Friday, March 29, 2019

Engineering Doctrine with our Incoherence on Congestion Together Steamroll Safety

The catastrophe on Fairway Avenue sadly exposes the current state of our autoism. The City's already pushing back on slowing the cars and safety counter-measures. This is a kind of intransigence, but it has reasons. One of them is that in other contexts, citizens protest congestion and want speed and zooming.

At root, we can have one or the other:
  • Slow streets that are sometimes annoying, or backed up and congested, and allow multiple kinds of users. Hazards are easier to see and crashes are at slow speed and therefore minor.
  • Faster, wider streets that are not congested, are more zoomy, and prioritize cars and drivers. Crashes are at higher speed, are more violent, and more catastrophic and deadly.
Citizens complain and the City's damned either way.

On Thursday, City disparages safety counter-measures
From the piece:
Most speed bumps are found on local streets [rather than collectors].

But that’s not the only reason speed bump installation projects are few and far between.

There are other criteria that must be met to pursue the project, according to Kevin Hottmann, the City of Salem traffic engineer.

First, at least 600 drivers must use the road per day. If residents can count about 60 cars during rush hour, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., that’s a good indicator that there are at least 600 vehicles passing through on a daily basis, Hottmann said.

Also, the street would typically have a speed limit of 25 mph and one half or more of the drivers would need to be traveling at or over the speed limit.

“The issue cannot simply be one or two people speeding down the roadway every day,” said Fernandez. Most importantly, the project must be spearheaded by the community.

Neighbors may agree there is a speeding problem in the neighborhood and are often worried after accidents occur, but do not pursue the project, Fernandez said. “The community has skin in the game.”
The oppositional structure here is telling: The idea that residents who want a safer street might be freeloading, and need to have "skin in the game." This is probably at least partly an attempt, a little clumsy, to express the idea that the City wants neighborhood consensus on traffic calming, and does not want to put something in that then is criticized for making congestion or causing slow driving that is annoying. But it's also a patronizing expression that the engineers know best and "leave it to the experts." (See Strong Towns "Conversation with an Engineer.")

Engineering dogma insists
on evaluating for through-put
on every kind of street.
(Congestion Relief Task Force Oct 2018)
Even with the understandable political desire for consensus, the expert position is highly ideological and motivated. Because the City and current engineering doctrine value through-put and capacity most, safety counter-measures, anything that might slow the cars or reduce capacity, are difficult to get. There's a lot of administrative sludge to shovel through since engineering doctrine is hostile to "pedestrian impedance" and to lower "levels of service," the number and rate of cars that can move through an intersection in a given interval of time. Our autoism entails an approach to traffic that mimics fluid dynamics and recoils at bottlenecks. (For an example, see the number of times Senator Lew Frederick of Portland invokes uncritical horror at the prospect of "bottlenecks" on I-5 in Portland.)

Why Staff chose not to support a full 4/3 safety conversion
on State Street (at the Planning Commission last year)
This approach might seem have seemed reasonable for the interstate in the past (now with greenhouse gas emissions demanding that we scale back on driving, even this is doubtful) but it infects our city streets also. We saw with the State Street Study how demand for through-put doomed a full conversion to a safer road configuration.

Here on Fairway, the call for data suggests the City might be open to change. But then the question is, why do we have to tolerate so much speeding before we identify a "real" problem.

If a neighborhood road permits "one or two people speeding down the roadway every day," that is evidence the road is designed in a way that permits, perhaps even induces, the speeding. One or more people feel comfortable speeding. The fact of this speeding reduces comfort for people who might like to walk or bike, and the cycle of autoism takes over.

All this evidence for a design problem, not merely an instance of an isolated bad actor or careless teen.

It shouldn't take hundreds of speeders on a neighborhood street, even one designated as a "collector."

But until we grapple more thoroughly with the tension in the ways we call for slow streets near our homes and zoomy streets in urban areas through which we want to pass, we will struggle with achieving safe streets.


Mike said...

I believe that we need to abandon the urban street hierarchy we've created. Instead of neighbourhood, collector and arterial streets, we need to separate them into two categories: purely residential and commercial/mixed use. The street are similarly designed for safety but the latter could accommodate more lanes and more traffic. But it will not be the funnel that creates congestion, high speed accidents and no go zones for people walking and biking.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

ELNA went through the speed bump process. We got a street near Weathers Park approved for two speed bumps. That was 6 years ago. Still waiting for funding. That is the other reason why they are not a good idea for making streets safer.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Yeah, it seems clear that the formal functional street classification system is not working and it needs to be modified or perhaps even scrapped with a different approach. But since we moved from a gridded system to a ramified system, it may be that the problem is not so much with the naming but is with the urban form itself.

As for speed bumps, it's not at all clear they are the right solution for traffic calming, and the City may be right to push back on speed bumps specifically. But the City should be more generous about the probability that Fairway Avenue needs calming of some kind. People shouldn't dwell too much the narrow yes/no on speed bumps here.

I should have mentioned Fisher Road NE. It doesn't have continuous bike lanes - it's an older road, I think - but it has a similar two-lane section and problems with speed.

Council discussed this in late 2017, and promised stop signs and a speed radar installation. But they did not alter the structure of the street itself. A speed study showed "The 85th-percentile speed in this posted 25 mph zone was 33.2 mph southbound and 33.9 mph northbound and so the City was prepared not to recommend calming, but to recommend a higher speed limit.

This is precisely the way that current Engineering doctrine reinforces a pernicious cycle of autoism.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I drove down Fisher Road where the City has put in stop signs and speed monitoring signs. The speed is 25 mph. The traffic is so much calmer now. The stop signs are a true benefit to not only slowing cars down, but making turns safer to get to Walmart at Devonshire. They still need to add sidewalks to make the area safe for pedestrians. I'm not sure there is room for a bike lane, but since the City is now putting Fisher Road through to Market it might soon be needed. The new connection to Market will have bike lanes, of course that will extend up to Sunnyview Road.