Better Naito organizers urge patience as lane gets used as loading zone

Better Naito organizers urge patience as lane gets used as loading zone

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Acceptable trade-off for a “Better Naito”?
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Having a reduced speed limit and 15 feet of space dedicated to biking and walking on Naito Parkway for three full months is a welcome improvement. But it comes with a trade-off: In order to get full support for the project from Waterfront Park event organizers, the City of Portland is allowing trucks to use the lane as a loading zone.

“Providing a safe space away from motor vehicle traffic for people needing to load and unload has always been one of the key goals of Better Naito.”
— Timur Ender, policy advisor for Commissioner Steve Novick

These trucks force people on bike and foot to go around — often by merging with auto users on the busy street or squeezing by next the curb. This increases the potential for a collision and it causes some bike riders and walkers to simply give up and go somewhere else. Just one day after the City and Better Block PDX celebrated the start of the project people went to Twitter and started sharing their concerns.

The issue isn’t new. People who bike on Naito raised this same complaint last year and we called the presence of trucks and vans “a buzzkill.” I was willing to look the other way last year because it was just a two-week trial and I realized Better Block was under a lot of constraints just to pull off the project. But now that Better Naito is back for three months and the issue has already come up, I feel it deserves a closer look.

Is dealing with large trucks blocking the lane an acceptable tradeoff in order to have this much wider and safer lane to bike in for three months?

The City and Better Block are not hiding the fact that the loading zones are part of the deal. They’ve even published a schedule of loading hours. The idea was for trucks to only use the loading zone during off-peak hours but unfortunately that has not been the case so far. The City’s website says the lane is “to be clear during times of heavy use (rush hour)” but this morning I saw four different trucks — including a large semi-trailer rig — parked in the lane before 9:00 am.

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To try and understand what’s going on, we asked Better Block and the City for comment. They feel the benefits of more space on Naito and solid relationships they’ve built with festival organizers outweighs other concerns.

Better Block leader Ryan Hashagen said he considers the safety of people loading and unloading festival equipment to be just as important as any other user of Naito. “Freight loading and unloading is necessary for these festivals existence and that’s where the idea for Better Naito originated from,” he said. “Better Block feels that 15 feet of space and working with the festival organizers is a step in the right direction for all users. We’re asking for patience.”

Timur Ender, a policy advisory for City Commissioner Steve Novick echoed Hashagen’s comments. “Providing a safe space away from motor vehicle traffic for people needing to load and unload has always been one of the key goals of Better Naito,” he said. “The Festival organizers have been great working with the City to do their best to minimize and expedite the loading operations along the curb.” Ender also pointed out that prior to Better Naito, festival organizers would close the lane with their own permits without coordinating with the city and without considering biking and walking traffic.

Here’s more from Ender from an email to BikePortland:

“This year, instead of temporary, unpredictable lane closures solely for loading zones, Better Naito will be providing a safe space for everyone 24 hours a day until the end of July. Further, this year the festival organizers have coordinated with the City to allow two-way bicycle and pedestrian travel. Again, from the City’s perspective, this is a huge win that provides a more consistent and predictable environment for everyone.

Portland is a big town and there is a lot going on, especially at the Waterfront during the summer festival season. This is something to celebrate. We have people coming from all over the world for these events. Will space sometimes be tight? Of course. But that’s the nature of being a vibrant city and a place where people want to come.

As always with this sort of pilot project, we will continue to monitor feedback that we receive from the public. We will also be proactive with upcoming events like Fleet Week to minimize the inconvenience to the travelling public. The key point to remember is that Better Naito is a flexible space and not just a bikeway. There is 15 feet of space separated from motor vehicle traffic; this often means there is enough room for people biking and walking to safely navigate around these vehicles.

In conclusion, given the alternatives and history of uses in this constrained area, we feel Better Naito provides a safe space for everyone and we kindly ask for people’s patience when there are necessary loading operations taking place.”

We asked on Twitter today if the loading zone is an acceptable trade-off. Kimberlee Stafford (who’s in the red shirt avoiding a white van in one of the photos above) said, “Not really. After two unpleasant experiences (today and yesterday), I’ll probably go back to riding on the path in the park.” And Kirk Paulsen said, “Yesterday I was generally happy with the space, today I’m a little sad with how it’s being used. Definitely mixed emotions.” Steve Bozzone said he’s fine with the trade-off. “Particularly for festivals,” he said. “Otherwise it’s bikes and peds crammed into the regular bike lane with no protection.”

What do you think?

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

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