Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review: One Step Forward, but Two Steps Back

It sure feels like we lost ground this year. Nothing seemed to catch fire, and everybody seemed tired. For every project that seemed like a win, there were several blanks, duds, and outright losses. Within a year of sharrows going down on Chemeketa, for example, the downtown sewer project took several out.

In a nutshell, that's 2011 for me.

Mostly, it seemed like it was a discouraging year for people who bike. I feel like a real negative Nellie saying this, but it seemed to take too much of a Pollyanna-ish stretch to suggest it was a good year.

So, was it encouraging for you, did you think the City took two steps forward instead? I would especially love to hear about that! What else was important?

Bike and Walk Salem

The lead item, and a piece of good news is the completion of the draft Bike Plan. At the same time there may be a lack of enthusiasm behind it. Whether it was the Stakeholder Advisory Committee, City staff, advocates, or regular folks who walk and bike, passion seemed to smolder and gutter more than flame. It's difficult just now to see this making a very meaningful difference. It's not too late, and 2012 could bring about renewed enthusiasm. But at least in 2011, Bike and Walk Salem offered something too passive for active transportation.

Other Planning Efforts

The project that generated the most excitement was surely the Sustainable Cities Initiative residency. It wrapped up over the summer with the final reports. The year-long residency will take time to assess and sift for its enduring contributions and project progress. One project, on the South of Mission neighborhood, will continue and use the SCI work as an important starting point. A couple of other projects with no immediate transportation component will also continue. Other ideas will likely percolate and resurface down the road.

ODOT's Active Transportation Section will be interesting to watch. Internally folks have good things to say about it, and hopefully we'll start seeing more externally too!

The North Broadway Parking Study is starting and offers 2012 a real opportunity for progress - but the participants must seize it.

Public Works Slow-Down in Pro-Bike Projects

Altogether more characteristic, though, are the regular business decisions of the City. As Public Works and other staff encounter decision points where they can make pro-bike or anti-bike choices, make choices for walkable neighborhoods or car-throughput, most of the plans represent autoism and business as usual. The rhetoric and thought behind Bike and Walk Salem is not working very strongly in areas outside the orbits of its immediate boosters, and even among the boosters things seemed timid.

The City almost always chose to make things more difficult for people on bike:
  • The City has not yet formally unwound the decision to close State Street at the Carousel.
  • When the City looked at Second Street NW, they decided against the suggestion in the River Crossing Alt Modes Study, and decided to make Second Street into a parking lot instead of a family friendly bikeway.
  • When the City had an opportunity to delay a decision on vacating a parcel at the Cemetery, they chose to move forward with the vacation.
  • When the City designed the neighborhood cut-throughs to Kuebler, they made them too narrow for people on bike.
  • When the City was paving Kuebler, they made all the crossings longer for people on foot and on bike, including the school connection at Kuebler and Lone Oak.
  • When the City planned Wallace @ Glen Creek, they totally degraded the crossing for people on foot and on bike.
  • When the City considered the downtown historic district and bank drive-throughs, it focused on making downtown more car-friendly and less walkable.
The Minto-Riverfront bridge and path are proceeding, but together this represents a parks and recreation project, and not something that will significantly impact Salem's transportation system.

Moreover, twice now, the City has decided not to pursue transportation projects funded by rounds of $21M "flex funds." A year ago they simply sat out the first round. This year they chose to apply with two parks projects that at best sat awkwardly with the project criteria. Neither made it into the second round of evaluation.

It's true that the City has the Bike and Walk Salem project to update the TSP, but the fact of the matter is, where the City has discretion to make pro-bike and pro-walk decisions, staff and electeds do not. Individually, some projects might inhabit a grey middle, it's true, but others are more black-and-white. Overall there's a distinct pattern here, and it was a disappointing one.

Stalled Projects and Volunteer Loss

Volunteer and DIY projects faltered, went on hiatus, or had to scale back. For whatever combination of reasons, and surely the Great Recession is in the mix, people felt they didn't have the time or energy to devote to volunteering for bikes.

If in 2012 you want a project, there are tons of opportunities!
  • Kidical Mass
  • Saturday Market Bike Valet
  • Bike Trains
  • Bike Safety Ed (which also lost a staff person)
  • Bike Drill Team
  • Cranksgiving
Kidical Mass looks like it's poised for a resurgence in 2012, happily. And there are strong rumors about a KMUZ "Bike Show" on the radio. But there's still lots of other projects and opportunity.

In Racing and Recreation

In recreational biking, one move really got the attention of this non-racer! Retooling the Fairview circuit races and shifting them from Fairview Industrial Park to Pringle Creek Community was brilliant.

Now it has the potential to grow into a real family-friendly spectator event that can appeal broadly to non-participants. It was beautiful there, the farm food truck was great, the cafe was open - what's not to like!

Looking to 2012

Of course getting the Bike Plan adopted is important. But even more important is getting a commitment to fund projects that are in the plan. At one of the hearings City staff said that at present there was no intent to insert new projects into the City's Capital Improvement Plan. Since it's a five year document, and currently goes through fiscal year 2015-16, that means nothing new before 2017!

Building more vocal community support for walking and biking will be important for 2012 in order for more than the minimum to happen!

After several rounds of delay (this time for consideration of potential historic homes and properties), the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Salem Rivercrossing is due in April. If Courthouse Square is a $50M problem, this would be a $500M problem - an order of magnitude larger! Advocates from multiple quarters will need to give careful scrutiny and publicity to the project.

In Memoriam

And finally we tip our caps to Jim Henry one more time, who crashed on a ride and sustained mortal injuries.

No comments: