Thursday, September 29, 2011

Final Stakeholder Meeting Moots Bike and Walk Priorities

Tuesday night was the final meeting of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee for the bike plan update.

The main topic of conversation was a review of the prioritized project list: Were the right projects given priority? Should any projects drop in priority?

As you'd expect, there was more addition than subtraction!

Here's a clip from the draft under review (which is to say, discussion at the meeting changed it, so it's already obsolete, and will be changed yet more), and it will give you an idea for the density of "tier one" projects with the highest priority. These are signified with red rules and red dots.

The rubric, as you can see, is generous. There are lots of projects assigned to tier one. The horizon for tier one has also been expanded from 5 years out to 10 years out.

It is disappointing, of course, to see such a key intersection as Wallace @ Glen Creek taken out of the project list. This is regrettable, but it was likely a casualty of politics. The momentum behind the $11M is strong.

At the end of the day it's a political process, so there will always be compromises. Mostly I think they got it right.

But the more important question is how useful such a broad list of tier one projects will be.

The exigencies of individual grant programs and current politics will shape project selection for one-off kinds of programming and grants. So maybe it is not so important in that context.

Planning for the next Bond Measure

But what about the next bond measure? In the current "Keep Salem Moving" $100M bond, most of the bike improvements are actually road widening projects, or ancillary to the road widening. Where collectors and arterials are being widened to current city road standards, bike lanes and sidewalks are included. But these projects are not fundamentally about mobility for people on foot and on bike. They are fundamentally about road capacity for people in cars.

There is $1.2M set aside for "missing sidewalks and bike lanes" and a few other dribs and drabs for projects that are more fundamentally about non-auto mobility. But non-auto mobility is not at all central in the bond project list, and many of the projects for auto mobility, like Wallace @ Glen Creek, degrade conditions for people on foot or on bike.

So in the next bond, it should be our goal to devote a larger slice of pie to projects that are essentially about mobility for people who aren't driving, to improve the quality of projects so they move beyond simply striping bike lanes on busy roads, and to do a better job of reining in instances of expanding auto capacity that concurrently degrade conditions for people who are not in autos.

In this context, how will the new bike plan shape the next bond?

Having a smaller set of priority projects, as well as a strategic vision, could make vetting and selection easier on the bond committee. A large and diffuse project list will mean a separate and substantial - and political - revetting process for bike/ped project selection in a new road bond.

The question is, should we make it easy for that bond committee? Or should we make them have to retrace the steps we are taking now, and deliberate over what we are discussing now?

Even though it is a living document, subject to revision and responsive to exigency, I want to suggest that we have a much smaller list of key projects we passionately pursue. I fear the breadth of tier one makes it too dilute for policy and planning, and instead subjects the project list unnecessarily to the vagaries of politics.

How Far we've Come and Have Yet to Go

Finally, as a reality check here's the bikeway map from a State Highway Department (before it was ODOT!) report in 1971, written not long after the Bike Bill. The weird sidewalk/sidepath along Highway 22 to Rickreall (in green) was all shiny and new! But some of the low-traffic routes in red dots are still waiting for even just signs. Notice also how much land has been developed in 40 years, all on the outer edges in auto-oriented development.

The reminder from the past cuts both ways: It shows how far we've come, but also how much more could have been done in 40 years.

No comments: