Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Review of Bikes in 2009: A Top 10 List

2009 is almost over and it was a year of significant improvement for bicycling in Salem! Here's a top 10 list in chronological order. What's your top 10 list of bikey events for 2009?

Things were perhaps slow until April. Then - wham! The long awaited opening of the Union St. RR Bridge was the top bike story of the year and it was one of the Statesman's top stories of 2009 as well. Also in April 100 bike advocates came to the Conference Center for the Oregon Bike Summit. (Photo: Thomas Patterson, Statesman Journal)

In May Oregon Parks and Recreation relaunched the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway.

Launched in June and running all summer, Friends of Salem Saturday Market operated a Valet Bike Parking service so people didn't have to bring cars to the market and could shop truly sustainably.

In June the Legislature passed the huge "Jobs and Transportation Act," HB 2001. Like it or not, it will shape our transportation choices for the next few years.

In July the City received two Transportation and Growth Management Grants to update the city's Transportation System Plan, and to create a district-wide Safe Routes to School Program.

In October the Salem Bike Taxi launched and added an important new way to get around downtown.

In November City Council voted to use sharrows on Commercial and to reduce it by a lane downtown.Also in November OBRA held the state Cyclocross Championships at Fairgrounds. This was the biggest race in Salem!

Throughout the year incremental improvements on Chemeketa brought the dream of a bicycle boulevard closer to fruition: In December the City started placing signage on Union St RR Bridge and Chemeketa. Earlier in the year State Parks worked to grind some curb, remove some bushes, and created a new way around the bathrooms on the Capitol Mall.

Runners-up and other important bike events:

Mayor Taylor and the City won an Alice Award and received a gift from Sanyo Solar of an Eneloop battery-assist bicycle.

All year, the Rivercrossing Alternative Modes Study worked on developing plans to increase bike commute trips across the river.

All summer and winter the Bike Drill Team grew and joined in several parades.

Late summer the missing bike lanes on 17th were placed at 17th & Market

In November the City installed video camera traffic light controllers at Front & Union

Lots of things to build on! There are elections, the short legislative session, the draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed third bridge, project selection and implementation of the road bond projects...lots of things going on and hopefully good momentum from 2009 takes us into an even better, bikier 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

MWVBTA Recommends Projects for $1.6M in Bond Funds

December 31st is the deadline for submitting ideas for the $1.6M from the Keep Salem Moving Bond for bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

The Mid-Willamette Valley Chapter of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance has submitted its list of recommended projects for the Bike and Pedestrian Safety Funds. (Once you click through, select "full screen" for all 6pp of the recommendations.)

There are fewer bike lanes to propose than we might have expected. The most pressing problems, the group decided, are crossing highways and other busy streets. Getting across the barriers, and not getting to the barriers, is the big deal. Moreover, lots of people don't feel comfortable in a 5-foot bike lane, and we believe low-traffic bicycle boulevards remain a superior choice for infrastructure.

The top projects are these:
Fix crossing at Commercial & Union St
Fix crossing at Liberty St & Union St.
Improve sections of Union St, Chemeketa St, and Winter St.
Fix crossing at Winter & Mission
Fix crossing and weave at Liberty & Commercial
Fix crossing at Fairgrounds & Winter
Fix River Road South Bike path and entry at Miller
Restore crossing of Front St. at State Street

These are mostly related to the Union Street Railroad Bridge connections, Bicycle Boulevards in central downtown, and two especially substandard connections south. We believe these will impact the largest numbers of commuters and help to create strategic transportation choices for the largest employment centers and their employees. Unfortunately $1.6M doesn't go very far.

There are lots of other worthy projects out there, spot improvements to parks and schools and other important neighborhood places. Fortunately, the new Safe Routes to Schools project and the Bicycle and Pedestrian updates to the Transportation System Plan will be able to drill into these in more detail.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Mixed Blessing of Salem's Unmixed Downtown Office Parks

The next two chapters in The Death and Life of Great American Cities are on Parks and Neighborhoods. On parks and open space, Jacobs has much to say that is relevant. About neighborhoods, she is working on a much different scale than Salem; moreover, the Salem neighborhood associations, formed in the 70s, like those across the country, were in many ways a direct response to Jacobs' arguments.

Government is a huge engine for Salem's economy. At the same time, a little like ivy or kudzu, the large single-use office parks that ring downtown Salem have crowded out a healthy ecosystem of mixed uses that would better nourish the historic downtown core.

Jacobs derides many over-planned parks and open spaces:
The aim of the City Beautiful was the City Monumental. Great schemes were drawn up for systems of baroque boulevards, which mainly came to nothing. What did come out of the movement was the Center Monumental, modeled on the [Columbian Exposition of 1893]. City after city build its civic center or its cultural center. These buildings were arranged along a boulevard as at Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, or along a mall like the Government Center in Cleveland, or were bordered by a park like the Civic Center at St. Louis, or were interspersed with park, like the Civic Center at San Francisco. However they were arranged, the important point was that the monuments had been sorted out from the rest of the city, and assembled into the grandest effect thought possible, the whole being treated as a complete unit, in a separate and well-defined way.

People were proud of them, but the centers were not a success....people stayed away from them to a remarkable degree.

The architecture of the City Beautiful centers went out of style. But the idea behind the centers was not questioned, and it has never had more force than it does today. The idea of sorting out certain cultural or public functions and decontaminating their relationship with the workaday city [prevailed].

More generally, Jacobs talks about parks.
[O]nly a genuine content of economic and social diversity, resulting in people with different schedules, has meaning to the park and the power to confer the boon of life upon it.

For every Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, or Rockefeller Plaza or Washington Square in New York, or Boston Common, or their loved equivalents in other cities, there are dozens of dispirited city vacuums called parks eaten around with decay, little used, unloved.

In orthodox city planning, neighborhood open spaces are venerated in an amazingly uncritical fashion, much as savages venerate magical fetishes.

One of the bitterest disappointments in housing project history is the failure of parks and open grounds in these establishments to increase adjacent values or to stabilize, let alone improve, their neighborhoods. Notice the rim of any city park, civic plaza or project parkland: how rare is the city open space with a rim that consistently reflects the magnetism or stabilizing influences residing in parks.

Rittenhouse Square, a Success
Rittenhouse Square, the success, possesses a diverse rim and diverse neighborhood hinterland. Immediately on its edges it has in sequence, as this is written, an art club with restaurant and galleries, a music school, an Army office building, an apartment house, a club, an old apothecary shop, a Navy office building which used to be a hotel, apartments, a church, a parochial school, apartments, a public-library branch, apartments...[etc]. Does anything about this physical arrangement of the neighborhood affect the park physically? Yes. This mixture of uses of buildings directly produces for the park a mixture of users who enter and leave the park at different times. They use the park at different times from one another because their daily schedules differ. The park thus possesses an intricate sequence of users. In short, Rittenhouse Square is busy fairly continuously for the very same basic reasons that a lively sidewalk is used continuously: because of functional physical diversity among adjacent uses, and hence diversity among users and their schedules.

Washington Square in Philadelphia, a Failure
Philadelphia's Washington Square - the one that became a pervert park - affords an extreme contrast in this respect. Its rim is dominated by huge office buildings, and both this rim and its immediate hinterland lack any equivalent to the diversity of Rittenhouse Square - services, restaurants, cultural facilities. The neighborhood hinterland possesses a low density of dwellings. Washington Square thus has had in recent decades only one significant reservoir of potential users: the office workers....This principal reservoir of users all operate on the same schedule. They all enter the district at once. They are again incarcerated again after lunch. They are absent after working hours. Therefore, Washington Square, of necessity, is a vacuum most of the day and evening. Into it came what usually fills city vacuums - a form of blight.

The Scourge of Monoculture
It need not have been office work that depopulated [Washington Square]. Any single, overwhelmingly dominant use imposing a single schedule of users would have had a similar effect. The same basic situation occurs in parks where residence is the overwhelmingly dominant neighborhood use. In this case, the single big daily potential reservoir of adult users is mothers. City parks or playgrounds cannot be continuously populated by mothers alone, any more than by office workers alone.

Blocks of Monoculture Enclose Salem's Downtown Core: State offices, Pringle Creek, Riverfront Park

It is not difficult to see the parallels. Salem's downtown core is bounded on the south and east and west by large blocks of these sorted and decontaminated units.

On the east and south, precisely at 5pm each workday the spaces empty. The Pringle Creek Renewal Area and the Capitol Mall and State offices have a single use. On weekends and at night they are dead zones. As desolate islands, they also act as pedestrian barriers to the Bush-Gaiety Hill and the Court-Chemeketa neighborhoods (map here). There is little to pull people through the areas and into downtown.

The Capitol Mall has a long history. Up until 1935 it was a thriving residential neighborhood for established names in Salem. In her excellent article, "The Children of Piety Hill" (Historic Marion, 42:1), Virginia Green writes about the houses of Salem pillars like the Kays, Cookes, Pattons, Parrishes, McNarys, Eyres, Barnes, Lachmunds, and Spauldings. First Presbyterian was on the east side of Winter, kitty-corner to its current site.

After the 1935 Capitol fire, the State Capitol Reconstruction Commission claimed the four blocks just north of it, those bounded by Winter, Court, Capitol, and Center streets. The WPA helped with the State Library building, and in time three more office buildings replaced the homes. (Here are two photos of the Cooke-Patton home, just prior to razing. You can imagine the home's footprint just to the east of the State Library, between it and the fountain.)

By 1949 state planners envisioned a larger mall. Though it was debated into the 70s, with Gov. Vic Atiyeh pushing for a suburban expansion of the state offices out east near I-5, the mall ultimately was built largely as envisioned. Salem planners thought the concentration would assist with parking and make transit easy and attractive to use.

Also in the 70s, the Pringle Creek Urban Renewal Area was built. It is classic urban renewal with open space and mid-rise building massing. In this photo the Library is off to the right, and visible from the bottom are the Civic Center, Firehouse, Pringle Parkade (neither the plaza nor post office is built yet), SAIF complex, and Robert Lindsey Tower.

(Photo reference and notes - Pringle Creek Urban Renewal Area.)

On the west is the more complicated situation of Riverfront Park. It is a great improvement over the mill contaminated waterfront, and it has the beginnings for complexity: The carousel and playground, an ampitheater stage, the public docks, covered picnic area, the A.C. Gilbert complex, and the Union Street Railroad bridge. Soon there will be the Boise Redevelopment project.

But Riverfront Park is badly disconnected from greater downtown by a great moat: the very busy Front Street by-pass and two additional moat rings in the Commercial/Liberty couplet. Business also face State, Court, and Chemeketa rather than Front. The lone exception, The Rivers condos, might as well be several blocks away, and until there are better connections across Front, its natural walking connections will always be to the east rather than west towards the river. The planned closure of State street at the Carousel will intensify the moat and make the park and the Boise project even more car-dependent (more here and here). No business or cafe activity creates psychological bridges across Front.

One of the reasons the downtown core sometimes struggles is because it is not ringed with residences and a mix of uses that would send people downtown in waves throughout the day and night. This is over-simple, of course, but is an important part of the problem. The parks and open space around office buildings aren't structured in ways that make the areas and adjoining ones really vital.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sad Sidewalks in Salem

Salem's sidewalks average almost 10 defects requiring repair per 300 foot block. Many neighborhoods don't have any at all. Salem sidewalks are inadequate in many ways.

Jane Jacobs has lots to say about sidewalks, but it's not always clear how much of it might relate to Salem. On the one hand, she talks about the sidewalks in densely populated urban environments, full of mid-rises, brownstones, or other essentially yardless adjoined housing. Against this is the super-block, high-rise "project." Neither of these exist here. Moreover, she cautioned against applying her urban analysis to towns and suburbs.

Even so, surely parts of her analysis do apply to Salem. In many ways, it is difficult to walk in Salem. Though the differences between downtown core, commercial strip development, and residential neighborhoods may make applying Jacobs' insights sometimes difficult or indirect, still, the greatest fact about Salem sidewalks is that too many neighborhoods don't have any.

At a very basic level, Salem has a huge sidewalk deficit.

This map is from the Pedestrian Element (16pp pdf) of the Salem Transportation System Plan. In purple it shows the extensive mid-century neighborhoods that lack sidewalks in Salem.
Generally, the older, inner areas of Salem have good sidewalk availability. The newer, outermost areas of Salem also have good sidewalk availability. In between these areas there are neighborhoods that were built in the 1940s and 1950s before sidewalks were required by Marion County. These areas came into the City through annexation and have not been improved to full urban standards. For this reason, large areas of Southeast and Northeast Salem are lacking sidewalks.[emphasis added]

In some areas, neighbors oppose sidewalks because the increase in property values will increase property taxes. These residents do not always consider the increase in transportation costs and aggregate medical costs they incur when they substitute motor trips for short walking trips.

Many of the Keep Salem Moving road bond projects are widening of roads to include sidewalks where previously none were built, like this on Hawthorne & Hyacinth:
Construct Hawthorne Avenue NE and Hyacinth Avenue NE to Minor Arterial street standards with center turn lanes, proper travel lane widths, bicycle lanes, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, drainage, streetlights, and landscaping, as needed.
These projects involve arterials, however, and not the network of local streets that also lack sidewalks. They also typically involve enlarging a two-lane unimproved cross-section into a three-lane roadway conforming to "urban arterial standards." Because busy roads aren't fun to walk, even improving them with sidewalks doesn't encourage walking enough. Additionally, there's no network of residential streets would feed walkers to the arterial sidewalks - so since the new arterial sidewalks will remain hard to reach by walking, the sidewalks will remain underused.

Another kind of deficit is sidewalk size.

Salem City Code (chapter 78) requires 5 foot sidewalks most of the time, except near schools, which earn an extra 3 feet for an 8 feet total width. Compared to Jacob's ideal of 30 or more feet, this is paltry indeed. Downtown sidewalks are considerably wider, but still far short of Jacobs' ideal.

A third kind deficit is sidewalk condition and funding for repair.

The city's Sidewalk Repair Program pushes responsibility for public walks onto the property owner:
[O]wners of property within the city limits and adjacent to sidewalks built since September 1, 1992, will be responsible for repairing or replacing damaged sidewalks, unless the damage has been caused by a City street tree....Owners of property within the city limits and adjacent to sidewalks built prior to September 1, 1992, will be assigned responsibility for repairing or replacing damaged sidewalks after the City of Salem first repairs the existing sidewalks and brings them up to an acceptable standard.
According to the May 2009 annual Sidewalk Repair Report, "A total of 93,387 defects have been inventoried as of May 12, 2009." Further, "Of those, 81,597 of the defects, or 87 percent, are non-compliant defects and need to be repaired." In the most recent November 2009 update, the city has "somewhere between 800 to 900 miles of sidewalk" and "between 65 and 73 percent" of Salem sidewalks have been inspected." Many of the defects violate ADA compliance, and Council recently instructed the City to focus on remedying these violations.

All in all, that's a lot of bad sidewalk. And it matters.

This is a bike blog, of course, but at the start and end of every trip, no matter what transportation choices we make, we're all pedestrians. That is the foundational experience in mobility.

This green transportation pyramid puts the pedestrian experience at the base of the pyramid, but at the top of the hierarchy. That's a clever way to show the importance of walking and sidewalks.

Fortunately, Salem won a grant to update the Pedestrian Element of the Transportation System Plan. Part of the grant application specified that it would fund completion of Salem's sidewalk inventory and recommend changes to development and design standards for sidewalks.

Unfortunately, it won't change the funding mechanism. Today, sidewalk repair is funded essentially the same way road repair was funded in the 19th and very early 20th centuries. Back then, property owners were responsible for directly repairing or paying an assessment to fund repair of the roads that fronted their property. Needless to say, many property owners found ways to avoid repair. Finally, in order to "get Oregon out of the mud" state and local governments took over road repair and road building. They realized that roads were common goods and should be funded publicly.

Sidewalks are also public goods, but we fund them as private property. Since those who enjoy them are usually passers-by rather than the property owners themselves, property owners have little incentive to build or repair them to high standards.

So Salem has a large and systemic sidewalk deficit.

In another note, we'll return to the rich complexity of sidewalk life, the ways sidewalk life leads trust and public safety, the ways sidewalk life helps to socialize children, and the relation between cars and sidewalks.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Jane Jacobs - On the Uses of Sidewalks

The first three chapters of The Death and Life of Great American Cities are about sidewalks and the uses of sidewalks. In order, she discuss safety, contact, and assimilating children.

More interesting to me than her chapter ordering is her writing. Her analysis employs a mixture of functional, aesthetic, and organic metaphors. Here are some paragraph-sized chunks. They're a little baggy and oversized, but since her prose is pretty juicy, it seemed worthwhile.

Though her chapter framework is functional, dwelling on way sidewalks are useful, Jacobs really starts things with an embrace of complexity and the aesthetic. If you don't buy the value in higher-order complexity, then I'm not sure her functional arguments will hold for you. But if you think simple is too often boring or stultifying or even hegemonic, then her argument suggests much.

Good Sidewalk Life Offers a Rich Complexity
Under the seeming disorder of the old city, whereever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance - not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole.

[Public sidewalks] bring together people who do not know each other in an intimate, private social fashion and in most cases do not care to know each other in that fashion...if interesting, useful, and significant contacts among the people of cities are confined to aquaintenceships suitable for private life, the city becomes stultified. Cities are full of people with whom, from your viewpoint, or mine...a certain degree of contact is useful or enjoyable; but you do not want them in your hair. And they do not want you in theirs either.

The tolerance, the room for great differences among neighbors - differences that often go far deeper than differences in color - which are possible and normal in intensely urban life, but which are so foreign to suburbs and pseudo-suburbs, are possible and normal only when streets of great cities ahve built-in equipment allowing strangers to dwell in peace together on civilized but essentially dignified and reserved terms...Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city's weath of public life may grow.

Rich Sidewalk Life Leads Trust and Public Safety
The first thing to understand is that the public peace - the sidewalk and street peace - of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as police are. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.

A well-used city street is apt to be a safe street. A deserted street is apt to be unsafe....there must be a clear demarcation between what is public space and what is private space....Second, there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street....And third, the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers.

Stores, bars and restaurants, as the chief examples, work in several different and complex ways to abet sidewalk safety. First, they give people - both residents and strangers - concrete reasons for using the sidewalks on which these enterprises face. Second, they draw people along the sidewalks past places which have no attractions to public use themselves but which become traveled and peopled as routes to somewhere else...Third, storekeepers and other small businessmen are typically strong proponents of peace and order themselves...Fourth, they activity generated by people on errands, or people aiming for food and drink, is itself an attraction to still other people.

In speaking about city sidewalk safety, I mentioned how necessary it is that there should be, in the brains behind the eyes on the street, an almost unconscious assumption of general street support when the chips are down - when a citizen has to choose, for instance, whether he will take responsibility, or abdicate it, in combating barbarism or protecting strangers. There is a short word for this assumption of support: trust. The trust of a city street is formed over time from many, many little public sidewalk contacts.

Good Sidewalk Life Socializes Children into Responsibility
Among the superstitions of planning and housing is a fantasy about the transformation of children. It goes like this: A population of children is condemned to play on the city streets. These pale and rickety children [exist] in their sinister moral environment, "the moral and physical toll taken on our youth by the streets," sometimes...called "the gutter." If only these deprived children can be gotten off the streets into parks and playgrounds with equipment on which to exercize, space in which to run, grass to lift their souls! Clean and happy places, filled with the laughter of children responding to a wholesome environment.

Garden City planners, with thier hatred of the street, thought the solution to keeping children off the streets and under wholesome surveillance was to build interior enclaves for them in the centers of superblocks....Today many large renewal areas are being replanned on the principle of enclosed park enclaves within blocks....The relatively dead backs of buildings or, worse still, blank end walls, thus face on the streets. The safety of the unspecialized sidewalks is thus exchanged for a specialized form of safety for a specialized part of the population for a few years of its life.

I have been dwelling on a negative aspect of child rearing in cities: the factor of protection - protection of children from their own idiocies, from adults bent on ill, and from each other. I have dwelt on it because it has always been my purpose to show, by means of the most easily understood problem, how nonsensical is the fantasy that playgrounds and parks are automatically OK places for children, and streets are automatically no OK places for children...lively sidewalks have positive aspects for city children's play, too, and these are at least as important as safety and protection.

In real life, only from ordinary adults of the city sidewalks do children learn - if they learn at all - the first fundamental of successful city life: People must take a modicum of public responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other. This is a lesson nobody learns from being told. It is learned from the experience of having other people without ties or kinship or close friendship or formal responsibility to you take a modicum of public rsponsiblity for you.

The lesson that city dwellers have to take responsibility for what goes on in city streets is taught again and again to children on sidewalks which enjoy a local public life. They can absorb it astonishingly early. They show they have absorbed it by taking it for granted that they, too, are part of the management. They volunteer (before they are asked) directions to people who are lost; they tell a man he will get a ticket if he parks where he thinks he is going to park...the presence or absence of this kind of street bossiness in city children is a fairly good tip-off to the presence or absence of responsible adult behavior toward the sidewalk and the children who use it.

Cars and the Allocation of Space
Suppose we continue with building, and with deliberate rebuilding, of unsafe cities. How do we live with this insecurity? [One mode] is to take refuge in vehicles.

Sidewalks thirty or thirty-five feet wide can accomodate virtually any demand of incidental play put upon them - along with trees to shade the activities, and sufficient space for pedestrian circulation and adult public sidewalk life and loitering. Few sidewalks of this luxurious width can be found. Sidewalk width is invariably sacrificed for vehicular width, partly because city sidewalks are conveniently considered to be purely space for pedestrian travel and access to buildings, and go unrecognized as unrespected as the uniquely vital and irreplacable organs of city safety, public life and child rearing that they are.

In another post we'll look at how Jacobs' analysis of densely populated urban sidewalk life applies and does not apply to what I think of as Salem's three kinds of sidewalks, those in the downtown core, those along commercial strips and arterial streets, and those in residential neighborhoods.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chemeketa St and Union RR Bridge Signage Going Up

On of the Vision 2020 projects is to update and improve the directional signing along Chemeketa Street and the Union St. RR Bridge. The signs are now going up, and it's great to see the project approach the finish line! The project was made possible by a combination of funding principally from the City of Salem, from ODOT, and from the Downtown-Riverfront Urban Renewal Area. Special thanks to Julie Warncke and Kevin Hottman with the city and Rodger Gutierrez with ODOT!

Here's an example of an old sign. There were a couple of these along Court Street, and the group wanted to eliminate these and, among other things, bring the signage into conformance with the Salem-Keizer Bike Map.

And here's an example of the new sign. This is going west-bound on Chemeketa just as you approach the Capitol Mall. Chemeketa goes under, and into the parking garage, and bicyclists should stay above ground. The signing shows the veer into the turn-around.

On the other side of the turn-around are the two bathrooms, and signs have been erected on the sides of the bathroom instructing bicyclists to avoid the center area into which the bathroom doors open. Alex Phillips and Jim Bader from State Parks were especially helpful in arranging to remove some shrubbery and to grind down the curb so there was a good bikeway around the bathrooms.

Here's the sign going east-bound at 14th and Chemeketa. Hopefully that jog can be widened and straightened out to make the crossing at 14th easier and more straight-forward.

And here's the sign directing bikes from 24th (via State Street) onto Chemeketa.

On a sunny day we'll get more photos of the signs and especially the set on and near the bridge!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Oak Trees and Alt Modes: Ambivalence and Ambiguous Progress at Council

Interesting City Council meeting this evening. An oak grove with trees nearly 200 years old threatened by the Salem Renewable Energy and Technology Center provided most of the debate this evening. (Happily the effort to replant oak savannah at Minto Brown did not occasion debate, though it added to the irony.) Councilor Tesler defended the trees passionately and observed the irony in an ostensibly sustainable energy park needing to cut them down. It seemed, sadly, to be a metaphor for the way sustainability is all too often approached here. Jobs as resource extraction, pink-slipped when the market collapses or the resources run out, not jobs as a truly sustainable enterprise.

(Photo: Ashael Bush II in the Bush Pasture Oak Grove)

Still, Council passed a substitute motion directing staff to prepare a report on the trees with a view towards developing a plan to save them, which seemed like it preserved the possibility of meaningful compromise.

Two transportation developments reflected this ambivalence.

Council approved staff recommendation to proceed with a stimulus-funded Energy Efficiency and Conservation Grant application. The city proposes to allocate funds in this way:
$150,000 to establish revolving loan fund for energy efficiency upgrades.
This will meet Community draft Goal #1 - Improve energy efficiency in buildings community-wide.

$5,000 to support electric vehicle charging stations.
$85,000 to implement Alt Modes recommendations
These will meet Community draft Goal #2 - Create and support a viable transportation network that focuses on moving people.

$65,000 for a marketing plan.
This will meet Community draft Goal #5 - Complete a public participation program which fosters a sense of commitment and awareness of the benefits of energy savings and greenhouse gas reduction community-wide.

$1,171,000 to meet City draft Goal #1 - Lead efforts to increase energy efficiency in City buildings.
Especially interesting is the $85,000 allocation to begin implementing recommendations from Rivercrossing Alternative Modes Study. The good news is that these will be the first funds applied to the recommendations, and hopefully they will leverage more. The recommendations are good ones and should be pursued with or without the bridge. The bad news is that the projects cost significantly more than tens of thousands of dollars, and that the amount pales next to the proposed $500M for the bridge. Hopefully this is a prelude, not merely a bone.

Public Works gave an update on Market & Lancaster.According to the staff report, one of the primary objects in the widening effort is safety:
The current project looked at the effectiveness of these changes based on 2005 through 2008 collision data. The rate was reduced from 3.39 collisions per million million vehicles entering (MEV) the intersection to 2.4 (over 1 is considered a higher than average collision rate).

Staff developed a preliminary plan that continues to implement access management techniques at the intersection to help further reduce the collision rate. The techniques being considered include raised traffic separators (medians)…to control vehicle turning movements at driveways; consolidating multiple driveways to one location; and driveway closures.
But the plan adds dual turn lanes and widens the road from 5 to 6 lanes! SKATS 2007 data suggests the Lancaster corridor is in absolute terms the most dangerous place for pedestrians and bicycles - and they're going to take away with one hand what they give with the other! "Access management" and safety concerns look Orwellian here: Really making the intersection safe and functional for all road users would require an approach radically different from widening the road and closing driveways.

A more general update to the road bond is here.

So it was a half-glass night - half-full or half-empty maybe depends on your mood or sensibility.

Festival of Lights Parade Video

CCTV now has the Festival of Lights video up! There was a great turn-out. You can relive the bike float here. To view it on the CCTV site, go here, and from the 2009 listbox, select the "Festival of Lights Parade." You can see the bikes at about the 43:00 mark.

(Sorry for the crappy image - couldn't get the screen capture to work on the streaming video.)

MWVBTA Meeting Tuesday the 15th

The MWVBTA meets the third Tuesday of each month. The December meeting is tomorrow, Tuesday the 15th. We'll be meeting from noon to 2:00 p.m. at the Sassy Onion on State Street. The agenda hasn't been sent out yet, but we'll be talking about bike/ped projects for the road bond and some other matters.

If you are a member of the BTA, would like to learn more about the BTA, or are interested in making the Salem area a better place for bicycling, please join us!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Regional and Statewide Plans Poised to Defer Real Change until 2014

Writing on December 9th in the Oregonian, on the eve of an important METRO vote regarding their Regional Transportation System Plan for 2010-13, Dylan Rivera says:
Even with an expanding network of light rail and bike routes, the Portland area's transportation system will generate about 50 percent more carbon emissions in the next 25 years, defeating state and city goals to reduce the gases linked to climate change.
With all we know about greenhouse gases, with all of Portland's "green" practices, the best they can do is a 50% increase!

The vote the next day confirmed that there is not yet the will to act on what is known.(Coverage of the vote in the Oregonian. In many ways the Portland Mercury has been the best source of incisive coverage and you can read the Merc's coverage here.) Chris Smith weighs in with a realistic assessment of the consequences on Portland Transport:
at this morning's Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation meeting, the committee rejected an amendment from Mayor Adams to review the project list for climate impacts, while adopting a weaker amendment by Councilor Rex Burkholder.

The weaker language postpones any real impact by climate analysis on actual investments until the 2014 Regional Transportation Plan update.

METRO is the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Portland metro area. Salem's MPO, the Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study, will be going through the same 2010-13 planning effort here shortly. And the prospects for Salem to exceed Portland here are slim-to-none. METRO has more staff, more sophisticated tools, more money. The Salem area is also more conservative and traditional. Planning for drive-alone trips prevails.

So if transportation planning is in a holding pattern until 2014, what can we do? If we can't see ways realistically to change the strategic goals and governing values instantiated in project lists, what recourse do advocates for rational transportation policy have? Are we condemned to continue to fight for the table scraps?

Last week was a Salem-area public hearing on the draft 2010-2013 STIP. What's a STIP, you ask?
The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, known as the STIP, is Oregon's four year transportation capital improvement program. It is the document that identifies the funding for, and scheduling of, transportation projects and programs. It includes projects on the federal, state, city, and county transportation systems, multimodal projects (highway, passenger rail, freight, public transit, bicycle and pedestrian), and projects in the National Parks, National Forests, and Indian tribal lands.
The STIP is complicated enough it has its own users guide. The document itself is quite large - hundreds of pages. The directly relevant projects in Marion and Polk county are few, as most of the projects are associated with highways outside of urban centers.

Still there are a few that might be worth comment.

The only non-ARRA (non-stimulus funds) bike project is improving the bikeways along Chemawa to Keizer Rapids Park. The Park is a gem, and getting to it will be much easier. This is an unambiguously good project!

A set of projects is the patchwork of funding for Cherriots Rideshare. Roxanne Rolls who runs the program said
The amount allocated is the entire budget for the Rideshare program. It does vary from year to year but it has been around $225,000 (total) each year which must cover all of the Rideshare program activities, salaries, benefits, marketing and outreach.
That's crazy! They work to promote and facilitate essentially all transportation options other than the drive-alone-trip. And that's all we give them.

Finally, in no small part because Wallace Road is also State Highway 221, there's a large project to significantly enlarge the intersection of Wallace and Glen Creek. This will insert two sets of dual-turn lanes, lengthen the crossing for bikes and peds, and generally make it much more difficult to reach the Union Street Railroad Bridge. It will make an already difficult crossing even more of a barrier.

Peter Alotta is the Statewide STIP Coordinator. You can email him here: Let him know that the Glen Creek project threatens connections to the Union St. RR Bridge, that Rideshare deserves more money, and that the Chemawa project is a good one.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Towards the TSP Update: Rereading Jane Jacobs

So reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities risks cliche and even idolatry. And yet, the book is sooooo good!

With winter and the forthcoming update to the Transportation System Plan, it seemed like a good time to reread and reassess Jane Jacobs (who died in 2006): Salem is not yet a great city, neither in size nor in accomplishment - and indeed by her measures will likely never attain the epithet "great" - so what relevance might she have?

The city says
The Salem Transportation System Plan (TSP) is the City's master plan to guide its actions and investments for the 21st century. The Plan is a comprehensive document containing goals, objectives, policies, projects, and programs needed to provide mobility for the next 25 years.
But does Jacobs' writing in the 1950s have relevance for a plan ostensibly directed towards the 2000s?

She cautions against interpreting her analysis too broadly.
I hope no reader will try to transfer my observations into guides as to what goes on in towns, or little cities, or in suburbs which are still suburban. Towns, suburbs and even little cities are totally different organisms from great cities. We are in enough trouble already from trying to understand big cities in terms of the behavior, and the imagined behavior, of towns. To try to understand towns in terms of big cities will only compound confusion.

Yet she also writes
Automobiles are often conveniently tagged as the villains responsible for the ills of cities and the disappointments and futilities of city planning. But the destructive effects of automobiles are much less of a cause than a symptom of our incompetence at city building. Of course planners, including the highwaymen with fabulous sums of money and enormous powers at their disposal, are at a loss to make automobiles and cities compatible with one another. They do not know what to do with automobiles in cities because they do not know how to plan for workable and vital cities anyway - with or without automobiles.

The simple needs of automobiles are more easily understood and satisfied than the complex needs of cities, and a growing number of planners and designers have come to believe that if they can only solve the problems of traffic, they will thereby have solved the major problem of cities. Cities have much more intricate economic and social concerns than automobile traffic. How can you know what to try with traffic until you know how the city itself works, and what else it needs to do with its streets? You can't.

When we look at the $100M "Keep Salem Moving" road construction projects, and the contemplated $500M highway-style rivercrossing project, we see clearly the ways that politics and planning in Salem exemplify Jacob's point about over-simple analyses and synecdoche. If we just create more road capacity, things in Salem will move more smoothly - more economic development, more culture, more prosperity. Solving the motorized traffic problems promises to solve a host of other problems. If only it were so simple.

Perhaps in the next month or two we can see what relevance Jacobs' analysis does have for Salem. Are there ways what she has to say legitimately applies to Salem, whether you reckon it merits "small city" status or is just a town? It certainly seems that her thoughts stand a fair chance of applying to the downtown core, the vestige of a 19th and early 20th century downtown that did resemble on a smaller scale the cities she analyzes.

Perhaps there are others who would be interested in reading along?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why Watch? You can Bicycle in the Holiday Parade!

The PGE Festival of Lights Holiday Parade lights up on Saturday, December 12. It's the 20th anniversary of the parade, and this year's theme is "Absolutely Glowing."

Usually the "floats" are motorized. This year, we have a non-motorized alternative: Join the bicycling brigade! The Salem Bicycle Club is sponsoring a bicycling float! Come one, come all! You don't have to be a member of the club to enjoy the fun!

Parade float & drill team organizers Robert, Debbie, Beth, and Mary sent out this notice:

How long since you've been in a parade, instead of watching from the curb? How long since you've BIKED in a parade? Here's your chance to remedy that! Coming up on December 12 - the Salem Bike Club's first annual entry in the Festival of Lights Holiday Parade. All you need is some lights for your bike, warm clothes, helmet and a sense of fun.

We're aiming for a big turnout - 50 or more cyclists would be great! Young (if under 16, with parents), medium or experienced; unicycle, bicycle or tandem - it all works. And if you have a bike trailer, load up your young kids, your dog, Christmas tree, a reindeer, or snowman (parade rules say no Santas other than the official one). Prizes are given for the best float in various categories, so unleash your creative spirit!

Parade particulars:
Saturday, December 12
Meet at the Red Lot* at 5:00 p.m. for sign-in and last-minute practice (across from McDonald's at Center and Capitol Streets N.E.)
Parade starts at 6:30 p.m.
Ride Leader: Robert Fox
(e-mail Robert with any questions:

Be a part of the 20th anniversary of the largest lighted nighttime holiday parade west of the Mississippi, and start a new tradition with the bike club!

Join the parade group on facebook!

Special bonus points for cool lighting systems like hokey spokes, FlexPro, or other "absolutely extravagant" carnival lights! Robert may have some extra lights, so contact him if you're interested.

*Here's a location map for the Red Lot.

Breakfast on Bikes - December 11th

This Friday, December 11th, between 7 and 9am, we'll be at Mission & Winter. It's supposed to warm up some! Please join us!

Please remember our sponsors!
Cascade Baking Company
Coffee House Cafe
LifeSource Natural Foods
Salem Bicycle Club
Willamette University Sustainability Council

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Council Goals at Council Tonight

On the docket tonight at City Council is the semi-annual articulation of "council goals." For the full report see here.

Goals are clustered into four groups:

Here are the relevant transportation-related goals:
L.1.b) - Top Priority - Move forward with revisions to Transportation System Plan to include:
- Pedestrian and bicycle connections from Marion Square Park to the Union Street Railroad Bridge to downtown.
- A pedestrian crossing at State Street.
- A pedestrian and bicycle bridge to connect Riverfront and Minto-Brown Island Park.

L.1.f) - Medium Priority - Continue efforts to establish a new Willamette River Bridge.
- Develop Marine Drive as part of the third bridge over the Willamette.
- Pursue state and federal funding for right of way and design of the third bridge across the Willamette River.

L.2.d) - Medium Priority - Identify and assess new strategies to improve parking in the downtown area, which may include management strategies and new parking garages.
L.2.e) - Medium Priority - Pursue a rubber tire trolley for the downtown area.

L.3.b) - Top Priority - Establish a more flexible and dynamic relationship between the parking requirement and market demand for higher density areas.

V.1.a) - Top Priority - Pursue commercial air service and fund infrastructure improvements at Airport.

V.2.a) - Top Priority - Remove Railroad track easement in West Salem for redevelopment of Gateway area.

H.2.b) - Top Priority - Redo the parking lot at Bush Park.
These are particular areas council proposes to ask city staff to pay particular attention to. Some of these are clear, some require background context to understand fully (like "redo" parking lot at Bush Park?). We'll follow these in the coming months. Write your councilor if you have particular thoughts on any of them! Like when will we prioritize bicycling over the endlessly subsidized and endlessly failing dream of air service?

There will also be a presentation on focus group and survey data regarding a prospective parks bond measure (long document).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

3 Great Ways to Help Bicycling this Month

Here are three ways to donate time or money to helping bicycling in Salem!

Kidical Mass started in Eugene a couple of years ago. Shane Rhodes, who manages a Safe Routes to Schools program, wanted to get more kids and families excited about riding. They say
Kidical Mass is a legal, safe and FUN bike ride for kids, kids at heart, and their families. All types of bikes, trailers, trail-a-bikes, Xtracycles, longtails, bakfiets, Long Johns, tandems, folders, trikes, and whatever rolls are welcome! Come hoot it up with us.

Why do the ride? To celebrate the fact that Kids are Traffic Too. For family fun on vehicles that don’t hurt the future! Another excuse to pedal with your family.

Not long after Eugene started, Portland followed.

And now Salem will join the Kidical Mass movement! Kat Franken, a local Americorps volunteer, is starting a Salem ride. She's just starting the planning, so if you'd like to volunteer or to be a part of it, email her at kidicalmasssalem at gmail dot com (that's three-s's!).

Another way to help out is to assist with a maternity leave for Michelle Darr of the Salem Bicycle Taxi service. Michelle's needs to take a break to welcome her new one into the world! She's interested in organizing shifts for a month or two. If you'd like to help out, email her at micheledarr at rocketmail dot com.

Finally, Kate Tarter of Resource Connections of Oregon, and former City Councilor, is looking for donations to support trikes for adult clients. If you have old trikes or would like otherwise to help, please contact Kate at ktarter at resourceconnections dot org.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Winter's Almost Here, but Planning for Bikes Moves on

It's cold, the days are short, and it's the bicycling off-season. But you'd never know it this week. Instead of going into hibernation, bicyclists and planners have held several promising meetings in the last few days.

Downtown Vision 2020, the Kroc Center, and a Salem Community Energy Strategy process each held meetings and advanced projects helpful for bicycling.

Wednesday the Vision 2020 Bike/Ped group met, and the group mapped out its projects for the next year. There's lots of work! Courtney Knox summarized the projects:
Priorities for future effort (in no particular order):
- Review and comment on bike/ped project list for $1.6M (January meeting)
- Develop communication plan re: sharrows (February meeting)
- Develop Winter Street as preferred bicycle and pedestrian route (as part of Transportation System Plan (TSP) update)
- Develop a better Union Street Connection from RR Bridge to Capitol (as part of TSP)
- Look at methods for reducing double right turn lanes
- Engage developers in collaborative discussion around planning for bike/ped access and treatment (continually)
- Promote increased awareness of bike facilities (to include mapping)
- Provide input in development of streetscape standards
- Develop codes/standards/requirements to A) include bike parking in new buildings and B) ensure future developments address bike and ped connections appropriately
- Include consideration of bike facilities in repaving projects
- Include bicycle and pedestrian representatives on advisory boards

A subgroup also gave a presentation on the junction of South Commercial and Liberty. They had combined site visits and meetings and developed a list of prospective solutions for getting south-bound bicyclists across the dual right-turns (onto Liberty) and back onto Commercial. The presenters stressed that "the solution matrix and list of prioritized solutions has not been refined. The solutions presented have not gone though City staff to determine feasibility." Even so, it's an amazing list of ideas.

In its first draft form, the preferred solution stops motorized traffic and, though there is no separate signal, effectively gives bicycle traffic a green light to cross the dual turns. The red arrows here show stopped traffic, the green arrows show moving traffic, and the green dots the bicycle movement.

The goal is to find a solution that can be coordinated with the rebuild of Commercial that is scheduled for next summer as part of the Keep Salem Moving bond.

Also on Wednesday, a large group met at the Kroc center to talk about the proposal to conduct a Salem-Parkway / Kroc Center Access Study. Participants from Congressman Schrader, Oregon Department of Transportation, Marion County, Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study, City of Keizer, and City of Salem, agreed to start planning a study of alternative projects and alignments, including potential overpasses and/or underpasses of Salem Parkway and the Portland and Western rail line, to improve access and safety to the new Salvation Army Kroc Center. City of Salem will take the lead on the process.

Conversation focussed on getting kids from Keizer across the Parkway and to the Kroc, since using the signalized crossings at Cherry or Hyacinth requires more than a mile of out-of-direction travel for all modes, and is unattractive for walking and biking.

Less time was spent on the barriers of Salem Industrial Drive and Portland Boulevard. Representatives from the City of Salem noted that the study was timed well, as it would coincide with the updates to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Elements of the Transportation System Plan, and that this would result in coordinated planning for improved access from all directions.

One of the representatives from ODOT underscored, however, that the process will not be fast. Even in the best case, a crossing over the parkway was a 5-10 year project. The TSP update is nearly a 2 year project. Improving access to the Kroc will not happen soon.

On Tuesday, the City of Salem held a Community Energy Strategy forum.
In May 2009, the City of Salem became the recipient of a $1,521,000 formula grant from the U.S. Department of Energy through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. Development of an Energy Strategy is the first grant requirement.
After a morning context briefing, the audience broke up into smaller groups. One of the sections of the strategy will concern transportation and about 10 community members discussed the draft goal to "encourage resident and employee use of alternative modes." The group agreed that "transportation options" focussed the matter on individual choice and cultivating a robust system-wide flexibility better than the "alt modes" moniker, which risks relegating non-drive-alone auto trips to fringe behavior. The group also drilled into a number of specific actions and sought to make them more aspirational and substantive.

It will be interesting to follow this. Perhaps focusing on energy use will be a better way to focus transportation planning on real change. In Portland and in Salem ODOT is planning two megabridges. Governor Kulongoski spent yesterday plugging the I-5 megabridge. Yet, again, ODOT says that to meet the Governor's own greenhouse gas goals
Reducing on-road vehicle GHG emissions by 75 percent from 1990 levels would be equivalent to reducing Oregonian’s per capita annual consumption of petroleum fuels from 567 gallons to 68 gallons.
The disconnect between road-building and greenhouse gas goals is staggering.

All in all, though, three meetings, a real list of projects, and some progress. A good week for bicycling in winter!