Friday, December 4, 2015

Skyline Before and After: Widening not Unambiguous Benefit, Speeding more Likely

With construction season having wound down, the City's been trumpeting its projects. But assessment of them is always with an autoist lens. Here's a more nuanced look at one of them.

Unfortunately the angle's not the same, but this is a before-and-after of the same stretch of Skyline Road that the City recently widened.

One shoulder only, two travel lanes - Via google

Sidewalks, bike lanes, turn pocket, 2 travel lanes - Via the City
As the City describes the changes:
The Streets and Bridges Bond widened Skyline Road to minor arterial street standards with a center turn lane, proper travel lane widths, bicycle lanes, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, storm drains and street lights between Kuebler Boulevard S and Liberty Road S. We appreciate your patience regarding minor lane closures until all work is completed in December, 2015. Once complete, the improvements made will increase safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists!
But the rhetoric about increasing safety is only partially true.

The project certainly does add sidewalks and bike lanes, and in this regard it's an important improvement for people on foot and on bike. Previously there weren't "traffic lanes" and room specifically for people on foot and on bike.

But also look at how much wider is the roadway, the curb-to-curb width. That crappy two-lane configuration without sidewalks actually has a lower "design speed" that makes speeding less likely.

Remember this?
The widening of Skyline means it now has a much higher "design speed" and the benefits of sidewalks and bike lanes are compromised and even at least partially taken back by the increases in zooming that the wider road profile will encourage.

Speeding will now be a bigger problem on Skyline.

This is why widening to 1980s-era urban standards is not necessarily an unambiguous "improvement" for non-auto travel. In some important ways it is also a diminishment.

Update, May 13th

Salem Police are reporting a fatality arising from speeding, and while a sample size of n=1 is not at all determinative, it suggests that indeed the widening could exacerbate problems.
Just after midnight Friday morning two Salem Police officers were typing reports in the 4500 block of Liberty Rd S when they heard squealing tires followed by a crash. They went to investigate and discovered that a silver colored 2002 GMC Yukon that had been eastbound on Skyline Rd S failed to negotiate the turn at Liberty Rd and crashed into a power pole killing 22 year old Corey Engleman. The driver, 30 year old David Robinett Jr. was transported to Salem Hospital by medics for non-life threatening injuries. An additional passenger, 26 year old Andrew Williams sustained minor injuries.

The investigation determined that alcohol and excessive speed contributed to the crash. The driver, David Robinett Jr., has been arrested for Manslaughter II and will be booked into the Marion County Correctional Facility following his release from Salem Hospital.


Curt said...

I think you are being a little too critical. It seems like an unambiguous improvement to me. I'm not a huge fan of the left turn lane but I'm willing to accept it. The ROW was already cleared out in the previous configuration and the large setbacks encouraged speeding already. It wasn't a calm street to begin with. There may be some marginal increase in speed but I'm not likely to be as sensitive to it with the sidewalks and bike lanes in place. Its not perfect, but if there were more streets configured like this, moving around Salem would be much more pleasant.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

You are right that it is not a perfect example, and that as you say the ROW was already wide and cleared, though with grass and gravel rather than concrete.

I will return to this on other streets - because the general point I want to make is about the psychology of design speed and widening and hydraulic autoism. That a primary way we get bike lanes and sidewalks is in the trade for "improved" free-flow of cars, which takes back some of the new benefits for people on foot and on bike.

The benefit of sidewalks and bike lanes accrues to those making longitudinal travel - passing along and in the direction of the newly widened road. (But of course the bike lanes themselves don't meet an "8 to 80" test and are not something by which many parents would send a child to school. We ourselves who bike most everywhere should not be the measure of a facility's adequacy!)

Cross-traffic on foot and on bike, however, is incrementally more difficult. Even a 5mph increase in speed has significant effects on lethality for those on foot or on bike in a crash. The intersections have longer distance for crossing.

And so we see, as on 17th, the need to backfill with enhanced crosswalks and medians.

Still we privilege through-movement of those in cars and make compromises for those not in cars. The "benefits" of widening are not distributed equally.

This is not to say that Skyline doesn't deserve sidewalks and bike lanes - but it is to say that our vintage 1980s "urban standards" need to be updated, and that might mean we place more emphasis on the movement of people and less on hydraulic flow and "congestion relief" for those in cars.

Jason said...

In addition to the difficulty for pedestrian/bike cross-traffic with higher vehicle speeds, on 17th in particular (a route I ride regularly on my evening commute this time of year) I also perceive higher vehicle speeds as contributing to the potential of left hooks for bikes. As through traffic speeds increase, I feel left-turning drivers accelerate that much faster to turn through a break in traffic without necessarily first checking the bike lane, crosswalk and sidewalk.

I have no specific data to back this up, it's just my perception when riding, but particularly when it's busy, dark and/or an overtaking vehicle acts as a moving screen between me and the turning driver, I've had a greater issue with this on 17th than most slower streets around Salem.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I am going to confess to being a motorist that has almost hit three pedestrians and a bike rider just tonight in rush hour traffic. It was in 3 incidents while driving first down 17th, then on South Commercial and finally on Market near Lancaster. Why did this happen? One was the lack of light. Second the dark clothing of the pedestrian. Third, how my car is constructed. Luckily no one actually struck.

I was aware of some of the problems and in all cases was driving below the posted speed. All the people except person who was in a group of 3 were wearing black, but that may not have been the reason why I did not see them. My newer Hyundai has a design flaw. The front window post and the mirror creates a 14 inch area that is a blind spot on the passenger side. It is especially bad when the person is walking from right to left across my line of vision. If I am turning, while they are walking, the person sometimes is right behind the blind spot until they are almost in front of the car.

Road standards, lighting and signalized cross walk did not solve this problem. It is the darn car design!

The 17th Street location was in part due to lighting. The person dressed in black was not standing near a light. Why there was not one near this clearly marked crosswalk, I do not know. But I did not see him until he stepped into the street. Again he was in my blind spot, but if there were light there I might have seen him standing there as I approached.

It was scary to say the least. This is not the first time this has happened. I wish that streets were better designed as well. On 17th at least the street was wide enough for the person to step off the road into the bike lane and not get hit, because he had enough time/space to see me and stop!

In order to be a responsible driver, I try not to drive at night when my elderly eyes are not the best, when it is dark and raining, or in an unfamiliar area.

I share this to say that keeping people safe when they walk or bike near vehicles it is super essential that there is enough room for all, enough lighting, and keep educating people to understand that even if you can see me, it doesn't mean that I can see you.

When 45th Ave NE between Center and Sunnyview was upgraded from a 2 lane road with no shoulders to a fully improved 2 lane street standard with curbs, sidewalks and bike lanes the speed of cars did not change that much in reality. But the impression of neighbors that cars were speeding did go up. We constantly press the police to keep patrolling the area. People think the street improvements caused the speeding, but after requesting a study and comparing it to past studies, we learned that the improved street in fact did not really make that much difference. But the open feel of the area makes it feel like people are going faster. That said, the speed was 35 mph and 40% of the vehicles go 40, so it was bad before and is still bad for a residential street. We tried to get the speed reduce, but have been denied because it is considered a collector.

45th is a route to Swegle School, so getting sidewalks was very important. And the sidewalks are used. However, the bike lanes are not used. Kids ride on the sidewalk, because it feels and is safer. Here is where I think our street design standards need improvement. If you want people to use the bike lanes, there has to be a separation between the cars and the bikes.

Do you know of any places where this has been accomplished when there are no parallel neighborhood streets that can be turned in bike boulevards?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for your care, Susann! (But it's also evidence that our systems are so messed up that an individual of good intent and making a good faith effort, still cannot safeguard herself and other road users. That's the sign of a great system problem.)

It's just silly that even on roads adjacent to schools, because they are rated as "collectors" or bigger we can't get speed reductions. This is a dumb expression of our hydraulic autoism.

That's interesting about the before/after speed studies. I would like to see more data on that kind of thing.

Here's the "green lane project" and its spreadsheet of protected bike lanes. Protected bike lanes with separation on collectors and arterials is an emergent thing now! Parts of the Union Street bikeway, slated for construction in 2019 now if I recall right, may be the first in Salem to use this form.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with sad news of a fatality arising from speeding.