Saturday, October 8, 2016

Memo on Alternate Modes Study Shows How Little has been Done

One of the blizzard of documents the City and SRC project team posted to the City's UGB Hearing website is interesting for a couple of reasons.

First off, the "Salem River Crossing Alternate Modes Study Implementation Overview" is addressed to the "Salem River Crossing Project File." It didn't go to City Council or SKATS or any other public body. It was never posted to the SRC's own website as part of the Oversight Team's materials. Instead it was private and internal, and it points to the existence of a trove of non-public memos and analyses. It would be interesting to see what else has not been made public.

Second, the memo is disproportionately lengthy relative to the actual scope of accomplishments. It says "The purpose of this memo is to document actions identified in this study [the Salem River Crossing Alternate Modes Study] that have occurred or otherwise advanced towards implementation in the last five years."

This will be tedious, but we'll go through all of the "actions" and assess them. The pattern that emerges is a consistent ratcheting up of small things in an attempt to make them seem like big things. There is a scattershot pattern of fragmentary actions. Individually they are real things, but together they remain too small, too disconnected, and too partial to make for effective change. They are window dressing more than substance. Until they participate in fully connected networks, they remain weak measures, sometimes more for show than substance.

Some sections of the memo also discuss measures not called for in the Alternate Modes Study. So while it may be true that the City did something with this measure or that, they do not fulfill or complete recommendations in the Alternate Modes Study itself, and to cite them as such is to lard the memo with extras or a bit of a bait-and-switch.

Finally some paragraphs repeat material and might give the impression of more action than is warranted.

(Throughout, memo language will be in italics and mostly indented. Commentary will be in roman type and non-intended. Hopefully this will be clear. For convenience we'll also abbreviate as the "Alt Modes Study" from time to time.)

Transportation System Management (TSM)

The TSM recommendations are divided into two groups: (1) Bicycle and Pedestrian Recommendations, and (2) Transit Recommendations.

Bicycle and Pedestrian TSM Recommendations
The bicycle and pedestrian TSM recommendations include creating new and enhancing existing bicycle and pedestrian facilities leading to and crossing the Willamette River. The City has implemented a number of improvements over the past few years that align with these recommendations. In addition, there are a number of projects with approved funding slated to be completed within the next 5 years. Following is a summary of these enhanced bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
  • Shared Lane Markings: The City installed shared lane markings on select streets in west Salem and downtown Salem, including Rosemont Avenue NW, Musgrave Lane NW, Wallace Marine Park, Commercial Street NE/SE (through downtown), and Chemeketa Street NE (through downtown).
Even with sharrows Chemeketa remains uncomfortable for many
In way this is the perfect thing to lead with in the memo. Striping a few sharrows around town in disconnected segments is not sufficient to do very much, and the City has not extended a network of sharrows in new places. Moreover, the sharrows on Commercial and on Chemeketa aren't actually on low-traffic streets and represent something of an "off-label" use for sharrows. Finally, the limitations of sharrows have become apparent, and they are recommended less and less. In the photo from the paper, you can see a "bike salmon" on Chemeketa Street at Winter: He is biking against traffic, and hugging the curb. For him, the sharrow is not at all useful. You may say that this is a compliance issue, as the man is in fact bicycling illegally, but it is also true that this is not isolated, and many people find too much traffic, too high speeds, and too many parked cars of Chemeketa for their comfort, and do not feel confident biking down the middle of the chevrons.
  • Striped Bike Lanes: Bike lanes and sidewalks were added to Eola Drive NW. This arterial street provides a connection from the southwestern area of west Salem to Edgewater Street NW, and from there to the existing bridges. In downtown Salem, the Urban Renewal Agency has programmed $600,000 in the City’s Capital Improvement Plan, fiscal year 2015 - 2016, to stripe bike lanes through downtown on High Street (southbound) and Church Street (northbound). Striping these streets with bike lanes will help expand the bicycle facility network to support increased bicycle trips across the Willamette River.
The memo talks about "enhancing" existing facilities. There is nothing enhanced about a basic bike lane on arterial and collector streets. In most cases, these are baseline and part of standard street design. High and Church Streets also run north-south and do not directly contribute to making the east-west connection across the Willamette River. From High or Church Street for many it remains a perilous and unrealistic trip to reach the Union Street Railroad Bridge for a crossing of the River.

Also, see below for the list of Streets in the Alternate Modes Study itself. This bullet doesn't correspond at all to what the Alt Modes study actually recommends. It is therefore largely padding.
  • Develop Bike Boulevards: In 2012, the City of Salem adopted a network of proposed “Family-Friendly Bikeway” into the Salem Transportation System Plan (TSP). For the purposes of the Salem TSP, the term Family-Friendly Bikeway is synonymous with Bike Boulevard. Since this time, the City has undertaken initial steps to enhance these lower-stress bikeways, with an emphasis on routes that connect to downtown. Bike destination signs were added to key routes, including Chemeketa Street NE, Winter Street NE/Maple Avenue NE, and the Union Street Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge. The City has recently seen a growth in the public support for developing bike boulevards. Given the heightened interest, in June 2015, the City applied for a Transportation and Growth Management Grant to develop a concept plan for the City’s first full-fledged bike boulevard. The proposed route connects the City of Keizer and ODOT’s Shared Use Path along Salem Parkway to the Capitol Mall and downtown. This is an important route to connect people to the Willamette River by way of connecting bikeways on Union and Chemeketa Streets NE.
This is mostly true! Except that it really should be singular, not plural. (See below for full list of streets recommended in the Alt Modes Study.) We are working on a plan one bike boulevard only. Union Street maybe counts as a half of an additional one, as there is a mostly funded plan only to Winter Street at this moment. The Maple-Winter Street alignment in progress, it must be said, does not figure in the Alt Modes Study as part of its recommendations. It is an important route, that much is true, but it's not actually one of the Alt Modes recommendations to implement.
  • Union Street Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge – Connections:
    • Signs connecting users to the Union Street Bridge have been added in west Salem and downtown. The bike destination signs we re installed as a joint effort between the City and ODOT. In addition, pedestrian way - finding signs were installed by the Urban Renewal Agency to enhance the connections between the Edgewater District, Wallace Marine Park, the Union Street Bridge, downtow n Salem, Willamette University, Bush Park, and more.
    • The intersection of Wallace Road NW (a state highway) at Glen Creek Road NW was widened in 2014. While this widening resulted in longer crossing distances for pedestrians and bicycles, the design inc luded features to accommodate pedestrians and bicycles. In particular, the pedestrian crossing of the south leg of the intersection, which had previously been closed, is now open. Green paint was applied at locations where right turn lanes cross over bik e lanes.
    • A new shared use path was constructed in 2014 as a connection between the Union Street Bridge and Glen Creek Road. This path provides a more direct and safer route to and from the Union Street Bridge from areas north and west of Glen Creek Road.
    • The west end of the path to the Union Street Bridge currently ends at Wallace Road NW with no crossing opportunity. The Urban Renewal Agency is finalizing a planning effort to address various needs within the west Salem business district, including transportation connectivity. While not yet adopted, one of the final recommendations from this study is to provide a grade - separated crossing of Wallace Road in line with the current pathway to the Union Street Bridge. This undercrossing would serve all modes, but would be designed to facilitate east/west bicycle and pedestrian travel.
    • Plans to improve connections on the east side were refined in the 2013 Central Salem Mobility Study. The first phase will be installation of a traffic signal on Commercial at Union Street. This project is funded and in design. The second phase will extend improvements east on Union Street to connect to the Winter Street bikeway. The Urban Renewal Agency has programmed $1.5 million in the City’s Capital Improvement Plan, fiscal year 2017 - 2018 and 2018 - 2019, to advance this phase of the project.
Would you send your child to the park on this by bike?
Note two people on bike in the crosswalk!
(Looking down Glen Creek towards Wallace Park)
This is also mostly true, but its interpretation is very much in the half-full mode: The interchange of Wallace & Glen Creek was hugified, not just "widened." Sure there is green paint, but the design isn't one you'd send many kids to the park on. It is not family friendly or comfortable for casual cyclists.

The signage is useful - but only if you are already comfortable on these roads. It might assist on wayfinding for the first trip, but if the roads are not comfortable, a person will not make a second trip and will bail out of the project to make more bike trips on the route.

The path between Glen Creek and the Union Street Railroad Bridge is nice and all, but it's a shortcut only, not a key connection. Mostly we resist calling bike facilities "amenities," but this one fits: It's a non-essential enhancement, not a fix to an important gap.

The final two paragraphs on the Second Street/Wallace undercrossing concept and the Union Street bikeway are padding. The undercrossing remains conceptual and is still being studied. Currently as part of a $30million+ concept with Marine Drive, it is quite a ways off. The Union Street bikeway graph is totally superfluous and duplicates material above on the "bike boulevard" bullet and below on the "safe crossings" bullet.
  • Shared-Use Paths: In addition to the new shared-use path connecting the Union Street Bridge to Glen Creek Road NW, constructi on is underway on a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge connecting downtown and Riverfront Park to Minto Island Park. When construction of this bridge and connecting pathway is complete, there will be over 20 miles of connecting shared - use pathways, including the network in west Salem. While this project does not directly address peak hour trips between west Salem and downtown, the creation of this shared - use path network will provide an opportunity for newer bicyclists to experience and become comfortable with the Union Street Bridge. This in turn can translate to increased use for commute trips.
"This project does not directly address peak hour trips between west Salem and downtown." It also trades on a narrative of increasing skill that evidence does not necessarily support. We do not in fact see a great translation from riding in parks to riding downtown on city streets. It's not like large numbers of people bike around the park and then feel embolded to contend with city traffic after they pick skills. This also accepts the idea that bicycling should be a specialized skill that only confident people should employ. It makes vehicular cycling normative and says to people who want to bike "you will adapt!"
  • Bicycle Parking and Repair Station : The City increased the number of bike racks located within the downtown business district in 2012. The availability of convenient bike parking can make it easier for people to choose to bike downtown. In 2014, the City installed its first bike repair station in Riverfront Park. This facility is available to support both commuter and recreational bicyclists.
Yeah, but again, without comfortable streets by which to reach these bike racks and repair stations, they are underutilized. It's a bit of a Potemkin display to "make it easier for people to choose to bike downtown" until we have comfortable streets for people. The Alt Modes Study also specifically calls out bike corrals for downtown, not merely a few more racks to downtown sidewalks.
  • Safe Crossings: The Alternate Modes Study identified three specific locations for enhanced bicycle/pedestrian crossing.
    • Union Street NE at Commercial Street NE: This project is funded and in design with construction scheduled for 2017. The design is based on refinement planning that was completed in 2013, and includes installation of a new traffic signal to facilitate bicycle and pedestrian crossing of this state highway.
    • Junction of Wallace Road NW and the Union Street Bridge bicycle and pedestrian path: Refinement planning for this need is currently underway through the West Salem Business District. Preliminary recommendation is for a grade - separated crossing. Funding will still need to be identified.
    • Wallace Road NW at Glen Creek Road NW: This project was constructed in 2014. See description above under Union Street Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge, West Salem Connections.
    • In addition to these intersections, the 2013 Central Salem Mobility Study identified ten downtown/Capitol Mall area intersections where double turn lanes can be reduced to single turn lanes, thereby reducing potential pedestrian conflicts. The City plans to pursue these relatively low - cost modifications over the next few years.
The signal for Union at Commercial will be a major accomplishment, but this is the third time the Union Street bikeway appears in the memo. The Second Street/Wallace undercrossing has already been mentioned. Wallace Road at Glen Creek has already been mentioned. So three of these bullets are padding.  The fourth is new, and is meaningful - but they mostly benefit people on foot (and a few vehicular cyclists who are confident taking the lane downtown) and don't do much to"address peak hour trips between west Salem and downtown."
  • Wayfinding Signage: The City added 9 miles of bicycle destination signs in 2012, including signs connecting users to the Union Street Bridge on both sides of the Willamette River. Pedestrian way - finding signs were added throughout downtown and in west Salem.
We already discussed signage under the Union Street Railroad Bridge.  This is largely padding.
  • Sidewalk Infill: The focus of this project is infill of sidewalk along feeder streets in west Salem, including Glen Creek Road NW and Orchard Heights Road NW. While there has not been progress on either Glen Creek or Orchard Heights Roads, there has been sidewalk infill on other west Salem feeder streets, including Eola Drive NW (minor arterial), 9th Street NW (local), and Gerth Avenue NW (local).
"There has not been progress on either Glen Creek or Orchard Heights Roads." Since those are the main sites recommended in the Alt Modes Study, his seems rather partial, and again gaps in a network tend to render the whole network minimally useful. People give up at gaps.

The relevant portion of the TOC
So how'd we do? The memo has nothing at all on:
  • Salem Parkway Shared-use Path (which is not surprising because it's tied to the SRC itself - so this really doesn't count)
  • Maintain Bike Lanes/Trails
  • West Salem Bike routes
  • Bicycle/Transit Integration
  • Trip-End Facilities
Maintenance and trip-end facilities are important! And the West Salem Bike Routes would be a great help. There are some real omissions here.

Recommendations not yet complete:
  • Shared Roadway Markings - also recommended for Liberty Street in downtown. 
  • Stripe New Bike Lanes - The paragraph above about Eola/Edgewater is actually completely disconnected from the actual recommendations from the Alt Modes Study, which calls for bike lanes on: Broadway St NE (Liberty to Parkway), Center Street (Commercial to 17th), Market St (Commercial to Capitol), Marion Street (Commercial to 13th).
  • Develop New Bicycle Boulevards - The Alt Modes study calls for full bike boulevard treatments (not just sharrows or signs) on: 6th Street NW, Patterson St NW, Chemeketa St (Commercial to 24th), 4th St NE (Market to Tryon), as well as Union Street.
  • Union Street Bridge/Edgewater Connction - While the over/undercrossing concept is in progress, one key element of this recommendation has been totally abandoned. There will be no "rail/trail west of new crossing extending to Patterson Street NW."
  • Shared-use paths - Two key components in the study are omitted: Marine Drive alignment, Pringle Creek path to Riverfront Park (the Boise/South Block segment).
  • Bicycle Parking - In addition to calling for bike corrals downtown, the Study also calls for revising bike parking requirements in our code and developing a program with employers for improved on-site bike parking.
  • Sidewalk infill - The primary streets identified in the Alt Modes Study are exactly the ones that didn't get any.
Here, in many cases the most important parts of the recommendations are not yet in motion, and it is only secondary or unrelated recommendations that are discussed and in motion.

That's the first third of the study, on Bicycle and Pedestrian Recommendations.

There is a section on Transit, but others who follow transit more closely will be able to assess it better. We omit it here. A second post will discuss TSM/TDM recommendations.

Already, though, in the Bike/Ped section, it has not been implemented very quickly or deeply. I rate most of the progress as on marginal (and generally easy) things rather than on core and more structural recommendations, which are more difficult, more costly, and will in some cases require a stand against our autoism. Some locations for bike lanes may require less curbside car parking, for example.

Assessing the Alt Modes Study accurately is important because the SRC keeps saying over and over "the traffic modeling performed for the Salem River Crossing Project assumed that more aggressive transit and TSM/TDM programs would be implemented." (From the Land Use Addenda.) What has happened though is the speech and intent keeps getting substituted for action, and we act as if what we say we will do we have in fact already done.

The Alternate Modes Study recommendations for bike/ped has in no way been implemented "aggressively" and we should want to see this done before we move forward with anything for the Bridge.

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