Saturday, August 24, 2019

City Fun Fact Misses Key Points

Is it worth criticizing a "fun fact," an element of whimsy in social media and public relations?

via Twitter
Yes, after going back and forth on it, I think it is. Because this is symptomatic of a great part of the problem and sheds more light than really was intended.

Lots of gravel and debris in the bike lane
on Front Street between State and Commercial
A couple of day ago while walking out of Minto Park on Front Street along Park Front and the rest of the Boise project, an adult man with all the bike gear crowded me on the sidewalk. It wasn't a zoomingly rude pass, it wasn't scorching, but it wasn't a generous pass, either. He was claiming his space on the sidewalk and I, on foot, was in the way. I pointed to the bike lane on Front Street (pictured), and he said something like "it's tough to bike in the street."

Well, he's not wrong. At that moment the bike lane had a broad distribution of gravel in it. Cars were the usual zoomy presence. The dual turn lanes southbound onto Commercial enforce a right-turn only for bikes, and it's practically impossible to continue east on Trade Street.

The bike lane is neither comfortable nor very useful. It is more ornamental.

It is, in fact, the kind of line on a map, and paint on the street, that lets the City of Salem say things like "Did you know? Salem has 120 miles of bike lanes."

Counting up the length of bike lane, some of it functional and effective, some merely ornamental like this one, is not a good metric for biking.

We are failing badly on walking and biking
(final June Our Salem indicators)
We have much better metrics. What is the percentage of trips made by bike or on foot? Over at they clipped a section of the recent Council Work Session on Our Salem in which Councilor Andersen points to these indicators and our execrable progress on them.

But the City seems to think that what we have is a PR and education problem, not a structural problem. Either the Citizens are ungrateful or they are ignorant, and either way don't recognize the wonderful extent of our magnificent bike lanes.

This wildly misunderstands the nature of the problem. Counting the miles of bike lane is only a partial metric. The more important one is, "how many people use them?" On this measure we fail badly. That's the key. Even a big man with all the gear was foiled by the Front Street bike lanes!

And even if there were an education and PR problem, the City's approach in the tweet would be the wrong one.

We shouldn't be targeting athletic men in full bicycle kits with all the gear.

NACTO Designing for All Ages and Abilities
As a PR and communication strategy, we should to have an approach for All Ages and Abilities. That dude with all the gear is only at the bottom right, not the center of advocacy, education, or design. He's not the target.

The City's webpage to which the tweet links has a better picture of a family biking, although it looks more like stock photography than an image of any Salem scene, but the page is also Panglossian:
walking and bicycling in Salem has never been easier, or safer.
Based on the number of people actually biking and the number of deaths from traffic violence, this is at the very least debatable, and may even be false.

Lukewarm participation at the City of Salem (Mid-May 2019)
The City should lead on that webpage with the reporting and indicators from Our Salem. Any page that wants to report honestly on "Walking and Biking Improvements" will also grapple with the relevant metrics and report on them at least yearly. They would also report on things like City employees participating in the Bike More Challenge. If City employees themselves don't bike, how can they expect the wider citizenry to bike? Be honest!

Altogether, it does not yet look like the City is very serious, with too much attention on mere image, and not enough on the actual work to make real improvements and real change.


Oren Sreebny said...

When I moved to Salem from Chicago last fall I didn’t expect that any city in Oregon could be so bike-unfriendly. I’d like to rely on my bike for regular transportation around town, as I did in both Seattle and Chicago, but I just don’t feel safe doing so. The city is well optimized for transportation by private car, and pitiful for walking, cycling, or public transit. I’m always envious when I visit Portland, Eugene, or Corvallis. How do we make this better?

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I no longer ride a part because I am old and have bad knees...but also because where I live has no easy routes to where I might go.

But in years past I rode my bike all over the part of town where I lived in southeast Salem. And I also wrote a bike when I lived in Corvallis. I was thinking the other day about what has changed. Yes, there are more zoomy cars now, but if I were going to trace my old paths, I could still do it safely. And where were those paths? Neighborhood streets most all of which do not have bike lanes. In Salem you can bike a lot of neighborhoods in the older sections of town with no real problems. But once you get into the newer sections, i.e. 1975 to present, you will have problems because of the lack of 'connectivity' with the introduction of cul de sacs. There are few through paths in neighborhood streets any more. You are always directed to a 'collector' street where all the cars are zooming by.

Bike paths that are situated next to a fast moving lane of cars is inviting disaster. A line is no protection! But you know that here on SBB. I can only assume that the people who started the 'bike lane' movement are not people who ride bikes!

When my children were growing up in Salem in the 19980-90s, they seldom could ride their bikes anywhere outside a small area inside our small neighborhood. Even going to school a mile away was dangerous because it required riding along a super fast (40 mph) collector street. So, they grew up not being bikers.

Now I live on one of those collector streets and there are bike lanes on both sides of the street out front. Do I ever see a person riding a bike? In the past 9 years, I could perhaps count them on one hand. But almost daily I can count that many cars parking in the bike lane. I call the police but they say, they don't enforce the law anymore in neighborhoods.

So, if the city planners were serious about getting more people to use bikes, they would address the safety issues...put bike paths on less trafficked streets; really enforce the 'connectivity rules for not just pedestrians, but bikes; and keep the routes clean, clear and safe.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Susann, re: "put bike paths on less trafficked streets."

Alas, that won't always work. What that does is gets people on foot and on bike out of the way of people in cars, but it does not connect to the places people want to go. The reason to have a bike lane on a busy street is the same reason cars are there: It connects to some place important, directly or indirectly. It might have destinations like businesses, schools, parks, or other places anyone might wish to visit. This is why bike lanes on State Street, and not the bicycular displacement system to route them onto Chemeketa and Ferry Streets, remains important. (See here and here on that.)

See this longer discussion, which includes a discussion of the Radburn system for which some have advocated: "The Prospect of more Biking on Paths in Salem."

This is why we need protected/separated bike lanes on busy streets and we should not force people to "less trafficked streets."

You are of course right about cul-de-sacs, and the City has some guidelines in code to discourage them, though they are permitted in some instances.

Oren, another person asked by email a week or so ago "how can we make this better?" and there will be a post eventually on it! It's a topic that makes me angry and so it is slow to come together. Stay tuned.

Irishwolf said...

Even the safer multi-use paths, like the one along HWY 22 are covered with glass, metal, thorny branches, etc.

The Peter Courtney Bridge is great, but you still have to survive the death gauntlet of downtown, bikes not allowed on the sidewalks so you have to brave it squeezed between parked cars, who hopefully won't just pull out and hit you and huge semis and log trucks. Once you get to Minto Island you have to deal with people who hog up the entire path or who are wearing headphones and totally oblivious when you try to announce that you are passing on the left or right. Can't keep a steady cadence and it blows your cardio workout pace.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Wolf, as you point out one of the reasons people bike on the path system in the parks is because the street system so poorly accommodates bike travel.

But another point you make is a little ambiguous:"Once you get to Minto Island you have to deal with people who hog up the entire path or who are wearing headphones and totally oblivious when you try to announce that you are passing on the left or right. Can't keep a steady cadence and it blows your cardio workout pace."

A workout pace has no business in Minto or Riverfront Park. That is scorching! (See a brief note Minto and more general thoughts here.)

At least here, the sympathies on that are nearly all with people on foot. I hate it when people biking zoom past me in Minto, and I understand why this contributes to anti-bike sentiment.