Saturday, January 18, 2020

City Council, January 21st - Council Goals and Strategic Plan, part 2

In addition to a Climate Plan, there are several other items of interest at the Council Work Session on Tuesday. I started with the Climate Plan, and wish it were more emphatic and stronger, because I think it would provide framework for so many of the other issues. When we center climate in our policy analyses and debates, other matters and actions snap into sharper focus.

"slower driving" should be included here
It's also mostly about walking - sidewalks and crosswalks
Take the goal to "increase safety for cyclists and walkers to include missing connections for safe routes through the City."

(By the way, it's nice to see "walkers" instead of "pedestrians"! We could go further and say "increase safety for people walking and biking," so that the emphasis is on all people, who will throughout the day and throughout their lives use a variety of transportation activities, and not be limited to one only as some emblem of self-ID or affiliation.)

Just in 2019 and now the start of 2020, the traffic deaths involving people walking have nearly all been in marked crosswalks. The crosswalks have been no guarantee for safety. The death of two people biking and skating are less clearcut, but one involved excessive driver speed, and the other remains a little ambiguous, since the person biking is not able to tell their own story, and police were quick to take the driver's story.)
The Safer Crossings program is important, but it is small and, moreover, the bigger problem is with drivers. Even when we provide better crosswalks, drivers still make catastrophic errors and kill people. Conversely, when people walking or biking make errors, they get killed. We do not adequately account for the asymmetry, that it is always the person on foot who is more vulnerable and who pays the ultimate price.

Fuel subsidy is but one of the ways we subsidize
our autoism - via twitter
And an important element in improving aggregate urban safety is driving less and driving slower. A real Climate Plan will focus on driving less, and safety for people on foot and on bike fits easily under the master narrative of this Climate Plan.

As it is currently, the goal to "increase safety for cyclists and walkers" remains a little ad hoc, disconnected from larger policy goals and other actions. (For another perspective, one that is consistent with most of this, see the Strong Towns post, "Why Do Americans View Zero Road Deaths as an Impossible Goal?")

One of those other policy goals is to improve the City's commuter program.

How much parking subsidy is there?
The summary does not address how much we incent driving by subsidizing parking.

Also: "At the time of the survey, two employees reported regularly taking the bus." Two!

This should occasion more surprise and concern. Isn't that a pretty big failure? Are the barriers to greater use of transit deeper than improved bells and whistles on the commuter program?

It is encouraging to see improved secure bike storage and showering facilities on the list.

But what about City Hall's location? It's on a median between the Liberty/Commercial couplet, and the bike lanes are all on the outer lanes. Getting to City Hall on bike is not easy.

A project to boost travel to work by means other than drive-alone trips will need to dig deeper and, again, look at the total subsidy for our autoism.

Getting to the Library has the same problem as getting to City Hall. One solution to this (and to other factors as well, of course) has been to suggest that what we really need is free parking there.

Why do we assume the lack of free parking
is such a barrier?
While this budget clip is from a 2016 discussion about free parking at the Library, the general magnitude is about right: Free parking at the library basically costs one staff FTE.

Parking revenue from 2014-15 Adopted Budget (book 1)
Fortunately the Staff Recommendation is for smart-meters and "vending kiosks" than can accommodate variable rates and respond more accurately to Library demand. Still, under a Climate Plan, we have a better framework to talk about ways free parking subsidizes and induces drive-alone trips. We should not exempt the Library and its patrons from this.

It is nice to see we will be taking a look at the north Front Street area. Particularly since the UGM relocation and Police Station have redirected the redevelopment of some important blocks just north of downtown, it will be helpful to figure out what we need to do to incent more housing and other mixed-use redevelopment in that "north downtown" area.

North downtown project
The musical chairs and fire drill frenzy that is the City's current approach to homelessness and camping deserves comment. Separately from the Work Session, Council will hold a formal Special Meeting and declare an "unsheltered resident emergency."

Others know more about this and have more trenchant things to say. See especially the ongoing series over at CANDO.

The hazmat suits - January 10th
The coverage and framing of the current episode has been so troubling, though: Vermin, menace, garbage, filth. These are people, most of whom we would say are troubled, some profoundly so, but they are people, not garbage and filth. And if there are 1800 people who lack more or less stable housing here, the downtown campers represent maybe 5% of them. There may be a problem of proportionality here.

I hope the City can refocus from short-term damage control over downtown camping to longer term and more structural remedies:
  • Supportive housing for those most in need
  • Various kinds of subsidized housing for others in need
  • And abundant market-rate housing in walkable neighborhoods to stabilize pricing and affordability, and to reduce drive-alone trips
Finally, as a parenthetical note on something not on the agenda at all, on the employee payroll tax, maybe we should wait until we see efficiencies from the new Police Station before we start hiring a bunch of new police? The initial premise on the funding gap and new revenue sources was to maintain the existing level of services, not to expand. The measure also hides the future pension liability, and shouldn't we start including these future liabilities as part of any current analysis?

But of course this is about preference, too. The preference here is for more housing, especially near downtown, and more support for non-auto travel, not for more cops.

(Small update: Others have had similar questions about the employee payroll tax it turns out. Here's one proposal that the employee payroll tax should go for homeless and housing solutions.)


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added note about reallocating the employee payroll tax.)

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Anyone know what happened to the idea of lowering speed limits in residential areas to 20 MPH? Councilor Hoy mentioned it once last fall and I think a neighborhood association was trying to get the idea going last year. Portland has reduced speed limits in a number of areas. How is it working?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I don't know how the 20mph limit is working in Portland. Here are two recent pieces, one about friction, the other about success:
"Someone defaced dozens of “20 is Plenty” signs in north Portland" (2018)
"NW Portland is now a Slow Zone. Here’s how your neighborhood can be one too"

It might be early yet for a real assessment.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The Work Session was postponed in order to give more attention to the problem of street camping. It's now back on again for February 18th. Other than discussing prospects for a Climate Action Plan, there didn't seem to be much to add to this on the other issues.

CANDO has a long note on street camping and homelessness in the context of the February 18th Work Session.

While that's important, I hope it doesn't suck up all of attention, worry, and debate to the exclusion of thoughtful consideration of the other matters.