On first glance, it is, alas, a significant disappointment. While the cover shows lots of groovy bike-friendly imagery, inside it's all about levels of service and adverse impacts on motor vehicle traffic volumes.
Its solutions are, in a word, unsustainable.
It is likely the studies' limits arise from auto-centric constraints imposed by City staff. Two in particular, leaving car parking untouched and maintaining motor vehicle "levels of service," have almost certainly hamstrung the project. Even if the students wanted to go elsewhere with solutions, the framing and scope limited them. So while it may seem ungracious to critique the students' work, the main criticism here is of the assumptions they inherited rather than their work product.
Still, the auto-centrism in a ostensibly bike-friendly analysis underscores a key structural limitation, a parochialism, to the way we think of mobility.
Bike Lanes on High and Church
As for the report contents, some projects receive multiple discussions, but there are essentially eight project analysis sites:
- Addition of Bike Lanes to High and Church Streets
- High Street / Church Street Two-way Conversion
- Union Street and Commercial Street Crossing
- Commercial Street Bike Lanes,
- Evaluation of the Y Intersection at Commercial Street and Liberty Road
- Bike and Pedestrian Crossing at Wallace Road
- Wallace Road Multi-use Path
- Edgewater Multi-use Path Realignment
The adverse effects of lane removal are clear (see Figures 3 and 4); the Level of Service for motor vehicles is reduced at the intersections with Marion, State, and Court Streets with the addition of a bike lane.But are things really so bad?
The placement of the dedicated bike lane on either side of High and Church Streets may not be a practical solution if the current Levels of Service must be maintained.
Out of 14 intersections, only four are modeled to show a change in service level; each of those four changes is only one level, in three cases from "free flow" to "reasonably free flow," and in one case from "reasonably free flow" to "stable flow."
To say "the adverse effects of lane removal are clear" is to exaggerate somewhat. Moreover, the gain in bike service hardly makes a total "loss" of service! But this is an example of the way Levels of Service analysis can limit and muddle rather than clarify.
Levels of Service
Whether the street is a neighborhood cul-de-sac where children play most of the day and cars are parked and rarely in motion, or a 5 lane arterial without parking, the primary customer and user of the road system is always defined as a car. One problem with Levels of Service analysis is that it counts motors, not people. Another is that it makes no qualitative distinctions between streets.
Together, the counting error and the qualitative error make for modeling divorced from reality.
Here's the math:
empty bus = 1In each of these the relevant atomic unit is the motor vehicle. Whether the motor vehicle actually has people in it is irrelevant.
full bus = 1
carpool with 4 passengers = 1
car on drive-alone trip = 1
person on foot = 0
person on bike = 0
Additionally, there is no qualitative distinction in "levels of service" between the bucolic neighborhood street and the near-highway. The only thing that matters is the volume/capacity ratio for cars. The model treats a street like a firehose: How many cars can it shoot out?
In this way the road system as currently defined exists to serve cars only. Place, context, and number of people traveling are all abstracted out of the model. "Enhancements" for people who walk and bike or use transit are add-ons. This accounting represents a triumph of mechanistic abstraction over human reality.
And though a bike lane represents a different way to deliver people to and through an area, Levels of Service analysis counts it instead only as a loss, a subtraction of capacity.
In the downtown study, for nearly every project analysis improving bike connectivity and multiplying the ways a person might choose to go somewhere "negatively" impacts Levels of Service defined as motor vehicle capacity alone. What should be a way to increase mobility choice is instead viewed as a loss of service.
This is nuts. But is has consequences for the bike plan update.
Bike and Walk Salem
The City's dependence on mono-dimensional Levels of Service also appears to be limiting the Bike Plan Update process. The recommendations appear to represent a limited and very incremental evolution in applying a veneer of biking and walking connectivity - and the draft ideas do not extend where this connectivity might negatively impact the motor vehicle capacity.
Because the contractual scope includes revisions to the Biking and Walking chapters only, and leaves the core Levels of Service framework untouched, the update risks being more cosmetic than substantive.
The update process is still a good thing - but it could be so much more, and it is likely that we will all have to revisit things in another five or ten years. At some point we will begin to think seriously about serving people, about the movement of people who might wish to travel any number of different ways, and who want to feel they have a genuine suite of choices.