Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Our Approach to Rail Safety has Real Costs and Sometimes Fails to Encourage Compliance

In the paper today is a note about Operation Lifesaver and "International Level Crossing Awareness Day." The piece shows a picture of the crossing at 12th and Mill.

About it the piece says:
The Mill Street SE crossing in Salem, near the Amtrak station, was identified as a high-density area for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. There is an elevated foot bridge for pedestrians to cross to and from Willamette University and the Tokyo International University of America.

However, it is not the shortest route.

“The crossing has bells, lights and crossing arms, but people need to be looking and listening for them — not texting,” said Diane Young of Salem, an Operation Lifesaver volunteer. “Students with cell phones and ear buds in place cross regularly without even looking up.”
Not mentioned is the way our approach to "safety" sometimes displaces problems and shifts them to other locations in the street and complicates what should be direct and intuitive movements for people on foot and on bike. (Epicycles, I tell you!)

The crossing at Mill & 12th is an excellent example.  Having used it a good bit over the winter and spring, I find one movement in particular especially nerve-wracking and worrisome.  The work shifts conflict from the RR crossing to the street corner and intersection.

When going north on 12th/13th by the train depot and wanting to turn right to make my way onto the promenade, the design forces me to become an urban deer.  Just like a bike salmon, I have to perform a ridiculous, non-standard, unsafe movement that cannot do other than totally flummox and even anger motorists for whom it looks like some stupid random bike crap.  It makes people on bike perform unexpected things rather than act in more predictable ways.

I hate this!  Rail safety people should hate it as well.

The right-hand turn is especially screwed up
Here's a picture with more on other ways that the intersection makes things more complicated rather than less.  Deleting the crosswalk parallel to the crossing was especially non-intuitive and constitutes a real break in the north-south continuity of the promenade and connections to Amtrak and Greyhound.

The total jumble at 12th and Mill
Rail is really important, and we need more of it, but our approach to "rail safety," which seems to include bubblewrap around at-grade rail crossings, exacts real costs on people on foot and on bike. And if you wonder why students and others are having "difficulty" with the "improvements," it's not just because they have "cell phones and ear buds" or enjoy the luxury of youth in feeling carefree and invincible, it's because the "safety" work too often results in "connections" that are complicated, indirect, non-intuitive, and rarely look helpful (especially when no train is in sight).

For more on Salem's Quiet Zone projects see here.  Some of the other sites have problems as well.  Since Greyhound is moving to this site, and we should want the area to get more multi-modal traffic, we should give more thought to making it easy to walk and bike to here and near here.


Curt said...

I disagree. I think this crossing is working much better than I anticipated and is a big improvement.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Tell us more about how it works for you!

How do you, for example, go north on 13th and from the bike lane make a right-turn onto the promenade? How do you avoid the urban deer problem?

The flashing beacon and median has seemed helpful for people on foot, but I still think it should have been on the north side of the intersection, not the south side; and that the way the promenade was terminated in a dead-end without making a connection across Mill makes things difficult and confusing.

Anyway, if there are routes through this area that do work in your observation or experience, it would be good to learn more about them!

Curt said...

The crossing and the quiet zone modifications are two separate issues. The elimination of the crosswalk across Mill doesn't improve things.

I don't make that turn from 13th to the Promenade that often. I would normally take Winter to State to the Promenade. I might just take the lane on 12th for another block to State and get on the Promenade from there. Getting on the sidewalk at Mill like you describe seems acceptable too. There is rarely another car coming from Mill and if there were it shouldn't matter to them if I'm going straight or turning onto the sidewalk. The other examples you give just require basic vehicular cycling techniques.

The students are using the crosswalk. I don't think I've seen anyone trying to cross from the north side of Mill as I thought they would.

B+ said...

I'm seeing that crosswalk on 12th used a great deal. It is effectively slowing down the speedway here. While getting on to the Promenade from 12th going north is made a bit more difficult due to the hairpin turn to get on the sidewalk (and thus making it a bit confusing for motorist/bike interaction as hand-signals here are a bit difficult to use properly), it is more than made up for by the improved crossing over the tracks and the (admittedly sharp turn) connection with the Promenade itself. I don't miss that ballast rock interchange at all.

While the situation could make for a lot of conflicts with pedestrians, I haven't had too many. Most people are using the south sidewalk, which diverts the conflict point for me. I even am using the pedestrian crossing myself (dismounting from the bike), and have found this opens up better access to the hospital from this point in town.

So, I'm using this area more...though always with caution.

Anonymous said...

To avoid the confusion at Mill & 12th, I use the railroad tracks as a cross walk on Mill St. It is elevated so you are visible to drivers, they slow down to cross the tracks any way, and it looks like a cross walk to drivers. It is not designed this way, but it works pretty well.

Anonymous said...

Interesting bit in the paper today about Quiet Zones -

“Union Pacific believes quiet zones compromise the safety of railroad employees, customers, and the general public,” the railroad states on its website. “While the railroad does not endorse quiet zones, it does comply with provisions outlined in the federal law.”

Employees, customers, then the public...