Tuesday, March 28, 2017

At the MPO: A Legislative Update and Center St Bridge Possibility

Our local Metropolitan Planning Organization meets today, Tuesday the 28th, and maybe the most interesting thing buried in the agenda is potential interest with the Legislature and ODOT in funding a seismic retrofit on the Center Street Bridge.

Much of this is speculative or potential, work-in-progress at the Legislature, and it's probably not a good idea to focus too much on one detail or another. But it's not nothing!

You may recall from the fall that some bonus money in our current cycle is funding a seismic study to formulate a plan for the bridge, and today's agenda item talks about a chance that construction on it could be funded as part of the omnibus Transportation Package.

The agenda item in question is an update on the meetings of the Joint Committee on Transportation Preservation and Modernization. SKATS has been monitoring one of the subcommittees, the Congestion Work Group:
[The full Joint] Committee members were divided into four work groups....SKATS and Central Lane MPO staff have been following the discussion at meetings of the four-legislator Congestion Work Group led by committee Vice-Chair Senator Boquist (Dallas). This work group’s focus has been on major congestion issues in the Portland area....[italics added]

Monday, March 27, 2017

More Mixed Messaging and Autoism in Teen "Safety" Course

Over the weekend the paper started to run a video promotion and rewrote a localized press release for a teen driving course.
A free defensive driving course — known for its whip fast, behind-the-wheel training of teens on how to handle dangerous traffic emergencies — is coming to Oregon for the first time.
Like many approaches to "safety," it delivers a profoundly mixed message. Is it "defensive" or is it "whip fast"?

The project has noble aims, and it is rooted in tragedy and the profoundest grief. A parent lost children in a high-speed crash. It's important to honor its good intentions and public-mindedness.

At the same time, it is worth commenting on. It is worth comment not because it is a bad idea, should be shut down, or exacerbates the problems. It is worth comment because it shows the depth of our problem and tries to have things both ways, tries to solve a safety problem while also reinforcing the conditions that cause those safety problems. It is in foundational ways still incoherent - even if at the same time it might be very helpful and partially effective for an individual facing catastrophe.

The course is set up to mimic race car driving. Even the livery says "racing!"

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Legislative Update - Week 9ish

There's an important Legislative sausage-making date coming up, so it might be time to check in on things at the Capitol.

The design, circa 1936
(State Capitol 75th anniversary site)
Early Look at a Possible Transportation Package

BikePortland had a nice piece on some early sketches for the Transportation package.
  • $107 million/year for transit
  • $15 million /year for Safe Routes to School
  • $10 million/year for All Roads Transportation Safety (see here for Salem projects currently funded by this - notably, the new buffered bike lanes and crosswalks on middle Commercial between Oxford and Winding Way)
  • $4 million/year for trails
It's underwhelming. Those are statewide amounts that would be allocated competitively. Far from sufficient to meet total need.

BP cites a very careless statement - an outright mistake or a problematic casualness in speech - on how it might be funded and staged:
ODOT Assistant Director Travis Brouwer testified to the committee about the safe routes proposal. About the quarter-mile policy, he said, “Let’s at least get those close-in areas because that’s where the higher volume roads are.” “What we’d anticipate,” he continued, “Is that after we finish the quarter-mile in 10 years, we’d get to the next quarter-mile in the next 10 years, and so on.”
As several have pointed out, this badly states the growth rate of a circle or a series of rings. The next nth+1 ring is much larger in area than the nth one immediately inside it, 2n-1 to be exact; they are not equal sized. (The 2nd ring is 3x the size of the first, the 3rd is 5x times, the 4th is 7x, etc. The progression is the difference of squares, a series of increasing odd numbers!) So you can't simply slice the rings and say each one will take a decade and use the same amount of funding.

Moreover, that's a 40 year vision for each mile of distance! The project will take generations on this view!

This is how ODOT really "thinks" about non-auto travel, no matter how much lip service they give to "active transport." (This is the same kind of logic that calls the Salem River Crossing a boon for people who walk and bike!)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

City Council, March 27th - A Draft CIP

Council meets on Monday, and in the proposed Capital Improvement Plan are several interesting details, including more on hopes for a $16 million TIGER grant.

There are several other agenda items to note also.

The Draft 2018 CIP
The TIGER line item is something that's been talked about as a hope, but not heretofore as something gained and done. Here's the $16 million line item for the McGilchrist project from 12th to 25th.

Looks like a $16 million TIGER grant
The only problem? The 2016 list of TIGER awards doesn't have it. It's also not in the TIP that SKATS is working on right now. So it looks like something more hypothetical and hopeful at the moment.

So why is it in the CIP? Staff say it's a "placeholder" - and, indeed, a hopeful thing. Subsequent drafts of the CIP will presumably make it clearer that it is not yet funded. (But are there other items in the CIP that are not actually funded? This seems to violate the spirit of the CIP, which lists "projects where likely funding sources have been identified." I guess it turns on your definition of "likely," but usually funding sources in the CIP have been much less speculative than this.)

Moreover, who knows whether the TIGER program will even be continued under the current regime. As a program that "supports innovative projects, including multi-modal and multi-jurisdictional projects, which are difficult to fund through traditional federal programs," it may not align very well with our kleptocratic priorities at the moment.

There are also some other interesting projects that aren't also in the TIP (generally because funding is all local and there is no component of Federal funding), at least in the form they have in the CIP. Here are three that will make a difference for all road users.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cherriots Board meets Thursday, SKATS Open House Today

The Cherriots' Board meets tomorrow night, and there were a couple of small things to note in passing.

Last month the committee for the Special Transportation Fund met and allocated some grant money, and while the Hospital didn't get entirely shut out, they got much less than they asked for.

Salem Health only partially funded for
Transportation Coordinator
(February 7th, Special Transportation Fund meeting)
It seems quite likely that this is related to the fact that the Hospital had recieved $50,000 for a similar coordinator position in 2014 or 2015, and then turned around and gave $50,000 to the anti-Cherriots effort on the November ballot.

October 2015
The monies came out of different accounts, so it's not like the Hospital passed the exact same money from Cherriots to anti-Cherriots, but it wasn't a good look and said something about the Hospital's values, about the way they view the community, and about their view of transit.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Downtown Board to Discuss Corner Bulb-outs Thursday

On Thursday the Downtown Advisory Board will learn more about corner bulb-outs. (Agenda and meeting packet here.)

Existing bulb-outs may interfere with bike lanes
Hopefully it will be in a full context of redesigns for complete streets and for all road users. For the most part, our current approach to bulb-outs is focused on walking, to shorten the crosswalk distance mainly.

About bulb-outs (or "curb extensions" generally), the National Association of City Transportation Officials, a group more focused on walking, biking, and busing than more highway-oriented groups or agencies like AASHTO and FHWA - and a group whose standards should be adopted by the City! - says:
  • Curb extensions visually and physically narrow the roadway, creating safer and shorter crossings for pedestrians while increasing the available space for street furniture, benches, plantings, and street trees.
  • Decrease the overall width of the roadway and can serve as a visual cue to drivers that they are entering a neighborhood street or area.
  • Increase the overall visibility of pedestrians by aligning them with the parking lane and reducing the crossing distance for pedestrians, creating more time for preferential treatments such as leading pedestrian interval and transit signal priority.
  • Tighten intersection curb radii and encourage slower turning speeds.
Both ODOT and FHWA approve of their use, and the City of Salem's Transportation System Plan allows for them and specifies "Design guidance is provided by FHWA and ODOT."

Mostly our implementation of bulb-outs has kept the auto travel lanes unaffected. They are not installed in the context of a total street redesign. They have been more incremental, and then subsequent redesigns have had to work around them.

Protected bike lane between Ferry and Trade on High Street
The near corner on Ferry has a bulb-out, the far corner does not
(Compare to concept drawing from 2013 just below)
At the intersection of High and Ferry Streets, you can see the transition between a buffered bike lane to the left (outside) of car parking and a protected bike lane to the right (inside) of car parking.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

In the Neighborhoods: Ex-Parte, Eclipse Mania, Effective Alleys

Several bits to note this week in the neighborhood associations, as well as the Open House for our road projects in the 2018-2023 local funding cycle. West Salem, CANDO, and NEN all have interesting agenda items.

West Salem

West Salem Projects in the TIP, including Wallace crosswalks
(Draft 2018-2023 Interactive TIP Map)
The TIP outreach continues, and at the West Salem Neighborhood Association meeting on Monday they'll get an introduction to our MPO and its draft 2018-2023 funding cycle and projects.

In addition to enhanced crosswalks on Wallace Road, significant projects include:
  • The first stub end of Marine Drive
  • The Doaks Ferry realignment and new intersection with Highway 22.
The City Attorney has been making the rounds to different boards and commissions to talk about the perils of "ex-parte" contact and the basic difference between judicial and legislative functions, and the ways each relate to ex-parte contact. As I understand it, in a judicial matter, when Council or another board is applying law or rules to a particular case, ex-parte contact is forbidden; in a legislative matter, when Council or another board is considering general policy matters or rules, ex-parte contact is not an issue.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Deferred Maintenance and Unexpected Capital Projects: Reasons not to Overbuild

Earlier this week the School Board received a recommendation for around $750 million in spending to modernize and make safe our schools.

You know already about the Salem River Crossing currently low-balled at about $500 million.

Here's a "small" problem with a back-of-the-envelope estimate of $5 million (very likely a low-ball estimate also).

Relative to the schools and bridge, it may seem small, like pocket change. But where there is one, there are others! The proverbial "tip of the iceberg"!

This is an important reason why the argument not overspend and overbuild an oversized Police Station has merit.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

First Look at Winter Maple Bikeway Materials and Process

If you weren't able to make it to the Open House for the Winter Maple Bikeway earlier this month, the City's finally got a project website up! Following their snapshots of the Open House on the 7th, Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates posted details about the website yesterday.

March 7th Open House - SBA
Right now the City site is a little on the thin side still, but it's got some useful documents:
Since, except for the advisory committee and those directly involved, the project has been flying under the radar some, it was nice to see a schedule.

Starring the just-concluded Open House
It looks like there will be another Open House in May.

If there could be a weakness in the schedule, it looks like it may not give sufficient attention to people who aren't already interested in bicycling and walking - especially downtown interests on Winter Street, including the State of Oregon and DAS, as well as commercial interests on Auto Group Way and Cherry Avenue. This schedule does not seem to envision - or at least explicitly mention - outreach to them. They may see any local improvements as something external "imposed" on them, driven by a special interest, and not secured by their consent, participation, or notification.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

View 2018-2023 Area Projects and Funding on Map Now, Open House 22nd

Our Metropolitan Planning Organization will hold an Open House for the 2018-2023 funding cycle next week, and during the comment period they've got an interactive map with a social media style add-on for comment.

SKATS 2018-2023 TIP Comment Map

Look at the hearts! Awwww...

You can "like" projects and also comment on them.

Some projects that might deserve the love:
  • Key intersection and crosswalk safety enhancements near schools and two on the Winter-Maple bikeway
  • A complete bikeway on Union Street from Commercial Street to 12th Street
  • Enhanced crosswalks with flashing beacons on Wallace Road between Narcissus Court and Vick Avenue
  • Buffered bike lanes on middle Commercial Street between Oxford Street and Winding Way (Commercial-Vista Corridor plan!)
  • Right-sizing with lane adjustments for safety on North Broadway between Pine and the Parkway - aka a road diet.
  • Sidewalks and bike lanes on Brown Road 
  • Sidewalks and bike lanes on Verda Road between Dearborn and the Parkway.
  • Sidewalks and bike lanes on Hayesville Road between Portland Road and Fuhrer (2 projects).
  • Sidewalks and bike lanes on 45th between Silverton Road and Ward.
  • Sidewalks and bike lanes on Hollywood Driver between Silverton Road and Greenfield.
  • Partial funding for the South Salem Transit Station
You might see others. The list is pretty well vetted and baked at this point, and it would take a tremendous effort to dislodge or meaningfully alter any project, however.

Look for the historic sign
next to the entry
If you want to read the full TIP document here it is.

There will also be an Open House on Wednesday the 22nd from 4pm to 6pm.

SKATS is at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200, above Andaluz Kitchen and Table Five 08.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

First Election Results Suggest Chris Hoy Wins in Ward 6

It looks like there is good news for rational transportation policy at City Council.

The first set of results show a commanding lead for Chris Hoy with 56% of the vote. Gregg Peterson is in second with only 28%, and a 435 vote difference.

Are there enough remaining votes yet to count to make up the difference?

Probably not.

So it seems likely that residents of Ward 6 will have elected Chris Hoy to City Council. (If something goes sideways, we'll update this post!)

Prepping for  the Monster Cookie in 2015
(Hoy on left in helmet, via SBC)
Hoy is on the Board of the Salem Bicycle Club, works in law enforcement, and seems well positioned to have a balanced approach towards a transportation mix in which walking, biking, busing are realistic options for people. With a fifth vote on Council, there may also be opportunities to apply some brakes to the waste of the Salem River Crossing project. The current bloc of four Councilors hasn't seem inclined to block anything by a 4-4 tie, but maybe with the fifth vote they'll be more assertive.

(This post may be updated as others weigh in, or if new count numbers warrant revision.)

Brick's Corner and the Strangeness of Benjamin Brick

You may recall that there is an on-going project with the restoration of the Gray Block, the 1891 building on the northwest corner of State and Liberty, and home to Salem institution and bar, "The Brick."

The name, "The Brick," has always seemed something of a mystery. Perhaps if you are a regular, you will know more about this. From the outside, the name has seemed random and untethered from any historical or social fact. Could it really refer only to the brick veneer applied to the columns and base below the windows? There had to be more behind the name!

So it was very interesting to learn about a store across the street in the 19-teens.

Brick Bros., across the Street, April 3rd, 1916
Brick Bros. and "Brick's Corner" occupied a building demolished a decade later for the Livesley Tower across the street on the southwest corner of the intersection.

So here's a hypothesis, what might just be wishful thinking and coincidence, or maybe something more durable: The word "Brick" became identified with this intersection, even when people forgot about the reason why, and the current bar name represents a survival and vestigial memory of that place name.

Without committing ourselves to asserting this is the truth, let's just accept it provisionally and tentatively, and venture a little in the history as if it were true. Even if Brick's Corner did not give its name to the bar, it's an odd and interesting story and worth sketching out. That story, in fact, turns out to connect with an huge scandal from a century ago, and might be the most interesting part. (If we learn one way or the other on the origins of the bar's name, we'll update and revise as appropriate!)

Announcing the purchase, November 16th, 1914
In the early 1910s there was a store called The Plymouth at this location. Benjamin Brick came to manage it, and in 1914 there was a bit of a tussle over ownership and management.

Friday, March 10, 2017

City Council, March 13th - Ride-booking: My Way or the Highway

Council meets on Monday and the headline item is the proposed rapprochement with Uber. You could also see it as "surrender."

From the Staff Report:
Uber and Lyft recently prevailed in a legal action to prevent the City of Portland’s release of company ridership data and number of TNC vehicles in Portland, arguing those records are exempt from public disclosure as trade secrets. Under the draft SRC, the City will have access to records of this type, and it is likely that TNC and Taxi Companies will seek to restrict the City’s ability to disclose that information in the event of a public records request. [italics added]
Some recent headlines:
And you might recall some earlier headlines:
And the former Commissioner of the New York Department of Transportation made tart observations about Uber's refusal and then evasiveness about sharing important data:

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Talk on Climate Change and "Merchants of Doubt" this Friday

Friday night the 10th, at Willamette is the annual Dempsey Lecture. This year Naomi Oreskes will discuss "Climate Change: What Now?"
The Harvard professor and environmental scientist will share how industry-funded researchers can delegitimize scientific consensus — as in climate change — to mislead policy makers and the public....

Professor Oreskes’s research focuses on the earth and environmental sciences, with a particular interest in understanding scientific consensus and dissent.
Her 2004 essay “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” (Science 306: 1686) has been widely cited, both in the United States and abroad, including in the Royal Society’s publication, “A Guide to Facts and Fictions about Climate Change," in the Academy-award winning film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and in Ian McEwan’s novel, “Solar”.... Her 2010 book, “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global Warming,” co-authored with Erik M. Conway, was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Time Book Prize, and received the 2011 Watson-Davis Prize from the History of Science Society.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

100 Years ago: Roses for City Beautiful Project

March 5th, 1917
One hundred years ago, the Salem Floral Society announced a
project of beautifying the parking of Marion Street...another plan will be taken up soon to plant a rose hedge along the parkings of some promenade street leading to the fair grounds this will likely be either Capitol or Summer Street...
You may recall that "parking" used to mean not something for temporary car storage on the paved margins of a road, but instead meant the curb strip planting area and its landscaping.

An old rose on Marion Street at a driveway
between Winter and Summer Streets
DAS Yellow Lot in background (2013)
Here's an old rose bush that might have been associated with one of these beautifying projects. Now it is a forlorn reminder of a time when we valued our urban fabric and land more highly than as a gravel lot for cars.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Bit of Commercial-Vista Plan gets Funding; SCAN and Morningside get Updates

After a planner left the City's Transportation Planning group in 2015, the Commercial-Vista Corridor Study lurched some and even went dormant. It's waking up from the latest hibernation, and SCAN and Morningside will get updates this week.

Late last Spring you might recall a version of the final report, presented to the Planning Commission.

Then it went quiet again.

That version of the report has been tweaked slightly and posted again (old from May 2016, new from February 2017; both are at the old website, and the new City site doesn't appear to have them yet; hopefully the City won't orphan the links and create massive linkrot!) and it looks like the City is setting up a new round of updates.

And there is substantial news to deliver.

From the 2018 - 2023 TIP
The buffered bike lanes and enhanced crosswalks on middle Commercial between Oxford St SE and Winding Way SE are funded and will be completed as part of the ODOT's All Roads Transportation Safety program (full saga here).

Friday, March 3, 2017

City Council, March 6th - Strategic Plan Work Session

Council meets on Monday for a work session on the Strategic Plan, and there is a lot in it! (It would be surprising if Council can land on an approach in just one work session.)

Walking, biking, busing, and No Third Bridge
(Summarized from the Open House)
Both SCV and N3B have already remarked on this, but it is nice to see again the overwhelming public sentiment at the January 31st Open House in favor of more and better options in transportation, as well as the magnitude of doubt about the waste in the Salem River Crossing.

Walking, biking, and busing was consistently mentioned
Those sentiments are summarized with some analysis in the report on the "Stakeholder Charette" and "Community Open House" on January 31st.

Safe Routes and Bike Boulevard Advocacy Next Week, March 6th and 7th

On Monday and Tuesday there's quite a cluster of activities in Salem for walking and biking, with a special focus on kids.

On Monday the 6th, Safe Routes to School is working with other advocates for a Lobby Day at the Capitol:
Join us on March 6th for Heart at the Capitol to advocate for the heart health of Oregon’s children! The issues we will be advocating for include raising the tobacco purchase age to 21, improving the quality of Physical Education in our schools, and funding for the Safe Routes to School program that helps ensure all Oregon children can safely walk or bike to school. There is no previous advocacy experience necessary. Training will be provided on the issues ahead of time and the morning of the event. The day is sure to be impactful as we meet with our lawmakers to make a difference in the lives of Oregon’s children!
It runs 9am to 3pm, and they're asking for an RSVP.

On Tuesday the 7th, there are two events at Broadway Commons.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

New City Website went Live Yesterday

Yesterday the City announced full public testing and access for the latest version of the new municipal website.

New Home page - very tabletized for moble users
Have you checked it out? If not, poke around, and the next time you need to look up something on the City site, be sure to use the new one first.

No Planning Commission Agenda Yet
Not everything is populated, so some searches come up empty.

There's some inconsistent navigation. Sometimes the big buttons click through to the next level in the page heirarchy.

Extra clicks sometimes required
Sometimes they don't.

Clicking on "Planning Notices and Decisions" expanded a caption, and then required a second click to "learn more." Two clicks here was annoying.

From the press release. It's interesting they did it in-house.
The site will ask website visitors to submit feedback via an online form if they wish. “We look forward to receiving input from residents as they explore it. ” said website project manager Laura Singer.

To reduce costs and ensure the new site is better able to stay up to date, the City built the site entirely in-house with a team of passionate City staff from multiple departments. That team came together to reimagine the website and created new content with a consistent look and feel. No third - party consultants were used in this project. Krishna Namburi, Information Technology Director/CIO for the City says, “Our goal is to deliver and maintain a site that makes a visible difference in the Salem community.”
We'll come back with more notes after using it more. Between yesterday and today, some things were populated it looks like, so things are also in flux, and most judgements should probably remain tentative and provisional for the moment.