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The rebuilding of Naito Parkway in downtown Portland continues, using the pandemic downtime to prepare for the day when tourist fun returns

COURTESY RENDERING: PORTLAND BUREAU OF TRANSPORTATION - A new crossing at Southwest Naito Parkway and Jefferson Street should accommodate bikes and pedestrians as well as autos heading to the Hawthorne Bridge ramp (center left).

Along the edge of Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Southwest Naito Parkway has not kept up with the times. 

Harbor Drive was replaced by the park in 1974 when the idea of making cars secondary to pedestrians was radical. The credit, in the name, went to Governor Tom McCall. Naito Parkway continued to add crossings and lights as the crowds grew. 

Big events in the park, such as the Cinco de Mayo and Rose Festival fairs, and the Oregon Brewers Festival, saw pedestrians crowded into the narrow bike lane by the hurricane fences. 

COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND BUREAU OF TRANSPORTATION - Crowds forced into the roadway at big events like Cinco de Mayo caused PBOT and PSU to rethink how the space could be useful for more than just automobiles.

In 2015, students at Portland State University worked with the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and Better Blocks PDX on a two-week pilot program during the Rose Festival. It was a success and led to the ideas being incorporated in Portland's Central City in Motion plan in 2017. As a result, the plastic bollards that marked the two-way bike and strolling lane became a permanent feature. 

In 2021, two PBOT projects are reworking Naito Parkway. The project at the northern portion, between the Hawthorne Bridge and the Steel Bridge, is called Better Naito. The other one, from Southwest Harrison to the Hawthorne Bridge, is called the Southwest Naito Improvement Project.

"Improvement"

The southern part of the street looks the most torn up right now, a tangle of fenced, brick piles, road cuts and bagged traffic lights, with the north lane closed. PBOT is paving Southwest Naito Parkway between I-405 and Southwest Lincoln Street. The bureau is fully reconstructing Naito between Southwest Harrison and Jefferson and adding safety and efficiency improvements for all travel modes. These include a new two-way bike lane and some of the most complicated crossings PBOT has ever designed. 

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - A new crossing at Southwest Naito Parkway and Jefferson Street should accommodate bikes and pedestrians as well as autos heading to the Hawthorne Bridge ramp.

For instance, where Jefferson Street meets Naito, beside the grassy amphitheater (also called South Hawthorne Waterfront Park), there will be a new traffic signal with better timing to prevent backups of traffic getting on the Hawthorne Bridge. A broken green line will be painted on the pavement for bikes to cross from the park-side bike lane to Jefferson Street and into downtown. Other features include a pedestrian crossing that crosses a bike lane and is marked by white stripes and green stripes. There will also be multiple pimply, yellow plastic mats for the visually impaired. 

Northbound automobile traffic will be permanently reduced to one lane. A new grassy median with trees will keep the motorized traffic safely apart from the bike/jog/roll lane on the park side. The grass and the trees, when they appear, are usually a sign that the project is finished.   

Hawthorne Bridge ramp

The need for a both projects has come about through overcrowding as biking and walking became more popular. 

"Over the last number of years as people became used to using Better Naito as part of their regular commute and on any given day you would see people going for jogs, riding their bikes, pushing strollers, so you knew that it really was creating a needed space," PBOT spokesperson Hannach Schafer told the Business Tribune. People were using the road and the park to connect to other areas downtown, such as the Steel Bridge and Northwest Portland. 

"It became a really important connection downtown, and it got really crowded. Having that additional space on the western side of the park was really beneficial."

The Southwest Naito Improvement Project is expected to be done by the end of October 2021. It was initially developed in 2016, and was included as part of Fixing our Streets, the gas tax measure. Work includes going down to the dirt to rebuild and repave Naito, which was notoriously potholed.  

The project is an attempt to reconcile the different modes of transport into an area that has ramps leading to bridges across the Willamette River. The most prominent is the single-lane ramp on the Hawthorne Bridge heading east. 

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - The gas tax-funded SW Naito Improvement Project is expected to be done by the end of October 2021. Work includes going down to the dirt to rebuild and repave Naito, which was notoriously potholed. Shown is Naito at Clay Street on August 31, 2021.

"Better" 

Better Naito Forever is the project which runs between the Hawthorne Bridge and the Steel Bridge. 

"This is taking the easternmost northbound lanes and converting them into a multi-use space for people walking, biking, rolling and strolling," said Scheffer. Concrete will be poured for a new sidewalk and median island the week of Sept. 6. The project is targeted for completion this winter, weather permitting. 

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Looking north along Naito: Better Naito Forever is the project which runs between the Hawthorne bridge and the Steel Bridge. It takes the easternmost northbound lanes and converting them into a multi-use space for people walking, biking, rolling and strolling.

"One of the things that we typically have heard and noticed on the parkway is that crossing can be tricky for pedestrians," she said. "So by creating this space, you are really reducing the amount of traveling that people have to do to cross traffic get to the park."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - The gas tax-funded SW Naito Improvement Project is expected to be done by the end of October 2021. Work includes going down to the dirt to rebuild and repave Naito, which was notoriously potholed. Shown is Naito at Clay Street on August 31, 2021. The new Multnomah County Courthouse is the white building on the left.

After the Steel Bridge, there is a bike lane on Naito all the way north past the Fremont Bridge. The goal was to have a wide multi-use lane where it is needed most downtown. One big change has been the rise of e-scooters since Better Naito was first conceived in 2015. 

"That's going to be another big asset is giving people who were using scooters downtown, that didn't exist before. It's nice and flat and a straight shot." 

(Other parts of town where PBOT is building bike lanes include a protected bike lane on Southeast 137th Avenue from Powell to Division streets, and parts of the $175 million Division Transit Project in conjunction with TriMet, where bike lanes will weave behind express bus stops.) COURTESY RENDERING: PORTLAND BUREAU OF TRANSPORTATION - Better Naito Forever is the project which runs between the Hawthorne bridge and the Steel Bridge. It takes the easternmost northbound lanes and converting them into a multi-use space for people walking, biking, rolling and strolling.

"If Pioneer Courthouse Square is Portland's living room, Waterfront Park is our front porch. And having this additional space and making room for more people to experience the park," said Schafer.

This summer has not been typical, with Covid-19 turning into Covid-21. 

"We're very hopeful that we'll be able to get back to classic Portland summers and have Cinco de Mayo, BrewersFest, the Rose Festival and the Blues Festival," said Schafer. "We want a really safe and welcoming environment to experience our city, which is something that we could use more of everywhere."

  • The next Oregon Brewers Festival has been scheduled for July 27 – 30, 2022, at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, 98 SW Naito Pkwy, Portland.


    Joseph Gallivan
    Reporter, The Business Tribune
    971-204-7874
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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