Thursday, October 8, 2009

Keep Salem Moving: Road Bond Update - Good News, Bad News

First some good news. The first round of bicycle and pedestrian improvements funded by the Keep Salem Moving road bond looks to finish vetting and selection in December. Public Works has issued a call for proposals and ideas. From the project sheet:
Construct Missing Sidewalks and Bicycle Lanes to Schools and Parks
Construct missing sidewalks and bicycle lanes on City streets, with priority given to streets serving as important routes to schools and parks. Projects to be approved by Council through a competitive prioritization and selection process.

Install Pedestrian Crossing and Traffic Calming Measures
Construct pedestrian crossings on streets serving as important routes to schools, parks, shopping, transit services, and other activity centers. Install traffic calming measures on local residential streets where warranted to reduce speeding and cut through traffic in neighborhoods. Projects to be approved by Council through a competitive prioritization and selection process.

Install Core Area Transit and Pedestrian Curb Extensions
Install curb extensions on streets in the core area of Salem to better facilitate pedestrian safety and access to transit buses. Projects to be approved by City Council selection process.
The Downtown Vision 2020 Bike/Ped group will be mooting ideas, the Mid-Willamette Valley Chapter of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance will be discussing them - you should think about them too! Drop ideas in the comments or let the city know.

Certainly, with the decision to close State Street at the Carousel, connectivity to the Union Street Railroad Bridge and Riverfront Park has become even more of a problem, and looking at ways to "bridge" the gaps across Liberty, Commercial, Front, and the Rail on the east side, and Wallace and Edgewater on the west, merits urgent consideration.

And this leads to the bad news. The bike/ped improvements too often are veneer - lipstick on a pig. The most basic structural decisions and execution are deleterious to bicyclists and pedestrians, and then the city looks at ways to paint the concrete and asphalt to mitigate for the damage the concrete and asphalt has inflicted.

Let's look at the proposed improvements for the intersection of Lancaster and Market NE. Both of these streets have to rank very high on the list of worst places to walk and bike in Salem. Traffic speeds are high, volumes are high, noise and stink are high, hazards from drive-ways and right hooks are high. Nobody likes to walk and bike there.

Currently, Lancaster has five lanes, both north and south of the intersection, and Market has 5 to the west and 3 to the east. There's a single left-turn lane in all four legs of the intersection. Bike lanes hug the margin, except on the west side of Market, where it sits between a through-lane and a right-turn lane.

In the proposed improvements, three legs gain one lane, and one leg gains two lanes. Two of the legs gain an additional left-turn lane. Bikes and pedestrians attempting to cross the intersection must negotiate the additional crossing distance from the new lanes and must watch out for turning traffic from the additional turn lanes. In every way it become more complicated and dangerous and unpleasant. The goal is to pump more drive-alone autos through the intersection.

Having achieved that goal, then there is the question: How do we accommodate bikes and peds? So they shift the bike lane to the left so that it's sheltered from the right-turn-only lane. That's the principal change. At the end of the day, however, the intersection becomes longer and more difficult to cross, an impediment to walking and biking rather than an encouragement.

This is the contradiction at the heart of the road bond and at the heart of the current Transportation System Plan.
Traditionally, roadways have been designed primarily to facilitate automobile travel, with limited consideration given to accommodating the use of bicycles as an effective alternative to meeting our transportation needs. This practice is changing, however, due to a growing awareness that bicycles offer a viable and economical mode of transportation with fewer negative impacts on air quality and finite land resources than those associated with the is important to provide well-maintained facilities and encouragement to use them.

In fact, the practice is hardly changing. However much each may talk about improving conditions for bikes and peds, the fundamental thrust of both is to make things worse and then with a very small proportion of the budget to try to abate the damage done. There's little sense of integrated planning for complete streets for all users.

As we move into the fall and plan for more of the road bond projects, let your City Councilor, the Mayer, and City Manager know that making Salem a bike-friendly place is important. Shifting short drive-alone trips to bicycle trips is an easy way to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas regulations are coming down the turnpike, and moving now rather than later will make all the difference.

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