Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Proposed Midblock Treatments May Hinder Future Biking Downtown

The concepts for the Downtown Sidewalk Study have been out for a little while, and there hasn't seemed to be a great deal to say about them. They are more about standardizing street furniture and planter areas than about reconfiguring the streetscape. They are incremental decoration and fiddling on the edges of the sidewalks, not a structural revision to the streets. They're "fine."

One move, however, might deserve comment. It looks promising, but it actually digs in further on a dysfunctional road design and turns its back on emerging best practices for multi-modal downtown streets. It maintains downtown as a system of "traffic sewers," whose aim is to drain traffic through the downtown. The priority remains on zooming through-traffic and fails to look sufficiently to the future and to downtown as a "place" in and of itself.

Proposed Midblock Landscape Pockets
Open House Presentation

Proposed Alley Entrances - also midblock
Open House Presentation
The concepts include a set of midblock bulb-outs, one group for the Liberty/Commercial couplet, called "landscape pockets"; the other for the alley entries on the east-west streets.

Bulb-out and relation to parking depth, a kind of spandrel
Both of these use a spandrel created by the depth of angle parking into the travel lanes.

The sharrow in the diagram points to the problem. Sharrows on Commercial Street are not very effective, functioning only for confident people willing to employ vehicular cycling. This is not at all a family-friendly standard.

Bike lane standards are still a little emergent, it's true, but there's enough that the National Association of City Transportation Officials has multiple publications and standards that are becoming conventional and official. It's not just a wild west of experimentation.
Places for Bikes has also compiled annual lists of Best New Bike Lanes, which reflect these emerging standards:
None of the standards use sharrows on busy streets like Liberty and Commercial. That was a temporary move we should have started to replace by now.

All Ages and Abilities guide
What has been useful on busy city streets is instead moving the parking out away from the curb and using the row of cars to protect a bike lane. (Like High Street between Trade and Ferry downtown.) Here's a recent example from Chicago.

Protected bike lanes: Randolph and Dearborn Streets, Chicago
via Places for Bikes 2016 "Best New Bike Lanes" list
and Streetsblog Chicago
Note the channel or gap for bikes in the corner curb extension associated with the sidewalk. It's more like a refuge island than a continuous extension.

Parking protection and curb extension detail
The proposals here in Salem for Midblock Landscape Pockets and for Alley Entrances do not include any provision for this kind of channel or gap, and may make it more difficult to move curbside parking away from the curb when Salem finally gets serious about "decreasing reliance on the SOV," bicycling, and placemaking downtown.
Not yet serious about "decreasing reliance on the SOV"