Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Downtown Board to Discuss Corner Bulb-outs Thursday

On Thursday the Downtown Advisory Board will learn more about corner bulb-outs. (Agenda and meeting packet here.)

Existing bulb-outs may interfere with bike lanes
Hopefully it will be in a full context of redesigns for complete streets and for all road users. For the most part, our current approach to bulb-outs is focused on walking, to shorten the crosswalk distance mainly.

About bulb-outs (or "curb extensions" generally), the National Association of City Transportation Officials, a group more focused on walking, biking, and busing than more highway-oriented groups or agencies like AASHTO and FHWA - and a group whose standards should be adopted by the City! - says:
  • Curb extensions visually and physically narrow the roadway, creating safer and shorter crossings for pedestrians while increasing the available space for street furniture, benches, plantings, and street trees.
  • Decrease the overall width of the roadway and can serve as a visual cue to drivers that they are entering a neighborhood street or area.
  • Increase the overall visibility of pedestrians by aligning them with the parking lane and reducing the crossing distance for pedestrians, creating more time for preferential treatments such as leading pedestrian interval and transit signal priority.
  • Tighten intersection curb radii and encourage slower turning speeds.
Both ODOT and FHWA approve of their use, and the City of Salem's Transportation System Plan allows for them and specifies "Design guidance is provided by FHWA and ODOT."

Mostly our implementation of bulb-outs has kept the auto travel lanes unaffected. They are not installed in the context of a total street redesign. They have been more incremental, and then subsequent redesigns have had to work around them.

Protected bike lane between Ferry and Trade on High Street
The near corner on Ferry has a bulb-out, the far corner does not
(Compare to concept drawing from 2013 just below)
At the intersection of High and Ferry Streets, you can see the transition between a buffered bike lane to the left (outside) of car parking and a protected bike lane to the right (inside) of car parking.

The plan from 2013, modified as built - notes added
(Also, upside down relative to photo just above!)
One important factor in the design for the bike lanes on High and Church Streets was our approach to bulb-outs, and this made it more difficult to install fully protected bike lanes. The continuous line of parked cars and parking stalls meant that bulb-outs could "occupy" the parking zone at the corner - it was surplus space. Because the corners at Ferry and High, and at Trade and High didn't have bulb-outs, it was possible to create one block length of fully protected bike lane by shifting the row of parking stalls.

(Other things to note: Our doctrine of free and copious auto parking is also involved here. But also! Rather quietly, the City made a significant improvement to the striping plan between 2013 and 2016, and in contrast to the City's intransigence on things like the Salem River Crossing they did a good thing here!)

In order to have bike lanes that attract a broader group of users, it will still be necessary for Salem to protect bike lanes more thoroughly, and it was a real renunciation to have the protected bike lane on only one block length out of 14 or so total on Church and High.

It's time to think more deeply about our downtown autoism.

One tremendous recent example of a redesign is on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. It takes a wide street, not unlike our Liberty/Commercial couplet, and improves it greatly for non-auto users.

Telegraph Avenue Redesign
City of Oakland
(Click to enlarge)
But it doesn't look like they used bulb-outs much. As we have seen, bulb-outs constrain the road width and can make it more difficult to include bike lanes. Here the bike lanes are a little serpentine, sometimes protected by car parking, sometimes on the outside of car parking and exposed to the car travel lanes.

But there are ways to include bike lanes and also to shorten crosswalk distances.

Here's another redesign for a wide road full of two-story commercial buildings, very much like those on Liberty/Commercial or Court/State.

Urban Street redesign with protected bike lanes
(NACTO design guides)
Instead of bulb-outs, there is a section of protected bike lane and adjacent refuge medians, or "safety islands." By shortening the crossing distance, this accomplishes the same thing for people on foot, but it also includes curbed protection with buffers of car parking for people on bike.

Schematic for Protected Intersection
Alta Planning, December 2015
While the buffered bike lanes have now on High and Church, and forthcoming ones on a section of middle Commercial between Winding Way and Oxford, other cities have added designs like those with even more robust protection for people on bike.

Another protected intersection rendering (click to enlarge)
via Twitter at the #ATsummit2017
Here again below in a concept drawing from a few years back, you can see how even standard bike lanes require shaving down some of our current bulb-outs. (Note also the 12-foot travel lanes. There's no reason not to have 10-foot travel lanes!)

I think this was the last public concept for State Street
Bulb-outs and standard bike lanes (see shaded sections)
From the June 13th, 2013 Open House
If we used fully protected bike lanes, the corner configurations with bulb-outs would need to change even more.

We could use paint and plastic wands to pilot some different treatments if we wanted to experiment some first.

Polka dots pilot a curb extension, and are more pretty!
We have lots of excess capacity and it's time we started using it to make downtown even more of a place to linger rather than a conduit through which to pass.

If you can stage photos like this on Liberty at State,
that's evidence we have excess road capacity!
(via Downtown Salem fansite)
Main Street Program

Also, at the last meeting of the DAB, Salemites with the Oregon Main Street Program asked for, and were rebuffed in, a request for $50,000:
Representatives from Salem Main Street Association, a newly created downtown association requested $50,000 in Parking Budget Funds to start up their organization. Currently, $32,150 are budgeted within the Parking budget for Contracted Services. The DAB voted to not amend the recommended budget to increase that line item.
So are they going to get the $32,150? The notes are too laconic!

In any case, apparently there will be a meeting next month:
Salem Main Street Community Information Meeting
Thursday, April 20, from 6:30-8:00 p.m., at the IKE BOX, 299 Cottage St. NE, on the 2nd floor.
There has been some concern that this group is operating a little too much under the radar.

It will be good to learn more about what they are working on. In general terms the Main Street Program is a good thing!

The Downtown Advisory Board meets Thursday the 23rd, from 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm in the Urban Development Conference Room, 350 Commercial St NE, underneath the Chemeketa Parkade.   

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