Sunday, March 11, 2018

Acquaint Yourself with the TDM Element of the TSP

One of the helpful things to come out of the survey for the Congestion Relief Task Force is the way it has spurred conversation and even investigation. Lots of people have privately circulated comments or draft comments, and this allows people to repeat themes in the survey, hopefully to build up some force and consistency behind them and to ensure they won't be swept under the rug. The persistent attention and debate also might also generate new ideas that might never have been tried before.

While the Task Force is performing their own "document review," citizens too are looking through existing City documents, and some that have been essentially orphaned are getting a new look.

TSP cover and Table of Contents
Our Transportation System Plan is vast and unwieldy, so big that parts of it are routinely ignored or given the most cursory of attention. But if we took it more seriously, many parts of it would already give us meaningful policy direction.

Structurally, the chapters in the TSP are very awkwardly called "elements." (There are 19 sections!) This has seemed like an indirect and dressed-up claim they constituted some kind of atomic structure and contributed to a kind of scientific basis for the TSP. I have wondered if this is an artifact of the pseudo-science of traffic engineering. But the TSP is a policy document, and while policies should have a basis in empirically verified fact, they are arrived at by politics and debate, are informed by non-scientific values, and are not themselves scientific. Too much of the TSP's rhetoric uses the insider lexicon of traffic engineering and transportation wonkery, as if it were somehow more objective than it really is. Too often it avoids the plain language that people seeking to move about the city actually employ. All of this is a real barrier to making it an effective document for policy.

The City should give serious thought to making the TSP more legible, intelligible, and inviting, to making it more of a living document than a shelf study. Maybe it needs to be shorter. We could, for example, prune out sections that we aren't actually going to take seriously. Nobody wants to read it as it is!*

In any case, one of the most neglected chapters is called "Transportation Demand Management." (In many places this concept is institutionalized with something more colloquial like "trip choices" or "smart options" or some label other than TDM, which is off-putting.)

The concepts themselves aren't so very obscure, and the chapter is very short. Let's read some of it:

Over the years, our reliance on the private automobile as our primary mode of transportation has grown substantially. Our dependence on the automobile is evidenced by continual increases in automobile ownership, the number of drivers, the length and number of auto trips, and, as a result, a large escalation in vehicle-miles of travel (VMT) per person. This trend in automobile use has led to mounting traffic congestion, greater transportation costs, worsening air quality, and increasing numbers of traffic accidents. In addition, future projections indicate an ever-widening gap between vehicular travel demand and the physical capability of our existing transportation system to provide adequate levels of mobility. By continuing to rely almost totally on the automobile for our daily transportation needs, we decrease our ability to get where we want to go as well as the overall quality of life in our community.

Adding automobile travel lanes and building new roads has been the traditional approach to addressing increased transportation demand. However, there are several reasons why merely adding additional highway capacity is generally not the most efficient way of meeting our increasing mobility needs. First, highway construction is very expensive and there are limited sources of funding to finance those costs. Second, there are significant constraints associated with constructing new and widened highways, as well as growing citizen resistance to converting more and more of our urban land resource to pavement. Third, the negative impacts on our neighborhoods and communities associated with the disruption, fragmentation, air pollution, and danger that new and expanded highway facilities entail are often unacceptable. Finally, the faster rate of growth of vehicle travel, relative to the increase in the total movement of persons and goods in the region, contributes to a continuing decline in the overall efficiency of our transportation system areawide.

It has become increasingly evident that we can no longer afford—in a variety of ways—to “build our way” out of our transportation problems. As transportation funding becomes more scarce and the cost of constructing new facilities spirals upward, we must seek more creative solutions to meet our future transportation needs. We must make more efficient use of existing facilities and increase their overall capacity to move people and goods, not merely vehicles.
Holy smokes! That's in an official, adopted City policy document!

This is a straight-forward example of policy language we just blow off, pretty much pretend doesn't exist.

Very little in our actual budgeted decisions follows from this. If we really believe that "we can no longer afford—in a variety of ways—to 'build our way' out of our transportation problems," then why do we keep seeing projects like this?

Commercial and Kuebler (click to enlarge)
Plainly we do not really believe this yet, not at the level of funded budgets. We give it lip-service only.

The Congestion Relief Task Force offers a chance to retrieve these policies, to take them seriously and to try them out for real, and to fund them so they have a real chance to succeed. And to make a hard ask of other entities to try them out.

(An institutional barrier is that new roads come out of capital budgets, but "making more efficient use of existing facilities" often requires a person, and that personnel cost comes out of annual operating budgets. This split in capital/operations is a genuine structural problem.)

The City has also out-sourced its programming to Cherriots Trip Choice (formerly Ride Share), and so there's lots of language in here about "supporting" regional TDM programming instead of directly allocating resources to a City department or function.

So here's more of the "TDM Element" and actual, adopted policies:
The City of Salem has the following goal, objectives, and policies for reducing overall traffic demands on the Salem street system:
GOAL: To reduce the demands placed on the current and future transportation system by the single-occupant vehicle.

The City shall work towards reducing per capita vehicle-miles-traveled in the Salem Urban Area by assisting individuals in choosing alternative travel modes.
Policy 1.1 Support the Regional TDM Program
The City of Salem shall continue to be an active supporter of the regional TDM program, including Cherriots Rideshare.
Policy 1.2 Support Adequate and Consistent Funding for the Regional TDM Program
The City shall work cooperatively with regional partners to identify funding sources to assure the ongoing viability of the regional TDM program.
Policy 1.3 Reduce Per Capita Vehicle-miles-traveled
The implementation of the regional TDM program shall be an important component in any comprehensive strategy to increase more efficient transportation choices and achieve a reduction in the number of per capita vehicle-miles-traveled.

Reduce automobile travel demand generated by employment sites, colleges, and schools.
Policy 2.1 Target Marketing Efforts
The City shall support the regional TDM program’s efforts to target marketing to groups which have the greatest potential for reducing automobile trips, including employers and employment sites, and commuting students.
Policy 2.2 Increase Marketing to Employers
The City shall support the regional TDM program’s efforts to provide assistance to employers in designing and implementing trip reduction plans at their work sites. Trip reduction plans will include strategies to encourage employees to use alternative transportation modes and discourage them from commuting in single-occupant-vehicles. Alternative work hours and teleworking will also be recommended as a way of reducing peak hour congestion.
Policy 2.3 Assist in the Formation of Vanpools
The City shall support the regional TDM program’s efforts to provide information on forming and joining vanpools to employers and individuals.
Policy 2.4 Encourage State Agencies to Reduce Peak Hour Travel Demand
The City of Salem shall encourage the State of Oregon to implement, through its agencies, significant measures that will reduce peak hour travel demand on Salem’s street system. These measures should include the widespread institution of flexible work schedules, increased carpooling, vanpooling, teleworking, and transit ridership.
HS Students should
walk, bike, or bus!
(Salem Weekly)
Increase public awareness of alternative transportation modes.
Policy 3.1 Provide Information Through Public Events
The City shall coordinate with the regional TDM program to provide information to the public on transportation options at appropriate public events to raise awareness of available options and to encourage the use of alternative transportation modes.
Policy 3.2 Outreach to Schools and Community Groups
The City shall coordinate with the regional TDM program to conduct outreach activities at schools and community groups to inform them about transportation mode choices and their benefits. Outreach to schools should be designed to educate children about alternative transportation modes before they start driving.

Coordinate regional TDM efforts.
Policy 4.1 Work with Other Agencies and Organizations
The City shall work cooperatively with other agencies and organizations to further the goals of TDM and to ensure that efforts are coordinated.
Policy 4.2 Monitor TDM Programs Nationwide
The City shall monitor the effectiveness of trip reduction efforts and programs throughout the nation to determine potential applicability for Salem.

The City of Salem shall encourage the use of alternative travel modes by serving as an institutional model for other agencies and businesses in the community.
Policy 5.1 Employee Incentive Programs
The City shall serve as a leading example for other businesses and agencies by maximizing the use of alternative transportation modes among City employees through incentive programs. The City shall provide information on alternative transportation modes and provide incentives for employees who use alternatives to the single-occupant vehicle.
Policy 5.2 Reduce Peak Hour Travel Demand
The City shall implement measures directed at City employees that will reduce peak hour travel demand on Salem’s street system. These measures should include the widespread institution of flexible work schedules, increased carpooling, vanpooling, teleworking, and transit ridership.
It is not difficult to conclude that while the City may offer a whisper of effort and pro-forma compliance, it's not actually trying very hard. The City's not actually very serious about "reducing overall traffic demands on the Salem street system."

There is no real mechanism for assessment. Do we take this goal of "reducing overall traffic demands" seriously enough that we have a plan for measuring any reduction and what we will do if we are not successful in attaining the desired reduction? (We have a very loose set of "benchmarks" we are supposed to meet, but these also are not very serious. Significantly, none of the benchmarks include actual traffic counts and first-order measurements of demand.)

Instead what we have is an elaborate charade in which we fund with paltry amounts a set of very small actions that create the illusion of compliance with these policy goals. There is a fig leaf of legal compliance where that matters. In other places we might be ignoring the policies outright. Crucially, driving is also popular enough that most people aren't upset we aren't taking these policies very seriously. Most people prefer the fig leaf and for the City to embrace demand for drive-alone trips.

But we have an opportunity! And thinking more about demand should be at the center of it. In addition to specific measures for cross-river mobility, the Congestion Relief Task Force could prompt a new level of engagement with managing demand for drive-alone trips throughout the whole city.

* The City's own Transportation System Plan was amended back in February, 2016. It also silently passed through a new graphic design template. Probably someone in Public Works did the best they could, but it is awful. It is like some legacy 1990s desktop publishing template!
TSP Cover and Table of Contents
By comparison, the "Policy Agenda" document developed out of the Strategic Planning process is much more legible and humane.

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