Friday, January 15, 2016

MPO Work Plan Struggles with Denial and Balance

The New Year is supposed to start all fresh, and shiny, and new, but it has seemed impossible to escape the long shadows of winter.

(Credit: Andrew Kent via NY Observer)
The Technical Advisory Committee for our Metropolitan Planning Organization, SKATS, met earlier this week and there are a few items to note (agenda and meeting packet here).

One of the main items was a draft of the new Unified Planning Work Program, the document that outlines the main projects and tasks for the agency in the coming year.

You might say that it's just reading in a wintry mood, but it seems like the Work Plan is in denial of death. It's totally dominated by hydraulic autoism and gives insufficient attention to the death of persons and to the prospect of climate death. It is a sunny look at 1950s autoism, all about through-put, not people, and not shaped around values. It's about movement-through, not how to create destinations of value where people stop and create or exchange. It is nostalgia to recreate a fictive past of free-flow movement, and ignores the end-state of a trip.

Last year's SKATS 2015-16 Work Plan
The longest shadow of them all is the one cast by the Salem River Crossing. The description of the activities for it is worth quoting in full:
Work continues on the Salem River Crossing Study EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). The lead agencies are ODOT and city of Salem. A project management team (staff from ODOT, city of Salem, Polk County, and SKATS plus the consultant team headed by CH2M Hill) manage the project; and an Oversight Team (elected officials representing city of Salem, city of Keizer, Marion County, Polk County, Salem-Keizer Transit plus senior ODOT and FHWA staff) oversees the EIS process.

In February 2014, the Oversight Team cooperatively selected a locally preferred alternative. Also in 2014-2015, a bridge type was determined, funding workshops were held, and work on the Final EIS was started.

In 2015-2016, extensive modeling was completed for the FEIS, as well as engineering refinements to the Preferred Alternative design and footprint, and work had started on a process to expand Salem's Urban Growth Boundary to incorporate the Preferred Alternative footprint.

Tasks in 2016 -2017 include Final EIS analysis and document preparation, agency review (including submitting the FEIS to FHWA for review in September 2016), publishing the FEIS in November 2016; continued work on state land use analysis and approvals, and amendments to Salem's Transportation System Plan and SKATS' TIP and RTSP Amendments. These tasks are required before FHWA will issue a Record of Decision (ROD) on the project to allow federal funds to be obligated for design and construction. [paragraphing added]
And again, for the second year in the Work Plan, there is formal acknowledgement that using the project's own modeling standards and assumptions, the Salem River Crossing won't actually solve the problems it purports to solve - it is internally incoherent at a cost of more than $500 million!

In the SKATS area, analysis for the Salem River Crossing Study and draft EIS show multiple locations in the study area where v/c [volume-to-capacity] ratios exceed the mobility standards in the base year conditions. The analysis also shows that with the proposed changes in the Preferred Alternative there will be locations where forecasted traffic conditions in year 2035 will exceed the mobility targets. Final analysis of study area intersections are expected to be completed in early 2016. It will be required that ODOT do a performance assessment and bring to the OTC a package that demonstrates the need to establish alternative mobility targets.
Here's what is says about safety:
Work on a Regional Safety Plan started in 2015, primarily with analysis of 2008-2013 crash data in the SKATS. 2014 data will be added when made available by ODOT. ODOT is in the process of updating their Transportation Safety Action Plan, with public review in May 2016 and OTC adoption scheduled for September 2016. SKATS staff will review the state plan and determine how the SKATS region can best coordinate the emphasis areas in the TSAP with the needs on the SKA TS regional system.
I know the context is bureaucratic administration and planning, but that's still pretty bloodless - in both senses: it is pale and wan, and it also erases the carnage and loss.

Things of particular interest here are essentially footnotes, interstitial activities:
Participate in the DLCD review of Oregon 's green house gas Target Rule. Determine whether SKATS and ODOT should collaborate on a "Baseline Assessment" of greenhouse gas emissions and other travel indicators based on currently adopted plans in the SKATS area.

Work with ODOT and other MPOs in the state on development of the next-generation travel demand model and a synthetic population model.

The first two bicycle count stations will be installed in late 2016. Once installed, SKATS will coordinate with Salem to retrieve the data, and summarize for general use.
The bike count stations and better modeling will help with better transportation planning for the 21st century. But reluctance on greenhouse gas modeling threatens to render it all too nugatory.

The Mission Street/Highway 22 project shows some of misplaced priorities.

One of the major projects: Mission Street
Mission Street is a State Highway and in the description of the "Highway 22 (OR 22E) Facility Plan," it's about congestion issues, not about the fact that this is an urban highway with urban speeds wildly inappropriate to an urban setting and that people die and are hurt there regularly. "Safety problems" get a nod, but not the main attention. That's the framework we have.

Other Things

Additionally on the agenda, there was the curious fact that at the December 8th meeting so many people abstained from voting on the November 10th minutes, the November minutes could not be approved (Dec 8th meeting packet with Nov 10th minutes here). There was a lot of greenhouse gas modeling talk in November, so maybe the politics of that is the hang-up. At any rate, that's a small but interesting detail, and perhaps fodder for the conspiracy-minded!

Historical list of area STP-U and TAP-U funds
Finally, the new Federal transportation bill, the FAST Act, will give SKATS $1 to $1.25 million more each year from 2016-2020. This winter the TAC and Policy Committee will deliberate and give staff direction on how to allocate this additional money.

ODOT's "Funding Walking and Biking" on TAP and STP
In that discussion was a table of historic projects funded by the Federal STP-U and TAP-U pots from 2003 to 2018. This was a new tabulation here, and could be interesting to look at more closely. The "U" means unrestricted. These unrestricted and discretionary funds allow MPOs to implement local priorities. The "U" means "urban." And they do have some restrictions, it turns out. I believe it is still true they are meant for local priorities, however. See correction in comments.

(As I understand it, there are also different STP and TAP funds that are allocated by ODOT in other grant programs in more restricted ways.)

You'll notice the Salem River Crossing heads the list. Other choices could have been made. Bike boulevards or enhanced crosswalks could also have headed the list, for example. While there are some projects explicitly to support non-auto travel, many of the projects are also expressions of hydraulic autoism. This is an area where different political priorities and values could yield a meaningfully different project list. Maybe not totally different, but definitely with different emphases and proportions.

The table shows a total of $48 million in that 16 year period. So that's $4 million a year; or at $60,000 each, that's 67 new pedestrian medians a year.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

A good question was asked on Facebook page "Salem City Council" asking what projects would be funded if the money was not spent on the River Crossing project. I took a stab at the answer being anything on the SKATS work plan could be moved up. But I presume that is more. Do you know the answer?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

There are at least two distinct ways to look at the question and in argument we sometimes slide between them. Here the preference is for the admittedly less realistic second way:

One is if we assume the "current world" with current assumptions and priorities.

The other is if we assume a world in which not only the SRC itself, but also road widening and capacity projects in general, were held to different standards and we have different assumptions and priorities.

Although it is great to formulate arguments in the form "we could do X if we didn't do Y" and I think these hypotheticals still have value, if for real we took the SRC out of the equation, I don't know how the "tectonic shift" would realign actual project lists.

As you suggest moving the schedule on current funded projects is almost certainly the first thing.

Maybe that would be an interesting blog post, to try to answer that in a more serious and realistic way.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Whoops! Deleted a comment while cleaning up some spam. Here it is from yesterday. Thanks for the correction!

The "U" in STP-U stands for urban area funds (as opposed to statewide funds), not unrestricted.

If there are specific comments on sections of the UPWP you would like to share with staff or the committees, please send us a letter or e-mail. Thank you.

Mike Jaffe
Transportation Planning Director
Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments
100 High St. S.E.
Salem, OR 97304
mjaffe "AT"

Jason said...

Do you have any additional information as to where the bike count locations might be? Looking at the Work Plan, it sounds like the locations are still to be determined, but I couldn't find anything about potential points of interest. That would be interesting data to see, particularly depending on where they're located.

Anonymous said...

I went to the Governor's Transportation Plan meeting in Keizer last week. During a conversation about congestion a woman fom the city staff (I can't remember her name but she is in Public Works) said that the Salem has done all it can to reduce congestion so that's why we need the third bridge. That's the kind of ridiculous thinking that we're up against.

By the way, if you wanted another way to combat the dumb road decisions by Salem, you'd contact me. You know who I am.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Jason, they'll be on the Minto and Union St RR bridges. You can read more about the plan for them here.

Jason said...

Ah, I didn't even think to search the blog. Thanks!