Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The 2009 Blueprint for Better Biking: Revisiting after a Full Decade

Back in the heady days of the early aughts, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland (now the Street Trust) published a "Blueprint for Better Biking."

Blueprint for Better Biking (2005)*
A little later in the aughts, taking the document as a template, a group of Salemites, at that time working as a "chapter" of the BTA, which still considered itself something of a statewide group, formulated a version for Salem.

Many of the concepts were then taken up into "Bike and Walk Salem," the walking and biking update to the Transportation System Plan adopted in 2012. So the document served a real purpose and was not at all lost effort.

Still, the document is ten years old this year, and it is interesting to consider how much progress we might have made. In that regard it might be a little disappointing.

The "engineering" projects - with our newer bike map
The Portland document identified 40 projects; with Salem a smaller city, the Salem one only 12:

Engineering Projects:
1. Make Downtown Bike-Friendly
2. Complete Willamette River Bridge Connections
3. Create Chemeketa Bicycle Boulevard
4. Create Winter Street NE Bicycle Boulevard
5. Bush Park: Fix Entry at Winter SE and Mission; Consider Path
6. Liberty South: Fix Y at Commercial; Remedy to Browning
7. River Road South: Remedy Owens to Minto-Brown
8. Prioritize Sweeping and Maintenance of Bike Lanes and Paths

Evaluation & Planning Projects
9. Update and Coordinate Relevant Chapters of Area Transportation System Plans
10. Establish, Map, and Publish Bike Routes

Education Projects:
11. Plan Safe Routes to Schools and Increase Bicycle Safety Education Classes
12. Program Traffic Law Education for Motorists, Bicyclists, and Law Enforcement

So how have we done?

Most of these projects, it turns out, will get partial credit only. There are few that we can say are fully accomplished. The program seemed like something that would be possible to knock out over a decade, but this has not been the case.

Completed projects:
2. ½ credit. The east connection to the Union Street Railroad Bridge (not yet the west connection)
3. ½ credit. Chemeketa Street is signed and has sharrows, but is not fully upgraded to a bike boulevard or neighborhood greenway
4. ½ credit. Winter-Maple Neighborhood Greenway is signed, has some stop signs and speed humps, but many pieces are still to come
5. ½ credit. Fix entry to Bush Park at Winter and Mission (no new path, but maybe not so important)
7. ½ credit. South River Road now has the Minto Bridge as an alternative, but during the winter it's not a very good alternative
9. 😃 Full marks! The TSP was updated. (The City used to break out individual chapters, but now it's linked to one gigantic document.)
10. 😃 Again, full marks! The bike routes have been updated and mapped.

In Progress or planned projects with funding commitments:
4. ½ credit. Several key crossings are funded and planned for construction in the next couple of years. But these still won't complete the corridor.
6. ½ credit. The Commercial-Vista Corridor Plan and the first package of funded projects contains a fix for the Y-intersection. (But the segment of Liberty south to Browning is very distant.)
11. ½ credit. Safe Routes is slowly coming along. An advocate was hired a couple of years ago, and this year a coordinator will be hired to build out programming at five schools. But that's far from a district-wide program still.

Yet to come:
1. 🚳 Downtown is still a black hole.
2. ½ credit. The west connection to the Union Street Railroad Bridge is not yet made.
3. ½ credit. A full quiet street treatment for Chemeketa seems distant.
4. ½ credit. Plans for Winter Street downtown between D and Court remain distant.
5. ½ credit. There's no new plans for Bush Park or any improved neighborhood greenways south of Mission Street.
6. ½ credit. Between Browning and and the Y with Commercial, on Liberty there is much to do.
7. ½ credit. River Road itself still remains sketchy for ordinary people.
8. 🚳 Gravel remains a problem; sweeping and maintenance still seem very secondary.
11. ½ credit. But there is much yet to do on Safe Routes here.
12. 🚳 Traffic Law Education has not yet been a priority.

If we had done it all, would it be enough? Was it the right mix?

With 10 years of perspective, it's possible to see the shape of the program more clearly, and it is even more striking that east and north Salem deserved more attention. The slate of projects was biased for downtown and south Salem. Certainly the focus on downtown was intentional. It remains key, and Salem will not be fully multi-modal until we have a system of streets and routes downtown welcome to all road users.

But it is less clear that Lancaster Drive or Portland Road shouldn't also have got attention. There's some bias or limit here. No projects rose up organically from Latinx residents, and representation was also deficient. This is a Salem-wide problem, and not something particular to this project, however. All in all, if we were going to choose a top 10 or top 12 list today, its geographic distribution might look different now.

As downtown has stubbornly resisted non-auto traffic, the Winter Street Bicycle Boulevard concept has also shifted. In an update on it earlier this year SBBA argued:
The bike boulevard section, running from D Street to Bliler Ave, is officially called a “Neighborhood Greeenway.” This section passes through primarily residential areas and received a 20 mph designation to improve safety for all people (in cars and on bike/foot/skateboard) who are sharing the low-speed, low-volume street.

Planned areas north and south of the “Greenway” have no official name – just as bike lanes marked on Liberty, Pine, or other streets don’t have a specific title.
They're really focusing on the residential nature of the route segments and of inward-directed travel, especially to and from the schools on the route.

The original concept was a spine and connection into downtown.

This at least partially represents a shift from a focus on commuting and utility cycling to a focus on Safe Routes to School, from the needs of adults who might like to cycle to the needs of kids.

That is a reasonable evolution, particularly in the face of stubborn autoism and resistance to changing downtown travel patterns, but it is a change and is something to register.

The Scourge of Autoism

More generally, and a little philosophically, advocates may have overrated "carrots" and underrated the need for "sticks." For a long time "build it and they will come," was the rallying cry. Merely to create attractive new routes had seemed to be sufficient. There was tremendous latent demand for biking facilities, and if we built them new bicyclists would come out of the woodwork.

But this was not exactly how it happened. Even Portland has faced a plateau in biking. Cheap gas has seemed to be a major culprit. Underpriced parking is also a major ingredient. As an organization, in the transition to "Street Trust," the BTA broadened their scope from bicycling to include transit, walking, and the whole streetscape.

That total system of subsidy for driving is a greater problem than we understood. Free parking, underpriced road access, cheap gas, commuter subsidies in tax credits or employee parking allowances, transportation departments that continue to focus on capacity increases as the primary action for congestion relief - basically in every way we continue to make biking expensive in time, inconvenience, and effort; and conversely do nearly everything we can to make driving quick, convenient, and effortless. All of our policies and funding are still essentially oriented towards making drive-alone trips the transportation choice of first resort. We might talk "choice" or "options," but at the level of budgets and systems there's still an overwhelming preference and support for car trips as primary choice.

In this environment of autoist preferentialism, "build it and they will come" for bikes is by itself rarely a powerful enough inducement. It makes some change on the margins, but does not create systemic shifts in aggregate.

All this too applies to transit. Until we correctly price drive-alone trips, transit will remain underpowered.

Cars are a big problem
Final pie chart from Our Salem
Though it wasn't popular at the time, linking bicycling to climate change might have been helpful. It could hardly have been worse. Making change requires the strong medicine of saying "cars are bad for us and we overuse them." Until we are willing to enact policies to end the subsidy and even more actively to discourage car use, policies and carrots on the positive side alone for encouraging bike use are not likely to be effective enough.

* The cover models have moved on and up! One is Executive Director of a national group advocating for kids and bikes, and the other is a Principal and Program Manager with a national planning firm.


Unknown said...

As a downtown bike commuter from south of Bush Park, I need to comment how little was accomplished with the new crossing at Mission and Winter. There is still no safe route through Bush Park itself. I risk my life by coming down the Soap Box Derby track. Heading back from downtown the bike lane ends at Mission and the crossing is on the other side of the street. No one, including me, crosses Winter to use that crossing to go south. I usually take the sidewalk down to High Street and continue south on High dodging the parked cars and having the traffic dodge me. Very unsafe. I think the crossing at Mission and Winter was a waste of money.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

re: "I risk my life by coming down the Soap Box Derby track"

How does that work exactly? There are no cars on the track, it's very wide, even when people walking are not staying to the right it's not difficult to weave around them. This is the first time I have ever heard "soap box derby track = dangerous," and I would like to know more about why you think that. Bush Park seems like a very safe way to travel, though the path that roughly corresponds to a Church Street alignment gets congested, especially by the barn, playground, and where it narrows on the slope just north of Bush House.

It has seemed like traffic calming, even diverters, would be useful on the "High street Bypass" and I see a lot of people on the sidewalks; or a set of improvements for a bike boulevard on a Church Street alignment, but to say the park is "very unsafe" seems like overstatement.

Anyway, your thoughts are unexpected, and it would be helpful to learn more about them!

Anonymous said...

The speed going down the track is too much for a 67-year-old guy on a bike. A spill could be fatal. In an ideal world there would be a protected bike lane or trail for me to take north on High and then right on Mission to Winter (same in the other direction).