Portland Mayor Charlie Hales released his final proposed budget this morning and it includes funding for a project we’ve been hoping to see materialize for several years: improved access for biking on Naito Parkway. $1.46 million to be exact. It was one of 14 infrastructure projects and over $42 million in new spending he’s put on the table.
Re-allocating roadway space on Naito is a much-needed step for Portland. Waterfront Park is too crowded to be used as a transportation corridor and Naito Parkway’s existing bike lanes are outdated and inadequate. And it’s not just bike advocates who’ve been talking about this.
Hales has talked about it several times. In August 2014 during a bike tour with fellow dignitaries he told me the Naito Parkway idea “is a slam dunk” and that it’d be “a very compelling project” that could be done, “fairly quickly.” “What if we just took that east lane on Naito and went ahead and made it into a bikeway?” he wondered out loud, “You know we really don’t need all those lanes.” Then, during his brief romance with biking to work before he dropped out of the mayoral race, Hales said making “Better Naito” permanent was “The next thing on our list.”
Speaking of Better Naito, a politician couldn’t ask for a better way to float a bold idea before putting real funding behind it. After a highly successful partnership with volunteer urbanist group Better Block PDX last year, the City of Portland has doubled down by bringing back the temporary biking and walking lane to Naito for three months this year. The “tactical urbanism” demonstration is the largest and longest-lasting project of its kind ever deployed.
Redesigning Naito also makes sense from a planning and engineering standpoint. Its current configuration of two standard bike lanes and five auto lanes (including a parking lane) is an embarrassment for America’s most bike-friendly big city. When the Bureau of Transportation spent $10 million to repave Naito in 2007 the design was outdated and inadequate for cycling day it opened. Even PBOT’s longtime bicycle planning coordinator Roger Geller acknowledged (at a meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Committee in 2012) that, “By the time we implemented it [Naito paving project], we would have been ready for buffered bike lanes or cycle tracks.”
And going back in further, the City of Portland’s 2003 Waterfront Park Master Plan (link) called for several biking and walking improvements that have never materialized: a 10-15-foot path (“The Promenade”) that would wind through the park from the Hawthorne Bridge to NW Couch; and a new 6-8-foot wide sidewalk that would have run the full length of the park.
So far the technical details of this project still need to be ironed out. The Oregonian reported this morning that, “The proposed funding would provide for a permanent barrier in a configuration similar to the pilot program [Better Block], but the design is still in early stages.”
Perhaps as a starting point we could look at the design of one of London’s cycling superhighways we highlighted last year. And of course anything major improvement to bike access on Naito would have to include a fix for the notorious “Naito Gap” where the bike lane ends under the Steel Bridge. If we can fix that gap, we’d be tantalizingly close to connecting to the thousands of new residential and commercial units being built further north and the vast biking potential of the industrial area.
Imagine a safe and efficient bikeway from the Hawthorne Bridge to NW 26th Avenue.
With less than a year to cement his transportation legacy, Hales has put forward his most interesting bike project yet. If this proposal makes it through the budget process (not a foregone conclusion by any stretch) it would be the very first protected bike lane to be built during his tenure. And it’s far from a “slam dunk” unfortunately. Hales hasn’t made transportation projects a priority and his last budget is clearly focused on other pressing needs like affordable housing, homelessness, and police staffing. But at least we’ve got something on the table. We’re eager to see what happens next.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – email@example.com
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