Monday, September 10, 2018

Congestion Task Force Reflects Ad Hoc Process, is Anti-Pedestrian, Anti-Climate

The Congestion Relief Task Force meets on Friday, and they've helpfully posted drafts of the meeting materials. So that's a nice thing to be able to report.
But the overall approach remains problematic, even a little suspect.

Much of that judgement come down to frame and expectations: What is the right frame for and expectations to have of the Task Force?

Task Force as Short-Term Consolation Prize?

To an earlier post arguing that the Task Force was fundamentally missing the big picture, a person commented
I think your criticism miss[ed] an important point. My understanding is that the Congestion Task Force is a political consolation prize for third bridge supporters and is specifically looking at short and mid-term solutions to car traffic in the downtown/river crossing area. I think the questions and issue you raise need to be addressed during the update to the comprehensive plan.
That articulates a frame and set of expectations.

So let's suppose that is the right one for the moment.

If that is the right frame and set of expectations, a useful thing would be to have a "road map" pointing outside of the Task Force and suggesting some "next steps." It wouldn't have to reference the Comprehensive Plan update specifically, and it could be more general in reference. But there would be a network of conceptual relations - bridges?! - that pointed outside of the Task Force's study limits for further consideration and actions. There would be the groundwork for a pivot to the medium- and longer-term planning. It should be more self-aware in method and in process.

But we do not see this.

Utter disconnect on climate and emissions
As it is the Conclusions lead with:
  1. The population of Salem and the region is projected to grow more than 20 percent over the next 20 years. The majority of residential growth is expected to occur west and south of downtown.
  2. Vehicle congestion in the study area is projected to increase. This will result in longer travel times and the duration of the morning and afternoon peak commutes on the two bridges.
Those are numbers one and two.

With these should be a pivot and set of pointers to the prospect of a course-correction in the Comprehensive Plan or in other future planning processes.

If the Congestion Task Force was truly going to lead towards a pivot, it should incorporate critical observations that these two current trends may not be sustainable, and that we should give consideration to changing where we place most residential growth and to reducing automobile traffic. It would at least question them rather than assume them as axiomatic!

Instead, there's attempt to place in context, no attempt to interpret, our autoism and our approach to congestion. No attempt to place this project in a context of other values and bigger projects.

The whole thing is an ad hoc approach to the near-term inconvenience and annoyance of congestion. Hydraulic autoism defines congestion, even more than traffic death or system mobility, as the primary problem to solve. So the Congestion Task Force has looked at proposals to restore conditions closer to free-flowing traffic only. It never questioned the priors.

Most crucially, it assumes that free-flow is the prime desideratum now and will remain the desideratum for the next generation.

Task Force Structured for Paralysis?

Related to the "consolation prize" idea, with three Councilors and the Mayor, was the Task Force set up for paralysis and a politically useful instance of process theater?

The Evaluation and Recommendation Grid in particular is interesting. Though they did not identify votes by name, they tallied yeses and nos on project ideas.

Here's a clip from projects that fell just below the "recommended" threshold.

Recommend, Further Research, Blank/No votes
Two members recommended closing the crosswalk on Front at Court. One did not endorse more connections to the Union Street Railroad Bridge. Two don't care about carpool incentives.

You can see several times there was something like a 2/2 split, and even one dissent was enough to pull a project out of the preferred list.

Was this thing really set up for decisive action and success?

A negative answer could be evidence for the "consolation prize" argument, that this was empty process designed to look like effective action.

But, again, inertia and the status quo, even if it looks like a sober, restrained, and responsible choice, is fully laden with values and policy choices.

Task Force as Mistaken or too Limited?

On the other hand, instead we could just consider the Task Force as fatally compromised by its autoism and too fragmented in its ad hoc approach.

Consider that making people on foot trying to cross the street wait longer has a central place in the short-term recommendations!

Pedestrian delay is anti-walking!
(at Commercial Street, not Front Street, also)
We should be going the other way, making walking as delightful as possible.

Altogether the four short-term recommendations are very cosmetic and limited:
  • Improve guide signage leading up to and on the bridges
  • Increase pedestrian delays at signalized intersections during peak periods
  • Install travel time signage in the study area
  • Remove the barrier on Musgrave Avenue east of Wallace Road to allow traffic to access Wallace Marine Park
That's an underwhelming list!

I suppose you could say that the four short-term recommendations are all reversible and easily modified. You could also say that they are temporizing measures while we start the more difficult conversation about the bigger picture. So from that standpoint they are defensible.

But are we really going to have this more difficult conversation in "Our Salem," the update to the Comprehensive Plan?

1980 FEIS on the bridges
We had ideas about what we needed to do on the demand side in 1980, but they were generally ignored. Year after year we ignore managing demand, occasionally nodding with a token gesture, and instead make the substantial investments on the supply side.

(But at least this 1980 study made the pointers: "If growth is to occur in West Salem as planned..." Now we just assume this and other conditions without question.)

We can't do this any more. There are other values more important than hydraulic autoism.

Today in the SJ

Last month in SJ

Last month in the Oregonian

Last month in the Register-Guard
Maybe it is not useful to be too dogmatic about the Task Force right at this moment. But if we accept a certain dithering now, will we actually be more decisive and forceful in the next round?


Walker said...

Good timing!
Today’s post by Chuck Marohn is perfectly timed to be read along with this post:

Susann Kaltwasser said...

This committee was so mishandled. They met almost in the dark and then seldom posted their materials, so that no one could realistically follow them, let alone participate. The staff acts like they have all the answers and wants to tell the citizens how to live in our town. And the City Council just goes along with this foolishness. Disappointing is an understatement.

Anonymous said...

One thing that came out of this committee. It will cost a significant amount of money to solve the congestion problems Salem has now, and increased congestion in the future. It is time for city leaders to do their job and start planning for long term infrastructure developments, whether it is another river crossing or other infrastructure solutions. Routing three highways through downtown Salem is not the answer. That traffic needs to be moved!