IMG_0043.JPG
Dirk VanderHart

The Portland Rose Festival will begin this evening, marking the city's unofficial tip-toe into summer and imbuing Tom McCall Waterfront Park with a miasma of tight-packed humanity and corn (in all of its forms).

And for the third year running, people who'd rather avoid the crush of CityFair have an easy option. The Better Naito project is once again occupying a single lane of Naito Parkway during the summer, offering a safe and easy walkway around the carnies' mocking barks—and also providing a bi-directional bikeway.

If you use that walkway to circumnavigate the revelry this weekend (or at all this summer), know this: The Portland Business Alliance is very mad you're able to do so. Like, weirdly mad according to some in City Hall.

Not only did the PBA, the city's chamber of commerce, recently pen an op-ed in the Portland Tribune communicating its abject puzzlement that the city would re-up Better Naito when construction projects are hampering commutes for single-occupancy vehicles, but it's been pushing—hard—for the city to relent on the innovative and admired project.

We're told the PBA brings Better Naito up in meetings with elected officials, and earlier this month, the organization drafted a strongly worded letter to Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman attempting to bring its monied heft to bear on the issue.

We requested the letter yesterday, mere moments before BikePortland—on the case as usual—posted a lengthy take on the PBA's missive.

It's a doozie—a letter that flatly ignores the potential better multi-modal options might have for easing congestion in this increasingly dense city, and instead lazily rests on status quo assumptions that the car must always be given the utmost priority.

PBA CEO Sandra McDonough writes to Saltzman she's worried that "decisions are being made that significantly impact the mobility of the many to the benefit of the few."

More:

Screen_Shot_2017-05-26_at_10.36.20_AM.png

McDonough says she's got the numbers to back up Portlanders' gripes. She writes that the PBA commissioned "scientific" surveys in which 74 percent of voters "supported maintaining existing capacity for cars rather than remove car lanes to make way for bikes."

"In addition," she writes, "in a separate scientific survey for the Alliance, only about 20 percent of respondents said they would ride a bike more often if there were a more developed bike network."

That's actually huge! If 20 percent of Portlanders rode bikes commuted regularly by bike, it could mean a reduction in the congestion McDonough is so displeased with. One big argument made by those rallying for safer, better bike infrastructure is that luring people onto their bikes—which is hands down the best way to traverse this city—will actually help McDonough's car-loving constituency get to their expensive downtown parking more easily (though there are many better benefits than that).

Anyway, as a way to undercut her own finding, she writes: "Importantly, those respondents were more likely to be 18-34 year old MAX riding men." (We've asked the PBA when and how it collected its statistics, but if recent history is any indication, it will not respond.)

The gripe is so pat and cliched it inspires groaning. Better Naito is causing "significant queuing" for cars, McDonough says, and she simply doesn't believe the studies that suggest past closures have amounted to increases of a minute or two to normal commute times.

More basically her keen is: Why is the city doing something to make things safer for pedestrians and bikes when cars are already being inconvenienced by the many road projects happening in Portland to make things better for automobiles?

"Given the tremendous amount of construction activity that will occur in the central city this summer—70 projects are planned—further constraining this critical transportation corridor simply doesn't make sense."

The upshot is the PBA wants Better Naito taken down—like yesterday.

Saltzman has been a frequent ally to the PBA, but he's less than receptive to these arguments.

Support The Portland Mercury

"While it might not always be apparent driving Naito at rush hour, Portland’s investments in active transportation are paying off tremendously," Saltzman writes in an exceedingly diplomatic retort. He notes: "In addition to your letter, we have heard from dozens of business on or near Naito who have expressed their overwhelming gratitude for what Better Naito provides them and their staff to make them feel safe commuting to/from work."

Damn straight. Here's the PBA's full letter [PDF].