Thursday, March 3, 2016

Wait What?! Downtown Bike Lanes for Church and High this Summer!

So this snuck up in a good way. The project for bike lanes on Church and High Streets downtown had seemed like it was a couple years off yet.*

But it turns out the project timeline has construction for this summer and there's an informational meeting later this month.

That's pretty great news.

But do we really need 15 foot travel lanes?
From the new City project site:
The City of Salem will add bike lanes to Church Street and High Street in downtown Salem. The project is scheduled for construction during summer 2016.

Informational Meeting

Thursday, March 17, 2016, 4–6 p.m.
Senator Hearing Room
Courthouse Square Transit Mall
555 Court Street NE

Stop by to learn about this upcoming project....

A vehicle travel lane will be replaced with a bicycle lane to create better bicycle connectivity to and through downtown. Parking modifications will be necessary to accommodate the lane adjustments and increased bicycle traffic.

In order to complete this project with as little disruption as possible, much of the work will take place at night. During construction, updates will be provided on this web page.
Other than cheering for this incremental improvement to downtown traffic, there is one thing to ask about.

Do we really need 15-foot travel lanes for cars?

Such wide lanes will encourage zooming, and in addition to making room for bicycling, we should give stronger consideration to 10-foot lanes for traffic calming. (Here's the case for 10-foot lanes.)

So if you go to the meeting, ask about the lane widths!

But otherwise this is a substantial, incremental improvement and worth cheering. There may also be some anxiety about the loss of a car travel lane, so showing public support will be helpful for Public Works and other staff or electeds who may receive static for the project - even though it was thoroughly vetted in the Downtown Mobility Study.

* The CIP clearly says it's budgeted for the 2015-2016 cycle, so just flat out missed it.


Lee said...

How about turning them into two-way also!

Melinda said...

How about separated bike lanes! - I know stop with the fantasizing!

Peter Bergel said...

I note that there is parking, then the bike lane, then the car lane. How about putting the bike lane on the curb side of the parking spaces so that riders are protected from traffic by a row of parked cars? Is there a practical reason that can not be done? - Peter Bergel

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

My read at the moment is:

1) While two-way conversion is in the longer-range plan, there is no way to do that this summer. So it is useful to urge the City to speed up implementation of two-way conversion more generally, but this is not something realistic to urge for this particular project.

2) If there were sufficient political support and pressure, protected bike lanes with full separation might be possible on Church and High. But still, this seems rather unlikely. The project team (both City and consultant) for the study never appeared seriously to float or assess any concepts for Church or High that involved parked cars, planters, or anything else as separation beyond just the painted "buffer." (I think it was just too "radical" at the time.) So it would really require fans of multi-modal transport to mobilize in a loud and swarming way. And even that change seems unlikely in the schedule window before this summer's construction.

However! Just because it seems unlikely doesn't mean it's not a good idea to ask the City to consider it. At least theoretically there is the next round, which would include the two-way conversion, and then better protection and separation will be in order.

So go to the open house and add your request for more robust protected bike lanes! Let the City know there's pent-up demand. Even if this project can't be nudged, there's still the Union Street project that can be improved.

Anonymous said...

The project will convert excess general traffic lanes into a bike facility. This is a good thing! Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good here- show up and support the concept while hoping for more in the future.

The fact is this project can be done relatively cheaply- pretty much just paint, maybe some signage.

A protected bike lane, which would be awesome, would require changes to the curbs at intersections. This is much more expensive to do, as there is more construction work required. There are also accessibility and storm water concerns.

A two-way facility has these same problems, but also add additional signal masts at each signalized intersection, and you are getting into six-digit costs at each intersection. Multiply this over the length of the project and what was a relatively simple project becomes prohibitively costly.

While frustrating, the fact is sometimes we have to take what we can get, as pressing for the "best" solution is not financially or politically feasible. The last time we had an opportunity to reassign lanes on a downtown street we ended up with sharrows on Commercial. So this is progress. Let's get this installed, and press for the next project to be another step up.

The things I will be asking about include the width of the travel lanes, and how right turns will be handled.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Yeah, this is definitely a situation where that bromide about the perfect and the good is apt.

But also - don't forget about the State Street Open House on the 8th.

It's much easier to shape and influence a project at the beginning than at the end!