Thursday, October 18, 2018

Gaps at the MPO: Chapter 5 of the RTSP, Goal 7 Also

Just a couple of weeks ago, the technical committee at our Metropolitan Planning Organization started reviewing an all-new draft chapter 5 of the Regional Transportation System Plan. Since then, the authors have expanded the draft by quite a bit, and the Policy Committee will review its latest version. The PC meets on Tuesday the 23rd.

A new map of gaps in the regional bikeway system
Most striking here in the latest draft of the chapter, though perhaps not the most important part of it, is a new map of gaps in the regional bikeway system. I don't recall seeing a map specifically on gaps before. (Do you?) This is a helpful advance in reporting.

At the same time, the map has functional limits. It may be the best a regional agency can do from an overview and aggregate level. There are fairly clean definitions and metrics here that can generate the binary yes/no on a map. But the map's binary scheme does not always match practical riding experience on the road.

Bicycle system gaps in red - downtown detail
Let's look at a few places downtown.

First Consider the Commercial/Liberty couplet. Commercial Street between Marion and Mission is in grey. The map legend calls this part of the "Existing Bicycle System." Those are sharrows only, were supposed to be a temporary measure, and should not be considered something built to a finished state. They are part of the system more in name than in usefulness. This stretch remains a key gap for most people who might like to ride, and only practiced riders will take the lane with confidence here. Liberty has a one block "gap" in red between Front and Trade, but the rest of downtown is also a gap. Since Commercial/Liberty function together as a one-way couplet, it is incoherent to have one section considered part of the "system" and not the other. Additionally, the charlie foxtrot, especially southbound, at Division/Front/Commercial is a huge gap, and the map's grey elides this.

Bicycle project priorities (City of Salem TSP, 2017)
While the City of Salem's TSP is relatively more cluttered with different colors and line weights, at least it correctly identifies some intersections as especially difficult and as gaps. (And in fact even with bike lanes, intersections are not merely psychologically intimidating at times, but remain legally contested for people biking. Just this week a judge ruled in Bend that bike lanes do not continue through an intersection. See the discussion at BikePortland. Intersections often deserve special consideration as barriers and gaps.)

The end of the bike lane at a bus stop and start of right-turn lane;
people on bike have to merge left (see the yellow sign)
Similarly, the intersection of Trade and Church is identified on the City of Salem's map as needing work for people biking, and it constitutes a practical gap for many people who might want to bike into downtown.

The dataset the MPO map draws from also hasn't captured the new stretch of bike lane along Church St at SAIF. The regional bikeway system is focused on busy roads - those classified as "minor arterial" or higher? - and may not include this section of Church Street, which I think is a "collector." But because High/Church here is also a one-way couplet, and functions as a corridor, the way it connects is important, and the "existing system" doesn't just terminate at Trade Street. That's also an incoherence arising from lines on a map, not responsive to how people actually move and ride in town.

And who rides on the Parkway downtown, on Bellvue/Trade/Front? Even though bike lanes are striped, it's an unpleasant experience in inferior, dicey conditions. On the curving sections you can see where the striping paint is worn off by vehicles encroaching on the bike lane.

A regional map like this probably can't be generated by fieldwork and subjective ratings, but surely there are ways to refine it that will make it more representative of practical gaps, and not show merely lines on a map. Map is not territory!

Sidewalk gaps
The draft Chapter 5 also has a map of gaps in the sidewalk system. Again, these do not show neighborhood streets, only busy streets. So its scope of missing sidewalk is much less than the City's, which includes all the neighborhood streets that were developed without sidewalks.

A Digression on Safe Routes

This is not part of the draft chapter 5, but it is convenient to mention it here. Also on the agenda is the full list of area Safe Routes to School projects.

From a letter of support written by the MPO
We've already seen the City of Salem's list, and here are the rest from the County and Keizer:
  • A crosswalk on State Street at Elma Avenue
  • New sidewalk on Herrin Road NE
  • New sidewalks on Arizona and Utah Avenues NE
  • Path and sidewalks on May Street and Dearborn Avenue NE
  • Path on Delight Street N
Back to Chapter 5

As part of the gaps, there is a section on seismic retrofits of bridges, but the list is all about I-5, and does not adequately discuss all our creek bridges, not all of which will be standing after a quake.

Brief section on bridges and quake
In a section on crashes, "driver error" and its relation to roadway design and design speed should get more visibility. Driving is dangerous, and we don't account enough for this.

Crashes: Mostly it's about driver error
We also neglect three of the most important safety strategies:
  • Drive less often
  • Drive fewer miles
  • Drive more slowly
Finally, has the MPO actually adopted a Goal 7 formally?

Wait, are we really done with Goal 7?
The schedule for the RTSP suggests that Goal 7 is now settled, and it seems like that decision has been evaded, shuffled, or wrapped up in secrecy. Something's not right about this.

Again, we are in a kind of emergency now on climate. You will recall that The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just released a report, "The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ÂșC," and said
Transitional changes are already underway in many systems but limiting warming to 1.5°C would require a rapid escalation in the scale and pace of transition, particularly in the next 10-20 years. While limiting warming to 1.5°C would involve many of the same types of transitions as limiting warming to 2°C, the pace of change would need to be much faster. While the pace of change that would be required to limit warming to 1.5°C can be found in the past, there is no historical precedent for the scale of the necessary transitions, in particular in a socially and economically sustainable way. Resolving such speed and scale issues would require people’s support, public-sector interventions and private-sector cooperation. [italics added]
Debate and uncertainty back in August
At the very least, if the City of Salem's decided not to insist on language about greenhouse gas emissions in Goal 7, Council should recognize this formally and even explain why a retreat was a reasonable compromise. If Council has yielded, Council should have secured a concession in some other area. This was leverage, and the City should not have wasted it. If the City has not decided for yielding, then it should give Councilor Lewis, who represents the City at SKATS, more strict instructions on holding the line.

Look for the historic sign
next to the entry
You can download the agenda and meeting packet here.

SKATS Policy Committee meets Tuesday the 23rd, at noon. SKATS is at 100 High St. SE, Suite 200, above Table Five 08.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

RE: Goal 7 - This goal has not been finalized, the entry in the status document is in error as it did not provide that detail. Sorry for the confusion.

RE: Bike gaps - thanks for the feedback. Previously the gaps were shown in the maps in chapter 3 (of the existing plan) along with the existing bicycle system. They have been split out to make it easier to see where the gaps are. Intersection needs were not identified in this analysis - they will be included in future analysis.

RE: Bike lanes through intersections - Does that include when markings are in the intersection?