Monday, November 25, 2013

Our MPO Meets Tuesday: Greenhouse Gas Modeling not Popular

On Tuesday the 26th, the Policy Committee for our area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study, meets at noon.  On the agenda are two items of interest:
  • A report on scenario planning for greenhouse gas emissions
  • Prioritizing Federal Surface Transportation Program (STP-U) funds and Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP-U) funds for the 2015-2020 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
October CAN-DO minutes:
"The McMahan block redevelopment will be announced soon."
Hopefully soon this gravel lot will have people and a building!

From Last Month

Also, in the draft minutes from October's meeting was an approved motion introduced by the Cherriots representative on local recommendations for a new federal transportation bill:
Motion was made by Bob Krebs, seconded by Dan Clem, to support Oregon’s Priorities for Reauthorization of Map-21 with the inclusion of the following three comments:
  1. New, separate, and additional funding sources outside of highway funding need to be developed for transit, bicycle, and pedestrian transportation projects.
  2. Do not use Map-21 funds as a tool to leverage statewide projects.
  3. Keep bikeways separate from freight route facilities.
While it's great to see the concern for people on bikes, do note that the thrust of the comments are to keep bikes in their place and to make sure there's no pesky competition between modes for multi-modal flex funds or the like.  Rather than letting bikes compete for a larger share of the total transportation pie, this recommendation would likely fix a smaller slice - would set limits - as a set-aside, dependent on other funding sources.

The freight route bit is also troublesome - as the commercial corridors where the businesses you'd want to visit are often located are also, naturally enough, freight corridors.  If you want to bike to a large grocery store, chances are it's located on a freight route. This is ok for the interstate, but not for urban state highways, parkways, and major and minor arterials. (This could dovetail with the "critical routes" identified in the proposed TSP updates.)

On the Kroc Center path, and the intention to apply for lottery-backed ConnectOregon funds, the draft minutes also note that
Committee members discussed match issues. Chair Cathy Clark commented that she would like to see if the city of Keizer could be supportive in some way; however, she cannot commit the city to that support. That would be up to the Keizer City Council. Councilor Dan Clem suggested that it might be possible to submit a joint application as the project would benefit both communities.
As far as I can tell, there is no joint application, and the match is going to come from Salem only. Not really sure how interested is Keizer actually in helping to fund this sort of thing.

The plaza on the north side of the Civic Center at 5pm on a weekday.
With a police station on this site, at least there would be people here
This Month

While it doesn't, I think, rise to the level of "smoking gun," I find it very interesting that the City of Salem wants to bail on greenhouse gas modeling.  Here's an email from the City in the meeting packet:

GHG modeling would create controversy and undermine planning
City staff write:
It is not a good time to undertake an effort like this...we are concerned that this has the potential to create controversy in the community and at Council.  In the worst case scenario, it may undermine other land use and transportation planning efforts that we need to undertake.
What other "land use and transportation planning efforts" could there be that would be "undermined"?

Like the Third Bridge, maybe? Modeling greenhouse gases and land use with a recently programmed model instead of the Commodore Vic model with its 1980s assumptions we are currently using would almost certainly cast doubt on the wisdom of a giant bridge and highway!

I don't know, maybe there are other "land use and transportation planning efforts" City staff have in mind in addition to the bridge, but it's hard to see how better greenhouse gas modeling wouldn't enhance rather than detract from rational planning efforts. I mean, if we want to fill the empty spaces in Salem, using vintage 1980s modeling is just going to keep pushing development outwards and create low-density sprawl - will exacerbate problems with greenhouse gas emissions.

SKATS and City staff are also engaged in an effort to say, "look, we're already doing a bunch of stuff for greenhouse gas reduction, so we don't need to be modeling."

SKATS staff have therefore prepared a memo that lists things like Salem Futures, Vision 2020, Bike and Walk Salem in support of this claim.  But of course these are mostly shelf studies!  Full of wise saws and modern instances - but the vast bulk of them are not being funded and implemented.  Similarly, Salem's Comprehensive Plan, which is also cited, has a good bit of positive rhetoric in it, but as we have seen repeatedly it is interpreted very loosely and sometimes just simply ignored.  The report concludes:
The intent of this paper was to exemplify the many voluntary (and best practice) efforts that are occurring to improve the multi-modal transportation system in Salem-Keizer and which has the related benefit of reducing GHG emissions.
I'm sorry, Salem executes to a "best practices" standard very infrequently, and really approaches an asymptote of "never." Oh, we talk about and aspire to plenty of "best practice," but we fund and implement hardly any.

And if we were doing better greenhouse gas modeling, that might give impetus to our stalled "best practices."

2005 Benchmarks rejected

In the memo is also a table of "Integrated Land Use and Transportation Alternative Standard and Benchmarks Proposed Measures" from 2005.  Its inclusion is very strange on the surface; as I understand it, this table was decisively rejected by the City after mediation and a long dispute with the DLCD.

2009 benchmarks adopted
This might be wrong in some detail - the saga is ridiculously complicated, and it is not reasonable for an interested citizen to try to parse it out.  More importantly, the complication here serves a strategy of obfuscation:  On this matter at least it seems the City too often tries to conceal with fine rhetoric how little it is actually doing.

The benchmark for bicycle lanes is by 2030 to have 70% coverage on streets designated for them.  The baseline in 2008 is 53% coverage - so in 20 years to go from 53% to 70%?!  That's a pretty low expectation for plain bike lanes, and not worthy of a serious effort to mitigate and reduce greenhouse gases.

Altogether, for both the City and our MPO, it's disingenuous to appeal to dormant shelf studies and largely ignored plan rhetoric in order to forestall greenhouse gas modeling. Or, rather, it looks exceedingly cynical and calculated.

The 2015-2020 Federal funding cycle item is a reflection that there is unsurprisingly a longer list of proposed projects than can be funded.  See here for Salem's ranked list.

SKATS Policy Committee meets at noon on Tuesday the 26th at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200 above La Capitale and Bar Andaluz.


Curt said...

I don't know what to make of our staff. Its hard to imagine anyone goes into planning, even in Salem, so they can live out their dream to build disconnected neighborhoods, strip malls and stroads that are cooking the planet. But we do seem to attract all the castoffs from other cities and the ones with talent bail whenever their is an opportunity. They seem to value job preservation above all else and the fewer standards they have to meet the better. But if I were a planner in Salem looking at what I had to work with--Salem has dug a pretty deep hole for itself. Every city is a product of all the collective actions and inactions it residents have taken over the years and Salem is no different. Look at Salem Community Vision. They can't even accept that 23+13=36. As a planner, if you can't even get citizens to accept 2nd grade math--what are the chances you can get them to support quality urbanism? Its at least plausible that they are just protecting themselves from their constituents that refuse to accept their happy motoring utopia is cooking the planet.

Mike D said...

I went to part of the meeting. At the public comment period (I was the only public), I mentioned my support for mandatory commitment to the Greenhouse Gas Reduction planning. I got some of the handouts if you are interested in reading/sharing them.

FYI-Craig Pope from Polk County BOC said that (paraphrasing) the reason why there is a push for a third bridge is because it will reduce congestion. This came up during some discussion about moving cars more efficiently so they're not in traffic. He said nothing about all of the other ways to move PEOPLE more efficiently.

Brian Hines said...

Great reporting on the disturbing Peter Fernandez memo. I used your post as the basis for my own blogging on this subject:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Mike -

Here's a link to the meeting packet. Were there handouts not included in this packet?

The rationale for the bridge has always included reducing ghg emissions by reducing slow-moving or idle traffic. The modeling, of course, doesn't include the ghg increase from induced demand and corresponding vmt increases. The DEIS uses old models - there's that Commodore VIC again! - that allow the project team to say that building the bridge is actually greener than the no-built option.

"The energy analysis shows that, in 2031, the operation of vehicles...with the No Build Alternative would use more energy than the Build alternatives.... This is primarily because, compared with the Build alternatives, the No Build Alternate would have increase vehicle volumes, lower travel speeds, and longer travel distances in the study area."

This cockamamie language, inhabiting some alternate universe of its own, comes from Chapter 3.17, Energy of the DEIS.