Friday, August 12, 2016

Controversy over Cost of Downtown Bike Lanes is Unwarranted

A footnote meant for internal communication only was not edited out of a public message on the bike lanes for High and Church Street, and it doesn't look very good. Especially in light of the proposals to overbuild a new Police Station and overbuild a giant new highway and bridge across the Willamette River, it seems to feed a narrative of an out-of-control and secretive city.

The truth in this case is the opposite.

Construction costs might be higher than we like, but relative to industry norms, the City of Salem routinely brings in small road construction projects under budget. The costs from the 2008 road bond projects came in about 80% of budget and by adding a bunch of smaller projects, the City was able to add by count of projects another 50%. Sure, much of this was during the Great Recession, but the facts are that the City is not profligate on small and medium-sized road projects.

The project for bike lanes for Church and High is no different.

Budgeted for $600,000 in 2015 CIP
In the Capital Improvements Plan for 2015-2020 adopted over a year ago by City Council on page 41 the project is budgeted for $600,000.

There was no secrecy here.

The estimated public cost is also consistent with the City of Salem's recent explanation of the budget in the context of the email mistake:
"The engineer’s estimate for constructing the project was $254,191.25. The winning competitive bid was $243,567.98," [spokesman Mike Gotterba] said. "Funding-wise this project was budgeted at $140,000 by Public Works and up to $600,000 was available if needed from Urban Development."
So the real story here is that the project is coming in under budget.

There's also the matter of scale.

At 17th and Mill
A typical enhanced crosswalk with a pedestrian refuge median (no flashing beacon) is in the neighborhood of $50,000 or $60,000 - the same amount the SRC is spending on average each month. Imagine, well over 100 medians for walking safety!

By this measure, the cost for 10 or 12 (it's actually 14+) blocks of downtown bike lane and parking reconfiguration is proportional.

This was a $10 million project
(Looking down Glen Creek towards Wallace Park)
When the Glen Creek/Wallace interchange cost around $10 million, this project on Church and High only costs about 2% of that total. Again, is this really so out of proportion?

Grinding out angle parking lines, adding new parallel stalls
High Street bike lanes, August 2016
via Twitter
Grinding the asphalt on High and Church - remember there are lane markings and parking striping that have to be modified - as well as changing signing - the whole project is more than just simply slapping down some paint overnight.

There are things to criticize the City on. The project for bike lanes on High and Church is not one of them. It's too bad the PM left in her remark unedited, but that is not a meaningful admission or gaffe. It is instead a comment on our propensity to overreact, and a comment on the climate the City has fostered by their obstinacy in pursuing a philosophy of overbuilding on our largest projects.

Please let's save our outrage for the SRC and not waste it on valuable, if imperfect, projects like bike lanes downtown. If we want the City to pursue a more rational transportation policy, flipping-out over the cost of bike lanes, or fanning an environment in which project managers worry that the public will flip-out about small projects, will be counter-productive.


Robert Cortright said...

It would be very helpful if there were a more detailed cost breakdown for the project. How much of the $243,000 went for new striping and how much was spent on the actual pavement work, grinding and resurfacing?

Jim Scheppke said...

Bob is right. To the uninformed this seems like an awful lot of money for bike lines. A detailed explanation of why this is so expensive would be very helpful. I'm unconvinced that this is a reasonable amount of money to pay for bike lanes. I know it's apples and oranges, but to operate the West Salem Branch Library 31 hours a week in 2016-17 will cost $152,920.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Here's some "road apples" for something closer to an apples-to-apples comparison! The project list with initial estimates from the 2008 bond measure. What do you think is the right amount for 14+ blocks of bike lane and restriping?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Here also is a summary of a paper from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Highway Safety Research Center. They found in 2013 that the average cost per mile of a bike lane was about $130,000.

This project is a little over a mile, I think, and basically all the parking stalls and most of the auto travel lanes have to be ground away and restriped; and the bike lanes are all totally new. Really, the whole road is being reconfigured - so it's not very accurate to call it just adding bike lanes on top of an otherwise unchanged parking and lane configuration.

It should not be surprising then that the per-mile cost on this project might be higher than average. (The highest example in the study was over $500,000/mile, and ours would still be well under that maximum.)

So it seems like there two possible arguments here:

A) The City has padded this project unnecessarily. But there is no evidence for this, and until there is specific evidence for fraud or carelessness on this particular project, it is not useful to advance it as a cudgel against the City.

B) Road Construction in general is unnecessary expensive. If this is your argument, please don't make Bike Lanes the poster child for the High Cost of Road Construction..That move only reinforces the "bike lanes are fringe things" stance and makes it harder for the City to plan future bike lanes. Instead, criticism might be better directed at all the work on Kuebler, which is more than an order of magnitude more expensive than the bike lanes here and just induces more demand.

Robert Cortright said...

Not jumping to any conclusion, just yet. Again, I'd just like more information on the cost breakdown of this particular project and what was involved. It's easy to imagine that reworking a busy downtown street is more complicated and expensive, for things like signage and traffic control. It would simply be good to know why this particular project cost so much when, in general terms, restriping existing pavement should be a relatively low-cost way to add bike lanes... It's something that we should be routinely doing on urban streets when they are repaved: that is, narrowing travel lanes and adding or widening bike lanes. When we put a new layer of asphault on, we have to add new stripes anyway, the additional cost of adding bikelanes should be pretty close to zip.

Sarah Owens said...

"Especially in light of the proposals to overbuild a new Police Station and overbuild a giant new highway and bridge across the Willamette River, it seems to feed a narrative of an out-of-control and secretive city." "But there is no evidence for this, and until there is specific evidence for fraud or carelessness on this particular project, it is not useful to advance it as a cudgel against the City."

Walker said...

For me the issue is not the cost but the perfect reflection of the lack of integrity in City of Salem culture, which sees the citizens of Salem as a problem to be managed by withholding or carefully selecting the information to be released based on the managers' goals of a docile citizenry that forks over whenever demanded by their betters on the Chamber/SEDCOR and City.

The Police Station fiasco is a perfect example -- there is pretty near universal agreement, well over 90% I'd guess -- that we need to get the police out of the death trap that they're in right now.

Indeed, a responsible city government would order the police to stop using the death trap immediately and to treat the looming emergency as an emergency, meaning that they would divide up their functions and temporarily occupy existing buildings until new space(s) can be purpose built for the police.

But City of Salem isn't content with a plan that respects citizen concerns about building the Taj Mahal of police stations while we still have horribly deficient public services in need of serious upgrades (library, transit, bike and walk projects). So it's going to come down to Salem forcing people to reject bonds for a new Police HQ in order to be heard at all, simply because the culture of Salem governance has been and continues to be officials telling the people "Shut up and do what we tell you, we know best."

The cost of the new bike features is a pittance. The cost of having that attitude revealed so clearly is enormous.

Rich Trotto said...

I'd suggest that people who are questioning the cost should go down to Church St, around Ferry and see the work being done there. Also, as a driver who drives up Church often, it's surprising how this project has made navigating the stretch around Center and Marion much simpiler. Before they put in the bike lane, cars were always making last minute lane changes there. Now, it's obvious what lane people should be in and there's less opportunity to jump around from one lane to another.