Thursday, July 30, 2009

City Receives Grants to Update Transportation Plan and to Improve Safety for School Kids

Earlier this month, the State announced Salem received two grants to update the Bicycle and Pedestrian Elements of the Transportation System Plan and to write a school-district-wide Safe Routes to School Program.

Back in March, the City applied for three Transportation and Growth Management grants. Two of the applications were approved, and Salem is one of only two jurisdictions in the state receiving two grants (the other is Clackamas county for plans in Estacada and for light rail). This is great news! (See the full grant/project list here.)

Federal Safe Routes to School Program helps fund the National Center for Safe Routes to School as well as the state program run through ODOT and local efforts. Former City Councilor Kate Tarter has been working on a program for Hallman Elementary, and neighbors are beginning work on one for Morningside Elementary. With this grant now, all schools will be able to participate in this program to make it safer for kids to walk and bike (and skate!) to school.

Updating the Transportation System Plan, the TSP, will bring current best practices to planning for bicycle infrastructure and will create a coherent list of projects that can be queued up and completed as funding sources are identified. The project list for the "Keep Salem Moving" road bond, for example, was generated using the priorities of the current plan, and almost all of the monies for bicycling were directed to striping bike lanes on the streets slated to be upgraded to "minor arterial" standards.

Currently, the plan emphasizes striping bike lanes on busy streets. As we saw on Commercial, where bike lanes aren't always maintained, and on Liberty, where the intersection lacks lanes in several places and the lanes themselves are not connected, bike lanes alone are not enough. To show a new bicyclist a map of Salem bike lanes is to show a map of Commercial, Liberty, River Road, Mission, Center, Portland Road, Kuebler - none of them places you would send a new bicyclist or your child to bike!

The update will work towards making good some of the unfulfilled promises in the current plan.
Historically, Salem's bicycle facilities have not provided continuous and connected routes for bicyclists...the community must develop an awareness that bicycles and motor vehicles are equal partners on the roadway.
The current plan is unable to accomplish these goals, as well as several other more detailed subgoals. Creating in the plan an actual roadmap to meet the goals will be an important part of the revision.

The Pedestrian Element will also be updated, and this will work towards making Salem a much safer and more pleasant walking environment.

Occuring concurrently, the Safe Routes plan and the Bike/Ped updates afford Salem a terrific opportunity to reshape the way we think of walking and biking.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Breakfast on Bikes - This Friday, Mission & Winter

Whoo-Boy, it's hot out! Remember to have lots of water! It's kinda nice though, after the dinner hour, but before dark.

This Friday, July 31st, between 7 and 9am, we'll be at Mission & Winter. Please join us!

Please remember our sponsors!
Cascade Baking Company
Coffee House Cafe
LifeSource Natural Foods
Salem Bicycle Club
Willamette University Sustainability Council

View Larger Map

Bike Day at LifeSource

Check out what might be the best retail bike parking in Salem!

LifeSource installed the bike parking last year. It's a textbook installation. The installation is a 14 rack configuration from Creative Metalworks in Dayton. They've done most of the "art racks" in downtown Salem, but most of those are singletons rather than a cluster. The racks are sheltered from sun and rain, and are in a visible location right next to the storefront entries. It's safe, secure, sheltered and plentiful: passes all the tests!

Saturday was "Ride your Bike to LifeSource" Day. Though it was mid-day, and maybe a little hot for grocery shopping by bike, still a good number of folks ride in or stopped by to learn more about bicycling. Brian from the Bike Peddler offered tips on repair and maintenance, the LifeSource crew sampled a bio-kleen soy chain lube, as well as some sodas and turkey and tofu jerkies. We got to answer some questions from people who wanted to get their bikes out of the garage and go riding.

Folks talked about doing another bike promotion on a weeknight and serving folks riding home from work.

Thanks for supporting bikes, LifeSource!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Council Discussion of Commercial Street Postponed

The Commericial Street restriping plan has been pulled from tomorrow's Council agenda.

The latest word suggests it will go before Council on August 10th. [Update, 7/29: It's looking like September 14th now.]

Debate over the plan grew wider and sometimes more heated after bikeportland picked up the story and ran a follow-up story.

City staff, business owners, and bicyclists are engaged in both formal and informal conversations to explain better the proposal and to answer the objections.

Meanwhile, some bicyclists struggle with the imperfections of the plan. Those in favor of it might point to Paul Krugman's point about the perfect solution to climate change:
So opponents of the proposed legislation [Waxman-Markey] have to ask themselves whether they’re making the perfect the enemy of the good. I think they are.
Those opposed to it point to the dangers of angle-parking, the ways that large motor vehicles impair the visibility of drivers attempting to back out of a space, and a desire to get it right the first time.

As the council date approaches, we'll have more updates.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Amputated Bike Lanes: Cuts Big and Small

My "favorite" bike lane in the city, the one that activates the greatest cynicism, is on north Commercial at Pine street. A paving seam has whacked off the front wheel and one leg of the bike dude. The pavement marking isn't quite bisected, but with the curb allowance, the lane is effectively cut in half. It's hardly wide enough for handlebar width.

Here, at a manhole vault, you can see just how big is the discontinuity: The seam is three inches or so. It's big! Last fall's leaves remain in the depression; clearly the street sweeper can't reach them. The seam runs almost the length of a block and also runs by a storm drain. The first time I biked down this stretch of Commercial, it caught me by surprise, and I almost fell. I still have to prepare myself for it, because the lip will enforce an involuntary dismount if you don't remain on one side of it.

Bike lanes generally suffer in Salem. They are second-class. They are not well maintained and roadway engineering and design often orphans them from other bike lanes.

Almost at the top of the hill between Ratcliff and Vista on Commercial SE is another problem. The overgrown grassy slope cuts into an already narrow bike lane and pinches it to a handlebar width.

Debris from recent paving, gravel and sticky asphalt residue, also spins and blows from the auto travel lanes into the bike lane. The bike lane is the gutter. After the winter storms, the gravel remained for months last spring.

Here at Trade and Commercial SE, bicyclists on the Front street by-pass cannot to continue east on Trade. The right-hand dual-turns enforces a right turn onto Commercial for bikes. The bike lane is cut in half, at least for east-west travel. Bicyclists wanting to travel east either have to perform a dangerous merge or they have to cross three cross-walks like a pedestrian.

Paving and funding road repair are tricky, of course. On south Commercial, at Ratcliff, the city just applied a thin-skin fix to the road surface. Very carefully they paved to the edge of the bike lane marking. They also chose not to cover the center turn lane. Curb-to-curb asphalt would increase the paving surface by at least half, so clearly this represents a substantial cost savings. Fortunately the lip with the thin-skin is not very deep, and is less likely to catch a wheel. Still, seeing the new surface for cars and the old for bikes sends a message.

One part of the message is indeed thrift. Street Services Supervisor Bruce Hildebrandt explains:
The paving on Commercial Street SE is routine maintenance where vehicular travel lanes were suffering from severe rutting and potholes. These conditions are hazardous to all traffic as drivers tend to "straddle" ruts or dodge potholes and occasionally intrude into bike lanes. These lane pulls are to simply restore the profile of the street for drainage and safe lanes.

Since the center median and the bike lanes were in good condition...the street did not qualify for nor need a complete overlay at this time. These lane pulls cost our budget only 20% to 40% compared to an overlay and last 5 to 8 years. This is interim maintenance until future funding and street deterioration qualifies this segment for a complete overlay.

As for sweeping, Hildebrandt adds, the "lanes are scheduled for sweeping either Sunday night or Monday night. We cannot sweep newly applied asphalt for a few days until the asphalt has cured."

The other part of the message is that cars are more important. Cars get shiny new duds, and bikes are left with still-servicable hand-me-downs. The movement of freight and essential services should remain critical. But the bulk of motorized travel is single-occupant vehicle travel, and these wasteful trips get rewarded.

If the city wants to promote bicycling, the city might consider the signal it is sending. The city might act more quickly to improve bicycling conditions, and be less swift to improve motoring conditions. What if bicyclists got smooth new asphalt and motorists were left with gravel and potholes? These are the conditions bicyclists experience in reverse, and they currently dissuade prospective bicyclists. Can more selective road repair be a pricing signal to discourage single-occupant vehicle trips?

In any event, whether it is in sweeping, maintenance, construction, and design, too often bike lanes are second-class citizens of the transportation infrastructure, disabled and disconnected, artificially kept from full membership in the transport economy.

Fuel Free Friday

Today is Fuel-Free Friday! It's gonna be beautiful! Consider riding a bike for energy independence!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Liberty S and Commercial SE: Dysfunction Junction

Everyone knows the junction of Commercial SE and Liberty S is difficult. The Salem bike map circles the intersection in red to highlight it as a "caution area." We all have our personal stories about close-calls, managing the traffic, and the way we figured out our routine.

But just how bad it is wasn't clear until we performed a formal bike count there last week. It was sunny, and since at least Commercial has a full bike lane and is the major connection to south Salem, we expected significant numbers of cyclists. What was saw, though, was a completely dysfunctional intersection: A major barrier to biking.

As you might be able to see on the satellite image, going north is, if not exactly pleasant, at least relatively straight-forward. On Commercial the right-hand bike lane going north is continuous; on Liberty there is no bike lane, but the consecutive right- and left-hand turns to get into Commercial going north are standard movements at busy intersections.

Going south, on the other hand, is a total "cluster." It requires, in fact, a cluster of non-standard movements: Cyclists can choose between a dangerous merge, riding on the sidewalk, or a combination of non-intuitive and inadequately signed turns.

Over 80% of cyclists proceeding south on Commercial SE choose to merge across two lanes of auto traffic turning right onto Liberty S

The intuitive and natural movement is to continue south on Commercial. Most bicyclists do this. Just after this sign "No lane changes next 200 feet," bicyclists pause to merge.

They must cross two lanes of busy right-turning traffic.

Though the "bike lane" has the official pavement marking, the prohibition on lane changes makes this a bike lane illegal to reach. Not to mention that it is a dangerous merge to perform.

The natural movement is difficult and inconsistently messaged, with one sign prohibiting, the other pavement marking inviting.

Only one cyclist followed the signed movements. The signs are old - small and out-of-date. It's possible many cyclists don't notice them. Right on Liberty S, left on Vista SE and...

right on Commercial SE.

Since this movement is indirect and non-intuitive, it's not surprising that few follow it. The person who followed the signed movement complained that Vista lacked bike lane on the segment between Liberty S and Commercial SE.

Over 90% of cyclists proceeding south on Liberty S choose to ride on the sidewalk.

About 10% of cyclists rode illegally, against traffic in the bike lane

About 30% of all cyclists used the sidewalk for some or all of their movement through this complicated intersection.

The junction is bad because it is confusing and unclear. The vast majority of cyclists make the intuitive move to continue on Commercial SE. They miss or ignore the signed bike movement and choose a dangerous and illegal merge whose prohibition is signed. But with the bike lane marking the messaging is incoherent.

All this adds up to confusion. Consequently, bicyclists do not move through the intersection in a predictable and safe pattern. And although it's a major connection to south Salem, few bicyclists use it.

This gap is a major barrier and will need to be fixed in order to connection to south and southeast Salem.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Does the Hospital ER Need More Bike Parking?

The new hospital facilities opened recently. Improved bike parking was part of the plan.

An unplanned visit to the emergency room today (the patient returned home ok) created an opportunity to evaluate the parking as a customer. Its location was not obvious, and it appeared to be at capacity. But otherwise it was pretty nice.

The racks are under a overhang and get a little shelter. Inside, behind the glazed prow - looks like a ship's prow to me! - there was a piano and seating. Outside, around the pavers were several benches. It's nice parking mostly.

The drawbacks? Not near either of the entries, so I had to ask security for directions. I understand improved signage is on the way (see below).

It also looks like more staple racks are needed. There were six bikes locked to four staple racks. I also saw two other bikes elsewhere. So eight bikes for four racks is capacity.

Does the hospital need more?

I'd say yes.

The new construction also contains additional parking for employees. A physician writes:
As of now, staff and physicians can use their badge for entry into an enclosed room in the first floor of the parking garage, where there are about a dozen wire cages, a bank of lockers and a heater for winter. The new building has car parking in the basement, and along one wall there is a fenced cage with badge access, inside of which are 30 enclosed bike lockers. Interested regular bike commuters can be issued a key by security.

Under the Center for Outpatient Medicine, accessible to the general public, there is a bike cabinet that holds four bikes completely enclosed, secured with a personal padlock, and a row of staple racks. There are also several staple racks and wire cages around the old hospital building. Showers for staff are available in the old OR locker rooms, and in about a year we are supposed to have a locker room with showers in the basement of the new tower, next to the bike cage. New versions of the hospital campus map are to show bike parking areas, and there will be appropropriate signage.
We'll try to get photos and more on the employee situation.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bicyclists meet with DAS to Improve Parking at State Offices

Back in May, the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) proposed to cut locks and impound bikes locked to stairwells. But at many state buildings there is no bike parking!

Fortunately bicyclists responded by email and attended a hearing. And DAS listened!

Last week, nine interested bicyclists, including bicycling experts from the Department of Transportation and from Parks and Recreation, met with Linda Penick, DAS Parking and Commuting Services Manager, at the General Services Building (pictured, without bike parking!) to start planning for improved bicycle parking at state office buildings.

There is no set time schedule, but the meeting was really encouraging. The toast racks at the Capitol will disappear (Photo: Jonathan Maus / Bikeportland), to be replaced by staple racks, and hopefully with some located under shelter! At other buildings where there is no bike parking, or the bike parking is invisible, new racks will be placed at or near building entries.

There was also some brainstorming about grander parking schemes, possibly funded by a Transportation Enhancement grant from ODOT.

All in all it was a very positive meeting and we look forward to improved parking facilities for employees and visitors to state buildings. When bike parking is high-quality and plentiful, there will be no worries about cutting locks and impounding bikes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Some Good News amidst the Rivercrossing Hooey

The River Crossing process (Alternatives Page) contains lots of hooey:
During the alternatives development process, a stand-alone Transportation System Management and Transportation Demand Management (TSM/TDM) alternative was studied and determined not to meet the project Purpose and Need all by itself....To make sure the Salem River Crossing project still supports the goal of decreasing single-occupancy vehicle travel across the river, the project team is pursuing the following approach.

First, the Draft EIS will assume that the future demand (year 2031) for vehicle trips across the river is 8% less than otherwise forecast. Basing the project design on a reduced traffic volume anticipates a high degree of success in increasing non-auto travel across the river and also helps prevent the project from being overbuilt.
Fortunately, the hooey is also generating a project that stands to do some good:
The Project Management Team (PMT) has initiated the Salem River Crossing Alternative Modes Study to identify potential transit and other alternative mode improvements that could be made either at the same time as, or separate from, the Salem River Crossing project. This study will help assure that all potential TSM/TDM options are fully studied and that they can be implemented independent of the Salem River Crossing project if needed.

Further details regarding this approach are documented in the two background documents below:
Approach to Analysis of Transit/TDM/TSM Options Memo (PDF, 206KB)
Summary: Demand Reduction Assumptions Used For Travel Demand Analysis (PDF, 309KB)
In late June and again in early July, the Alternate Modes Study study group met twice to discuss ways to reduce congestion. At the second meeting, a charette, about fifteen community activists representing pedestrian, bicycling, transit, and rideshare interests split up into three groups to plot solutions and ideas on maps of Salem. Each group rotated and spent time at each of three map discussions: Bike/Ped, Transit, Carpool/Vanpool.

These photos are taken at the Bike/Ped table. Rory Renfro and Jessica Roberts from Alta Planning + Design led the discussion. Alta is a national leader in bicycle planning, and they will push for bicycles as well as anyone can.

Most importantly, the project will develop ideas and proposals that will be valuable independent of the bridge. If the bridge gets built, the plans will be important mitigation. If the bridge doesn't get built, the plans can be a terrific part of a rational transportation plan for the 21st century, part of which will make Salem truly bicycle-friendly. Either way the project stands to give momentum and value to the plans. With luck, the project will also make some of the hooey more transparently visible.

(For a more skeptical view, which really zeros in on the hooey, see the excellent and passionately argued posts at LoveSalem.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bike Lane Runs into Opposition; at Council on 27th

The plan to restripe Commercial Street downtown and add a bike lane has run into some opposition and will go before Salem City Council on Monday, July 27th.

At least one businessperson in a building along Commercial is circulating a petition against the plan. Most of the claims about the plan are unfounded, but a number of businesses have signed on nonetheless. Fortunately, when city staff and others have gone through the plan, most of the objections evaporate.

Here are the four objections from the petition:

Three of the arguments are specious. One has some merit. In order:

1) Safety is often used as an excuse to push bicyclists off the roadways. Over 40,000 people a year die in automobile accidents, but we don't use this as a reason to tell people not to drive. Bicyclists understand biking is not risk-free, but people often overstate the actual risks because without the metal carapace around a bicyclist, the biker appears more vulnerable.

More worrisome is the way the safety argument can be used to place the burden on the bicyclist who "chooses" to bicycle (or the pedestrian who chooses to walk) in an ostensibly dangerous environment - "it's not my fault if you get hurt; you knew it was dangerous; I can't help myself!" But the burden to act with care rests on all road users, not merely bicyclists. Motorists have certain responsibilities to act with care, and merely by being on the road bicyclists do not give up their expectations or rights that other road users will act with care.

2) Taking cars off the road and encouraging travel by substitute modes is the surest way to reduce congestion. Bicycling reduces congestion. Encouraging more people to bike will relieve congestion downtown, not increase it. City traffic engineers have shown that the loss of a lane will not impact traffic volumes, and increases in bicycling will reduce auto traffic further. Adding the bike lane and making downtown bike friendly has the opposite effect of reducing congestion.

3) The Front Street bypass bike lane is just that: a bypass for through traffic. It does not help with getting around downtown.

By itself, a bike lane on Commercial doesn't make many connections. It is not a comprehensive solution - and we hope it will not be an end condition. All things being equal (which they are not because of the resurfacing schedule), Commercial might not be bicyclists' first choice. This argument has some merit.

We hope a bike lane on Commercial will operate as a pilot and encourage bicycle facilities on multiple downtown streets. This will give people multiple transportation options on "how to get there."

4) Angle parking remains unchanged.

If you care about bicycling and you want to see downtown become more bike friendly, please come to Council on Monday, July 27th, and voice your support for the restriping plan.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Want to Bike More? Bike Commuting 101 at Saturday Market!

Learn basic tips on bicycling in traffic at the Salem Saturday Market tomorrow!

League Cycling Instructors Robert Fox and Gary Obery will led a market workshop on safe biking at 11am tomorrow. Whether you bike, walk, or drive to the market, stop in and get some tips! Robert might even show you how to change a tire!

For more information see the FSSM blog.

And if you're bicycling, don't forget about the valet bike parking!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bikes for Everyone! Adaptive Bike Clinic Sunday

Oregon Disability Sports is holding an Adaptive Bike Clinic this Sunday, July 12th, from 9am to Noon at Riverfront Park under the pavillion. Check out hand-cycles, tricycles, all kinds of cool recumbents! There are bikes for almost everyone now, and if a diamond-frame two-wheeler isn't right for you, check out some of the options!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fourth of July Parade

On Saturday the Willamette Valley Pedal Pushers participated in the Monmouth-Independence "Western Days" Fourth of July Parade. Thanks to Sharon Oberst of WOU, who taught us some basic drills and routines! And to Robert and Debbie for organizing the group!

Some of the ladies of the Cherry City Roller Derby also joined us! Next time, we'll have to remember to have candy for the kids! The float in front of us, Les Schwab Tires, kept throwing candy, and we just couldn't compete with that...

The parade reminded me that last year, amidst the high gas prices, there was a great "fuel-free Fridays" promotion. Gas prices came down, but they are creeping up again, and of course even though there will be significant volatility and price swings, the permanent movement will be towards more costly petroleum. Promoting energy independence might be the most patriotic thing you can do.