Tuesday, January 22, 2019

City Council, January 23rd - Council Policy Agenda

Council meets on Wednesday for a Work Session on goals and policy.

There's a ton of material, and at a glance it looks like rather than letting values drive decisions, the Staff Reports are designed to have too much detail and to slow-walk decisions. There's something weird about all the stuff and clutter. It's like "are you sure you want to do this?"

Maybe this misunderstand things. At the very least, it's a reminder of the vast amount of material we ask Councilors to understand, and a reminder of the time it requires for that understanding.  To exercise real oversight and not merely to "rubber-stamp" staff recommendations is a lot of work.

We're just going to look at a few transportation things here.

One of the reports is on the 17 recommended actions arising out of the Congestion Relief Task Force.

Do we really need a UGB amendment
for a right-sized Marine Drive?
Though they are "not in priority order," at the head of the list is Marine Drive. And it is interesting that one of the "future steps" on it is an amendment to the Urban Growth Boundary.

You might remember from back in 2016 a discussion of some of the Administrative Rules that would govern Marine Drive:
Transportation Improvements on Rural Lands
(3) The following transportation improvements are consistent with Goals 3, 4, 11, and 14 subject to the requirements of this rule:
(g) New access roads and collectors within a built or committed exception area, or in other areas where the function of the road is to reduce local access to or local traffic on a state highway. These roads shall be limited to two travel lanes. Private access and intersections shall be limited to rural needs or to provide adequate emergency access.
(h) Bikeways, footpaths and recreation trails not otherwise allowed as a modification or part of an existing road;
(i) Park and ride lots; [italics added]
A collector-level Marine Drive for local traffic would not necessarily require an amendment to the Urban Growth Boundary.

The TSP currently calls for a "collector" level Marine Drive
(Street System Element of February 2016)
A UGB amendment is necessary if Marine Drive is envisioned as an arterial-sized urban highway.

Monday, January 21, 2019

At the MPO: SKATS Still Weighing the Evaluation Criteria for 2019 RTSP Project List

The Policy Committee for our local Metropolitan Planning Organization meets tomorrow on Tuesday the 22nd. There's no important immediate decision on the agenda, but lots percolating on the total transportation funding system.

SRC Update

There is an update on the SRC and the Council Work Session later this month:
The city of Salem has scheduled a work session on January 30th at 6:00 p.m. for the Salem City Council to discuss the Salem River Crossing project. SKATS assisted city of Salem staff prepare a “Salem River Crossing Project - Question & Answers” report to the council. The draft report has over 130 questions divided into 22 different categories. Staff will e-mail the city’s report to the SKATS Policy Committee when it is completed.
Presumably the City will publish the document as part of the Staff Report for the Work Session, and it will be very interesting to read. Probably it will have a bias for the SRC, and it will be necessary to read it closely and perhaps even to interrogate or "fisk" it.

In the formal Work Program, the SRC is a little mysteriously omitted. I don't know how important that is, as the present document is a draft only and is not complete, but it's always interesting to read (and in this case not read) what is the MPO's formal position on it.

TOC says subsection A

Pages 25-26 omit the SRC subsection
Evaluation and Scoring Framework for the RTSP

In the minutes from the last meeting, there was a short bit on the contested Goal 7 on greenhouse gases:
Referencing RTSP Goal 7, Mayor Gary Tiffin asked about the status of the goal. Mr. Jackson responded that evaluation criteria will be developed for Goal 7 once the language for that goal is completed. He added that the impact of the criteria for a single goal is unlikely to have a huge impact on project selection as it would be scored either a zero or 1 point.
It is significant that the "evaluation criteria" are constructed in a way to minimize the effectiveness of a strong Goal 7. That is, the criteria are so thoroughly autoist in total concept and system, changing the language in one goal cannot alter the total balance. It is going to take more work and a rethinking of the whole suite of goals in the RTSP (and elsewhere) to adjust for an actually balanced system that offers meaningful transportation choice. The Staff Report on the latest discussion of the criteria finds that "projects that score well in one option tend to score well in the other options."

Headline Omits Verb, Erases the Driver; New TRB Paper Addresses Problem

Not only is the driver erased, so is the headline verb
So this was casually picked up off the AP wire as filler for page 2 of the paper today, and maybe we shouldn't make too much of it, but the multiple layers of inattention are symptomatic.

First off, the headline: "2 Pedestrians [blank] by van..."

The verb, the action, the collision itself is totally erased. That's merely a typo, an error in copy editing, but it is also one helped along by the way we mystify collisions in order to insulate drivers from fault and driving itself from an awareness of its routine dangers.

The rest of the short piece is a tissue the more customary mystification, of "the van [verb]" formula that makes the van the subject of all sentences rather than the driver.

A driver struck two people walking.

A person was driving a vehicle, and a person in charge of that vehicle struck two other people who were walking. The van does not yet have agency and is not a robot. Only the human operator of the vehicle has that agency, and is responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle.

Patterns of erasing the driver
At the Transportation Research Board annual meeting earlier this month, researchers presented a paper, "Editorial Patterns in Bicyclist and Pedestrian Crash Reporting," that confirms the pattern we all see of erasing the driver.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Salem's Four Opportunity Zones Overlap with Urban Renewal Zones

You might have seen the Bloomberg Business "Welcome to Tax Breaklandia" headline circulating the last couple of days.

via Twitter and Bloomberg
From the piece:
Among a nationwide patchwork of struggling areas, there are a small number of thriving communities that may draw an outsize share of investors’ cash. In some cases, the law may boost returns on investments that would’ve happened anyway....

Portland’s zones are so atypical that Barry Sternlicht, the real estate investor and founder of the Starwood hotel chain, used the city as a punchline when he criticized Congress for passing the tax breaks. “That’s not a blighted district,” he scoffed...
Locally there hasn't been much talk about Salem's zones. A couple months back on FB there was a little bit of talk about how the entire downtown area was eligible, but nothing in detail, and nothing about our other zones.

Salem also has several zones
It turns out we have at least four of them:
  • The whole of downtown, south to Mission and east to 12th/RR
  • Much of Highland/Grant north to Pine Street, also bounded by the RR on the east
  • The Edgewater District and a pigtail along the RR path to the Union St RR Bridge
  • And the whole of the airport, McGilchrist, and Fairview Industrial area (but not the Mill Creek Industrial park area)

Saturday, January 19, 2019

State's Chief Autoist Resigns; Time for New Leadership at ODOT

Remember this from back in 2015?

Doubt about ODOT
(See "Former Government Official Blasts ODOT in Today's Paper" and "David Bragdon's Reforms for ODOT and our Transportation System.")

Yesterday ODOT, the Governor, and the OTC shared big news for transportation here:
SALEM — Oregon Transportation Director Matthew Garrett announced today that he will resign as Director of the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) on or before June 30, 2019. “I’m eager to take the next few months to explore the opportunity to do something new,” Garrett remarked. “It was important to me to provide enough notice to allow time for a search to identify my replacement and provide a smooth transition to the new Director,” he added.

In his resignation letter to Governor Kate Brown and Oregon Transportation Commission Chair Tammy Baney, Garrett noted that he has been at ODOT for 22 years, the last 13 of which he has served as Director. Garrett has led the 4,700 person department under three Governors -- Kate Brown, John Kitzhaber and Ted Kulongoski. Garrett is the longest continuously serving department of transportation director in the nation.

Governor Brown thanked Garrett for his service: “Matt Garrett has driven Oregon forward through his steadfast commitment to improve transportation for his fellow Oregonians, both today and in the future. He has led ODOT with distinction, guiding the agency through the implementation of a historic transportation package, and we will reap the benefits for decades to come. I have deeply appreciated his thoughtful counsel and collaboration and want to extend my gratitude for his service to our state.”

“Matt has been a dedicated public servant in our state for almost a quarter of a century,” said Transportation Commission Chair Tammy Baney. “He is highly respected throughout Oregon and in transportation circles around the country. The Commission appreciates Matt’s many contributions to modernizing Oregon’s transportation system. We will work closely with him in the coming months to ensure a smooth transition from Matt to his successor.”

The Oregon Transportation Commission has the statutory authority to hire a new director for the department.
The laudatory tone is at odds, of course, with that editorial from 2015, and indeed with our efforts to reform transportation for walking, biking, busing, and greenhouse gas reduction. Which have failed badly.

It's time for a new vision at ODOT, one that is not so bull-headedly autoist.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Proposed 20 Indicators for Our Salem May Have too Much Overlap

The process to update the Comprehensive Plan has published the initial set of metrics they call "indicators," and it's a little surprising.

On FB, one advocate described them as "A BIG DEAL," putting "the environment and environmentally friendly transportation as the central issues to address as Salem grows":
Of the 20, six speak to non-auto transportation: complete neighborhoods, walk and transit friendliness, access to frequent transit, bicycle and pedestrian use, traffic/pedestrian accident, and active transportation.

Five address environmental concerns (in addition to emphasizing walking, biking, and transit). They are: tree canopy, proximity to parks and trails, development in environmentally sensitive areas, reduction in air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Two speak to affordability: Total affordability and housing affordability.
Overall this is great to see.

What special sauce does "Our Salem" have that this did not?
But as always, it's what the City does, not what it says, that is important. We've been down this road before: Every time we have some shiny new and exciting policy language, somehow it is ground down to something much less innovative or transformative in action. Writing and adopting the language is not the primary thing to laud or criticize: It's the budgets and decisions that follow that are critical. Our current Comprehensive Plan has lots of juicy language we routinely ignore or interpret in the most generous of ways, we should remember.

Still, if we assume this new language will be effective, is it actually the right balance?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Senate Highways Committee Introduces our Gas Tax in 1919

As the City considers a local gas tax, it is interesting to recall that the nation's first gas tax was created by Oregon in 1919.

From January 16th, 1919, here's the first mention of it as legislative concept, not exactly buried in the paper, but on an interior page.

On the interior, page 5, January 16th, 1919
The focus of the story is really on the bond and its projects, and less about the funding mechanism. In fact, for as novel as the gas tax apparently was, it is just mentioned in passing like was already no big deal. That matter-of-factness is striking.

As the bill progresses we'll post occasional updates, as it really is a milestone in road funding and interesting to know more about.

There were different topics on the front page that day, and the mood in 1919 remains fascinating.