Thursday, December 28, 2017

Final Winter-Maple Bikeway Plan Envisions Sluggish Implementation

Last week the City released  a final draft of the Winter-Maple Bikeway Plan. Overall, it points to ways our current formal planning paradigm is sometimes too focused on technical solutions and fails to give sufficient attention to the politics of actually realizing a plan with funding and construction.

final draft of Winter Maple Bikeway Plan
Back in May when we all got our first look at the draft concepts, you might remember a set of key challenges:
  1. Parking reduction (and potential loss of meter revenue) from angle to parallel. Will the City and State and other neighbors embrace this?
  2. How will the two businesses on Norway at Fairgrounds receive the idea of closing that small section of Norway to cars? Are they on board yet?
  3. And difficulty with the railroad in securing permission for the reconfigured crossings on Maple.
Most of the other details seemed like details too small to fuss over. The incremental difference between an 80% solution and a 90% solution is rarely all that important, and just doing something is almost always better than the status quo. In any case, there is not much change from the May draft concepts to these December final concepts.

So how the final recommendations managed these three moments will be central to an opinion of the overall plan.

Implementation does not seem very Urgent

But first, there is one overwhelming impression from the final published study.

It's not clear how serious we are. Towards the end of the plan, there is a table with a staging plan. A lot of the pieces are envisioned as "long-term" for completion five or more years out.

Not much urgency or enthusiasm here?
For example, the crossing at Market Street is important, but not deemed very urgent. Between the May and December, from draft concepts to final concepts, the crossing at Market Street did pick up a pedestrian signal. But this is deferred:
A pedestrian signal should be installed once the volume of through traffic warrants one.
Market Street directly at an elementary school does not yet warrant this? That point deserves more discussion, as it does not seem self-evident. (And is "warrant" here used in the technical sense of a "signal warrant" and its criteria, or the more ordinary sense of "merits"?)

A pedestrian signal for Market street is deferred
All in all, these are chiefly political decisions, not technical ones, and we can choose to implement them with more urgency. Council could adopt the final plan and signal they wish a faster implementation.

But the default staging plan seems sluggish and very piecemeal. That the plan does not envision moving quickly to realize the bikeway makes it seem it is currently regarded as all too optional, an amenity, decoration even, nothing at all very important.

It's just not very snappy.

The Three Key Challenges

On the three key moments, we also see the sluggish implementation plan.

Winter Street downtown

Fairgrounds Road - a major project for a bike-only segment

Railroad on Maple - future "approval" required
All of them defer key decisions for further study and outreach.

Honestly, I thought the planning would have secured consensus and necessary permissions, and be ready to hit the ground running. I expected to see more evidence on outreach and, crucially, of enthusiastic assent.

Since the design elements do not seem to have changed much since May, if at all, the real work should have been outreach and shoring up political support in the neighborhood.

A one-page summary of outreach
The plan does not evince many signs of this. Chapter 4 on "Public Engagement" is one page and a summary only. It checks-off boxes in a formal process, but does not contain letters of support or other more substantive signs of neighborhood assent or endorsement.

The planning study is mainly for design elements - to identify "specific physical, operational, and signage improvements" - it's true, and maybe this is to criticize the study for something it did not aim to be. Still, if the end goal is actually to fund and construct something that enjoys broad use, a process that doesn't enlist more eager assent is a flawed and ineffective process. Sometimes it seems like the study itself is the telos, and not anything that would actually be constructed from it.

Overall, then, study seems undernourished on the "sales and marketing" side.

Loss of Parking?

The lack of "sales and marketing" is especially crucial where the plan proposes to reduce or eliminate parking.

Crossing Fairgrounds on Norway would be closed to cars
The dinky little segment of Norway that is proposed to be closed to cars is near a couple of businesses. Do these businesses know about the proposal and are they behind the proposal? Or is the plan going to blow up when they finally figure out that they are going to lose auto connectivity and parking?

And what about the downtown section of Winter Street between Mill Creek and Court Street where the plan proposes to convert angle parking to parallel stalls? Are apartments and churches and the State behind this? Or is the plan going to blow up when they too figure out that they are going to lose parking?

The example of Northeast 28th Street in Portland seems instructive and cautionary.

As I read this final plan, I am not persuaded that sufficient attention and care has been given to the next steps of "how do we make this happen?" The plan has not attended enough to the politics of the matter, and it looks like we are going to be stuck with another fight and slog to get the damn thing built.

Is the Existing Funding for Crossings on Maple and on Fairgrounds Sufficient?

Another question that's not addressed is whether the plans as detailed here for Pine Street at Maple and Fairgrounds at Norway can be built out completely with the amount of funding already allocated for these intersections?

A footnote in the staging table (pictured above) says "Partial funding is available but may not be enough to complete all the recommended improvements."

This seems a detail worth a much fuller discussion. Since there is funding, I would expect a detailed discussion of which elements should be immediately built with the current funding, and also then a plan for completing the remainder of the recommended treatment.

This omission is also a moment where the plan seems sluggish and insufficiently attentive to the practical details of "how do we make this happen?"

At the Moment, It looks like a Shelf Study

In key ways, then, the Winter-Maple Bikeway Plan does not look like it has been positioned for success. As a technical study, a plan to identify "specific physical, operational, and signage improvements," it looks fine enough. But as a plan to accomplish something beyond the mere writing of a plan, it is a little slack and appears to lack the energy and political consensus in the neighborhood to execute it quickly. It looks instead like something that will languish, move forward in fits, in bits and pieces, but not gather the momentum or funding to be realized in a timely way as a full corridor and bikeway. Too much of the doing is deferred. It does not strike an auspicious note for what should be the grand success of the Inaugural Family-friendly Bikeway in Salem.


Just for reference, here is the provisional staging recommendations from Chapter 6, p.35. It has been lightly edited to insert footnotes (italics) and alter the formatting:

Table 10. Short-Term Projects (To be completed in 0-4 years, listed from south to north)
  • Winter Street, Norway Street, Cottage Street, South Street, and Maple Street (where applicable) – Install shared lane pavement markings
  • Winter Street at Gaines Street – Install raised crosswalk
  • Norway Street at Fairgrounds Road at Cottage Street (Partial funding is available but may not be enough to complete all recommended improvements) – Install marked crosswalks, median diverter, refuge islands, and restrict vehicle access between Cottage Street and Fairgrounds Road
  • Cottage Street and Maple Avenue (where appropriate) – install speed humps
  • Maple Avenue at Pine Street – Install median diverter and marked crosswalks
  • Maple Avenue from Locust Street to Bliler Avenue – Construct sidewalk infill, construct multi-use path and vehicle loading area, connect to existing multi-use path north of Bliler Avenue
  • Corridor-Wide – Install WMB branding and wayfinding signing; Upgrade street and intersection lighting
Table 11. Long-Term Projects (To be completed in 5+ years, listed from south to north)
  • Winter Street at Court Street – Improvements/changes to parking, bike and pedestrian ramps, crosswalks, and markings
  • Winter Street from Court Street to Mill Creek - Downtown Salem cross-section change to include buffered bike lanes and parallel parking
  • Winter Street at Union Street – Construct mini-roundabout
  • Winter Street at E Street – Construct traffic circle
  • Winter Street at Market Street – School crossing upgrades and future pedestrian signal (when warranted)
  • Winter Street, Cottage Street, and Maple Avenue (where appropriate) – Reorient stop signs (Reorienting stop signs should only be completed once supporting traffic calming measures [traffic circles and speed humps] have been installed)
  • Maple Avenue at Columbia Street – Construct traffic circle
  • Maple Avenue at Railroad Crossing – Realign bicycle path
  • Maple Avenue and Auto Group Avenue – Construct multi-use path
  • Auto Group Avenue at Cherry Avenue – Upgrade traffic signal to include diagonal bicycle-only phase
  • Cherry Avenue from Auto Group Avenue to Salem Parkway – Construct multi-use path
  • Salem Parkway at Cherry Avenue – Install corner refuge islands


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

In the CANDO minutes from December on funding for another piece:

[A] "motion to issue a letter supporting the City's application for Community Development Block Grant funds to pay for ten speed humps and sidewalk improvements along the Maple-Winter Bikeway near the Oregon School for the Deaf/JGEMS passed unanimously."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added the projected staging and priority list, tables 10 and 11 from Chapter 6, to the end of the note.)