Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bike Plan Back to Staff, Planning Commission Continues Hearing to March 6

Tuesday night the Planning Commission sent the Bike Plan back to staff with some direction on priorities, funding, outside consultation, and language, and asked to see a revision on March 6th.

The upside is there's time to educate and develop public support. The downside is delay brings out the foes and wears down proponents.

Most of the public comment this time was in opposition to the Plan or parts of the Plan.

The proposed cemetery path remained a lighting rod, and several folks came out to oppose it specifically. It continued to receive a disproportionate amount of the public comment.

System Development Charges were another issue. The best description I could find (2008 TSDC Update) suggests bike lanes are funded by Transportation System Development Charges:
all additional right-of-way costs are TSDC eligible, as well as all additional pavement, bridge and culvert expansions, installation of needed storm drainage systems (curb, gutter, catch basin to pipe systems or open ditch/swale systems), required water quality systems, and the cost of replacing existing pavement, curb, gutter, drainage, sidewalk, bicycle lanes, landscaping and street lighting needed to be moved or reconstructed due to having to expand the roadway section, or it beign [sic] damaged by constructing the improvement. [italics added]
But the representative from the Home Builders Association sought assurances from the City that SDC fees wouldn't fund bike infrastructure. I don't understand this completely, but it bears watching. (If you know the issues, please chime in!)

Commissioner Levin summed up an important part of the sentiment when he said that he wanted to see more "protection of private property rights." Representatives from the Home Builders Association, Americans for Prosperity, Willamette University, the Chamber of Commerce, and some individuals asked several times for "mandatory" or "mandating" language to be replaced by advisory, recommending, or encouraging language. In short, the focus for many seemed to be a hope for assurances that the plan remain aspirational and optional - not something that the City actually intends to do!

A bicyclist himself, Commissioner Fox asked about Policy 3.1 and the focus on ticketing people on bikes. He suggested that people on bike shouldn't be singled out, since the vehicular code applies to them basically the same as to people in cars. He also pointed out that the components of the bike chapter should be handled in the same way as the components in the street chapter and auto-focused portions: If the street project list is expansive and over-ambitious, why should the bike project list be any different?

All in all, it's hard to know what to say. We aren't at the point where we are asking, "is this a good transportation plan?" Instead, the battle is whether biking and walking even count as transportation: For several of the Commissioners they are lifestyle perks that shouldn't be paid for in the same way we pay for roads and other transportation facilities. Though the total quantity of public comments still on balance favors biking and the plan, several Commissioners appear more sympathetic to the opponents. In this regard biking looks to remain second-class. The City seems content to follow rather than lead, and the path here at this moment doesn't appear to be taking us very far. (This also shows a problem with treating each mode independently rather than looking at a multi-modal complete streets philosophy.)

Commissioner Gallagher had the most searching questions and he appears to be key as the swing vote and an honest broker. On the one hand, I have a great deal of sympathy with his desire for a more sharply articulated list of priorities. I would also like to see more focus. And I appreciate his willingness to say that some community transportation needs may trump individual private property rights. On the other hand, I worry that the biking and walking chapters are being held to different standards than the street and auto-focused chapters. In general, facilities for biking and walking should not be more optional than facilities for cars, but we seem to be going towards this asymmetry.

In any case City staff will draft an outline of what they understand the direction from the Commission to be, and then once the outline and direction is agreed upon, the plan revision and consultation with additional interested parties will commence.

Look for more to come.

And if you haven't commented, please do so! It's ever more important to demonstrate broad public support!


dfox said...

You wrote: " . . .the representative from the Home Builders Association sought assurances from the City that SDC fees wouldn't fund bike infrastructure."

To my understanding his concern was regarding the use of SDC funds for stand alone bike projects. And I believe Julie said they are not used for those projects. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Doug's Transportation Ramblings said...

It seems the flakier the idea, the more responsive city staff are to it. It is discouraging the way that the staff seems so willing to embrace goofy comments and to propose changes in a piecemeal fashion while ignoring and not bothering to even address other comments. The enforcement issue and west Salem changes are examples of this approach. State and federal policy-development processes require that the staff address and provide some type of response to ALL comments and not to just automatically embrace the more screwy of them.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the clarification on SDC fees!

The responsiveness surely is odd.

Of written comments, somewhat difficult to tally because they keep getting repeated in different staff reports, as of the hearing time on 1/3, by my count there were:

YES, in favor - 38
NO, against - 3
With Reservations - 6

(Most of the reservations were about one specific project, the Cemetery path, and most of these commenters did not address the plan as a whole)

At the Jan 3rd hearing a couple of folks from "Americans for Prosperity" came out to argue against it. But mostly of those with reservations or opposition were the same folks from the November 1st hearing. One new voice, and an important one, was the Chamber of Commerce. The other new voice was Willamette University, split between the Sustainability Council's enthusiastic support and the VP of Facilities reservations about through-traffic on campus.

But on balance, as you can see, the public comment is overwhelmingly in favor of the plan - yet you might not guess this by staff or commission mood.

Not sure what to do about that...