Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Hit and Run, Probable Speeding on Boone Road Highlights Gap at Commercial

Boone Road is an older road that in most ways was replaced and even orphaned by Kuebler. While parts of it have been rebuilt, it has gaps and its whole length has not yet been retrofitted with sidewalks and bike lanes. Even so, many times it is calmer and more pleasant for east-west travel than Kuebler, notwithstanding the sidewalk and bike lane "improvements" bolted on to the quasi-highway.

But not always.

From the paper:
Marie Preble, 55, and a friend were walking on a residential portion of Boone Road SE toward Commercial Street SE on May 29. It was Sunday evening, and the sun was still shining. The stretch of Boone Road didn't have a sidewalk, so most pedestrians, like Preble and her friend, walk on the road's shoulder.

Around 5:30 p.m., a car drove along the road, going what seemed like well over the residential speed limit, witnesses said. The car struck Preble, knocking her to the ground. While her friend rushed to Preble's aid, the car sped away....

[The friend] said they are also looking for witnesses who may have seen the driver or the car westbound on Boone Road near Commercial Street at 5:30 p.m. on May 29. The car is described as being a white or cream large sedan. No license plate or driver description is available.
The article doesn't specify whether the crash occurred west or east of Commercial. Both sections of Boone Road have sections very close to Commercial that lack sidewalks and seem to correspond generally with the description of the crash site.

Boone Road west of Commercial, looking west

Boone Road east of Commercial, looking west
It is very interesting that this section of Boone Road is not identified as a very urgent need for retrofits.

Here are the priority maps from Bike and Walk Salem, the amendments to our TSP for walking and biking.

Sidewalk and Bike Lane needs
The length is identified as a "tier 3," low-priority area for sidewalks (top half), and the area around Commercial is totally missing any suggestion or priority for bike lanes (bottom half), though a section for a low-traffic route, also low-priority, is identified a block off of Commercial.

This fits with something that just surfaced earlier this spring with the summer's crop of widening projects on Kuebler:

New median (orange) may prohibit
east-west crossing on Boone
If there has been a plan all along to install a median on Commercial that prohibits crossing along Boone Road, then it might make sense in a theoretical way also to avoid bike lanes on Boone Road there.

But that means more out-of-direction travel and more icky travel on intensely busy roads, including a quasi-highway.

Kuebler and Commercial
Sure Kuebler is built up with sidewalks and bike lanes - but who wants to use them? They aren't pleasant at all. Are you going to send your child biking on Kuebler? This is a clear instance where we commit to a kind of Potemkin "complete street." It looks good on paper, but without meaningful alternatives, in combination with our street heirarchy it is a compulsory funneling, and it works for people on foot and on bike much less than it does for those in cars. People won't say "Oh, I'll walk on those great sidewalks on Kuebler!" Instead they'll say, "Eh, I think I'll drive." This is an instance of prioritizing autoism that is inconsistent with our stated goal to reduce drive-alone-trips.

Given all this, it's easy to understand why people might prefer walking and biking on Boone Road.

And it looks like our current trend in planning is to try to discourage them rather than to try to help them.

I don't want to minimize the culpability of the driver in the hit-and-run. Sometimes older roads get widened in such a way to encourage speeding. Boone Road here is actually pretty narrow and aside from the lack of sidewalks, it's hard to say there's a real deficit in engineering. There is, actually, in the narrowness some indirect traffic calming measures here. The "primivitveness" of Boone Road here might actually be a partial boon. If "improvements" to Boone Road would entail the usual "upgrade" to "urban standards" that might mean a center turn pocket in addition to bike lanes and sidewalks. That probably takes as much as it gives. (Skyline's recent widening is a useful comparison.)

So any speeding on top of the hit-and-run is on the driver, and is not something that an excessive "design speed" would indirectly cue or aggravate.

Hopefully the hit-and-run driver can be found and Preble's recovery speedier than anticipated.

But if we aren't going to build sidewalks and bike lanes on Boone Road, maybe we need to consider rethinking it more deeply as a lower-speed neighborhood street. The segment west of Sunnyside is identified formally as a mid-sized "collector," but east of Sunnyside, including the stretches adjacent to Commercial Street, it is a "local" neighborhood street. The City Traffic Counts suggest it gets between 1500-2000 car trips per day in this section. Maybe it's a candidate not for rebuilding but for some diversion and/or calming.

The new median on Commercial Street may be a part of this. And it will be interesting to see how it affects car counts. The beef here with it is that it hinders non-auto mobility in addition to diverting car traffic. More generally, as we dig in and spend big on widening and "improving" Kuebler, it may diminish smaller opportunities on nearby streets. No matter how much we try to shunt them to Kuebler, people on foot and on bike will want also to use Boone Road, and we should not penalize them for that.

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