Friday, February 3, 2012

Vision 2020 Looks at Bike/Ped Funding Sources and Sighs

In the furor over the proposed House Transportation Reauthorization, and the possible loss of dedicated funding for biking and walking facilities, the City's choice to depend on these grant sources is a timely illustration of the ways the system isn't working.

At Wednesday's meeting of the Vision 2020 Bike/Ped Workgroup, the principal topic was a review of funding sources and grant opportunities for bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

On the City side, discussion was slack, lacking vision and verve.

We spent nearly the entire hour and a half just going over the basics of each funding source. I had hopes the City would have candidates for each one and would show a draft plan for the next couple of years!

Staff did not. And it seemed the City's passion and vision has dwindled, whether on the Vision 2020 side or the Bike and Walk Salem side. Advocating for non-motorized transportation is not something on which the City really seems to want to lead.

So the real question may be about leadership and an enthusiasm gap.

Three themes emerged from the meeting:

1) For the Minto Bridge and Path the City did have a plan. The City was going try to fit the Minto Bridge and Path into every possible funding source and remained committed to the creative misprision that it was a good "transportation" corridor linking jobs, homes, and commercial districts. City staff also admitted that they did not have a good estimate for the amount of time the path would be unusable each winter due to high water conditions. Staff will also be recommending to the Urban Renewal Agency that more funds be allocated to the project, and construction remains penciled in for 2014.

(It's important to underscore that criticism of the City's framing of the bridge and path isn't also criticism of the project. Indeed, the park-to-park connections between Minto, Riverfront, and Wallace Parks do constitute a grand vision. But what is frustrating is the laundering and double-talk involved in passing off a series of park-to-park connections as viable transportation corridors. They did this with the railroad bridge and they're doing it again with the Minto project. It's something of a bait-and-switch; the City is not being intellectually honest about things.)

2) Despite going through the Walk and Bike Salem process, the City had yet to reach a complete streets philosophy and was still thinking of bike/ped facilities as secondary and separate from "primary" transportation facilities for cars, and so the City would remain dependent on these dedicated funding sources - urgent needs would have to wait for special grants and would not be funded as general transportation projects, except as road widening (identified as "upgrades to urban standards") entailed "sidewalks and bike lanes." There's just a hard wall between "transportation enhancements" and regular transportation funding. And in the absence of such funds, the City maintained a posture of helplessness.

3) And despite the large universe of projects identified in the Bike and Walk Salem process, none of these projects are being elevated for immediate priority consideration. Instead the City is continuing to try to fund legacy remediation projects for "sidewalks and bike lanes."

One participant observed after the meeting that the City still shies from vision and WOW. No cycle tracks, road diets, no separated facilities beyond standard "sidewalks and bike lanes." The projects remain pedestrian - in the bad sense of the word. And lots of waiting.

Grant and Funding Sources for Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities
You'll notice there are no candidate projects on the grid.

Other Matters

We got an update on Bike and Walk Salem, and it was somewhat discouraging. The tone seemed to be that the City would continue to accommodate objections rather than try to persuade the objectors that their concerns were not well founded. It felt like retreat rather than leadership, a refusal of the sales opportunity and persuasion. I am concerned that the City lacks vision, verve, and passion for the project. Followship. No fighting spirit.

Here's a revised chart of drivers licenses in Marion County that really shows the start of a generational shift in attitudes towards auto-oriented mobility. It seems the City is just not going to pay attention to stuff like this, and is not going to use it to sell others on Bike and Walk Salem - and we will at the same time all continue to wonder why Salem doesn't attract young professionals.

Finally, one grace note amid the complaint: City Staff also clarified that the application to close the rail crossing at State Street in front of the Carousel had expired and that the current default condition was that the crossing would remain open. This is good news for connectivity between downtown and the riverfront!

And! A bonus water station. The meeting was held at the library because Pringle Community Hall was still being cleaned out from the flooding. (During the flood I learned that the lower windows are positioned and formatted so floodwaters will flow straight through the building - apparently it was cheaper than trying to elevate the building above the floodplain!)

I have struggled many times with the low angle of the stream out of this fountain, and never got my bottle much more than half full. This new water bottle spigot will help!

(Story about "fighting spirit" here, artist credit here)

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