This Sunday, the city will take down Better Natio, the temporary protected bike lane installed along Naito Parkway during the summer months. But three days before the lane is removed, a bike advocacy group is organizing a "human protected bike lane" in support of Better Naito.
Run by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Better Naito is put in place to accommodate increased foot traffic along the waterfront during the summer. It's scheduled to be re-installed next spring, but Bike Loud PDX hopes to make the lane permeant.
"There's not a lot of safe streets that have bike lanes downtown," says organizer Emily Guise. "Naito is pretty important for anyone who wants to get anywhere downtown."
Bike Portland first reported in the demonstration which is scheduled for this Thursday. Now in its third year, Better Natio stayed in place longer than ever before. During its first year, it was only in place for three weeks. When it's taken down this Sunday, it will have been in place for five months.
But last spring, the bike lane became a contentious subject when the Portland Business Alliance launched a campaign against Better Naito that was staked on anecdotal complaints. It started with a public letter by Sandra McDonough, the CEO of the business lobbying group, addressed to Dan Saltzman. In the letter, McDonough wrote: "Already this year, employers are hearing complaints from employees about Better Naito. Though PBOT has indicated additional travel time of less than two minutes, it is inconsistent with what we hear from road users."
A few weeks later, PBA member Jim Mark published an op-ed in The Tribune in which he wrote: "As more people and jobs are added to the city, congestion will increase unless there are shifts to other modes of travel."
But in a counterintuitive twist, the article continued: "That's why the return of the 'Better Naito' project, which has closed one northbound auto lane of Naito Boulevard for a bicycle and pedestrian path, is so puzzling."
A month later, PBA instigated an email campaign, urging Portlanders to contact City Council with their disapproval of the project with a prewritten email with the subject line “Bicycling is great, BUT” that read:
I understand that it is increasingly necessary for people to shift from single occupancy vehicles, but as the city continues to add more people and jobs it needs to accommodate all modes. Bicycling is a great alternative that will work for some. However, it is a less realistic option for many people who can’t get around that way. It’s time to look at a solution for everyone.
But the campaign backfired thanks to hero Twitter users who rewrote the form to send messages to City Council in support of Better Naito. According to a tweet by Saltzman, the campaign "generated 10-1 emails in support" of Better Naito and PBOT.
Bike Loud hosted a bike ride when Better Naito was taken down last year, but Guise says that this year the group wants to take it up a notch. "
We want to show people who are maybe skeptical of Better Naito that it is a valuable project that many people use regularly," she says. "It hasn't affected traffic that much downtown and it helps people walk and bike who are paying customers for businesses downtown."