Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Downtown Mobility Study Punts Much Down the Road, Seems Slack

The Downtown Mobility Study has posted the boards and recommendations from the final open house last week, and maybe the most telling item is that improvements to Union Street and full, family-friendly connections to the Union St. RR Bridge can't be envisioned in a 10 or 15 year horizon, but have to be pushed out to a 25 year horizon.

What should be a game-changer looks like it might just be another study.

Union St Bikeway out on 25 year horizon
Sure, there are incremental improvements in the shorter time-frames, including sharrows and a critical traffic light on Union Street - but even this can't be imagined any sooner than in a 10 year horizon. At one time discussed as a "demonstration project," the Union Street Family Friendly Bikeway, maybe THE project, a showcase, is punted down the road.  So are the two-way conversions.

Playing Card from Salem's All-American Street Game
Story and Photos at Salemis
That's something of a failure in imagination, nerve, and leadership.

But it shouldn't be surprising, alas.  This is also an expression of popular priorities. If vast numbers of people were asking urgently for better bike lanes, we'd get plans for them.

Instead, a cry of "No more parking tickets!" fires the imagination right now.   Even the bike shops downtown are on that bandwagon. Untrammeled Carspace is still more important than creating robust options for people who might wish to feel safe and comfortable biking downtown.

We remain in thrall to autoism and cars.

Anyway, I don't know how important it is to drill into detail at this point.  This final draft is the result of compromise, politics, negotiation - there are always nits, and in the big picture they may not matter much.

Imperfect Solutions:  Would you like your buffer
traffic-side or parking-side?  Stuck with bike lanes,
how much do these details really matter?
(But do we really need 15 foot travel lanes?)
My biggest criticism, though, and I think it is a substantial one, is with the pacing and sequencing envisioned by the planning horizons.  An 80% solution executed soon has more value I think than a 95% solution envisioned to be executed over the next quarter century.

Still, some details popped out:

10 year vision:  Sharrows on Union and Winter, bike lanes on
High and Church, two-way conversion on cottage
Let's say we get all of the 10-year vision done.  What does it really get us in improved mobility?

I worry that this 10-year vision is composed of the projects and pieces that were most easy to sell politically - that it is too tactical and does not constitute the first stage in a strategic plan for downtown mobility.

The light at Commercial and Union is key, of course.  But that doesn't help with downtown so much.  The bike lanes proposed for High and Church will do much more to help people who already bike downtown than help attract new riders downtown.  These lanes will not be very family-friendly.  On High Street, there's also a significant gap between Union and Marion streets, and stretches of High with 15-foot wide car travel lanes.  If one of the goals is to encourage some number of people who are currently driving cars to downtown to substitute bike trips instead, this 10 year vision may not be very meaningful.

If the horizon were shorter - if this was something to start working on NOW with some of the bond surplus, for example - then it would be easier to accept as a temporizing measure while the City and downtown advocates work on assembling a funding plan for a more ambitious 10-year plan.  Whey aren't the 15 and 25 year visions compressed into something more immediate, dramatic, and game-changing?

Politics, politics.  That's why.  (Which also means that the politics can change:  People could demand that the 25 year horizon be compressed and sped up.  As with so many things, these are deliberate policy and funding choices, not the inevitable result of destiny, fate, or otherwise mysterious processes.)

Did you attend the open house?  What stood out to you?  How does the vision cohere or not for you?  What details stood out positively or negatively?

(For all notes on the downtown mobility study see here.)


Jeff Schumacher said...

I attended, and a couple of items stood out for me. First, having a cycletrack running north/south and east/west (such as one on Winter Street and another on Union Street) would be a great way to access parts of downtown or at least access Riverfront Park. But it appears to me like a cycletrack is several years away - at best - and instead, we would be lucky to get buffered bike lanes within five years on those streets.

Second, the scope of the study was quite narrow. I am particularly concerned about improved connections across Mission Street; for example, when riding south through Bush Park there should be at least one bike & pedestrian crossing. But the study didn't include anything close to Mission Street. It is hard to appreciate downtown mobility if it does not get easier to access downtown.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Totally agree on the n-s link into downtown through Bush Park!

(There's more on that here and here.)

The scope of the study was always just downtown - theoretically Bike and Walk Salem handled the connections into downtown. But, as you say, somewhere in one plan or another, those connections need to be fleshed out with a funding plan, not just lines drawn on a map.

Curt said...

Jeff: Currently the hospital's plan for the School for the Blind lot include a hybrid (bike and ped.) rapid flashing beacon at the corner of Mission and Church. There will also be a mulituse path between Bush Park and Pringle Park. It won't go all the way into town but I think it will make the transition from Bush Park to Church St. less awkward.

I was thoroughly underwhelmed and disappointed at the open house. Cyclists seem to be happy to get buffered bike lanes on Church and High but they just don't see the value of two way streets for the overall vitality of downtown--which is more important than just a couple bike lanes. Those bike lanes won't change much for me. With so little traffic, it seems like I often have the lane to myself anyway. Its changing lanes and turning conflicts that are the problem and those bike lanes don't change that at all.

Curt said...

The traffic simulations are interesting. At about 7:30 you can see how Liberty St. has almost no traffic!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the updates on the flashing beacon and the animations!

You are right to stress the two-way conversions, to which perhaps this time I did not give enough emphasis.

If the mobility study accomplished only one thing, even at the expense of any special bike treatments, a robust conversion of the one-way streets to two-way streets would be a huge win, maybe the single most important element for downtown health in the scope of the study.