Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Mostly-Ignored High Level Consensus to Reduce Drive-alone Trips

In the Oregon Highway Plan, the Salem Area Comprehensive Plan, and the Administrative Rules implementing the Statewide Planning Goals, there is a broad consensus that we should decrease reliance on drive-alone trips and we should improve efficiency before building new capacity. The consensus is clear, it's in plain English, and it is easy to understand.

Yet we do not have practical norms, cultural and political, built around these policies. We flout them routinely as if they did not exist. If we deign to pay them lip service, we offer excuses about why they are not realistic yet and we cannot actually implement them. It shouldn't be this difficult, but it is.

In the Staff Reports and supporting analyses, there are thousands of pages written, thousands of people-hours laboring at the keyboard, all to evade or deny the truths of these policies. The analytical apparatus is designed not to resolve the contradictions but to hide them.

Our autoism creates and reinforces a real blind spot. The SRC is a prime expression of this.

The Consensus: Three High Level Policies for Reducing Drive-Alone Trips

Oregon Highway Plan Policy 1G

Improve efficiency before adding capacity
(Oregon Highway Plan, Policy 1G)

Comprehensive Plan (IV)(J) Policies 11-18

decrease reliance on the SOV

decrease overall traffic demand
(Salem Area Comprehensive Plan,
Section J on Transportation)

OAR 660-12-0035(4):
In MPO areas, regional and local TSPs shall be designed to achieve adopted standards for increasing transportation choices and reducing reliance on the automobile. Adopted standards are intended as means of measuring progress of metropolitan areas towards developing and implementing transportation systems and land use plans that increase transportation choices and reduce reliance on the automobile. It is anticipated that metropolitan areas will accomplish reduced reliance by changing land use patterns and transportation systems so that walking, cycling, and use of transit are highly convenient and so that, on balance, people need to and are likely to drive less than they do today. [italics added]
The SRC Does not Comply

But the Salem River Crossing doesn't promote reduced reliance. According to the projects own traffic modeling, "[Vehicle Miles Traveled] increases with the preferred alternative...." As we saw with the Energy Addendum, it is forecasted to increase energy use by 16%. Everything about it is movement away from our officially adopted and ostensibly binding policy goals on greenhouse gases, energy, and reliance on drive-alone auto trips.

Vehicle Miles Traveled increases with the Preferred Alternative
(Traffic and Transportation Addendum)
The 8% Attempt to Finesse

8% reduction in peak hour car trips assumed
by analysis, here in the Traffic and Transportation Addendum
The current SRC analysis attempts to finesse the argument with an assumption of an 8% reduction.  It effectively says "we are helpless to do more, but because we need the bridge, we will assume an 8% reduction."*

But the Highway Plan, Comprehensive Plan, and Statewide Planning Goal each don't say "cities should theorize about ways they could potentially reduce drive-alone trips and then go ahead and build big projects anyway."

Salem's policy 12 is probably clearest: other measures shall be the "first choice for accommodating travel demand and relieving congestion...before widening projects are constructed."

We have to do stuff and fail first before we can resort to constructing widening projects. They have to actually not work. Empirically. Not just theoretically.

Two Effective but Unpopular Measures

And in fact at least two approaches discussed by the project team look very promising, and offer more than an 8% reduction - all by themselves!

First there is parking. "[I]ncreasing the area where parking charges are applied in the downtown area and tripling the amount charged could reduce auto trips by 10%." 

Just right-priced parking could reduce trips by 10%
TSM/TDM (Transit and Roadway Efficiency) Concept
Analysis and Results, 2007
Second, there is tolling.

Just tolling solves all our congestion problems!
(Chart not in memo, but uses numbers from the memo)

Draft memo on funding
The November 12th, 2014 memo "Salem River Crossing - Revenue Projections" was never published formally, but its draft contained a table with traffic projections based on tolling.

The tolling reduced traffic very effectively, by multiples of 10%!

The Political and Cultural Problem

It is simply not true that we can't reduce the traffic demand by more than 8% without building a new bridge and highway.

But the two elements that have the most effect involve market pricing and better allocating demand by eliminating subsidy and price supports for autoism.

These are not popular positions right now! Our autosim is based on in no small way on making sure that there is not a robust and fair system of user fees that properly correlate use, supply, and demand. So disturbing free parking and free bridge passage have been "third rail" kinds of issues for Electeds and Staff.

The SRC violates our policies to reduce drive-alone trips, but to say that is problematic. It is problematic not because it is tricky or non-obvious or convoluted or ambiguous; it is instead quite direct and easy. It is problematic because we don't actually believe, and want to carry out, what we say we believe. There are a couple of direct steps that are at least theoretically possible, for tolling and right-priced parking, but neither of those are at all popular. We do not yet have political and cultural norms around actually taking the robust steps that are necessary to actually reduce drive-alone trips.

That's a political and cultural problem, not a technical one.

* What it really said is in Sections and 2.3.5 in the draft EIS:
A stand‐alone transit/TSM/TDM alternative was dismissed because it was not able to address the mobility needs of the project—in particular, intersection congestion on the local street system at the bridgeheads. As a result, this alternative was dropped from further consideration. The approach to incorporating transit/TSM/TDM into the project is described and documented in the Summary of Approach to Transit, TSM, and TDM in the Salem River Crossing DEIS (7/23/10) memo (CH2M HILL, 2010c)....

[Consequently,] project alternatives were designed assuming that the future (year 2031) peak‐hour traffic volumes across the river would be 8 percent less than those the current area traffic model forecasted. This 8‐percent reduction in peak‐hour traffic volumes across the river is derived from assumptions that, in 2031: (1) transit service crossing the river will expand, (2) the use of non‐SOV (single‐occupant vehicle) modes (such as carpooling and bicycling) will increase, and (3) some departure times will shift (for example, because of alternative work hours).
I cannot for the life of me find or remember the moment of origin for that 8% number. I'll revise and update here if I can come up with it. Even without that specific citation, in general it was more or less pulled out of the project team's nether regions in the late aughts. It's a SWAG!


Jim Scheppke said...

SBOB, you speak of tolling as if it would be easy and cheap. It would be hard and very expensive. I have been told that the annual costs to toll the bridges we have and the new one would be $10 million annually (so, say $60 million without the new one). There are no toll roads or bridges in Oregon except for two interstate bridges. It's not in our DNA. Tolling would also create a hardship on a lot of low income residents of West Salem. As for parking, we should first require all major employers to not provide free parking to employees. Salem Hospital is the major offender here. It would be interesting to see if any other cities have managed to do that somehow. Of course better transit service is a key strategy that we must achieve somehow. Cherriots Board Chair Bob Krebs has touted a terrific streetcar idea to move commuters from West Salem to their jobs on the eastside for some time now. That alone might be a game-changer.

Jim Scheppke said...

Oops ... an extra '0' slipped in there. $6 million, not $60 million.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

QED, right - "it's not in our DNA."

There is an intense desire to evade the idea of auto user fees and congestion pricing!

More specifically,

1) Where does it say tolling is cheap and easy? It says instead tolling is unpopular and difficult!

2) The November 12, 2014 memo, "Salem River Crossing - Revenue Projections" says "Tolls are the fairest option...tolls are the only tool that charges users proportionately based on the benefits they receive..." Lowest-income people are generally not driving - cars are too expensive - and the tolls do not impact them; in fact, the benefits for transit of tolling will be greatly increased service, and there is good reason to think tolling actually will benefit low-income people in this way. It is a myth of autoism that tolls harm the poorest. Many more robust substitutes and alternatives are available in a tolled environment! When it is easy to get around on bus, additional car expenses are obviated. You confuse mobility with auto capacity. (See more on memo here.)

3) The streetcar idea is not realistic. The very expensive Portland streetcar is a development tool, not principally an aide to mobility. The streetcar concept would put a lid on the Union Street Railroad Bridge and harm its historic, recreational, and aesthetic value. It would also cost several tens, more probably low hundreds of millions of dollars and would not be an effective investment relative to other investments we could make. The tracks harm bicycling. It sounds like a good idea, but it's not. (Here is more on that.)