Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reducing the Cost of School Busing Shouldn't be Complicated

Apparently at the School District budget meeting last night folks were asking about the costs of busing.

Here's some ideas!

1) Don't duplicate bus service - use Cherriots for Jr. High and High School Students.
2) Offer in-class Bike Safety Ed for every 5th and 6th grader with the expectation that Jr. High School and High School students will walk and bike to school.
3) Develop Safe Routes programming at every school and fund infrastructure improvements.

The way bus service is funded is something of a boondoggle - and I know there are readers who understand it better and can comment more incisively!

New Toy! Database Tracks Housing Costs Plus Transportation Costs

Most of the time house "affordability" is articulated as "drive 'til you qualify." Affordable housing is centrifugally located on the suburban periphery, most often far from employment centers.

A new database adds in transportation costs to housing costs to arrive at a "true" home cost.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oregonian Headline Knocks Portland Cyclists into Slough of Despond

No citations were issued.


Ok, so it's nice to be able to have a little bit of fun for a moment. But we're not immune!

I bet this spring we'll see some of the "bikes cost too much" rhetoric heat up - as it's already in play with the Planning Commission, though to be fair much of it is also budgetary-realism about making choices in a world of limited resources.

It's something to watch and stay on top of, and I'm sure we'll circle back around to it soon. Making the economic case for bikes will almost certainly be more important in the months to come, and the form of the arguments and rhetoric will be the same whether they happen in Portland or Salem. Bikes should be seen as cheap and amazingly efficient, not as frills.

For more analysis and debate, see BikePortland, Mia Birk, and the Portland Mercury.

Santiam to Open New Shop!

Holy Smokes! Presumably this is expansion, not relocation. And that's great news. Stay tuned for more!

Legislative Update - Finals

There's been no chatter from the BTA on the session, and I've found nothing of much significance, so it seems clear this session has not been very important for people who bike. Unless something new comes up, I don't think I'll post any more on the session.

House Bill 4043 on reinstating suspended drivers licenses (chiefly for minors who try to buy alcohol and get their licenses suspended) passed the Senate and is now on to the Governor.

House Bill 4167 would have increased the fines from $25 to $100 for kids who bike without helmets - but these provisions were stripped out in the version that passed the House. The new version is in the Senate, but the bill now has no relevance for people who bike.

House Bill 4148 with a fee on studded tires died in committee.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

City Council, Feb 27th - Airport Expansion and Mixed Use Bone Parcel

If only the City pursued improvements for people who walk and bike with the same zeal they pursue improvements for people who own jets and other aircraft.

We have a small, storefront airport, and given the track record of consistent failure without gigantic subsidies, and the prospects for increasing fuel costs, it seems most reasonable to conclude that Salem is best served by airports in Portland and Eugene.

Surely as far as regional transportation goes the community would be better served by focusing our energies and our dollars on improving rail connectivity to Portland and Eugene.

On Monday Council will entertain a proposal to accept the new Airport Master Plan for runway expansion and forward it to FAA, and to schedule a hearing before the Planning Commission on the amendments.


An expansion seems like a real inefficient use money, that will benefit a disproportionate few, and be blow to sustainability. Several commenters on the plan agree. Citing the history of declining activity, one writer says "there is simply no need for Salem's airport to expand in any way":

Friday, February 24, 2012

Prospects for $4 Gas? Start Thinking about Fuel-Free Fridays!

Indications are strong that gas is going to hit $4 a gallon this spring and summer.

If you read here regularly, you already bike, but what about your friends and colleagues? May is National Bike Month - but start with baby steps!

Here's an easy way to whack as much as 20% of fuel costs: Make a commitment to Fuel-Free Fridays. Make the commute and errands by bike or on foot.

Or pick a different day of the week to go gas-free.

Or tape a reminder next to your car ignition, and ask yourself whether you really need the car for each trip.

Folks don't have to go whole-hog with bike transportation. But if they can make enough of the short trips by bike - well, maybe they'll think about ditching the second car. Think of the savings!

This writer certainly has.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

2011 Summer Bike Counts: Commuting Down 3%

So the last time gas was $4 a gallon, it seemed like there was a bump in bicycling in Salem. Are we headed there again this summer?

In the intervening years, with gas a bit cheaper, and with fewer jobs to commute to during the Great Recession, bicycling hasn't seemed to be growing. Last year was no different.

Across 8 sites, from 2010 to 2011, bike commuting in Salem was down 3%.

Bikey Businesses: Steel Bridge Coffee joins Fox Blue and Salem Weekly in Bike Delivery

Last fall Joseph Penner started roasting small batches of coffee and delivering them by bike around Salem. He calls his business Steel Bridge Coffee, in honor of the Union Street Railroad Bridge.

Joseph and I were going to get together in late November for a story, but with weather and the holidays we never managed to connect.

In the meantime, they've worked on a neat video. Check out the second half for the bike delivery!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Legislative Update - Week 2

While there are rallies going on today, it doesn't look like anything of real significance for bicycling is going to happen this session.

House Bill 4148 with a fee on studded tires looks liked it died in committee.

House Bill 4043 on reinstating suspended drivers licenses passed the House and is now in the Senate. I guess it's all about minors who try to buy alcohol and get their licenses suspended. Funny thing to prioritize just now - a bill to generate revenue on studded tires dies, but this is viable and important?

House Bill 4167 would increase the fines from $25 to $100 for kids who bike without helmets. Two work sessions and a hearing have been held. It seems to be still viable.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Orchard Heights and Doaks Ferry: Missing the Kids for the Cars?

In the Statesman Journal today, Timm Collins asks about the safety of the intersection of Doaks Ferry and Orchard Heights in West Salem.

The general conclusion seemed to be that while motorist behavior in the intersection and along Orchard Heights was concerning, by absolute count of crashes and fatalities, the intersection was nowhere near the worst in Salem.
The intersection may have seen several serious crashes in the last few years — complete crash data was not available — but the city maintains the intersection is safe when driving at the posted speed limit of 40 mph.

"If you are driving the speed limit, you are not going (to) lose control of your car because of how the intersection is built," said Kevin Hottman, traffic engineer from Salem's Public Works Department.

Hottman said other intersections in Salem see far more crashes, and Doaks Ferry and Orchard Heights wouldn't even be in the top 50.
The sidebar listing the City's top 10 intersections by crash numbers indeed pointed to difficult and dangerous places - with Lancaster leading the way.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Remember Kidical Mass this Sunday!

Don't forget, the inaugural ride for Kidical Mass 2012 takes place on Sunday!

Meet at the crooked house playground at Bush Park at 1:00pm on Sunday, the 19th.

Here's a view from the kick-off in 2010!

I'm not sure what route Curt has planned, but I know fun is in the works.

Welcome back, KMS!

(Bottom image from 2010 kick off ride.)

West Salem Neighborhood Association to Talk Traffic and Bikes Monday

Monday night the West Salem Neighborhood Association will discuss traffic on Wallace Road and Bike and Walk Salem.

The meeting will be Monday, February 20, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. in Roth's West, Mezzanine at 1130 Wallace Road NW.

The agenda is here and the previous meeting minutes here.

Some of the topics include the intersection of Wallace and Glen Creek and the old railroad bed and crossing at the end of the Union St. Railroad Bridge.

There's a lot of other stuff too.

If you live or work in West Salem, check out the minutes and attend the meeting. There may be some momentum there! Hearing from concerned people who bike will be important to maintain and strengthen it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

OSH Memorial, Bank Drive-Through, Speculative Architecture for Keizer

I continue to be staggered by the brilliance of the restoration and preservation of the historic J building at the State Hospital. If you haven't gone by, you should do so. It's easy to walk or bike by. The internet is full of pictures of dilapidation and ruin, so you can do the before/after easily.

At the Historic Landmarks Commission tonight they were going to introduce the plans for the Cremains Memorial. That's been postponed, but here's the 1890s building with a mid-century sidebox addition.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Recency Distorts Traffic Analysis and Projections with Wild Growth

We all have a short memory. Recency bias is pretty well documented. It seems even professional planners sometimes struggle to account for much more than a generation. They use trend lines based on the most recent decade or two - probably their young adulthood - but seldom ask whether these years offer the best guide to the future. But the life of a city, even young cities like those in America, has longer and more enduring patterns.

Sometimes a longue durée might be a better guide. We see this especially as we look at the post-war distortions created by cheap oil. Eisenhower America is over, but you'd never know it by standard Planning doctrine.

The orthodoxy is visible in projects large and small. Reading the supplemental materials for the Bone Parcel in December, I found a set of assumptions in the consultant's Transportation Impact Study that look not just exceptionally robust, but even crazy.

For all of the intersections but one, with the City's blessing the consultant assumed an annual growth rate of 5% in car traffic.

Over the 20 year horizon, a 5% rate represents an increase of 250% over the current car traffic volumes!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Morningside 360 Update

The SCAN meetings last week reminded me to check in on the Morningside neighborhood. You may recall that late last fall the neighborhood association kicked off the Morningside 360 project to update the neighborhood plan.

The document library is full of documents, and if you're not already involved some of it is worth browsing. Here's the 1984 neighborhood plan. It's disheartening to read the list of needed sidewalks and to see how many on the list still need sidewalks.

Results of the surveys have been posted, and the notes on Parks and Open Space are interesting.

The City also gave a presentation on the Transportation System Plan, and posted notes on the February 2nd transportation discussion.

A lot of the neighborhood issues stem from the mid-century and heavily auto-dependent development patterns.

Monday, February 13, 2012

City Council, Feb 13th - The Madness of a $500 Million+ Rivercrossing Project

Courthouse Square is a $50 Million fiasco. So let's think about something ten times as big, a $500 Million fiasco. Think about ten whole downtown blocks, each with all the buildings condemned.

Here's the bad news at City Council tonight, a local issue that really does merit DEFCON 2 status. Nothing in our best available modeling suggests in 50 years we will need a hugely expanded transportation infrastructure built around the drive-alone car trip and cheap energy. Absolutely nothing. There's no reason we should be destroying neighborhoods and building for a world of cheap energy and cheap transportation.

On the contrary, everything in the best available modeling suggests we need to attend to seismic reinforcement and general preservation of existing infrastructure and the reallocation of that infrastructure for a more efficient use of transportation choices and modes. A half-billion or more is a lot of money, especially just now. It's an extravagance we just cannot afford - in so many different ways.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

City Council, February 13th - State St Goes Two-Way for another Block?

Let's start off with some good news!*

In advance of the Downtown Circulation Study, which will assess converting a substantial part of the one-way grid to two-way traffic, City Council will consider converting one block of State Street, between Liberty and Commercial.

The former Bicycle Manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation used to say that the single best thing Salem could do for bicycling was to ditch the one-way grid and return to two-way traffic. This is a step!

Oh, it's not perfect. More could be done for mobility choice. I hope more consideration will be given to the lane widths and making sure people who bike are not crowded against the rear of angle parking and in the door zones. Maybe more sharrows are in order here, too. I also wish the parking were reconfigured. But this is a step, and after the downtown circulation study there should be more steps. I'm excited about this.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Pringle Square's Inactive Edges: The Curse of Blank Walls and Border Vacuums

One of the issues with the Blind School lot, and the Hospital's plan to develop it, is the question of edge conditions. The neighborhood has suggested a sort of triangle for structure: Along Church Street low buildings, low intensity activity, and greenscape should be the predominant note; building height and activity should slope upwards to meet the mid-rise and more intense kind of development in the hospital towers and buildings on Winter Street.

Edge conditions, the way development borders on the edges of contiguous or otherwise neighboring development, whether public or private, is very important.

As I have thought about Pringle Square, I am more and more sure the key is the street and sidewalk level connections. As presently designed, they will be inert and blank, barriers rather than invitations and activators.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

SCAN Discusses Church Street, Supports Active Transportation

About 50 people met last night in the South Salem High School library to talk about the Hospital's plan for a parking lot on the Blind School property. It was cheering, as neighbors with multiple backgrounds and interests all expressed general support for walking and biking.

As one of the items on the agenda was the contentious proposal for a connection between the Fairmount and Candelaria neighborhoods, I was not expecting a broad consensus, and indeed neighbors did disagree on some details when folks drilled down. But go up a level and folks were nearly unanimous in supporting facilities for people who walk and bike.

Tell Rep. Schrader to Kill the Bill; Cherriots starts Long-Range Plan

Transportation for America sent out a note yesterday about the House Transportation Reauthorization.

"Kill the bill," they say. It's true: It's lousy.

Take a moment to send Rep. Schrader a note. Or call or write snail mail.

Salem District Office
494 State Street, Suite 210
Salem, OR 97301
Phone: (503) 588-9100
Fax: (503) 588-5517

Let Rep. Schrader know you support robust transportation choices with safe facilities for people who walk and bike.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

SCAN to Discuss Church Street and Parking Lot at Blind School Parcel

Tonight, the 8th, at 6:30pm in the South Salem High School library, the South Central Association of Neighbors will discuss the Hospital's plan for the Blind School.

At last month's meeting neighbors talked a little about the hospital's plans for an employee parking lot of about 300 stalls. It would have driveways both on Winter and Church Streets, but not on Mission. Neighbors are concerned about impacts to the most pleasant low-traffic street between Liberty and 12th - both High and Winter have slightly higher traffic volumes, but aren't as pleasant.*

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Here's some WOW: Cycle Oregon Announces Huge Study for Bike Trail to Coast

Now that's visionary! I'm sure there will be lots on this tomorrow.

Legislative Update - Week 1 Proper

Bills needed to be assigned to a committee by yesterday in order to remain alive, and there was considerable fallout.

Additionally, being focused on the budget, the session doesn't look like it will propose anything of real significance for transportation and especially for bicycling. Other transportation advocates and lobbyists don't appear to have highlighted significant bills for support or opposition. (If you know of something, chime in!)

House Bill 4148 with a fee on studded tires has been referred to Ways and Means.

House Bill 4043 on reinstating suspended drivers licenses has also been referred to Ways and Means.

House Bill 4167 would have increased the fines from $25 to $100 for kids who bike without helmets, but that seems to have died without being assigned to a committee.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bikes and Business: Former Mayor on Salem Business Journal

I'm not exactly sure what this means, but of all the images of former Mayor Janet Taylor the Salem Business Journal might have used, they selected one of her on a bicycle (probably the Eneloop). That's a nice editorial choice for her recognition as First Citizen!

Ron Keleman, who is also receiving a Distinguished Service award, bikes regularly, and has come to B on B occasionally.

You can read the issue here (10mb pdf).

The Long Beach Business Journal just published a story about bike-friendly business districts:
With the assistance from a grant from Los Angeles County, Long Beach has been on the cutting edge of exploring how bicycles can form “Bike-Friendly Business Districts.” These districts can form the core of a local business transportation infrastructure that can solve the problem of improving traffic flow as well as provide side benefits to businesses and residents alike.
Hopefully Salem's businesses will also embrace bicycling as part of a solution to congestion that also improves livability and health - and frequency of customer visits!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Serendipity as Innovation Engine: Mike Nord and Encounters with Strangers

In addition to being a musician and professor Mike Nord is also a regular bike commuter! He is the captain of the Bike Commute Challenge team for Willamette University.

One of the subtexts in Barbara Curtin's profile of him in today's paper is the role of a city in fostering random encounters between strangers that generate culturally and economically useful ideas:
In the mid-1980s, two chance encounters on public transit would change the course of his life.

The first involved the "F" subway train from Brooklyn to Manhattan. We'll let Nord's wife, Ann Kresge, tell this part of the tale:

"I was in grad school, going to the east side of New York City for a graphic design meeting," she said. "He was going to the west side to play in a big band."

Waiting at their Brooklyn subway stop, Nord noticed Kresge's artist's portfolio and started a conversation. They boarded the train together and talked until he got off to change trains in Manhattan.

"I decided to take a risk. I got off, and we started chatting again," said Kresge. "We exchanged phone numbers and got together the next day. We've been together 30 years."

The second encounter happened on on a Manhattan-bound bus where Nord struck up a conversation with fellow musician. The man invited Nord to his home studio, where he was manipulating jazz guitar with electronics.
In a long reflection on the relationship between cities and the social/economic engine of serendipity, Ethan Zuckerman writes
We hope that cities are serendipity engines. By putting a diverse set of people and things together in a confined place, we increase the chances that we’re going to stumble onto the unexpected....

If you wanted to encounter a set of ideas that were radically different than your own – say those of a confrontational homeless guy who sleeps in a tub [Diogenes here, but by extension any sort of innovator or gadfly] – your best bet in an era before telecommunications was to move to a city. Cities are technologies for trade, for learning, for worship, but they’re also a powerful communication technologies. Cities enables realtime communication between different individuals and groups and the rapid diffusion of new ideas and practices to multiple communities. Even in an age of instantaneous digital communications, cities retain their function as a communications technology that enables constant contact with the unfamiliar, strange and different....

There were more economic opportunities in cities, especially for the landless poor, and an array of jobs made possible from the international trade that flowed through the ports. For some, the increased intellectual opportunities provided by universities and coffee houses was an attraction, while for others, the opportunity to court and marry outside of closed rural communities was the reason to relocate. Amsterdam built itself to prominence in the 1600s in part by allowing French Huguenots, Spanish and Portuguese Jews and Dutch Catholics to worship relatively freely – such religious tolerance would have been much harder to find in rural areas....
One of the real costs to a transportation system focused on the drive-alone trip is the loss of a large class of random encounters.

Even in an age of twitter and facebook and foursquare, the face-to-face encounter remains important, and as cities strive for economic innovation - as Salem strives for a stronger and more fruitful economy - the "invisible hand" of the marketplace of ideas works best when the same people aren't having the same conversations, over and over. Novelty and the unexpected are critical for innovation, and a robust transportation system that offers mobility choice, and fosters novelty and the unexpected encounter, should be an important ingredient in economic development. Call it "the big sort," a cocoon, or echo chamber - however you say it, the expanse of the same provides comfort and the familiar, but innovation for the future arises most often from the unfamiliar and even the uncomfortable.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

40 year or 100 year Flood? Either Way High Water Comes Often to Minto

First they called it a "40-year" event, then a "100-year." I'm pretty sure it was not a 100 year flood. Both the 1996 and 1964 floods, which have been characterised as 100 year events, were much higher.

Unfortunately, the City makes figuring flood elevations rather difficult! There are two gauge scales, and two vertical elevation scales (called a vertical datum). Without specifying a scale - perhaps experts are able to infer the proper one - a number is not very meaningful.

Figuring this out is a handful!

The details of my calculations are here.

The recent flooding raised the Willamette to about 138.5 feet, well below the 100-year mark of 143.7 feet you see here on this elevation detail of the Proposed Minto Bridge and Path.

But even the landing, at just under 132 feet, will often be under high water. The Willamette's flood stage is on this scale about 137 feet, so with water 5 feet under flood stage, the path landing on the Minto side will be submerged! The path and bridge will in many ways only be usable in fair weather.

Update, Feb 8th:

Well, the river it turns out is not in flood or very high water nearly as much as I feared. Using a table of daily mean river elevations from 1988 on, out of 8539 days of readings, only 142 days showed river elevations over 131 feet (about 21.5 on the graph), which would be the low point of the Minto path (I don't know what elevations there are already in the park, if that path system goes even lower, however). You can see maybe 15 peaks that go over this threshold in the 24 year period. So that's on average a week or maybe two, of high water each year. I was thinking it might be measured in weeks or months rather than days.

I wish the City would discuss this openly, though. I think it's reasonable for citizens to want to know how often they should expect not to be able to use a +/- $7M facility.

For more detail and discussion see this previous note.

Map from the SJ.

Update, December 16th, 2014

Here they are on one scale!

Table from "Historic Peakflows"
NOAA Northwest River Forecast Center

By this measure, the 2012 flood was distant from the 100 year events of 1996 and 1964 - and vastly smaller than the epic floods of the 19th century.

However, Minto Park experiences "high water" closures even in non-flood events. Even when the river is lower than park elevations, the swampy land is slow to drain, and standing water closes paths.

The City has still not addressed in a meaningful way the question of how often the paths and bridge will be closed seasonally.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Vision 2020 Looks at Bike/Ped Funding Sources and Sighs

In the furor over the proposed House Transportation Reauthorization, and the possible loss of dedicated funding for biking and walking facilities, the City's choice to depend on these grant sources is a timely illustration of the ways the system isn't working.

At Wednesday's meeting of the Vision 2020 Bike/Ped Workgroup, the principal topic was a review of funding sources and grant opportunities for bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

On the City side, discussion was slack, lacking vision and verve.

We spent nearly the entire hour and a half just going over the basics of each funding source. I had hopes the City would have candidates for each one and would show a draft plan for the next couple of years!

Staff did not. And it seemed the City's passion and vision has dwindled, whether on the Vision 2020 side or the Bike and Walk Salem side. Advocating for non-motorized transportation is not something on which the City really seems to want to lead.

So the real question may be about leadership and an enthusiasm gap.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hopewell Road Shows Apperson Crash Markings

Oregon Bicycle Racing Association Executive Director Kenji Sugahara today visited the Hopewell Road site where on Friday David Apperson was killed and took some pictures. You can see the complete set here.

The markings appear to establish that the road, and Apperson, was just about to veer left and head east-bound. The Sheriff's press release and the rewrites in the Oregonian and Statesman, saying that he was west-bound, were almost certainly in error.

The road cut also casts doubt on the claim the driver was looking into the sun. If the cut and Apperson was in the shade, as several accounts have suggested, the sun would have been on the right, obscured by the cut's walls. If the sun was overhead and in a driver's eyes, Apperson also would have been in the sun. It is difficult to maintain at the same time that Apperson was in shade and that the driver was looking into the sun.

However, there is still much uncertainty, unfortunately. There's a lot of speculation out there. But the images do suggest, as many advocates and people who ride have feared, that the crash investigation may have have shown a bias in favor of the truck-driver, who may have been distracted or driving in a less-than-safe manner after all. At the very least it makes you wonder about observing the basic rule.

As I get meaningful updates on the crash I will continue to post them.

(Image: Kenji Sugahara.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Advocates go DEFCON 2 over Proposed Federal Transportation Reauthorization

The League of American Bicyclists as well as the Portland Bicycle Transportation Alliance has gone all hands on deck over the new proposed transportation bill.

The American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act would axe a bunch of dedicated pots of money for walking and biking.