Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Public Transit Committee to talk a little about Parking

Finally, at least a little talk about parking subsidy
The City's Public Transit Committee meets tonight, Tuesday the 12th, and they'll at least touch on the problem posed by our parking subsidies and the way this incentive for drive-alone trips erodes interest in transit.

The vast surface area with subsidized car parking:
Downtown Surface Parking Lots in Red
Parking Garages in Solid Brick Red
On-street parking stalls not included
(click to enlarge)
The conversation looks to be a little limited, however, and hopefully committee members will want to expand its scope to talk about the total system of parking subsidy we have: Required minimums for all development, a municipal commitment to "free" downtown parking, and the general cultural expectation of free parking all the time for everyone.

Fiddling with a City bus pass program is small change on the edges compared with the structural changes that are possible in our development code and in a greater policy for smart parking.

The Committee meets tonight, Tuesday the 12th, at 6pm in Public Works on the third floor of City Hall.

Monday, December 11, 2017

At the MPO: Technical Committee on Project Requests, Rulemaking

The Technical Advisory Committee for our Metropolitan Planning Organization meets tomorrow, Tuesday the 12th, and there are some things to note in passing. They are also meeting at Courthouse Square rather than the MPO offices.

The committee is continuing work on vetting projects for a slice of funding from the 2018-2023 cycle:
SKATS received eight applications for consideration for funding in the latest update to the FY 2018-2023 TIP with requests totaling approximately $9.3 million. Approximately $5.5 million is available, so the projects will need to be prioritized to determine which projects (or partial projects) to fund.
In the minutes from last month about some of these projects:
[On Brown Road] new federal ROW regulations are responsible for the increase in ROW costs...[which therefore] are significantly higher than originally anticipated....

[T]he Center Street project is Marion’s County’s highest priority of their projects submitted for funding. [MPO staff] asked if the Connecticut Avenue project is highly ranked as a Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) project. [County Staff] responded that she believes the project has a pretty high SRTS ranking. Concerns related to the Connecticut Avenue project include how to address ADA (Americans with Disability Act) issues....

[T]he city of Keizer is unsure of its vision for Wheatland Road and has revised their project application. [Keizer staff] passed out a new application. The city would like to do a concept corridor plan with public outreach to determine the direction for Wheatland Road improvements.
The current agenda packet includes the first pass at scoring the projects:

First round of scoring
Completion funding for Brown Road leads the pack. In second place is the Center Street project, but the County Staff response that "she believes the project has a pretty high SRTS ranking" doesn't actually sound very confident at all. Do we actually have a SR2S plan that ranks County projects? Or is this just sales talk and BS? Additionally, there are real questions about the Center Street project's proposed design elements, which seem squarely autoist at the moment.

The bottom three look quite reasonable. Keizer is confused about Wheatland Road; it's hard to see regional significance for a Turner project; and the Orchard Heights thing is over-ambitious, a little messy, and remains a "tier 3" priority in the TSP.

Given the projects that were submitted (so, that is to say we might wish different projects were submitted, but we're looking only at what was submitted), the scoring looks like it's heading in the right direction.

Friday, December 8, 2017

City council, December 11th - Fisher Road and 85th Percentile Speed

Council meets for the last time in 2017 on Monday, and while I was expecting a sleepy agenda, it's surprisingly packed with interesting bits.

Not probably the most important, but maybe the most illuminating here, there's a discussion of Fisher Road NE. It offers a good entry into the ways that prevailing engineering standards are totally misguided.
Residents have expressed concerns about pedestrian and vehicular safety on Fisher Road NE. There was a pedestrian fatality in March 2017. Traffic volumes are increasing, and there is concern that vehicle speeds may be excessive. On August 28, 2017, Council directed staff to prepare a report on options to improve pedestrian and vehicular safety on Fisher Road NE....

The 85th-percentile speed is used to determine the speed at which a “reasonable” driver is comfortable traveling. This speed is used by the Oregon Department of Transportation for setting the speed limit of a road. A traffic speed count was conducted on Fisher Road NE south of Empress Way NE. The 85th-percentile speed in this posted 25 mph zone was 33.2 mph southbound and 33.9 mph northbound.

a. This 85th-percentile speed indicates speeding is an issue. The City could use this information to request a higher speed limit, but staff do not recommend changing the speed limit.
I just want to draw your attention to this logical chain:
  1. "speeding is an issue" (therefore)
  2. "the City could...request a higher speed limit."
That right there in a nutshell is how utterly effed up is our approach to design speed, posted speed, and 85th percentile speed.

If speeding and safety is an issue, the proper response is a suite of actions, both in posted speed and in road design and engineering, to reduce speed.

But nope. The current engineering dogma is that we should keep raising posted speed until it coincides with actual user speeds. It rewards speeding!

As a matter of philosophy and general approach, this is a very great ingredient in why we keep killing people on our roads. (And why the Pedestrian Safety Study whiffed and missed.)

Update and addendum - In a comment Jim rightly points out that the Staff Recommendation is for some mitigation:
All-way stop signs will be installed on Fisher Road NE at Beverly Avenue NE and at Devonshire Avenue NE.
Speed radar signs will be installed on Fisher Road NE, for both northbound and southbound traffic, between Beverly Avenue NE and Sunnyview Road NE.
These seemed band-aid-y and temporary, and inconsistent with the thrust of 85th percentile analysis. But as he suggests, it was misleading to omit them entirely. See the comment thread for more on that.

2017 Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan

The Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan also deserves more attention and discussion than it will likely get. It's a little buried here.

Has Crossing Commercial at Union Street got Easier?

Have you crossed Commercial Street on Union Street with the new light?

A reader reported trouble last month on Monday the 20th:
This morning east bound on Union I sat at the bike light for two full cycles on the lights at Division and Commercial and Marion and Commercial with no change in the Red east bound light on Union. There were no cars going east or west on Union and no pedestrians using the cross walk. So I on a bike had no way to activate the light. Luckily a city worker and one of the contractors were there, so I stopped to talk. I asked what it takes to activate the intersection on a bike. The city guy said it is not working yet. He said there will be a light to detect bikes and activate the system, but it won't be activated until March. So for now I'll still have to run the red light when it is safe or make my way for the pedestrian plunger confusing everyone involved at the light....The current situation feels more dangerous than no light at all. Oh and in the evening cars traveling south bound on Commercial still block the intersection.
From the dashboard, posted November 15th
to a pro-Third Bridge Page, skeptical of the light's value
Elsewhere on social media, a person posted the picture above from November 15th, and it definitely showed south-bound cars blocking the intersection. On the left-hand margin, there's a light-colored car directly in front of a bike's through-lane going east.

So that's two data-points and evidence for some difficulties here.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

SAIF Work Brings new Bike Lane on Church Street

I haven't been following the project at SAIF very closely, so it was a surprise to discover that the work included - or coincided with - an additional segment of new bike lane on Church Street between the bridge on Pringle Creek and Trade Street.

Start of a new segment of standard, door-zone bike lane
On the one hand it's great to see this as a partial connection and continuation to the buffered bike lane north of Trade Street.

But it reads a little like a perfunctory treatment consisting of a vintage 1980s standard bike lane. The designers may not have given enough thought to how it logically connects with Church Street on the south and north. So much more could have been done!

It starts, pretty much ex nihilo, just north of the bridge at the pump station on the corner of Bellevue.

There is curbside parking and it's pretty tight. If drivers don't hug the curb, they really encroach on the bike lane.

Encroaching on the bike lane
The center medians look like they are enlarged, and there's a new crosswalk.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Area Commission on Transportation and State Bike-Ped Committee Meet

Our Area Commission on Transportation as well as the State Bike-Ped Committee meet on Thursday, and there are perhaps a couple of things to note in passing.


Planning for the 2021-24 funding cycle continues and at the last Oregon Transportation Commission meeting, they appeared to be heading towards allocating a little less to "fix it first," like the Legislature said to do, and a little more to widening and "enhancement":
While public opinion and the Commission’s policies favor focusing on maintenance, increased congestion in the Portland metro region is negatively impacting freight mobility and the economy of the whole state, pushing toward additional investments in congestion relief. Due to increased congestion, the Legislature directed $672 million in HB 2017 toward specific enhance projects in the 2021-2024 STIP, and the Commission asked ODOT for options to direct additional resources to addressing congestion.

In response, ODOT unveiled a variation on a scenario called “Scenario 2+” that held maintenance funding steady while directing additional money to congestion relief—contingent on receiving federal funding above the level in ODOT’s conservative financial projection. “Scenario 2+ directs the first $40 million in additional federal funding into a Strategic Investment Program that may be used on highway enhancement opportunities chosen by the Commission,” said Travis Brouwer, ODOT’s Assistant Director. This strategy is similar to the $50 million the Commission set aside for strategic investments in the 2018-2021 STIP. The Commission can choose to use it for congestion relief projects or for federal grant leveraging opportunities.

Under Scenario 2+, Enhance Highway funding will increase from $124 million in the 2018-2021 STIP to over $700 million in the 2021-2024 STIP when HB 2017 funding is included — a nearly six-fold increase in Enhance Highway funding.
There's just a consistent belief that the only way to engage congestion is by widening and increasing capacity. It's still not sinking in that we need to think about the mobility of people who can choose - should choose sometimes - other than drive-alone trips and to reduce the total amount of driving.

California is phasing out autoist LOS analysis
for miles traveled - via Twitter and Streetsblog
California is making one important regulatory change that will help with this. It is likely that Oregon will get there also - but only after much kicking and screaming.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Downtown Parking Debate Heats up in 1917

A century ago debate heated up in downtown Salem about a formal on-street curbside parking ordinance. While the ordinance was not adopted at Council on December 3rd, 1917, it had a very serious discussion, and the matter had been percolating all summer and fall.

Back-in, angle parking on a two-way State Street at Commercial
circa 1925 (Salem Library Historic Photos)
This news piece is interesting in many ways, and worth citing nearly in full. You can see in it the lively flavor of the old newspapermen, but also the haste in writing and typesetting. The piece was not edited closely. They reported in more detail, but did not fact-check and verify as much. Contemporary journalistic standards show different trade-offs. Probably also Council meetings were more raucous and chaotic than they are today. In the story, the problem of assessments for street improvement also comes up.* Finally, note the speed limit.

We're really reading in a key period when the policy and regulatory environment for this new technology, the automobile, and a cascading set of changes it sets in motion, is being debated and shaped. Consumer behavior has got out in front of City Council, and they are having to react. Powerful interests push for a bias in one way or another. It is easy to see that different choices might have been made, and that our current patterns of and exceptions for auto use are the result of deliberate policy choices and intent - and we can change them again.

The headlines in 1917 were nuts!
City Council, WWI, Russian Revolution
From December 4th, 1917:

Assessment Against South Commercial Property Owners Objected To

The new automobile traffic ordinance and the bill calling for the assessment of abutting property to cover the cost of improvement of South Commercial street were the two chief matters of importance to receive the attention of the city council at its session last evening.

The traffic ordinance was in an extremely precarious situation for a time After its introduction Alderman Wilson proceded [sic] to go at it with long, sharp scissors and it soon became apparent that certain sections of the ordinance would receive no mercy at the hands of Mr. Wilson. Aldermen Johnson and Kigdon then came to its rescue, and the fray was soon joined by Alderman Ward. Sections were stricken out entirely, then reconsidered and reinserted. Amendments were offered pro and con, until there was some doubt in many minds as to just what was left of the ordinance. Motion was made that it be referred to the ordinance committee to be gotten into shaps [shape] for consideration at the next meeting, and Mayor Keyes voiced the sentiment of the majority of the aldermen when he stated there were parts of the ordinance he would really like to give further study.