Sunday, April 12, 2020

From Indicators to Guiding Principles: Our Salem's Latest Round Diluted too Much

Now that I've taken more time to read more of the supporting documents, the dilution and change in Our Salem is worse even than it first appeared to be. The project team has executed a major course change, and without a detailed discussion of that has apparently tried to hide the fact.

Guiding Principles (partial) April 2020
In the "Guiding Principles" document, which ought to be a distillation of core values, many of the values have been deleted.

On transportation, while they show a pleasant icon with walking, a bus, and a bike, the words are all about "a complete and integrated transportation network" and a "safe and efficient travel by all modes." This is the "balanced" code of autoism. This is not "reduce driving" and "reduce speed," but is "keep non-auto travel on the margins."

On the environment, there's nothing about greenhouse gases. It also recapitulates the idea that growth always has "negative impacts." There's nothing about positive values and positive results of growth. Instead it's about the autoist conception of green space, of parky ornamental emptiness.

On Mixed-use, the word is "allow" not "promote," "encourage," or anything very strong at all. The Economic one leads with "strengthen" and Parks leads with "develop, enhance, and expand" but Mixed-use is pretty pallid by comparison.

When we look at the indicators more closely, we see that instead of "bicycle and pedestrian use," which even with the word pedestrian was at least intelligible to non-specialists, we have "mode split," which is just professional jargon. It also moves away from focusing on improving walking and biking specifically, and reverts to the false egalitarianism of "balance" for "all modes."

Old Transportation Indicators (May 2019)
The new indicators also lack anything about crashes and deaths. They skate over safety and prefer efficiency. Especially with "hours of delay" and with "volume to capacity" measures, the whole is now much more autoist.

New Transportation Indicators (April 2020)
On greenhouse gas emissions, we've already noted the utter lack of difference between scenarios A through D. They all show a "reduction" of about 23% from current levels.

Chart from Oregon Statewide Transportation Strategy
and inset from Our Salem
(Comments in red added; on the STS, see here and here.)
Crucially, there is no time interval specified for the reduction, and a 23% reduction would meet only the 2020 goal. Of course, this is impossible, since it would take many years to built out to a scenario. The reduction of 23% fails to meet any 2030 or 2050 goal. If Our Salem is not going to meet the statewide 2050 goal, there should be an explicit discussion of this. Why won't it meet that goal? We should have detailed reasons for a refusal like this.

More to the point, we should have stronger ambitions and want to meet the 2050 goal. This is a clear place where we will bake into Our Salem one set of assumptions and will struggle mightily to layer in another set of assumptions from any Climate Action Plan we might formulate. This is a strong reason to pause Our Salem until we complete a Climate Action Plan, or at the very least to coordinate the two processes more clearly and not just to subordinate one to the other. (In the webinar they said they were "coordinated," but that's just some words, and there is no actual evidence right now for any coordination.)

Here on the last page of the "Scenario Indicators" document is a footnote that says, "oh, by the way, we changed a bunch of things. Hope you don't mind." This absolutely calls for more discussion and analysis. A footnote is not sufficient.

"Some indicators have been added or removed" (April 2020)
On the Webinar

The webinar might have been a logical place to discuss some of this, but it is even more general and introductory. It was also assembled and delivered in trying circumstances, and it is not completely fair to criticize it. Nevertheless, it came up short in some important ways, and I am going to offer some critical comment, not about style but about substance.

Not even in the introductory comments on the indicators did they say why some were deleted or de-emphasized and why other new ones were added. This is a striking shift, and at least in a public technical memo, if not in more general webinar comments, it should be discussed.

The discussion of indicators didn't include reasons for the changes
On the discussion of mode split in the webinar, I think they are very wrong, and wrong in the service of autoist ideology:
One of the neat things we were able to do was to look at some of the transportation indicators based on these scenarios. It may not look like a big swing when you are getting one or two percent. If you talk to some folks in transportation say that really does mean are actually changing your mode split in scenario D quite significantly.
The comments on mode split are wrong-headed
Sure, an absolute swing from 1% to 2% would be a 100% increase in proportion. That's a big swing.

But there are several problems here. First is that the model is not precise enough to give any kind of confidence in those values. They are all within any reasonable margin of error. Second, we don't know over what time interval the comparison is being made. Third, even a couple of percentage points doesn't help us meet greenhouse gas goals.

All in all, there is nothing significant about these findings. All the changes round to zero in the big picture.

Back in the webinar, then, they followed discussion of mode split with discussion of hours of delay, an autoist measure that prioritizes suburban and exurban form. In the webinar they used no other transportation indicators. Nothing about emissions. That's a clear sign for where things are heading and evidence for a new autoist bias in the planning process.

The Q & A afterwards was even less organized, but when greenhouse gas came up, and it was basically the first question, it was waved away as something we are working on, we'll get back to you on that, and anyway, that's for the Climate Action Plan.

Then the Third Bridge came up, and the clear tenor of the conversation was we are going to revive it, and a certain amount of "new infrastructure" is assumed to be a good thing. Rather than saying "The SRC has been settled," they seemed to assume we are planning for it again.

In the end, I see a planning process that's centered on "keeping things basically the same." It does not take climate seriously. It treats climate like a secondary factor, one to be considered only after more primary factors are accounted for. It's not a leading value. The current process has also strayed from the initial slate of 20 indicators and is moving to a different set of goals. That is not something to be handled in a footnote at the end of a set of slides. It is very hard to be confident right now in this process. The first impression was not inspiring, and a second closer look prompts even more doubt. "Business as usual" is not enough for our climate emergency.

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