Thursday, October 6, 2011

Vision 2020 Group Discusses Flex Funds and Signs

At Wednesday's Vision 2020 Bicycle and Pedestrian workgroup meeting we learned about two Flex Fund projects, discussed some signage and wayfinding possibilities, and got an update on the updates to the Transportation System Plan (aka Bike and Walk Salem).

Flex Fund Projects

You may recall the first round of $21M in Flexible Funds and the just-announced second round. The City intends on submitting two applications. (The proposals will go before Council on Monday, so look for more detail in the staff reports when they come out on Friday.)

Here are the project criteria for the Flex Funds program:
A. Connectivity, integration and overall benefit to the transportation system
  1. Plans for/contributes to the development of a “seamless” multimodal transportation system.
  2. Plans for/connects modes or serves multiple modes.
  3. Completes/extends a critical system or modal link.
  4. Helps preserve a critical non-highway facility, service or program.
  5. Reduces the need for a highway expansion.
B. Environmental Sustainability
  1. Plans for/contributes to improved environmental quality (i.e. GHG Reductions).
  2. Reduces VMT.
  3. Plans for/contributes to the use of sustainable energy sources for transportation.
  4. Reduces exposure of the population to air pollution.
C. Community Livability and Sustainability
  1. Plans for/contributes to the development of livable communities.
  2. Supports/preserves/creates long term employment.
  3. Plans for congestion mitigation/mitigates congestion.
  4. Enhances the user experience.
  5. Plans for/links workers to jobs.
D. Mobility, Access and Health
  1. Plans for/expands transportation choices for all Oregonians.
  2. Plans for/expands or protects mobility for public transportation dependent users including minorities, senior and disabled, low income and youth.
  3. Plans for/extends access to goods and services.
  4. Contributes to a healthy, active lifestyle.
The first application is for design and construction of the Minto side of the trail connecting to the Minto-Riverfront Park bridge. Urban Renewal dollars will go towards the bridge, but apparently there's not enough to fund the trail side. According to Project Manager Annie Gorski
The Agency requests up to $1,000,000....The proposed Trail will be twelve feet wide with ten foot buffer, six inch thick concrete surface, and span approximately 3800 linear feet. The Trail and Bridge will be constructed to ODOT design standards, meet ADA accessibility requirements, and include environmentally sustainable design elements, where possible.
Here's a map with the approximate location and extent in red.

The other application is for completion funding on the paved path between the Union Street Railroad Bridge and Glen Creek. It has run into delays and cost-overruns, and requires funding in addition to the original Stimulus amount.

As Jen Akeroyd pointed out in an email to the Vision 2020 group, the proposals play more strongly as recreation projects than as transportation projects. Still, to my mind the Minto-Riverfront Bridge and path meets many of the criteria. Most importantly, it crosses or provides alternatives to big barriers - River Road and the Slough. (Similarly, the Union Street Railroad Bridge crosses the Willamette River, a formidable barrier.)

It is difficult to share the same enthusiasm for the Glen Creek path. It eliminates no barrier, forges no new connection. Really, it's a shortcut, a very nice shortcut, it's true, but it hardly a completes a critical connection. I don't see how it is a good candidate for a Flex Funds application.

Even more disconcerting, just up the block, the City is spending $11M+ on a widening project that will significantly degrade the connection across Wallace Road for people who walk and bike and separate the neighborhood from Roths, the Library, the Transit Center and the Post Office.

This is a $11M crater right in front of a $100K application to complete a shortcut. That's a difference of 100x, two orders of magnitude! A completed path between the bridge and Glen Creek will not come close to compensating for the upstream loss in connectivity at Wallace and Glen Creek.

The City should go ahead and apply for the funds, but golly it would be nice to have strong, visionary projects that clearly meet project criteria.

Tuesday Update - here's the discussion of the three Flex Fund apps and corresponding staff reports on Monday's Council agenda.

Wayfinding and Signage

More exciting and happily non-controversial was a discussion of wayfinding and bike route signage.

The current signing standards use the ODOT sign with three directional slots.

Here's one going west-bound on Chemeketa just as you approach the Capitol Mall. Chemeketa goes under, and into the parking garage, and bicyclists should stay above ground. The signing shows the veer into the turn-around.

And here's the sign going east-bound at 14th and Chemeketa.

It has seemed to many that such a big sign wasn't always necessary and perhaps contributed to sign noise or sign fatigue along routes. And where there's not a route junction, jog, or other deviation, the directional component might be superfluous. City staff were interested in what the group thought about this.

Bill Holmstrom recalled the signage from Vancouver BC, which used modest-sized bike logo on the street name "blade." (Here's more on the BTA blog and BikePortland.)

(Images from BikePortland)

The group rallied around this pretty quickly as a low-cost and elegant solution for those places where it was only necessary to signal a bikeway, not to give additional directions. It also indicated in a low key way the multi-modal nature of a shared roadway. Combined with sharrows on the pavement, this seemed like a great approach to marking.

Additionally, at decision points, bikeway junctions or jogs, or other directional nodes, the larger sign with three slots would be appropriate.

Together this seemed like a very flexible and sensible way for wayfinding and signage.

Do you have additional thoughts or criticism?


Jeff McNamee said...

You and Jen are correct. These priorities seem too recreationally focussed. Who drives "this" ship anyway? Whomever it is needs to be replaced! I don't see any need for the Wallace Marine bike path. A complete waste of $$. Why don't they focus on 2nd St and connectivity to the Union path via Wallace. Disappointing. How about a cycle track and a ped bridge?

Doug's Transportation Ramblings said...

Regrettably, I think Jeff is correct with respect to the need for changes in city staff. It has become apparent that the Public Works Department will not provide the vision or leadership needed to convert a auto-centric system into a multi-modal system until it finds some transportation planners to replace the road planners who happen to get on bikes every once in a while.

Brandon Filbert said...

Amen to both previous comments. Salem falls further and further behind the obvious trend in our economy and transportation future because priorities are set almost solely from a mid-20th century point of view. This will all come to haunt us in future years, when events make a sudden shift essential and Salem is largely unprepared.

LO's Mommy said...

Below is a bit of the email I sent to the City with suggestions for improving the Minto Island Trail proposal. Note that, at current, the City's proposal misses some fundamentals (such as deadline expectations clearly outlined by ODOT Flex Fund criteria). A reliable source told me that Salem fails to win funds compared to other cities in Oregon...I was not told why but maybe it is because the grant writers fail to follow basic criteria? I hate 'calling people out' but I am anxious the City of Salem will go without again...and I do not want that to happen.

Some of my email:

1) Criteria A: Multimodal connectivity - the Flex Fund program is emphasizing projects that address the connectivity of cycling, walking and public transit. Projects that can address the THREE issues will be prioritized and favored by the internal review board. Susan emphasized this and when I read over the Flex Fund documents it was clear to me that multimodal projects are a must. So - if this group is going to continue with the Minto-Island Trail proposal, they should address this crucial aspect of the criteria. We know that the trail will help connect cyclists and pedestrians to downtown and South Salem but how will the trail enhance the use of current transportation systems, including public transit?

2) It is stated in the criteria that projects must be completed by 12/31/14. From the Minto-Island proposal, I understand that the trail will be built out at the same time bridge construction takes place. Bridge design is expected not to be done until Jan 2014. As it stands, the current Flex Funds proposal for the Minto-Trail does not address the 12/31/14 deadline.

3) 10.27% match for FHWA funding must be identified. It is not clear from the proposal that this has been identified but I have limited experience with this type of language so maybe someone can point out where in the proposal this has been addressed.

Jen Akeroyd (Note that there is no 'c' in my name, Eric:))

Melinda Filbert said...

If we were rolling in the cash then maybe spending large amounts of money on essentially a weekend recreational trail would be fine and there are those out there who would love to see that happen. I have heard folks say in the past that they would use a Minto Brown trail system if it were connected someday to downtown for commuting purposes. Well, riding in essentially an isolated area on my own in the dark isn’t particularly appealing to this female cyclist and after talking with other women I appear not to be alone in these sentiments. (I am having a hard time believing that this future pathway would ever be patrolled by the Salem Police Department.) If we want to attract more cyclists, including female cyclists, we need to provide some options that suggest safe biking infrastructure. If folks want to commute on an isolated path then so be it but give the rest of us something to use. It really saddens me that Winter and Union are not going to be bike boulevards. I guess things aren’t going to change until gas prices really climb and cheap oil isn’t so cheap anymore. Bring on $6.00 a gallon gas! Let the price increases begin!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the thoughtful critiques! Just a quick note for now...more later: Here's the staff report on the Glen Creek trail, the Minto trail, and a new one, a Cherriots Flex Fund proposal.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I don't think it affects the larger point about the City's dearth of multi-modal transportation projects and preference for recreation projects, but it should be noted for clarity that the Minto bridge and path is a project in the Urban Development Department and not in Public Works/Transportation.

Will correct your name shortly, Jen. Sorry about that!

Melinda makes a great point.

Without a substantial development at the southern end of Minto, the proposed trail will be pretty isolated after dark. The Springwater trail in Portland works because it connects Sellwood with inner Southeast, and as it follows Johnson Creek it goes through neighborhoods. Folks in the south Salem hills could use the trail, but the trail would not likely offer amenities to generate new bike trips as opposed to providing an alternative to existing trips along River Road. As a year-round transportation corridor, it's going to appeal only to people already confident about biking in the dark along isolated routes.

Personally, I fear cars much less than isolation. I would rather be in car traffic than stuck by myself where help is far, far away.

Still, more eyeballs and ears on the park will help with security generally, surely.

So yeah, with Jeff, I wish we'd complete connections to the existing bridge before we started on another one.

The Union St. RR Bridge has been sold as a "transportation" project when without those connections it in fact functions primarily as a recreation site. Those arguments are a lot like the arguments for the Minto bridge and path.

Maybe we need to put a stake in the ground and say - no more pilfering transportation dollars for projects that are primarily recreational. Or else make recreation projects truly function as transportation projects.