Opinion: A permanent “Better Naito” deserves better than this

Opinion: A permanent “Better Naito” deserves better than this

Better Naito kickoff-12.jpg

For better or worse.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales wants to go out with a bang. And in the process he just might blow up his chance to make “Better Naito” permanent.

As we gleefully reported on May 2nd, Hales’ last budget proposal included $1.46 million to redesign Naito Parkway to include a protected bikeway. It’s an idea he’s been talking about for nearly two years now and it makes a lot of sense from a transportation planning perspective. That’s why it’s shame it might go down with a sinking ship.

Naito should be a marquee street in Portland but it’s held back because it’s dominated by auto traffic. Creating more space on the street to bike and walk would enliven Naito-facing hotels and restaurants and improve safety for everyone who uses it. A report published after “Better Naito” last year showed that auto travel times were not significantly impacted by the new lane configuration, biking went up 56 percent, and the majority of public feedback was “overwhelmingly positive.”

Better Naito was such a success that the City decided to bring it back for three months this summer. Unfortunately Hales’ proposal to make it permanent might be dead within a week.

Hales included the $1.46 million for Naito as one of several expenditures that are dependent on a business tax increase that was immediately controversial and is now teetering on life support.

Even Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick — who has been extremely enthusiastic and supportive of Better Naito (to the point of literally singing the praises of its organizers Better Block PDX at a press conference last year) — didn’t support the business tax. Does that mean Novick doesn’t want a better Naito? Or does it mean that, once again, a mayor has thrown a much-needed bikeway project into a political fight that it shouldn’t be in. (And it’s worth noting that Novick, who could be this project’s biggest champion, isn’t likely to publicly support it until his gas tax increase passes.)

As reported in the Portland Mercury today, the Naito funding (along with a host of other expenditures Hales wants to pay for with a new tax) is now on the chopping block.

Hales has talked about improving bike access on Naito since 2014. He’s had nearly two years to do the legwork it takes to make this project a reality. But as of last week there are no preliminary designs, no project renderings to capture public and political imaginations and no details about the project that advocates could sink their energy into. It’s as if he just popped it into his budget at the last minute as a moonshot.

The mayor’s final budget could have been an exclamation point on a better Naito and instead it’s still a big question mark.

This project deserves better.

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

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The post Opinion: A permanent “Better Naito” deserves better than this appeared first on BikePortland.org.

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