One little bit of irony, likely unintended however, crept in.
The inset photo of the person biking shows him biking against traffic! This is at Winter and Chemeketa, looking at the State Library building. The person on bike is going east on Chemeketa in the west-bound lane, using the angled curb parking zone on the north edge of the street.
Instead, I think we should read it as evidence that downtown remains far from "bike-friendly." Chemeketa has sharrows and yet we all see plenty of people for whom going down the center of the lane at the apex of the chevrons remains a very uncomfortable experience. Striping two new bike lanes will by themselves not make High and Church Streets "bike-friendly," attracting new people to bike downtown. Instead the lanes will represent an incremental improvement that mostly serves people who already bike downtown. To say the new lanes will "give more confidence to novice cyclists" is something of an overstatement. Novices are still most likely to avoid downtown. (This is also to make cycling into a complicated skill or hobby. We don't very often say that a new lane treatment will give more confidence to novice drivers - even though it is driving, not bicycling, that usually employs lethal mass and speed!)
The opening to each story also strikes different tone.
On bike lanes:
Commuters, tourists, exercisers and other cyclists will soon be able to travel along two more downtown Salem streets in separate, marked bike lanes.On congestion relief:
The city is working to transform High and Church streets NE by this summer from three-lane roadways to bicycle-friendly streets, each complete with parking, buffer zones and bike lanes.
For commuters and residents looking for traffic relief in South Salem, things will get worse before they get better, as several construction projects to widen roads and speed up intersections begin in April.Though it's hardly a contrast in black and white terms, and I don't want to oversell the difference, still there's a differing emphasis in tone between making something "friendly" and doing the more serious work of "clearing congestion." It used to be that advocates would complain that bikes were considered a toy, and we are clearly not dealing with that problem here. But there's still a sense in which the accommodations for people biking are an amenity, an extra, and accommodations for those in cars the critical, core service. The lack of accommodation and safety for non-auto users downtown isn't quite yet a problem on par with the problem of "terrible congestion." Much of the tone originates, I am sure, with the press releases from the City that are driving the coverage. But of course it still echoes popular sentiment.
City officials are hoping intersection improvements at Commercial Street SE and Kuebler Boulevard SE, widening on eastbound Kuebler Boulevard SE and upgrades near Salem Airport will reduce terrible congestion and address safety issues for the regions growing population and businesses. The three major projects carry a total budget of $19.5 million and span from April to December.
This points to the underlying disconnect in the way we talk about mobility. It also shows the way our rhetoric is still too often symbolic and unmoored from facts or reality.
As N3B pointed out the other day, according to ODOT surveys, at least relative to the rest of the state, Salemites don't actually think we have "terrible congestion."
|via ODOT Research|
Portlanders lead the way with 63% saying they have a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem.
- Portland - 63%
- Eugene - 41%
- Bend - 34%
- Medford/Ashland - 33%
- Salem - 27%
- Rural - 22%
- Other urban - 22%
Salem does not have "terrible congestion" and we are wasting millions of dollars on solutions in search of a real problem.
So if "terrible congestion" isn't perceived as a real problem, what about that purported solution? The greater problem is that the dredging operation we call "widening" is ineffective.
Even California recognizes this. "Increasing highway capacity unlikely to relieve traffic congestion." When you build more road, people just drive more. We can't build our way out of congestion.
|Adding lanes doesn't work (CalDOT)|
|via New York DOT|
More people on bike, of course, use the lanes, and so the total number of people traveling by the roadway increased by a substantial amount.
If we want to relieve congestion and improve the mobility of people, investing in bike lanes and transit will do a whole lot more - and is a lot cheaper - than building new auto travel lanes.
At the moment we still talk about transportation in mode silos. We talk about making downtown streets more bike-friendly as if this is a favor to people who want to bike. But making them better for people on bike will also improve performance for lots of other road users, including the storefronts and business-owners themselves.
|Sales tax data from Salt Lake City showed|
bike lanes correlated with increased sales
Once we start talking about the mobility of people who have a realistic menu of options in their transportation toolbox, then we'll know we've made real progress.