Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Corvallis Features Cemetery Path and Nearly 100% Bike Lane Coverage

On a field trip over the weekend to Corvallis it was possible to visit the Crystal Lakes Masonic Cemetery. The way the historic cemetery manages foot traffic and security at one time seemed like a fruitful comparison for ways we might think of managing foot traffic and security in our own Pioneer Cemetery.

But as seems to be the case of late, comparative data from other places is rarely persuasive.  So maybe this is not useful.  Anyway...

Crystal Lakes Cemtery Walking Path Opening
Signage:  Dogs on Leash, Closes at Dusk
Bordering the cemetery is the Crystal Lake Sports Field, a very large complex of baseball and soccer fields, Lily City Park, and a new 34 unit condo development, Coho Ecovillage, at the southern edge and sharing the cemetery parking lot.

Crystal Lake Cemetery in Corvallis (center)
borders sports complex and housing
Cemetery custodians had reported that the condo development, a cohousing arrangement, rather than bringing hippie riffraff, as was initially feared, instead has brought increased security to the cemetery!

Eyes and ears - people who care.

CoHo Ecovillage;  Cemetery on R in map
The northern edge, has a footpath opening (at top) signed for dogs on leash and that the cemetery closes at dusk. That path leads to the path system that circles the sports complex.

The axis of the path is north-south only. While a map suggests an east-west access would be more useful, more directly connecting the neighborhood and sports complex, there is a slough on the east edge of the cemetery that would make this more difficult, and it is logical that the cemetery would use the slough as a natural barrier.

So the walking path is low-key and not something that is highlighted. It is neighborhood and local lore, not something the City or County officially maps or promotes.

But it shows that it is possible to have a walking path through a cemetery that enhances security and historic values.

Corvallis was interesting in other ways.  Over at The Upright Cyclist, B+ has written a nice appreciation of the bicycle system in Corvallis.

The thing that stood out to me, was actually how old the system seemed to be.

Corvallis bike map
You can see on the map a fairly regular grid of blue bike lanes.  There isn't a system of bicycle boulevards or other low-traffic bikeways.  The routes with bike lanes are spaced at regular and not-very-large intervals and they form a complete system - there aren't gaps.  The map itself says
Corvallis has one of the best cycling networks in the country with bike lanes on 97% of all collector and arterial streets.[italics added]
97%!!!  Not just arterials, but collectors, too, several of which it seemed had speed limits of 25mph + bike lanes!  (For notes on arterials and collectors see street hierarchy.  Here's Corvallis' Transportation Master Plan for specifics on them.)

So a person bicycling usually doesn't have to go more much more than 5 blocks on a local street to reach a collector or arterial with a full bike lane.  On a collector, the lower speeds combined with bike lanes made for a very comfortable ride.  Arterials were less easy, but people in cars also seemed like they were more attuned to people on bike, and it was rarely stressful.  And of course there is an extensive path system that is not in the roadway.  While there were some sharrows downtown, most of the engineering represented vintage 1980s best practices.  It may not, actually, be a very modern system.

But it was essentially complete and so it was highly functional.

Corvallis is a gold-rated Bicycle Friendly Community.  Without digging too deeply, it seems like census data suggests a little more than 10% of commute trips in Corvallis are by bike. (By comparison, Salem is rated bronze and at about 1.5%.)  So the system in Corvallis works well for the estimated 8% of those who are "strong and fearless" and "enthused and confident" and is beginning to make inroads to serve those who are "interested but concerned."  Of course among students the proportion of people biking is much higher.  Salem's fragmentary system still pretty much only serves the 1% of strong and fearless.

Even with the university, and all the apartments, Corvallis isn't that dense, and the prevailing feeling was suburban.  The town is small enough that a person could make a huge number of trips by bike.  It would be difficult to find a house or apartment that was more than 3 miles from downtown, I think.

So what is it going to take to move the needle so that a quarter or a third of commute trips are by bike? 

I don't know that it's important here to figure out Corvallis' problems, but it was interesting to consider.

More to the point, Salem currently has only just over 50% of arterials and collectors striped with bike lanes and the plan, until Bike and Walk Salem revised it slightly, was to have 70% striped by 2030.  Remember that 97%?  We're way behind Corvallis just on the 1980s stuff!

On the other hand, Corvallis doesn't have the big barriers Salem has to contend with:  The City is flat, Marys River is small and easy to bridge relative the Willamette, and Corvallis does not straddle the Willamette; additionally, Corvallis doesn't have I-5 or the Union Pacific rail running through it.  It only has Highway 99W as an urban highway and stroad.

First Alternative Coop is on Highway 99W,
a five-lane stroad with bike lanes and
a flashing beacon crosswalk and median
the sidewalk here is also extrawide for a contraflow multi-use path.
(It was interesting the coop wasn't downtown)
It does have a by-pass and "third bridge" for Highway 34, however, and it might be interesting to think more about this in another post.   There's a path system (and bmx/skate park) underneath the bridge spaghetti, but I wonder how people feel about using that after dark.  As a visitor the space underneath and path system offered lots of not-very-visible places, and at least until I was more familiar with it, I would avoid it after dark.

BMX/Skate Park under Highways 34, 20, and 99W
The by-pass also goes over farmland and is mostly outside the UGB and didn't seem like it had a huge neighborhood impact.  It would be interesting to learn more about the history of it.  (Here's a link to an ODOT summary.  It appears to have been constructed in the early 90s.  ODOT notes that downtown traffic volumes decreased by 20% after the bypass was completed.  Would Corvallis choose to build it now, I wonder, and what would it cost?)

These observations are all too preliminary and random, the result of a quick-hit visit.

Have you been to Corvallis? What do you think of it?


Curt said...

I share most of your impressions. The development is low density, suburban, loops and lolipops, not really well connected but very good infrastructure along the way. A simple 2-lane, two-way street with bike lanes makes a big difference. Even their stroads feel more civilized than ours. I notice many of the newer developments on the fringe have really nice covered bike parking facilities.

Monroe St. impressed me. The striping is immaculate from one end to the other. Appearance matters to them. Development is mid-rise, built to the sidewalk, adjacent to high-density housing. Parking meters on the main drag, free in the neighborhoods. I suspect these are more transient populations that are more tolerant of parking spillover. Covered bike parking.

2nd St. downtown: One-way, 2 lanes with sharrows, dense tree canopy, covered bike parking, well connected to the riverfront with raised crosswalks. The rest for downtown seems similar to Salem with overbuilt, high speed, one way streets. Downtown is roughly the same size as Salem in spite of the fact that has 2-3 times the population of Corvallis. They didn't overbuild their parking supply like Salem did and they have pockets of meters where visitors can easily find a space when the free spaces are full.

I haven't been to that 1st Alt. location. I've only been to the one on NW Grant which is a 2 lanes with bike lanes in a residential area with a small parking lot.

I think Mac Forest and all the open space has a big impact. You can really explore and get lost there and its all easily accessible from town without having to drive 40 minutes or more. I lived in Boulder for 5 years and they may have even outdone Boulder. Imagine how much different Salem would be if the West/South Salem Hills had been either protected or developed more responsibly (development hasn't been stopped west of Corvallis but it well planned with recreational uses).

I think Corvallis (like Boulder and Vermont) is the type of place where people with the education and talent aspire to live. Which probably why it is consistently on lists like these:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the info about two 1st Alt Coop locations! Didn't know about the other.

It's near an interesting pocket of commercial development fully "encroaching" a more residential area.

The Fred Meyer at Kings Blvd (3 lanes) and Buchanan (2 lanes) looks pretty walkable and bikable. Also no parking on these streets. Not like our Freds' on 5+ lane stroads. This may merit follow-up!

(I love the fact the streets are in presidential order. What a great mnemonic!)

B+ said...

Growing up in Corvallis, I can tell you that it has been bike-friendly for a very long time; I lived about 3 miles from the City Library and made many, many trips there while in school via bike. Pretty ordinary stuff. It has only gotten better over the years. When I visit there and bike, I must confess to a serious problem with envy.

I also learned my U.S. Presidents through the East-West street names...also learned that there were "issues" with the first President Johnson that way!

Part of what makes Corvallis "tick" is that it has historically been pretty homogenous, with an emphasis on higher levels of education. That can lead to some problems, but it also has meant a fairly enduring commitment to certain amenities, such as biking infrastructure. Glad to see you had a good experience there, and that you understand some of the differences.

Corvallis and Salem are very different places indeed, in spite of the near-proximity.

Jim Scheppke said...

My impression is that the Highway 34 bypass is the "Reser Stadium (and OSU) Express." They are happy to have it on game day. It certainly makes driving from I-5 to Newport a lot easier. I'm not sure we'd have the luxury of building it today.

Curt said...

More bikey grocery store crazy talk from Portland:

Curt said...

The top-down v. grassroots-up question might be something to explore in future posts. Many of the cities that have been most successful in improving conditions for walking and biking have taken the top-down approach.

Portland: Mia Birk wrote in Joyride that she and Roger Geller took a "better to ask forgiveness than ask permission aproach" in the 90's.

New York: Jeanette Sadik-Kahn used a demonstration program to get permanent changes in NYC.

Chicago: Gabe Klein has been empowered by Rahm Emmanuel to stripe 200 miles (?) of protected bikeway.

Of course these example could be attacked as being "un-democratic".