Friday, May 25, 2018

Congestion Task Force Has First Look at Proposed Solution Packages

The Congestion Relief Task Force met earlier this week last Friday and saw seven different bundles of different projects. The Task Force eliminated the two most expensive of the "Solution Packages" and will look at the remaining five in more depth. Still, there's too much same-old, same-old in the rehash of old and costly project ideas devoted to drive-alone trips. (Brief minutes and the slide deck for the presentation.)

Relief as Political Band-aid
Not arising from Coordinated Analysis of the Underlying Problems

Hydraulic Autoism: We treat traffic like fluid and streets like tubes
(from the presentation to the Task Force)
The biggest problem, one that is a fatal defect for the whole project, is the theory and paradigm that is the basis all the proposed solutions. Under the mid-20th century program of hydraulic autoism, we consider traffic as fluid with pressure that must be sent through pipes or tubes of fixed capacity. If you read the blog regularly, you will have seen the phrase hydraulic autoism and you might think it's an odd neologism. But look at those pipes, their sizes, and the proposed relations! We totally have a hydraulic conception of traffic. And since the traffic is conceived as drive-alone trips in cars only, and not as walking, biking, busing, or other mobility, it is also an autoist understanding. The diagrams and basis for the analysis here really is a kind of Q.E.D. for hydraulic autoism. The proof couldn't be plainer. It's a real thing!

And anyway, if we are going to look at space and volume only, there are other "capacity relationship concepts" we should also see. It's people/hour, not vehicles/hour that matter! (In the clips below from diagrams presented to the Task Force, note all the +vph and -vph.)

Vancouver, BC: Drive-alone trips are inefficient
Until we also grapple with pricing signals, with things like all of the physical space and financial subsidy we devote to support free and underpriced parking, we will continue to induce more demand for drive-alone trips, and we will wonder why there is more pressure for increased road supply.

Underpriced parking directly invites more traffic:
Downtown Surface Parking Lots in Red
Parking Garages in Solid Brick Red
On-street parking stalls not included
It's time to devote more attention to managing demand for drive-alone trips, not just satisfying our insatiable appetite for drive-alone trips. (Even the SRC's own analysis a decade ago noted "parking charges...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
Inducing more drive-alone trips by an increase in road capacity is also inconsistent with any greenhouse gas goals we might have. And it doesn't meet the goal in our Comprehensive Plan to "reduce reliance on the SOV."

Altogether proposals to increase capacity for drive-alone trips is responsive to immediate complaints about congestion, but treats symptoms shallowly, and does not work at the underlying causes and bigger structural problems.

The Proposals

So about the proposals themselves. First we should look at ways they will disadvantage trips that are not drive-alone.

Expanding Capacity for Drive-alone Trips Harms Walking and Biking

Two of the proposals involve widening the bridges.

Add a lane to the Marion St Bridge

More on Adding the Lane

Adding a lane to the Center St Bridge
Widening the Marion Street Bridge likely removes a narrow sidewalk, and widening the Center Street Bridge removes the much wider multi-use path that offers direct connections to Riverfront Park (via Water Street and the ramp spiral recently cleared of the tents and campers) and to Wallace Marine Park and the Edgewater path along Highway 222.

Adding an offramp to Marine Drive
Another proposal involves an offramp to a new Marine Drive, which would fly-over or block the trestle and path on the Union Street Railroad Bridge.

Requiring Edgewater/Wallace traffic to take Union St
And another involves shunting a large amount of rush-hour traffic onto the Union Street Family-friendly Greenway.

Rather than making it easier for people to choose not to drive, the proposals will make it more difficult to walk or bike.

The Bundles: Two too Expensive, Five Merit Closer Look

There were several more projects called out in the presentation, but it does not seem necessary to comment on them individually.

They were bundled into seven "Solution Packages" for the Task Force to consider. The two most expensive of the bundles were eliminated.


They had long and expensive flyover ramps in them and these were too disruptive and too costly.

So that left five for further consideration and analysis.

Solution Package #1 for Center St Bridge

Solution Package #3 for Center St Bridge

Solution Package #1 for Marion St Bridge

Solution Package #2 for Marion St Bridge

Solution Package #4 for Marion St Bridge
Things for Later or Eliminated

Some concepts were reserved for later consideration. One of them seemed to involve more traffic on the Union Street Family-friendly Greenway. It's interesting that as part of the lane addition concepts, no Bus-Only configuration seemed to be in the mix.

Postponed for later analysis
And there was a set of discarded concepts. One of them was removing the new light on Commercial Street at Union, which would have harmed connectivity for people on foot and on bike.

Discarded concepts
We're on a Treadmill

Until we are able to get outside of our paradigm of hydraulic autoism, we are going to keep cycling through the same kinds of expensive solutions that failed us in the past. We will keep doing the same things over and over. The "solution packages" we see today, aren't very different from those proposed and constructed in 1980. Maybe we're just looking at things the wrong way.

1980 FEIS on widening the bridges


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Edit: Misremembered date of last meeting; corrected it.)

Ken said...

Dedicated lanes for buses on both bridges.

Alex said...

You make great points about the multimodal analysis that appears to be missing from this process, but the more important point is that Salem River Crossing will do far more to reduce congestion on the bridges (as well as alleviate motor vehicle traffic in central Salem in general) than any of their auto-oriented alternatives. According to the LEHD project of the US census, at least 60% of the ~102k jobs in Salem east of the River are coming from east of the river. Another 6520 are commuting from West Salem. It seems likely that the majority of the ~46k crossings are coming from other parts of Polk County and are going to someplace besides central Salem. Therefore the Salem River Crossing will significantly reduce traffic on Marion & Center. There is no doubt that any congestion that remains could be reduced by increasing transit frequency and bike/walk connections, since most of West Salem is within an easy bus or bike ride from central Salem. If they aren't considering the impact of the Salem River Crossing on this project, then they aren't doing a real world analysis.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Your comment is unclear in important ways. This project arises out of the Salem River Crossing and is a near-term substitute, and is not at all failing to "consider the impact of the Salem River Crossing." You say "most of West Salem is within an easy bus or bike ride from central Salem" and this is not a statement many in West Salem or any Salemite would agree with - are you even from here? Perhaps this misunderstands something in your comment, but it doesn't seem to add up quite right.

Additionally, if you accept the traffic modeling (though we critique it here), under the SRC's own analysis the SRC fails to resolve congestion. It is an article of faith that the SRC will solve congestion, but the SRC's own analysis says no such thing.

For more on that see "The Preferred Alternative is an Expensive Damp Squib" (2016) and "West Salem Neighborhood to talk SRC and Second Street Crossing on Monday" (May of this year).

Generally we should be talking more about demand-side solutions rather than supply-side (new road capacity). See "Let's Talk Demand Rather than Supply."

Thanks for reading!