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.


Unknown said...

A bike lane adjacent to diagonally parked cars? Aren't we allowed now to ride on Commercial St "as near to the right (*or* left, since it's one-way) as practicable"? Isn't it impracticable to ride too close to the parked cars? Wouldn't a bike lane ghetto us over to the right and *require* us to ride too close to the parked cars?

The only way to reduce congestion is to *discourage* automobile traffic. Good luck with that in Salem.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Hi Dan,

The plan uses sharrows in the left lane to facilitate left-hand turns for the bulk of downtown businesses. So no, the bike lane will not force bicyclists to use the bike lane only. The first line in the post contains a link to a second post that shows a cross-section of the striping plan. We tried to get back-in parking, but in this we were not successful. So the parking treatment is something of a compromise. Still, we believe this is a good start to making downtown bike-friendly.