere and new destinations popping up to serve them. Just a few blocks off Front I came to Thurman and saw a bustling streetscape. There were schoolkids playing outside, people walking and jogging, and popular destinations like Olympic Provisions, Steven Smith Tea Makers, Mio Seafood and Breken (a cool breakfast/lunch spot).

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When riding around industrial northwest you’ve always got to be ready for cracks, potholes, and old tracks.
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Bikes parked outside a school on Thurman and 15th.
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Breken is a popular breakfast and lunch spot that has wonderful bike parking.
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Lots of good food on Thurman between 15th and 17th.
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Unfortunately the bike lane on NW 15th ends right where the destinations begin.

From here I pedaled into the Pearl using the buffered bike lane on NW 16th. It was nice to see this buffered lane. It takes you from Thurman all the way to Johnson, a key east-west street in northwest. One cautionary note: People park all the way to the corners on 16th so visiblity at intersections is poor. You have to keep your eyes up and watch for cross-traffic.

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Buffered bike lane on NW 16th (southbound only).
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Instead of riding on 16th, I rolled over to 15th after hearing about it in our comments here on the blog last week. With the buffered lanes on 16th, 15th could serve as a northbound bikeway couplet. But unfortunately the street has been neglected and it’s not very inviting. The reason people avoid it is because it’s got a lot of old, exposed streetcar freight train tracks on it.

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Carefully rolling on NW 15th near Savier.
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Looking south on 15th.
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Yikes.
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Double yikes.

If it was ever cleaned up and given some love, 15th could be an excellent north-south bikeway. Instead of 15th, the city has made 14th the main northbound bikeway. While it has an unprotected bike lane, it feels narrow compared to the buffered lane on 16th.

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The bike lane on 14th leaves a lot to be desired.
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Bike lane squeeze at NW 14th and Marshall.
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Before pedaling over to our “office” at Urban Grind Coffee (NW 14th and Kearney) I took a peek at the bike lanes on NW Marshall where the City of Portland has smoothed out the bumps in the bike lane. I also couldn’t resist checking out the remnants of the old bike lane on NW Lovejoy — which has since been retired in favor of the new streetcar.

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Hints of the now defunct bike lane on NW Lovejoy between 14th and 13th.
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Stay tuned for more NW Portland coverage all week.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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