Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Priority List for the Preferred Bike Plan

Building off a note from earlier this week, I want to add more thoughts on what I think the mission critical priorities should be for the bike plan.

Strategy and Vision Missing

The other day Gary posted his thoughts and some analysis from conversations with Jeff and Doug. Looking at the long list of projects, he argues for stronger editorial or curatorial oversight - for a vision and strategy - and says he fears "the tragedy of averages and popularity contests."

At the Advisory Committee meeting on Tuesday, in response to a comment by one member about strategy and vision, the consultant team mentioned the "green transportation hierarchy" just beginning to be used as a way to talk about and analyze mobility choices and facilities. Indeed, it is an example of a more strategic vision of mobility, one that could govern the kind and number of transportation projects to fund and construct.

That we seem to be going out of our way to omit such a strategy and vision is troubling, but it seems it may be by design. (See the critique of Levels of Service analysis.) The ways the City opposed what became House Bill 3150, which permits a local 20mph speed limit on streets intended for walking and biking, and moved to create a parking lot on 2nd Street NW, are consistent with a limited interest in strategic vision. I don't think the absence of one is accidental. What we're gonna get will surely be "new and improved," but it will also remain in important ways an ad hoc project list.

Outreach and Buy-in a Weakness Also

Back to Gary's note, he also talks about "buy-in" and and it's worth an extended quote, as I think he zeros in on another important missing piece:
One of the key components to adopting and implementing a planning document such as this is "buy-in" from the affected city/state officials. Management at affected agencies (City of Salem, ODOT, Salem-Keizer Schools, etc) need to be engaged early and often....Engineers and planners (and management) are more likely to support new ideas when they can have a discussion with their colleges, ask questions, see examples, etc. So far, I haven't seen much in the way of engaging decision makers at the city or ODOT, Salem city council, etc. I'd like to see this happen before the plan is presented to council. [bold added]
He contrasts the approach in Salem to one in Eugene:
The City of Eugene hosted a bike-ped work session for staff from the public works and transportation divisions. I thought this was a highly effective means to inform and engage decision makers.
I would add that despite the presence of four or five representatives from neighborhood associations on the Advisory Committee, there doesn't seem to have been much direct outreach to the neighborhood associations themselves. I worry a lot that the bike plan, walking plan, and safe routes plan will baffle them when it goes out to Council for adoption.

Mission Critical for Five Year Plan:
Downtown Proper Misses Cut - What about North Downtown/Broadway?

I want to submit a list of key sites in Salem and use that list to drive a selection for the most critical projects that we should make every effort to complete in the five year horizon. This is not exhaustive, and I will be curious to learn whether you agree or disagree!

Though he has not published his thoughts, in conversation Doug has argued persuasively that we ought to continue to upgrade Chemeketa from Front to 24th and make it into a world-class bike boulevard. He makes a compelling case. But while I think that project should remain a goal, in the five-year window we are talking about here, other projects might yield an even bigger return.

While downtown is consistently mentioned as the biggest "black hole" for people on bikes in Salem, and obviously is super important as a commercial and employment center, I also find that I am increasingly hopeless and giving up on downtown proper in the near-term. Near-term only, please note! Its problems are too big, too systemic, and too difficult to solve in five years with the bike plan. Downtown proper is a whole-traffic-system-whole-roads problem, and I just don't see how "transportation enhancements" alone solve that problem.

I worry, for example, that a Church Street bike boulevard will need two-way traffic on Church; and that this change to Church Street would have to wait for a change to the entire two-way grid. Hopefully the Downtown Circulation Study will address the system as a whole in a way the bike plan update does not.

Consequently, I am leaning towards the conclusion that the circulation study, and not the bike plan, will be the place for downtown bike projects - for complete streets that include robust bicycle connectivity. And that's why I find myself not quite as enthusiastic about immediately continuing to improve Chemeketa as a bike boulevard and why I'm leaving Riverfront Park off the list (as well as Willamette University, Salem Hospital, and the Capital Mall). These are really important, and I don't like leaving them off the list, but the bike plan update as currently structured isn't the right tool for fixing these problems: it's taking a knife to a gun fight, an abacus to aerospace calculations.

So, instead I'm really getting interested in the potential of the North Downtown/Broadway district - there's something close to a clean slate there, and it's nearly possible to get it right from the start! There is tons of potential in improvements to Broadway/High, Hood, Market, Norway, and 5th in the Grant neighborhood. There's no reason that biking and walking cannot become the preferred mobility choice for short-trips here. This area could become the City's showpiece walkable neighborhood and commercial district. (But of course this requires that "buy-in"...)

Except for Lancaster, the other areas focus more on "interested and concerned" and less on commuters, who tend to be more experienced and confident.

The Most Important Trip Generators and Destinations for the Five Year Plan:
North Downtown/Broadway
Lancaster Drive
Kroc Center
Union Street Railroad Bridge
Minto Park
Bush Park

Project Areas (with one or more relevant projects):
Union St. RR Bridge Connections
North Downtown / Broadway District Connections
Lancaster Corridor Improvements
Church St. Bike Boulevard
Connections to Minto-Brown Park

Specific Projects:
Wallace @ Glen Creek Intersection
Minto-Riverfront Bridge and Path
Bush Park - Minto Connector on Miller Street and River Road
Salem Industrial Drive Improvements to Kroc Center

(Gary didn't address the project list as a whole, but he did single out the Airport loop as a project whose value he didn't get, and the North Downtown/Broadway district as an area worth a higher priority.)

So that's what I think the priorities should be, and hopefully a good enough description of how I got to them. What do you think?


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

A commenter sends this anonymously via email:

"I think the idea of a priority list is a good one. A couple of thoughts for your consideration:

First, Kroc Center would definitely not be on my list. The Kroc Center is a wonderful facility in the wrong place. Based on proposals to date - which call for a pedestrian bridge across the Parkway - it would require a solution that is extraordinarily expensive and vastly disproportionate to the benefits it would provide. The money required for this one project would be much better spent on literally dozens of smaller improvements that would make walking and cycling safer for more areas and many more people than this one significant but poorly placed attraction.

I am surprised not to see the Minto Brown footbridge on the list. It too will be expensive, but I think it provides the kind of system wide benefits that a big investment should. It would open up and connect Minto - the most popular spot for beginning and recreational cyclists - with downtown - the city's premier destination. That's key to making cycling accessible to a broader segment of the community - easy access to the most popular destinations.

In that vein, I would also vote for a pathway connection between Salem and Keizer on the riverfront. Keizer 's streets connect neatly all the way north along the river and provide a convenient, comfortable route for all types of cyclists. The missing link is right at the city limiits where one property - about 150' - separates Keizer from the river front park at the north end of Salem."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Re: Anon

On the Kroc Center, I wasn't clear enough. I'm sorry. I mean surface street improvements - specifically Salem Industrial Drive and possibly in the Northgate area. Not the Parkway overpass. I agree: too expensive for what you get. So that's good to be clearer there.

I did mean to include the Minto-Riverfront bridge and "Minto-Riverfront Bridge and Path" is on the list under the heading "specific projects." Whew! We are in agreement there.

The Keizer-Riverfront path is interesting, but would that even be possible in five years? I think I see that as longer term. I have to think about that one more. What do others think?

Unknown said...

Lancaster is important because it's the only best most direct north-south route - what with the funky layout angling all the other routes southwest-northeast and the fairgrounds and State Hospital and everything pretty much chunked out of the middle of town.

It would be really nice to have a riverfront route all the way. As it is, the Willamette Scenic Bikeway dumps riders onto Commercial / Liberty - blech!

Doug's Transportation Ramblings said...

I continue to ask myself, "Which improvements would make a discernable difference." In so doing, I keep coming back to world class bike boulevards downtown as a visible and important step toward making the city bike friendly. I know routes on residential streets that will take me almost any place else. I can't conceive of a solution that would make Lancaster bike friendly despite the bike lanes that are already there. North Broadway has interesting possibilities, but is it a destination for a significant number of people? Will parents allow children to bicycle through an industrial area to the poorly placed Kroc Center? Updating the bike/ped plan had exciting possibilities. Unfortunately, it appears that about all that it will produce is another list of projects, a few of which will ever get done.