Friday, April 8, 2016

City Council, April 11th - Capital Improvement Plan

Council meets on Monday and the five year Capital Improvement Plan for 2016 - 2020 leads the agenda. (A better pdf of it is here. City CIP website here.)

Transportation is only 18% of the total
Utilities are 74%
Over on the Facebook, the City spins the CIP as if it initiates a bunch of new projects, when in fact it mainly compiles and coordinates them. It also minimizes the extent to which stormwater, sewer, and tapwater projects dominate.
Council will consider the proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) which, based on public input, would bring a number of bicycle and pedestrian improvements. For example, Central Salem is slated for the Union Street Family Bikeway as well as a bike lane conversion on Church ST SE (between Trade ST SE and State ST) and Streetscape improvement projects downtown. Northeast Salem would see a substantial improvement with the extension of Fisher Rd NE resulting in safer access to the Fred Meyer shopping center. The North Lancaster area would enjoy new bicycle lanes, new curbs and sidewalks and streetlights as Brown Road NE is brought up to modern urban standards. And, in Southeast, the widening of Kuebler Blvd. SE will include a bike land and sidewalk (from Commercial ST SE to Interstate-5). Also, tree-planting is included in every road improvement project we construct in the City of Salem.
Most of the "bicycle and pedestrian improvements" have been in the pipeline for quite a while, and do not represent some new responsiveness to "public input." You can see the dollar amounts in the "previous" column, which have been accounted for already in previous five-year cycles of the CIP. The Union Street bikeway phase 1a is another piece from a previous CIP. And the removal of dual turn lanes comes from the mobility study's recommendations formally adopted in August 2013. The downtown streetscape is a perennial topic, not at all new. I wish the City were less breathless and more impatient, more explicitly aware of how long people not in cars have to wait for things.

One way of looking at things (this chart not in the CIP)
On the whole it looks like there's a substantial chunk of projects that are helpful for people on foot and on bike. Here's a different look at them (chart not included in the CIP). Projects helpful are in green, mixed-bag in yellow, and unhelpful or mainly autoist in red. You might have a slightly different opinion on this or that project, but I think the overall split broadly shows the picture. There are no game changers yet, but because of the urban renewal spending downtown, there's a very pleasant density of incremental improvements there.

But you can still ask about this as a genuine "glass half-empty" or "glass half-full" moment.

MassDOT Separated Bike Lane Guide
Even just looking at those projects in green - whom do they serve? And do the projects in red and orange actually take away more than they might add? The City really wants us to know that the widening on Kuebler road will bring sidewalks and bike lanes. But how useful are they, really? Again, whom do they serve? Do you actually want to bike or walk on Kuebler?

Hullaballoo from a couple of days ago
Moreover, if we are concerned about "distracted driving," maybe we need to make more of an effort to make it easy not to drive. Right now we have these siloed discourses about safety and congestion. But as we dredge and widen the roadways, make it easier to zoom unimpeded, we also compromise safety and discourage slower users of the road. There is in fact an inverse relation between "congestion relief" on the one hand and "comfort and safety" on the other. Slow, congested streets are often the safest streets. They are also the most economically productive streets (think Manhattan). There's a real tension there.

So given the realities of the way auto travel harms cities and contributes to greenhouse gas emission, I still see the totality of the CIP's project list as "half-empty." I see it as an insufficient commitment to building out mobility for those who are not making drive-alone trips in a car. And far too strong a subsidy for those who are making drive-alone trips. 

For some additional comment on the CIP see the more detailed previous discussion here.

And since it's an election year, maybe some of the candidates for Mayor and Council will have more to say on the totality of the CIP.

(comments added in green)
One of the information reports that doesn't require action is also very interesting. Out at Fairview there was a contested matter over the disposal of some contaminated soil. The City denied a request to remove a layer of soil with DDT (and a couple of other nasty things) from a former orchard site and bury it under a cap and behind a fence in a new area not planned for development.

So here we have a clear example of an externalized cost: A generation or more ago we sprayed DDT and stuff all over, and now the business or agency who did the spraying has no responsibility for clean-up. When we object today that environmental regulation increases the cost of doing business - or worse we escalate the rhetoric and call it "jobs-killing" - we don't actually make a full life-cycle accounting. So all too frequently we off-load generally knowable costs to some future entity. Magic! They disappear. But not really. Someone has to pay - in money for clean-up, or in health and healthcare costs for illness and reduced lifespan. (This is exactly the situation today with carbon pollution, but if you're reading here, you know that already.)

Without diving in deeply, it's not possible to know how big of a problem this particular matter at the former orchard site might be, but it certainly underscores one of the challenges in creating something truly "sustainable." A greenwash won't do here. Fortunately, the area is one of the last proposed for development, so there will likely be some time to figure out the best abatement strategy.

It's important to get it right. The Fairview project is one of the most worthwhile and potentially wonderful things going in Salem, and we should all want it to succeed and thrive.

Other items

There's a final decision on the reimbursement district out by the new State Police facility. That seems like something to file away and maybe revisit later.

The Urban Renewal Agency looks to move forward on the downtown "opportunity sites" and fortunately at the last Council work session, the idea of reallocating urban renewal dollars for the Police Station seems like it has died a good death. For more see here on the Belluschi bank at Chemeketa and Liberty, and the Marion Car Park at Ferry and Commercial. Yet more here.

BUDGET COMMITTEE MEETINGS - Held in the Council Chambers
  • Review of FY 2016-17 City Manager Proposed Budget ~ Wednesday April 13, 6:00 p.m.
  • Review of FY 2016-17 City Manager Proposed Budget ~ Wednesday April 20, 6:00 p.m.
  • Review of FY 2016-17 City Manager Proposed Budget ~ Wednesday April 27, 6:00 p.m.
  • Review of FY 2016-17 City Manager Proposed Budget ~ Wednesday May 4, 6:00 p.m.
  • Review of FY 2016-17 City Manager Proposed Budget ~ Wednesday May 11, 6:00 p.m.


Melinda said...

The bike way piece on Union sounds interesting since the price tag seems to suggest that they are going to do more than slap down paint for sharrows.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The Union Street project is interesting, as you say!

But it's also interesting in a little bit of a bad way.

It is possible that the City does not yet know what they are going to do with it. I have been writing less about it because each inference I try to make turns out not to be sound.

The baseline as you suggest is to slap down sharrows. I think it is secure to say that's the minimum. But it's not clear that the City has firm plans for any more. Some of the money is for curb extensions and sidewalky things.

One drawing that was circulating showed a buffered bike lane, but it turned out this was more speculative and idealized and did not in fact represent "the actual plan."

The flip side of the uncertainty is that it might yet be possible to push for fully protected bike lanes with car parking on the left of the bike lane instead of curb-side parking on the right of it.

(Here's the most recent discussion - and it's a muddled mess!)

In any case, when firmer details emerge, there will be blogging!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Ah, and here was the latest quote from the City (which it took a moment to find again):

"the improvements that will be installed at this location in 2017 include the signal; a median island on the west side of the intersection that will include video detection for bicycles and possibly an induction loop; sharrows for the bicycle lane along Union Street (without parking modifications at this time); curb extensions on the east side to improve pedestrian access; and street widening on the west side to allow a right turn lane and bicycle lane at that location on Union Street NE."


"Ultimately there will be buffered bicycle lanes on both streets, but this will occur within the long-term window identified in the Study, that is within 25 years of the adoption of the plan."

It will require citizen advocacy to push for more and push for faster implementation!

Melinda said...

All right! Sounds like I need to come to a future meeting. I think with the alarming increase in distracted driving that sharrows are a very big mistake. I see so much texting and driving now on my commute to work. I want at least a designated painted bike lane and I'm happy to voice that concern. Is there someone I should also specifically write? I live in south central.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Since Union Street is in Ward 1, Councilor Bennett is probably the place to start!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

To add some confirmation, on the Facebook a commenter adds:

"I work for an engineering company that is currently designing the Commercial-Union intersection improvements, and at this very preliminary stage, I'd have to say that I don't think the Union portion would fit with your [SBBA] vision of family friendly. Union is getting some sharrows and islands. I think the bulk of the project is sewer improvements."