Friday, May 15, 2020

City Previews Summer Construction on Safety Improvements for Walking and Biking

The City's published a release on road construction projects for this summer - in the shadow of the Pandemic it is almost hard to believe they are still moving forward, and that's something pleasant to observe.

Most of them we've been talking about for a while here, some for several years. It will be nice to see them move finally from planning studies and funding applications to real concrete, asphalt, and paint.

One of them I have not seen before. It's not the most important, but since it is novel in that sense we'll start with it. On the others, since they are not new here notes are not systematic at all.

(City of Salem)

The west crosswalk on Ferry at Liberty is terrible!
The City is going to bump out the southwest corner of Ferry and Liberty in order to shorten the crosswalk and to make drivers square up the turn rather than swoop it tight at a higher speed. In the streetview photo you can see what is a I think a Bike Cop waiting to cross there, and with vertical elements like trees and crosswalk signal post, as well as the shade, the Cop's not super visible, and getting anyone who wants to cross out farther will hopefully improve visibility.

When I walk here in this particular crosswalk, it's often a face-off with drivers turning left who don't want to yield to a person on foot in the crosswalk and who insist on encroaching slowly or quickly on the crosswalk.

Alas, it's often drivers in the second turn lane, not the one closest to the curb, who seem most interested in swooping without a stop and challenging a person on foot.

So we'll see.

The 2013 Mobility Study and Dual Turn Lanes

So about those second turn lanes, at some intersections the City has been deleting the option to turn in the second, inner lane and making them for straight through-travel only.

This summer's construction will include two of the dual turn lane deletions.

One of them is from westbound Court Street onto northbound Liberty.

(comment in green added, City of Salem graphic)
But the City continues to miss on eliminating the third lane west of Liberty on Court, which remains essentially orphaned and has no parent lane on the east side of the intersection. (See this note from 2011 on that.)

But the City missed on right-sizing the street (2011)
At least part of the City's reluctance to delete the extra lane is that it likely serves as queuing storage for the right, northbound turn from Court onto Front Street. You may recall that one of the Congestion Task Force recommendations was to close a crosswalk in order to ease that right turn. (So far, the Downtown Advisory Board has not supported the closure, and there is no current plan for it.) Our refusal to price access appropriately to the bridges creates this as a kind of secondary distortion in downtown traffic patterns. Instead of pricing bridge use, we shift and impose costs on other road users and people who might like to enjoy downtown more. We should want to find higher uses for this surplus road space than for queuing as we drain the downtown "traffic sewer."

Proposal to close a crosswalk downtown
The other dual turn lane that will be deleted is from Liberty Street northbound turning east onto Center Street, at the entry to Ross and the former Nordstrom.

Both of these turn lane modfications will remove turning conflicts and simplify vigilance for both drivers and people on foot. That's a net gain for safety.

10 year vision:  Sharrows on Union and Winter, bike lanes on
High and Church, two-way conversion on cottage
I have not tracked all the deletions, but the City is knocking them out from the list generated by the 2013 downtown Mobility Study.

As an aside, we are closing in on a decade after the plan adoption in 2013, and it is interesting to consider what has been done and what is nearly certain to be left undone.

Church and High already have the bike lanes, and the Union Street project is proceeding bit-by-bit.

Cottage Street is not going two-way, and there is no plan for downtown bike lanes or sharrows on Winter Street. (And increasingly, sharrows are falling out of favor as an inferior solution that does not always improve safety.)

So it does not look like the "short-term" slate will be complete.

Separately, as part of another goal from the 2013 study, another section of State Street will go two-way this summer, a two-block segment between Liberty and Church. Between Church and 13th, State Street will remain one-way. The City's been chunking off bits of two-way conversion for State Street. It's hard to plot them on the timeline of recommendations, as the bits do not include bike lanes or changes to parking, and represent an interim state. But conversion of the Court/State couplet to two-way travel between front and 13th was adopted under a "medium term," 15 year horizon, at whose midpoint we now sit.

Enhanced Crosswalks

Five Crossing Safety Projects (2015 application)
Project cost nearly quadrupled to about $900,000
Several other crosswalk projects will also be constructed, some arising from the Winter-Maple Bikeway Study and from Safe Routes to Schools applications.

The City's massaged the crosswalk history a little, saying "Many of these projects come from the 2018 Salem Pedestrian Safety Study," but that's not exactly true. Most of them precede that study and were incorporated into it and into the Winter-Maple study. Five of the crossings, the bulk of them, came together in a 2015 application for funding, for example, and the City should be more clear about the length of funding cycles.

The Rosemont project is independent of them all, more a maintenance project than anything.
For more information and the City's full explanation, see the City page.

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