Thursday, September 9, 2010

School Planning Stints Walking and Biking Connectivity

Congressman Oberstar's (D-MN) visit yesterday to Beach Elementary School in Portland showed some of the ways Salem lags behind other cities in active transportation.

Oberstar, who sponsored the National Safe Routes program, was on a swing through Oregon with Congressman Defazio. (Oberstar is Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Defazio Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.)

While Oberstar visited Eugene and Portland, it appears he bypassed the State Capital.

One of the elements of the proposed Battlecreek Elementary School is a multi-use path that runs through a 30-foot buffer between the residential neighborhood and the school grounds.

The plans call for a six foot path.

According to both the AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities and the Oregon Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, such paths should be wider. The Oregon standards say that
3 m (10 ft) is the standard width for a two-way multi-use path; they should be 3.6 m (12 ft) wide in areas with high mixed-use. Faster moving bicyclists require greater width than pedestrians; optimum width should be based on the relative use by these two modes. High use by skaters may also require greater width....
The City, however, does not think this applies and says
it is not considered a transportation facility, so while it does have to comply with ADA, it does not have to comply with AASHTO or other transportation design standards.

This may be true, and unfortunately the City's Comprehensive Plan is not helpful.

While it calls for pedestrian connectivity in school siting, it says nothing about bicycling or other forms of active transportation.

But even if solely pedestrian connectivity is considered, City standards call for a wider sidewalk! Salem Revised Code on sidewalks calls for an 8-foot standard when they connect to schools.

The current plans for Battlecreek may perfectly fulfill zoning and development code requirements. The path, strictly speaking, is not a sidewalk. But in too many instances, in the City proper and the School District, Salem has been satisfied with a the minimum letter rather than looking more ambitiously to satisfy the spirit of planning goals.

The battlecreek parcel has significant problems with connectivity, and it is worrisome that the planning process is getting off to such a narrow start.

With the school parcel having less than optimal connectivity, it is even more important that the park allow for connections along both north-south and east-west axes.

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