Monday, February 5, 2018

Winter-Maple Family-Friendly Bikeway at Planning Commission Tuesday

Winter St alignment, May 18th, 1899
The Plan for the Winter-Maple Bikeway goes before the Planning Commission tomorrow evening, and the City will be asking for an endorsement. (Agenda and Staff Report.)

It's an idea that's been around since at least 1899, and maybe finally it'll have some juice behind it.

Staff recommends approval and endorsement
You may recall the tepid reponse that Bike & Walk Salem got last time a substantial bike plan went before the Commission. In 2011-12, it took three meetings, in December, January, and March before the Commission sent it to Council with a recommendation for adoption.

Back in 2011 the Planning Commission was lukewarm at best
Lots of citizens showed up in support, but the testimony somehow wasn't enough for a speedy and enthusiastic endorsement. Something was lacking. (It certainly wasn't that there were elements that needed further vetting.)

This time, the Staff Report may not be sufficiently enthusiastic either:
Family-friendly bikeways can be an important component of providing a balanced, interconnected, and safe transportation system in Salem that supports a variety of transportation options. The WMB will support safe and convenient biking and walking to employment, schools, shopping, and parks. The WMB alignment follows a portion of the 134-mile Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway.
None of that is untrue, of course, but it's not exactly a ringing endorsement either. The language about a "balanced, interconnected, and safe transportation system in Salem that supports a variety of transportation options" is all true, but it's also very milquetoast. It "supports" but may not stress "shift" or "change" enough.

Should the City take on a greater leadership role in advocating for the project? There's nothing here about any urgency reducing drive-alone trips, in improving public health, or mitigating carbon emissions. It's an irenic soft-sell. A defensible choice, to be sure, but one that leaves plenty of room for stalling, delay, or shelving with low-priority. It would be nice to feel like the City was more deeply engaged in the project and committed to its success.

More specifically, one potential problem with this round is that the churches on Winter Street downtown, First Presbyterian, St. Joseph's, St. Mark's, as well as a business on the jog across Fairgrounds Road, Tu Casa Real Estate, may not yet be fully engaged in the process. The public materials that have been published are silent on them, and it would be reasonable to reference assent from them specifically, and even to include letters of support, if they had been engaged.

So I worry about this silence in the record.
Outreach has not been as robust as it might be
The City and consultant team do not seem to have engaged specific institutional and commercial interests who could greatly help or hinder the project. They let people come to them at the Open Houses.

But we have seen that the City knows how to do better:
In April [2016], Urban Development staff launched a small business retention and expansion program with SEDCOR and other local partners. The program utilizes one‐on‐one visits with small businesses (less than 50 employees) to identify needs and connect businesses with resources to meet those needs. The initial focus for the program was the North Gateway Urban Renewal Area; expansion to other areas is beginning this summer.

Since initiating the outreach, more than 60 business contacts have been made. Staff completed 31 follow‐up visits, and identified seven businesses that need to expand, renovate existing sites, or move to a different location. [italics added]
It does not appear that the City and consultant team have employed this one-on-one approach to explain the bikeway and enlist support. As soon as we start talking about parking reductions downtown, opposition will come out of the woodwork, and the City will not have prepared the ground.

What I see happening is that the Planning Commission will give a weak approval, Council will give a weak approval, and we will all end up waiting a decade before the bikeway is complete. And only those students in the future who are infants today will actually benefit from the project.

Back in April of 2009 (via SJ)
You might think this is whiny exaggeration, but consider that the Union St RR Bridge first opened in 2009, and only this past year was the light at Commercial installed, and there is still no complete Union Street bikeway. On the West side, a good connection across Wallace still seems remote. We are far from completing any high-quality corridor. We have segments only, and very few of them are high-quality. Most are legacy 1980s style bike lanes on busy streets. So beyond the mere fact of an adopted plan, something will have to change in our approach if we want to complete, to fund and construct, a high-quality corridor in a timely fashion.

For more on the treatments and technical details of the plan, see here and here.

The Planning Commission meets at City Hall in Council chambers at 5:30pm on Tuesday the 6th.

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

BikePortland has a story on a revised approach to the Lincoln-Harrison bikeway in Portland, and links to a City of Portland presentation that's pretty slick and also uses stronger language.

Like this:

"Portland is expected to grow significantly over the next 20 years. If we plan to move about our city in 2035 the way we did in 2011, we will need to build new automotive capacity equal to 23 Powell Boulevards.

For a range of reasons, Portland has decided it would be better to design for and encourage more walking, biking, and transit use than to build enough roadway capacity to ease increased driving. Climate change, congestion, individual health, community health, and environmental health are a few of these reasons.

Investments in bicycle transportation provide the city's best return on investment in personal mobility. Bicycling has been part of the city's transportation strategy for many years.

It's worth a look.