Tuesday, March 28, 2017

At the MPO: A Legislative Update and Center St Bridge Possibility

Our local Metropolitan Planning Organization meets today, Tuesday the 28th, and maybe the most interesting thing buried in the agenda is potential interest with the Legislature and ODOT in funding a seismic retrofit on the Center Street Bridge.

Much of this is speculative or potential, work-in-progress at the Legislature, and it's probably not a good idea to focus too much on one detail or another. But it's not nothing!

You may recall from the fall that some bonus money in our current cycle is funding a seismic study to formulate a plan for the bridge, and today's agenda item talks about a chance that construction on it could be funded as part of the omnibus Transportation Package.

The agenda item in question is an update on the meetings of the Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization. SKATS has been monitoring one of the subcommittees, the Congestion Work Group:
[The full Joint] Committee members were divided into four work groups....SKATS and Central Lane MPO staff have been following the discussion at meetings of the four-legislator Congestion Work Group led by committee Vice-Chair Senator Boquist (Dallas). This work group’s focus has been on major congestion issues in the Portland area....[italics added]

Monday, March 27, 2017

More Mixed Messaging and Autoism in Teen "Safety" Course

Over the weekend the paper started to run a video promotion and rewrote a localized press release for a teen driving course.
A free defensive driving course — known for its whip fast, behind-the-wheel training of teens on how to handle dangerous traffic emergencies — is coming to Oregon for the first time.
Like many approaches to "safety," it delivers a profoundly mixed message. Is it "defensive" or is it "whip fast"?

The project has noble aims, and it is rooted in tragedy and the profoundest grief. A parent lost children in a high-speed crash. It's important to honor its good intentions and public-mindedness.

At the same time, it is worth commenting on. It is worth comment not because it is a bad idea, should be shut down, or exacerbates the problems. It is worth comment because it shows the depth of our problem and tries to have things both ways, tries to solve a safety problem while also reinforcing the conditions that cause those safety problems. It is in foundational ways still incoherent - even if at the same time it might be very helpful and partially effective for an individual facing catastrophe.

The course is set up to mimic race car driving. Even the livery says "racing!"

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Legislative Update - Week 9ish

There's an important Legislative sausage-making date coming up, so it might be time to check in on things at the Capitol.

The design, circa 1936
(State Capitol 75th anniversary site)
Early Look at a Possible Transportation Package

BikePortland had a nice piece on some early sketches for the Transportation package.
  • $107 million/year for transit
  • $15 million /year for Safe Routes to School
  • $10 million/year for All Roads Transportation Safety (see here for Salem projects currently funded by this - notably, the new buffered bike lanes and crosswalks on middle Commercial between Oxford and Winding Way)
  • $4 million/year for trails
It's underwhelming. Those are statewide amounts that would be allocated competitively. Far from sufficient to meet total need.

BP cites a very careless statement - an outright mistake or a problematic casualness in speech - on how it might be funded and staged:
ODOT Assistant Director Travis Brouwer testified to the committee about the safe routes proposal. About the quarter-mile policy, he said, “Let’s at least get those close-in areas because that’s where the higher volume roads are.” “What we’d anticipate,” he continued, “Is that after we finish the quarter-mile in 10 years, we’d get to the next quarter-mile in the next 10 years, and so on.”
As several have pointed out, this badly states the growth rate of a circle or a series of rings. The next nth+1 ring is much larger in area than the nth one immediately inside it, 2n-1 to be exact; they are not equal sized. (The 2nd ring is 3x the size of the first, the 3rd is 5x times, the 4th is 7x, etc. The progression is the difference of squares, a series of increasing odd numbers!) So you can't simply slice the rings and say each one will take a decade and use the same amount of funding.

Moreover, that's a 40 year vision for each mile of distance! The project will take generations on this view!

This is how ODOT really "thinks" about non-auto travel, no matter how much lip service they give to "active transport." (This is the same kind of logic that calls the Salem River Crossing a boon for people who walk and bike!)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

City Council, March 27th - A Draft CIP

Council meets on Monday, and in the proposed Capital Improvement Plan are several interesting details, including more on hopes for a $16 million TIGER grant.

There are several other agenda items to note also.

The Draft 2018 CIP
The TIGER line item is something that's been talked about as a hope, but not heretofore as something gained and done. Here's the $16 million line item for the McGilchrist project from 12th to 25th.

Looks like a $16 million TIGER grant
The only problem? The 2016 list of TIGER awards doesn't have it. It's also not in the TIP that SKATS is working on right now. So it looks like something more hypothetical and hopeful at the moment.

So why is it in the CIP? Staff say it's a "placeholder" - and, indeed, a hopeful thing. Subsequent drafts of the CIP will presumably make it clearer that it is not yet funded. (But are there other items in the CIP that are not actually funded? This seems to violate the spirit of the CIP, which lists "projects where likely funding sources have been identified." I guess it turns on your definition of "likely," but usually funding sources in the CIP have been much less speculative than this.)

Moreover, who knows whether the TIGER program will even be continued under the current regime. As a program that "supports innovative projects, including multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional projects, which are difficult to fund through traditional federal programs," it may not align very well with our kleptocratic priorities at the moment.

There are also some other interesting projects that aren't also in the TIP (generally because funding is all local and there is no component of Federal funding), at least in the form they have in the CIP. Here are three that will make a difference for all road users.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cherriots Board meets Thursday, SKATS Open House Today

The Cherriots' Board meets tomorrow night, and there were a couple of small things to note in passing.

Last month the committee for the Special Transportation Fund met and allocated some grant money, and while the Hospital didn't get entirely shut out, they got much less than they asked for.

Salem Health only partially funded for
Transportation Coordinator
(February 7th, Special Transportation Fund meeting)
It seems quite likely that this is related to the fact that the Hospital had recieved $50,000 for a similar coordinator position in 2014 or 2015, and then turned around and gave $50,000 to the anti-Cherriots effort on the November ballot.

October 2015
The monies came out of different accounts, so it's not like the Hospital passed the exact same money from Cherriots to anti-Cherriots, but it wasn't a good look and said something about the Hospital's values, about the way they view the community, and about their view of transit.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Downtown Board to Discuss Corner Bulb-outs Thursday

On Thursday the Downtown Advisory Board will learn more about corner bulb-outs. (Agenda and meeting packet here.)

Existing bulb-outs may interfere with bike lanes
Hopefully it will be in a full context of redesigns for complete streets and for all road users. For the most part, our current approach to bulb-outs is focused on walking, to shorten the crosswalk distance mainly.

About bulb-outs (or "curb extensions" generally), the National Association of City Transportation Officials, a group more focused on walking, biking, and busing than more highway-oriented groups or agencies like AASHTO and FHWA - and a group whose standards should be adopted by the City! - says:
  • Curb extensions visually and physically narrow the roadway, creating safer and shorter crossings for pedestrians while increasing the available space for street furniture, benches, plantings, and street trees.
  • Decrease the overall width of the roadway and can serve as a visual cue to drivers that they are entering a neighborhood street or area.
  • Increase the overall visibility of pedestrians by aligning them with the parking lane and reducing the crossing distance for pedestrians, creating more time for preferential treatments such as leading pedestrian interval and transit signal priority.
  • Tighten intersection curb radii and encourage slower turning speeds.
Both ODOT and FHWA approve of their use, and the City of Salem's Transportation System Plan allows for them and specifies "Design guidance is provided by FHWA and ODOT."

Mostly our implementation of bulb-outs has kept the auto travel lanes unaffected. They are not installed in the context of a total street redesign. They have been more incremental, and then subsequent redesigns have had to work around them.

Protected bike lane between Ferry and Trade on High Street
The near corner on Ferry has a bulb-out, the far corner does not
(Compare to concept drawing from 2013 just below)
At the intersection of High and Ferry Streets, you can see the transition between a buffered bike lane to the left (outside) of car parking and a protected bike lane to the right (inside) of car parking.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

In the Neighborhoods: Ex-Parte, Eclipse Mania, Effective Alleys

Several bits to note this week in the neighborhood associations, as well as the Open House for our road projects in the 2018-2023 local funding cycle. West Salem, CANDO, and NEN all have interesting agenda items.

West Salem

West Salem Projects in the TIP, including Wallace crosswalks
(Draft 2018-2023 Interactive TIP Map)
The TIP outreach continues, and at the West Salem Neighborhood Association meeting on Monday they'll get an introduction to our MPO and its draft 2018-2023 funding cycle and projects.

In addition to enhanced crosswalks on Wallace Road, significant projects include:
  • The first stub end of Marine Drive
  • The Doaks Ferry realignment and new intersection with Highway 22.
The City Attorney has been making the rounds to different boards and commissions to talk about the perils of "ex-parte" contact and the basic difference between judicial and legislative functions, and the ways each relate to ex-parte contact. As I understand it, in a judicial matter, when Council or another board is applying law or rules to a particular case, ex-parte contact is forbidden; in a legislative matter, when Council or another board is considering general policy matters or rules, ex-parte contact is not an issue.