Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Priority List for the Preferred Bike Plan

Building off a note from earlier this week, I want to add more thoughts on what I think the mission critical priorities should be for the bike plan.

Strategy and Vision Missing

The other day Gary posted his thoughts and some analysis from conversations with Jeff and Doug. Looking at the long list of projects, he argues for stronger editorial or curatorial oversight - for a vision and strategy - and says he fears "the tragedy of averages and popularity contests."

At the Advisory Committee meeting on Tuesday, in response to a comment by one member about strategy and vision, the consultant team mentioned the "green transportation hierarchy" just beginning to be used as a way to talk about and analyze mobility choices and facilities. Indeed, it is an example of a more strategic vision of mobility, one that could govern the kind and number of transportation projects to fund and construct.

That we seem to be going out of our way to omit such a strategy and vision is troubling, but it seems it may be by design. (See the critique of Levels of Service analysis.) The ways the City opposed what became House Bill 3150, which permits a local 20mph speed limit on streets intended for walking and biking, and moved to create a parking lot on 2nd Street NW, are consistent with a limited interest in strategic vision. I don't think the absence of one is accidental. What we're gonna get will surely be "new and improved," but it will also remain in important ways an ad hoc project list.

Outreach and Buy-in a Weakness Also

Back to Gary's note, he also talks about "buy-in" and and it's worth an extended quote, as I think he zeros in on another important missing piece:
One of the key components to adopting and implementing a planning document such as this is "buy-in" from the affected city/state officials. Management at affected agencies (City of Salem, ODOT, Salem-Keizer Schools, etc) need to be engaged early and often....Engineers and planners (and management) are more likely to support new ideas when they can have a discussion with their colleges, ask questions, see examples, etc. So far, I haven't seen much in the way of engaging decision makers at the city or ODOT, Salem city council, etc. I'd like to see this happen before the plan is presented to council. [bold added]
He contrasts the approach in Salem to one in Eugene:
The City of Eugene hosted a bike-ped work session for staff from the public works and transportation divisions. I thought this was a highly effective means to inform and engage decision makers.
I would add that despite the presence of four or five representatives from neighborhood associations on the Advisory Committee, there doesn't seem to have been much direct outreach to the neighborhood associations themselves. I worry a lot that the bike plan, walking plan, and safe routes plan will baffle them when it goes out to Council for adoption.

Mission Critical for Five Year Plan:
Downtown Proper Misses Cut - What about North Downtown/Broadway?

I want to submit a list of key sites in Salem and use that list to drive a selection for the most critical projects that we should make every effort to complete in the five year horizon. This is not exhaustive, and I will be curious to learn whether you agree or disagree!

Though he has not published his thoughts, in conversation Doug has argued persuasively that we ought to continue to upgrade Chemeketa from Front to 24th and make it into a world-class bike boulevard. He makes a compelling case. But while I think that project should remain a goal, in the five-year window we are talking about here, other projects might yield an even bigger return.

While downtown is consistently mentioned as the biggest "black hole" for people on bikes in Salem, and obviously is super important as a commercial and employment center, I also find that I am increasingly hopeless and giving up on downtown proper in the near-term. Near-term only, please note! Its problems are too big, too systemic, and too difficult to solve in five years with the bike plan. Downtown proper is a whole-traffic-system-whole-roads problem, and I just don't see how "transportation enhancements" alone solve that problem.

I worry, for example, that a Church Street bike boulevard will need two-way traffic on Church; and that this change to Church Street would have to wait for a change to the entire two-way grid. Hopefully the Downtown Circulation Study will address the system as a whole in a way the bike plan update does not.

Consequently, I am leaning towards the conclusion that the circulation study, and not the bike plan, will be the place for downtown bike projects - for complete streets that include robust bicycle connectivity. And that's why I find myself not quite as enthusiastic about immediately continuing to improve Chemeketa as a bike boulevard and why I'm leaving Riverfront Park off the list (as well as Willamette University, Salem Hospital, and the Capital Mall). These are really important, and I don't like leaving them off the list, but the bike plan update as currently structured isn't the right tool for fixing these problems: it's taking a knife to a gun fight, an abacus to aerospace calculations.

So, instead I'm really getting interested in the potential of the North Downtown/Broadway district - there's something close to a clean slate there, and it's nearly possible to get it right from the start! There is tons of potential in improvements to Broadway/High, Hood, Market, Norway, and 5th in the Grant neighborhood. There's no reason that biking and walking cannot become the preferred mobility choice for short-trips here. This area could become the City's showpiece walkable neighborhood and commercial district. (But of course this requires that "buy-in"...)

Except for Lancaster, the other areas focus more on "interested and concerned" and less on commuters, who tend to be more experienced and confident.

The Most Important Trip Generators and Destinations for the Five Year Plan:
North Downtown/Broadway
Lancaster Drive
Kroc Center
Union Street Railroad Bridge
Minto Park
Bush Park

Project Areas (with one or more relevant projects):
Union St. RR Bridge Connections
North Downtown / Broadway District Connections
Lancaster Corridor Improvements
Church St. Bike Boulevard
Connections to Minto-Brown Park

Specific Projects:
Wallace @ Glen Creek Intersection
Minto-Riverfront Bridge and Path
Bush Park - Minto Connector on Miller Street and River Road
Salem Industrial Drive Improvements to Kroc Center

(Gary didn't address the project list as a whole, but he did single out the Airport loop as a project whose value he didn't get, and the North Downtown/Broadway district as an area worth a higher priority.)

So that's what I think the priorities should be, and hopefully a good enough description of how I got to them. What do you think?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Even the State Treasurer Thinks River Crossing Modeling is Wrong

Maybe you think it's one thing for a bunch of kooky bicycle advocates to suggest the traffic and tolling projections on the Salem Rivercrossing are overoptimistic by a margin to large to ignore.

But when the State Treasurer says the same thing about the Columbia River Crossing, you really do have to wonder.

Two separate assessments independently
recommend that the CRC lower its baseline traffic and toll revenue forecasts
The Salem Rivercrossing project team uses the same modeling structure as the Columbia Rivercrossing team. Oregonians are driving less, whether across the Willamette or across the Columbia, but projections aren't taking this into account.

Do we really need a giant highway cutting neighborhoods in half? Surely this is not the right bridge for the 21st century. Better utilizing existing capacity along with a right-sized approach to local connections across the river can meet area needs.

Enjoying the Sun

Finally some sun! Here's the scene at Venti's Thursday early in the evening.

After Happy Hour, several folks had already left with their bikes. This rack has 6 parked bikes.


Here's Venti's Friday at Happy Hour.

There are at least nine bikes in the frame, and one immediately out of frame to the left. At Starbucks on the corner and across the street at Napoleon's there were additional clusters of bikes, though not quite as large. Bikes are attached to trees, park benches, trash cans, and newsboxes.

Clearly there's a peak demand not met by existing bike racks.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Breakfast on Bikes this Friday

B on B is coming up!

We will be at 12th & Chemeketa on the Promenade just east of the railroad tracks on Friday, July 29th. We'll have free coffee, pastries, and fruit for people who bike between 7am and 9am.

Please support our generous sponsors!
Cascade Baking Company
Governor's Cup Coffee Roasters
LifeSource Natural Foods
Salem Bicycle Club
Willamette University.

Mechanics from Santiam Bicycle will also be available for quick check derailleur adjustment, lube, and tire inflation!

Got the gift of gab? Salem needs a Bike Show on KMUZ!

Curt from KMUZ will be joining us to talk about community radio and bicycling - and other stuff too!

We'll also have information on the fourth Introduction to Smart Cycling Clinic of the season and material on the bike plan update.

View Larger Map

Preferred Bike Plan to be Discussed Tonight

Tonight at 6:30pm the Bike and Walk Salem Advisory Committee meets to discuss the "preferred plan alternative" (63pp, 5mb). The meeting is at Pringle Hall, 606 Church Street SE.

Here's a preliminary look. The map is a bit of a hack, reassembled from four quadrants in order to show in red the project priorities for the central city.

The list of projects is awkward - but I'm not sure how best to convey that info - lists and tables are hard to grok! The projects have been grouped in thirds. The first slice, the "tier 1" in red, envisioned as the first priority for completion in the next five years, are at the bottom here in a sort of appendix. Projects in tier 2 are 5-10 years out and in brown; those in tier 3 are 10+ years away and in yellow. These are not listed here.

How to Assess the List?

I'm not yet sure what I think, and I want to hear the presentation before drilling into the details. Right off you see that the High Street corridor is dropped and a Church Street bike boulevard has replaced it. I like that! There are a few other changes...but we'll get to those. In a nutshell, I think the project list may be both too ambitious and not ambitious enough.

A group is preparing some commentary on the plan: Jeff and Gary sit on the Advisory Committee, and Doug with his long years of experience, expect to share some thoughts soon. They will likely drill into more detail about the scope and number of individual projects. It will be good to hear what they have to say.

In any case, the details on the project list may not be the main matter - we can quibble over this project or that project, and each tier are somewhat arbitrarily grouped as a third of the total. More importantly, what's the big picture? The forest, and not the trees, seems important here.

How will this stuff actually get done? Most of the "stuff" has to pass through other planning processes.

The City's Capital Improvement Plan and the Regional Transportation Improvement Program are four year documents, programmed out to fiscal year 2015-16. If the tier 1 projects are on a five year horizon, and the two plans are programmed for four years, are we going to cram this all into year 5?

That doesn't seem very likely.

Really Commit to a Smaller List of Critical Projects?

Maybe it doesn't need to be. Projects can always be moved up.

No matter what happens to the project list, and the way the three tiers are managed, I wonder if a smaller subset of "mission critical" projects should be designated for the first tier and that the others then populate tiers 2 through 4. Keep the same time horizons - we ought to try to get all the new tier 1 and 2 projects done in the next five years!

Like your teacher said: Focus, narrow your thesis. Let's make sure we go all out to get that top 10 of them done. Or whatever number is the right one. What are the projects that will be so popular and significant that they built momentum for the other projects? Which ones have leveraging power?!

And are these the right projects? I'm not sure there are any game-changers in the mix. I'm not seeing visionary.

I look forward to the presentation tonight and I'm sure we'll all have more discussion and thoughts. The lack of obvious game-changers may make it not ambitious enough; the multitude of projects to fund and finish in five years may make it too ambitious.

Here's a list of central Salem tier 1 projects, first the corridor improvements, then the intersection improvements:

Bicycle Boulevard on Church from D through downtown and Bush Park to Hoyt
Path from High Street through Bush Park to Church St Bike Boulevard in Park
Bicycle Boulevard on Miller from River to High
Bike lanes on Mission from Commercial to 12th
Path along Pringle Creek from Riverfront Park to Civic Center
Bicycle Boulevard on Saginaw/ Mission from Rural to Commercial
Bicycle Boulevard on Union from Front to Summer
Bicycle Boulevard on Winter from Court to Norway
Bicycle Boulevard on Norway from 5th to Winter
Path through Minto-Brown Island from River Road to Riverfront Park
Bicycle Boulevard on Rural from John to Saginaw
Shared Use Path on Airway/ 25th from Madrona to Mission
Bicycle Boulevard on Hoyt from Skopil to Church
Bike lanes and sharrows on McGilchrist from 12th to 25th
Bicycle Boulevard on 2nd from Rosemont to Patterson
Bike lanes and trail on Patterson from 6th to 9th and South of Glen Creek
Bicycle Boulevard on Piedmont/ 6th from Altimont to Patterson
Path and Crossing along Union ST RR right of way from Wallace to Patterson

12th St. at Bellevue St
12th St. at Mill St.
Commercial St. at Division St.
Commercial St. at Marion St.
Commercial St. at Trade St.
Commercial St. at Union St.
Liberty St. at Center St
Liberty St. at Ferry St
Liberty St. at Mission St.
Liberty St. at Trade St.
River Rd. at Miller St.
Summer St. at Center St.
Summer St. at Marion St.
Winter St. at Bellevue St./ Pringle Pkwy
Winter St. at Mission St.
17th St. at Mill St.
25th St. at Madrona Ave.
25th St. at Mission St.
25th St. at State St.
Glen Creek Rd. at Parkway Dr.
Orchard Heights Rd. at Parkway Dr
Wallace Rd. at Glen Creek Rd.
Wallace Rd. at Edgewater St.

Monday, July 25, 2011

City Council, July 25th - New Mixed Use Zone and Drive-Throughs

Four things on the Council agenda touch on biking and transportation. Though two of them are hearings, at this point they've been on the radar long enough that there shouldn't be surprises.

Before formal Council session, there will be another worksession on the Sustainable Cities Initiative. This one will touch on bikes!
Sustainable Cities Initiative Projects – Downtown Parks Connectivity; Bike Planning; Downtown Traffic Circulation; Transportation Safety; Stormwater Code
The final reports for the parks connectivity and bike planning are not yet posted. The Circulation and Transportation Safety are here, and a critique here.

The Neighborhood Center Mixed Use Zone is up for a public hearing. Staff report is here (196pp!). This is intended, as I understand it, for new developments of three to 15 acres, so it will affect new development on the periphery of the city rather than redevelopment and in-fill. Developments also need to be "within one-eight of a mile of a major intersection." The concept is intended to have:
  • Sense of place
  • Compact urban form
  • Neighborhood vitality
  • Innovative design
  • Pedestrian orientation
  • Transit accessibility
Mostly it seems like a very good thing, but informally some have suggested that it could use some course-correction in another iteration. Perhaps a reader who has followed the project will have a better sense for its strengths and weaknesses?

More on Bank Drive-throughs. See the July 11th notes for map and discussion. At the Council meeting of the 11th, staff had recommended that the drive-throughs be allowed as a "conditional use," and Council asked whether they should go through a "variance" or "conditional use" process. (This is all clear as mud, and inquiries into the city just got more planner-speak! I'll update in a comment below if I can get more. The chief thing is whether from a applicant's standpoint, getting a variance requires that you meet a higher standard - is it more difficult? I think this is the case, but I can't get it in plain English! If you understand, chime in please.) What is clear is that staff have returned with a recommendation and affirmed that the drive-throughs should through the "conditional use" process rather than the "variance" process.

Cherriots is asking the City for a letter to support grant applications for the Biodiesel Bus Acquisition Project and the Regional Transit Center Development Project.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Renewing Bike Love over Summer and Baseball

Tucked inside Bush Park is Willamette's John Lewis Field, and in the summer the Withnell Dodgers make it home field.

Lots of people commute through Bush Park, of course, and some folks stop by the ballpark on the way home from work. You can see the flourescent yellow of a commuter at the fence above the batters!

Others come out for the whole evening, biking perhaps instead of strolling. Earlier in the week I chatted briefly with Mike and Nancy at the batting cage. They don't have any relatives playing, but live nearby and just enjoy the game.

Nancy said she's enjoying bicycling this summer. After 40 years away from bikes, she took it up this year after Mike found some gently used Electra 3-speeds. Getting the hang of it was a little awkward at first, but now she loves it!

Do you have a story about someone you know or met renewing their bike love?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New Kuebler Cut-Throughs Miss Cut for Bikes

Citizen advocate David Cary bikes along Kuebler regularly, and he noticed that the cut-throughs being constructed to connect neighborhood dead-end streets to Kuebler were now impassable to persons riding bikes.

In the cut-throughs former condition (located at Khyber Ave, Tariff Ct., Sycan Ct., Summerfield Dr., and Coloma Ct., all southeast), they were all useful, though they did not conform to the requirements of the Disabilities Act.

While the new cut-throughs appear to comply with the Act, for people on bike they are much less useful, and are clearly optimized for wheelchair traffic rather than for multiple uses.
  • The cut-through paths do not connect to the bike lane with a curb cut or mountable curb.
  • The paths have 90-degree turns and switch-backs.
  • The paths do not appear to be a full 10-foot wide, the standard for multi-use paths.
An expert on bicycle and pedestrian design confirms that these are essentially not constructed for people on bike:
Wheelchair users are expected to remain on the sidewalk level and not enter the street level....the connection between the path and sidewalk looks like a level landing, which is required by ADA for wheelchair users to be able to turn 90 degrees to access the sidewalk that is perpendicular to the path.

Clearly...these "multi-use paths" are consciously designed for pedestrians. Surely, bicycles, skate boards, etc are allowed to use them - thus being "multi-use". These neighborhood cut-throughs could and should be designed for bicycles...[But] these connections would need more space if they were designed for bicyclists. The standard for a multi-use path is 10-feet in width (12' in high use areas and 8' minimum for constrained areas). These paths are probably 5' wide. If the switch-backs were designed for a bicyclist to ride up and down, it would be significantly longer.
Back in February the City held an open house on part of the Kuebler widening project.

At that time it seemed like there were opportunities to enhance the crossing at Lone Oak for people on foot or on bike, but on March 1 city staff indicated that "the Kuebler project is already bid and construction has started."

But because of the economy, most projects are coming in under bid, so it's not like value-engineering is top-of-mind. If anything, stingy plans could be beefed up and a change order issued to benefit more users of the roadways.

In any event, more public outreach during the design phase could help catch things like this.

Unfortunately, the City may not be interested in soliciting a greater range of feedback. Also in the spring staff indicated that they didn't
want to post plans for public review while they are still in draft format.
But here's what happens when there's not enough public comment on draft plans.

It is disheartening that while Bike and Walk Salem trumpets improved facilities for people on bike in Salem, design and engineering staff do not seem to anticipate improved bicycle connectivity on current projects and instead will create future costs with the need for retrofits.

(Image provided by David Cary)

ODOT Director to Discuss Active Transportation Section Friday

Last week the big news was the announcement that the State Department of Transportation would bring together groups from Transit, Walking, and Biking programs and organize them administratively into a new Active Transportation Section.

BikePortland has a pretty extensive discussion and it's worth reading for some informed speculation - as well as some skepticism - about what this might mean for mobility choice and truly multi-modal transportation planning and funding.

One great thing about being in Salem? If you can get time on Friday, you can hear in-person ODOT Director Matt Garrett formally introduce the project and discuss it with the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

The committee meets all day Friday in the Silver Creek Room at the Technical Leadership Center, on 4040 Fairview Industrial Drive.

Garrett will address the Committee at 9:30am. The meeting starts at 8:30am. Here's the relevant part of the agenda:
8:30 AM Administrative Business

9:30 AM Matt Garrett – Director of ODOT - (30 minutes) - New Active Transportation Section

10:00 AM Break (10 Minutes)

10:10 AM Public Comment Period/ (15 minutes)

- etc -

3:00 PMish Adjourn

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Historic Landmarks Commission to Discuss State Hospital Park Restoration

Thursday night at 5:30pm, the Historic Landmarks Commission will discuss the proposal for restoring the historic park and grounds at the State Hospital.

Because Center street is busy and can be tricky for many people, the preliminary draft concepts in the bike plan update include a shared-use path connection across Center Street between 24th and 23rd NE. This would take people on bike through the State Hospital grounds.

(The route is in dashed purple behind the label "bobolink." It would connect with sharrows on 24th and 23rd, indicated in dashed light blue.)

Here's a pre-demolition and construction aerial shot with the proposed path marked in green:

As you might imagine, there are multiple and sometimes conflicting needs to be balanced. As on the Capitol Mall - and several other places - an operating water fountain constitutes a liability concern, and the Hospital proposes a trade-off in order to preserve public access to the park area. By leaving the restored fountain dry, and filling it with pebbles as a water substitute, the Hospital is willing to leave the park open. If the fountain must operate, the park would be fenced.

Since there are other options for north-south travel in the area, this is not a critical connection. But it would be nice to preserve the possibility of a nicer crossing at Center Street and the picturesque ramble through the park. Hopefully the Landmarks Commission and Hospital will be able to land on a compromise that preserves public access.

The Commission meets Thursday, July 21, 2011, 5:30 P.M. in Council Chambers at the Civic Center.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Tyranny of Levels of Service

The Sustainable Cities Initiative just posted the final report for the Downtown Circulation Study (43pp, 3MB).

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
To see how Levels of Service gets in the way of real mobility choice, let's look at one of the projects. Here's the conclusion from the "Addition of Bike Lanes to High and Church Streets."
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.

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.
But are things really so bad?

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 = 1
full bus = 1
carpool with 4 passengers = 1
car on drive-alone trip = 1
person on foot = 0
person on bike = 0
In each of these the relevant atomic unit is the motor vehicle. Whether the motor vehicle actually has people in it is irrelevant.

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.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Go by Bike to the Art Fair! Avoid Car Hassle

People who ride their bikes to the Art Fair will get a free bag-o-chips!*

According to the press materials there will be three monitored bike parking enclosures - one more than last year! (map here)
  • Near the entry off Bush and High
  • Near the entry off Leffelle and Church
  • Near the entry at McCullough Stadium off Mission
Bring your own lock! Donations will be accepted to benefit the South Salem High School music programs.

Opinion Piece in Statesman

OBRA Director and BTA Board Member Kenji Sugahara has a piece on the opinion page today, "Cycling Gives Economy and Environment a Lift."In it he nicely rehearses the argument:
There are riders from all walks of life: law enforcement, emergency medical service responders, judges, doctors, carpenters, farmers, military personnel, Republicans, Democrats and Tea Party members. Cycling is non-partisan....Cycling creates jobs and revenue. Cycling also helps reduce road congestion, can cut your commute time and saves money.
Cycle Oregon Weekend

Salem and Willamette University hosts Cycle Oregon Weekend this weekend and expects 1,700 people on bike for three days!

* Yeah, I know...You don't have to eat them! But if losing weight can be a reason to bike, being able to enjoy some treats while maintaining weight is also a fine reason to bike. Here's more on a different kind of CHIP, if you insist.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Community Health Improvement Plan Should Encourage Bicycling

In the Statesman today is a list of the top 10 health issues in Marion County:
  • Adults who are obese
  • Adults engaging in regular physical activity
  • Teens who engage in regular physical activity
  • Adults with asthma
  • Age-adjusted death rate because of colorectal cancer
  • Prenatal care
  • Senior pneumonia vaccination rates
  • Teen fruit and vegetable consumption
  • Teen pregnancy rate
  • Teens who use marijuana
Making it easy, safe, and convenient for people to choose to bike for short trips of 3 miles or less directly addresses the first three items on the list. Unfortunately, the current transportation system, set up for and incentivizing the drive-alone car trip, encourages a host of inactive, isolating, and ultimately unhealthy choices.

In the article, Sharon Heuer, director of community benefit for Salem Hospital, suggested
the Salem-Keizer area might be able to influence cancer-related outcomes through the resources and expertise offered by the Salem Cancer Institute, she said. But smaller communities without cancer-specific clinics or leadership might not choose to target the issue in order to make a bigger impact elsewhere.
How about prevention and ordinary actions? Through a business, city, and county commitment to active transportation, some of these adverse health outcomes - and healthcare costs - can be avoided entirely! Biking's a lot cheaper than a hospital stay.

Four meetings will kick off the planning.
Led by the Marion County Health Department, the Community Health Improvement Plan focuses on engaging local residents and allowing them to set health goals and a course of action for their area....[Silverton Hospital], Salem Hospital, Santiam Memorial Hospital and Wellspring Medical Center will address health issues in their respective communities in the coming weeks.

Each of the four communities will set its own three to five health priorities and brainstorm ways to intervene.
The meeting at Salem Hospital is by invitation only, and will be at 7:30am next Wednesday.

So, what do you say, let's make Salem a world-class bicycling city! And for the county? Instead of disincentivizing bicycle travel by increased tolls on the ferry, how about encouraging bike travel! Stuff like that...

(Bottom: Smart Cycling Clinic by Jeff Leach)

Feds Approve Colored Bike Lanes for Statewide Use

Last month the Feds gave Oregon the official approval to use colored bike lanes statewide.

Previously, they'd been tested in Portland only.

A colored bike lane is a tool that has several potential uses. Some of the draft recommendations for the Salem bike plan update may employ long lengths of colored bike lane to give better definition to the space and separation from cars.

But this is not the only use. Here's an image from another state capital, Austin, Texas. It is a short length of colored bike lane to assist with a tricky crossing where the travel lane veers right and a person on bike might wish to continue straight, across the veering travel lane. Salem has some of these at the Y-intersections with Liberty and Sunnyside on South Commercial.

With Federal approval it should be easier for Salem to consider using colored bike lanes at appropriate locations.

For a sense for the sludge through which these things have to pass, here's the approval letter and the larger discussion at ODOT's page on the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

You'd think something like this would be fairly simple to adopt...but it's not.

Fortunately, a group of cities has banded together in the National Association of City Transportation Officials to create the Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Here are its recommendations for the colored bike lane.

Now that Salem has some sharrows, maybe we will see some colored bike lanes soon!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

ODOT to Create Active Transportation Section - Prelude to Full Division?

Yesterday Oregon Department of Transportation Director Matt Garrett announced his intention
to create a new “Active Transportation” section that will bring together separate programs into a more effective and efficient whole. Eventually, I would like to see a division reporting to the Deputy Director for Operations, but for now, we will start with a section.

The vision is to integrate programs and funding sources to support the selection and delivery of projects that are multidimensional transportation projects, not just a “highway” or “bikeway” or “transit” project. We want strategic project selection that provides complete transportation solutions for communities and takes advantage of the unique features of each program and funding source.
This sure sounds splendid! It looks like a new emphasis on complete streets and getting away from the highway and auto-centric view of bike projects as frills.

But given the Mica Federal House proposal to eliminate separate funding for bike/ped projects, it's not clear that this would actually align with and better manage the funding streams.

ODOT "Kremlinologists" will no doubt weigh in with more analysis and opinion. The plan could be a way to starve non-highway programs, or it could be a move towards a visionary rethinking of transportation and mobility choice. The new appointments to the Oregon Transportation Commission, Tammy Baney and Mark Frohnmeyer, come from public health and electric car backgrounds respectively, and they suggest the possibility of visionary change. Here's BikePortland's first take.

But for the moment, cautiously optimistic is probably the place to be.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Seaport Ditches Salem - Crystal Ball Says: Bikes!

Back in April it seemed reasonable to ask whether a sustainable city should subsidize air travel?

A partial answer didn't take long: There wasn't enough subsidy to compensate for weak demand. Maybe Salem doesn't really need air service.

According to the Statesman, Seaport will stop service on July 18th.

The Oregonian adds that the end of Federal subsidies appeared to drive the decision:
[Newport] city officials offered free housing and fuel discounts, they waived tie-down and landing fees -- but in the end, it just wasn't enough. Four months after state and federal subsidies stopped, SeaPort Airlines announced it will stop flying out of Newport effective next Monday.
Salem had also waived landing fees and offered several other subsidies.

So what do you say we forget chasing after air travel! Let's make Salem a world-class bicycling city!

(Lots more people bike around Salem every day than apparently fly Seaport...just sayin'. Smart Cycling Clinic by Jeff Leach)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Center Street Bike Lanes Back Open

During the construction at the State Hospital, connections east and west have been more difficult: The bike lanes disappeared and clearances were very tight. Some folks had wondered if they bike lanes were gone for good.

Just a couple of weeks ago contractors finished the rebuild of Center Street with reopened bike lanes.

Here's two views. The photos are almost from the same spot (maybe 20 feet difference, but I did miss by a little - the foliage in the upper right corner is from the same tree in both images).

September 2010 with the disappearing bike lanes.

July 2011, with the bike lanes back. There are also a couple of pedestrian medians and new crosswalks. The utilities are also underground.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

City Council, July 11th - Improving Ways to Bike Downtown

Yesterday while walking around downtown, I saw roughly an equal number of people on bikes in the street and on the sidewalk. And, speaking again in rough generalizations, those on the street had the "gear" and looked like people who biked regularly. Those on the sidewalk looked like they biked infrequently and only in fair-weather. There were lots of kids by themselves, and families with kids biking on the walks.

(Kids biking along Center Street)

Biking on the sidewalk downtown is not permitted, of course. And the sidewalks should belong to people on foot.

But the reason people bike on the sidewalk is because the roadways are terrible for biking! For people who bike regularly, it is not pleasant, and feels more dangerous than it should. For newbies, it feels like a deathwish. Downtown roads don't welcome people on bike, so we punish them for the sane choice of biking on the sidewalk.

And kids? Are we gonna make them bike in these roadways?


But maybe things are changing. Could bikes becoming the fashion downtown?

Here's an ad in the Thursday paper for the Arbor gift shop that features a tandem bike! An ad for First Wednesday also featured a bike. Anyone who of a current third example?!

At Council on Monday night, there's also a little bit of bikey goodness.

Council Goals

Very exciting to see is the Draft Council Goals for July 2011-2012. It includes a statement in support of multi-modal transportation choice and bike connectivity!
Goal: Pursue opportunities to improve overall bike, pedestrian, and vehicular connectivity.

Example Strategies to Include:
  • Build a pedestrian bridge across the Willamette Slough to connect with the Minto Brown Island Park.
  • Support Salem Keizer Transit's efforts to ensure a viable and efficient bus service is available to Salem residents; look for opportunities to strengthen the service.
  • Continue progress on the approved railroad quiet zone and implement the recommendations; make recommendations regarding expanding current efforts by placing a focus on a Chemeketa Street crossing.
  • Create a bike/pedestrian avenue downtown (possibly High, Church, Chemeketa Streets).
  • Improve bike/pedestrian connections to the Union Street Railroad Bridge.
Hopefully the city will fund and construct, not merely pursue. The focus on downtown is great to see.

State and Commercial Drive through

Much less exciting is the bank drive-through question. There may not be a good solution here. There is no question the corner needs to be developed. But it's too bad that development along State street here cannot be mixed-use with affordable housing, contribute to greater density, and be more walkable, with an emphasis on walking connections to the park, riverfront, and downtown.

We need to find ways to get people downtown without also requiring them to drive a car. More auto-centric development doesn't help in this.

A proposed site plan has been posted in the documents on whether to permit bank drive-throughs in the historic district.

While the specific parcel driving the change is at the corner of State and Commercial, it's important to remember the matter on the table is whether to permit drive-throughs generally. The specific development at this corner would also need to go through a site plan review.

(The drawing here is conceptual, and you will notice the sidewalk configuration doesn't match with the corner bulb-outs and parking.)

Monday night the specific matter is whether to hold a hearing on August 8th.

Other Matters

The City will continue the discussion on a proposal to ban smoking in parks.

A report on the Downtown Economic Improvement District. The first call for proposals was a bust, with difficult requirements and the downtown merchants and property owners quite fragmented. The City proposes to refine the call and to solicit proposals again. The new submission guidelines would go out mid-month.

Update, February 2015

I don't know truly how interesting this is, but with talk about the 2015 Council Goals, it seemed interesting to check back. Here's a report card:

That's an F!
Doesn't look so good, does it?

Friday, July 8, 2011

One in Four Oregonians Obese? Biking is Part of a Solution!

In the paper today:
Marion County's adult obesity rate is slightly higher than the state's, at 28 percent, said Kristin Jordan, a nurse educator with Salem Hospital.

She said high levels of poverty and unemployment in the county affect people's access to healthy foods and education about healthy lifestyles.
Our reliance on driving coupled with public and private subsidies for auto use together also provide a suite of disincentives for activity and active transportation.

Hopefully policy discussions will soon make the connection between city planning, transportation systems, and obesity. It's not just about choosing a healthy lifestyle off the shelf as if it were another consumer option.

The disincentives are deeply embedded and at present too inconvenient for many.

Instead, it's about making some real structural changes to the way we live.

(Top: Smart Cycling Class, Jeff Leach, Bottom: "Buildable land" on suburban periphery in totally auto-dependent areas.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Transpo Bill Proposes Return to Eisenhower America

A new direction? Ha! That's a U-turn back to a vision of 1950s America.

(It is poetically ironic touch the landscape's so barren, however.)

Here's first reaction and analysis from League of American Bicyclists, Streetsblog, and BikePortland.

More to come...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Go Downtown Salem Features Bike-Friendly Ad!

This is pretty great! Can't wait to see more of the different ways Go Downtown and downtown merchants work to make downtown more bike-friendly!

More on Buena Vista Ferry Tolls

The Buena Vista Ferry grand opening and ribbon cutting is today - though it had a soft open last month - but news that on August 5th people on bike will start paying a $1.00 toll was a downer.

Here's more from the Salem Bicycle Club newsletter:
Changes at the ferry landings in Marion County

Some of you may know this but we need to continue to get the information out to our members and all cyclists. The big news is the completion of the Buena Vista Ferry. It became operational again on or around June 24. The official ribbon cutting will be on July 6th at 3 pm. at the launch site near the intersection of Buena Vista and Talbot Roads. The public is invited.

In addition to the new ferry, rates for using both ferries in Marion County will increase. The vote was taken on Wednesday, June 22nd. The impact to cyclists is obvious. Where we used to cross for no fee we will now pay $1 per crossing. Clearly there was some communication problems getting that information out to the club and to cyclists in general in advance of the vote. As a result the county was willing to extend by 30 days when cyclists will begin to pay. Basically that means that beginning on August 6th (not July 6th) cyclists will be charged $1 per crossing. Motorcycles, cars, and trucks will also have an increase. And no, pedestrians still will not pay. (And yes, the question has been raised if you carry your bike on board are you a pedestrian or cyclist?) For now our goal is to get the information out to cyclists (members and non members) that the fees have increased.

Forecasted numbers and/or possible revenue from the cyclist fee increase: According to Marion County “Recent usage shows 4,000 riders per year at the Wheatland Ferry and 376 per month (or 4,515 per year) at Buena Vista. The new Buena Vista ferry will have extended hours - with service 7 days a week, 7 am to 7 pm. This is expected to increase usage overall by as much as 480%.”
(Image: Wheatland Ferry, Wikipedia)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Bike Doctor and Bike Dividend: Mainstream Lauds for Bikes

Yesterday the NY Times ran a note by a U-Mass economist about the "bike dividend."
Here is the economic logic behind increased efforts to promote bicycle use:

Cars enjoy huge direct subsidies in the form of road construction and public parking spaces, as well as indirect subsidies to the oil industry that provides their fuel. These subsidies far exceed the tax revenue generated by car use (as this excellent discussion of the technical issues at stake in these calculations makes clear.)

Yet cars impose major social costs: their use contributes to global warming, traffic congestion, accident fatalities and sedentary lifestyles.

Bicycle use is good for both people and the planet. In a country afflicted by obesity and inactivity, people who get moving become healthier. Riding a bike to work or to do errands is far cheaper than joining a gym. Cutting back on gas consumption improves air quality, reduces dependence on imported oil and saves money.

Lots of good links and information in the piece.

The Statesman also picked up an Oregonian piece about health care professionals who make house calls by bike:
Callahan took up cycling for the obvious benefits: exercise, avoiding traffic jams, spending less money on gas. Ohotto says he began using his bike for home visits more or less out of necessity. He wanted to commute by bike, which left him without a car at work....

Bicycling also improves the caregiver's state of mind. Callahan says riding to a client's home gives him a few invigorating minutes to breathe fresh air, get the blood circulating and clear his head. It helps lighten up interactions with clients. "I'm feeling refreshed, energized, and ready to roll," he says.
And More on Downtown Parking

The City just posted the downtown parking tax booklet (32pp pdf). If you want to understand more about the economics of "free" parking in Salem, this is essential reading.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Here's Some Bike Parking! Thousands of Bikes

Go by bike! Save money, save gas, and work towards energy independence.

The Sustainable Cities Initiative residency is done, and the final projects are all getting wrapped up, but professor Marc Schlossberg is still teaching. This summer he took a group of students to the Netherlands to look at transportation facilities.

Here's a Dutch parking facility for thousands of bikes!

It can be done.

Happy 4th of July.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Have some Shortcake on Saturday!

Without the support from our sponsors who care about sustainable transportation, each month's Breakfast on Bikes wouldn't be possible.

This weekend is the Red, White, and Blue Shortcake celebration at the Salem Public Market (they're the one on Rural Street!), so take a moment to shop with businesses who care about Salem!

That's Debra and Stephen from Cascade Baking Company, who will provide the shortcake. Be sure to pick up a loaf of bread, too!

Don't forget coffee at the Governor's Cup Coffee Roasters.

And look for the new pavillion at LifeSource Natural Foods soon.