Monday, December 14, 2009

Oak Trees and Alt Modes: Ambivalence and Ambiguous Progress at Council

Interesting City Council meeting this evening. An oak grove with trees nearly 200 years old threatened by the Salem Renewable Energy and Technology Center provided most of the debate this evening. (Happily the effort to replant oak savannah at Minto Brown did not occasion debate, though it added to the irony.) Councilor Tesler defended the trees passionately and observed the irony in an ostensibly sustainable energy park needing to cut them down. It seemed, sadly, to be a metaphor for the way sustainability is all too often approached here. Jobs as resource extraction, pink-slipped when the market collapses or the resources run out, not jobs as a truly sustainable enterprise.

(Photo: Ashael Bush II in the Bush Pasture Oak Grove)

Still, Council passed a substitute motion directing staff to prepare a report on the trees with a view towards developing a plan to save them, which seemed like it preserved the possibility of meaningful compromise.

Two transportation developments reflected this ambivalence.

Council approved staff recommendation to proceed with a stimulus-funded Energy Efficiency and Conservation Grant application. The city proposes to allocate funds in this way:
$150,000 to establish revolving loan fund for energy efficiency upgrades.
This will meet Community draft Goal #1 - Improve energy efficiency in buildings community-wide.

$5,000 to support electric vehicle charging stations.
$85,000 to implement Alt Modes recommendations
These will meet Community draft Goal #2 - Create and support a viable transportation network that focuses on moving people.

$65,000 for a marketing plan.
This will meet Community draft Goal #5 - Complete a public participation program which fosters a sense of commitment and awareness of the benefits of energy savings and greenhouse gas reduction community-wide.

$1,171,000 to meet City draft Goal #1 - Lead efforts to increase energy efficiency in City buildings.
Especially interesting is the $85,000 allocation to begin implementing recommendations from Rivercrossing Alternative Modes Study. The good news is that these will be the first funds applied to the recommendations, and hopefully they will leverage more. The recommendations are good ones and should be pursued with or without the bridge. The bad news is that the projects cost significantly more than tens of thousands of dollars, and that the amount pales next to the proposed $500M for the bridge. Hopefully this is a prelude, not merely a bone.

Public Works gave an update on Market & Lancaster.According to the staff report, one of the primary objects in the widening effort is safety:
The current project looked at the effectiveness of these changes based on 2005 through 2008 collision data. The rate was reduced from 3.39 collisions per million million vehicles entering (MEV) the intersection to 2.4 (over 1 is considered a higher than average collision rate).

Staff developed a preliminary plan that continues to implement access management techniques at the intersection to help further reduce the collision rate. The techniques being considered include raised traffic separators (medians)…to control vehicle turning movements at driveways; consolidating multiple driveways to one location; and driveway closures.
But the plan adds dual turn lanes and widens the road from 5 to 6 lanes! SKATS 2007 data suggests the Lancaster corridor is in absolute terms the most dangerous place for pedestrians and bicycles - and they're going to take away with one hand what they give with the other! "Access management" and safety concerns look Orwellian here: Really making the intersection safe and functional for all road users would require an approach radically different from widening the road and closing driveways.

A more general update to the road bond is here.

So it was a half-glass night - half-full or half-empty maybe depends on your mood or sensibility.

No comments: