The new bikeway as seen from SW 1st and Main. That’s Waterfront Park in the background. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The quality of Portland’s central city bike network just got a lot better thanks to a new connection between SW Naito Parkway and SW Main.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the Portland Bureau of Transportation has recently improved bikeways on NW Naito Parkway (aka “Better Naito”) and on SW Main. “Improved” is a vast understatement when it comes to Naito Parkway, since the 1.5-mile protected bike lane is one of the best in the entire city (and a national nonprofit just named it one of the best in the country). And SW Main, the street that the westbound Hawthorne Bridge bike path dumps you onto, was recently upgraded with a bus/bike only lane, plenty of safe space around the Elk Fountain, and other bike-oriented improvements between SW 1st and Broadway.

The problem was these bikeways was that they didn’t connect to each other. If you were on Naito and wanted to head west into downtown via SW Main, there was no direct way to do it. Until now!

I’m happy to report that Multnomah County has just built an excellent connection between Naito and Main that now gives us a relatively safe bikeway all the way from the river to the north Park Blocks.

The new bikeway is about 250-feet long and it runs alongside a parking lot adjacent to the west side of the Hawthorne Bridge. Prior to this project there was only a brick sidewalk between Naito and Main in this location. It’s an informal cut-through that you might have used before — but it required you to ride through a parking lot or on a sidewalk. Now there’s a bright green bike path installed on the northern portion of the parking lot (love the fact that we took car space to make this!). There’s physical separation from parked cars with a iron fence and there’s a concrete curb that separates it from the sidewalk.

Access to the new bike path from Naito is easy. If you’re on the “Better Naito” bikeway, you can make a two-stage turn at a crosswalk between Salmon and the Hawthorne Bridge. Currently there’s a pedestrian “beg button” to activate the signal and it’s not a super quick change, so I have a hunch PBOT still plans to install a more sensitive signal that will recognize bike riders. PBOT has added “cross bike” striping to the existing crosswalk that helps direct riders onto the new bike path. It’s a smooth transition up to the path and it delivers you very nicely to the intersection of SW Main and 1st. If you are using the southbound bike lane on Naito, you can just pop right onto the new path. (I have a hunch this direct connection might inspire more people to use the old, door-zone bike lane instead of Better Naito if they plan to head into downtown.)

Thankfully we don’t have to worry about right-hooks at the SW 1st intersection because it’s one-way southbound. Speaking of one-ways, this new path is designed to only serve westbound bike traffic because SW Main is also one-way westbound. That being said, because it’s so nice and wide (I estimate at least 10-feet or so), we should expect oncoming traffic hear from people walking and rolling eastbound.

I also noticed that every time I used the signal at Naito to cross into the new bike lane I got a green signal at 1st and Main. Not sure if that’s by design (hi Peter!) or just luck, but I liked it a lot.

I’m very excited about this because when it comes to building a quality bike network, a small piece that connects larger pieces has exponential value. When you add this connection to the protected bike lanes on Naito Parkway, the recent bike upgrades on SW Main, and the new protected lane on SW Broadway, you have something very special. It’s these type of connections that can help Portland go from good-to-great in bicycling terms. (Check the pics above where you can see from Waterfront Park to Broadway in one frame.)

Kudos to Multnomah county for making this happen. If you’ve ridden it yet, let us know what you think.

CORRECTION, 11:43 am: This story initially stated that the project was done by PBOT. That was incorrect. It was a Multnomah County project. Sorry for any confusion.

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