Friday, August 21, 2020

City Council, August 24th - Nonsense on Broadway at Pine - Updated

Council convenes on Monday and on the agenda we see the autoist disconnect between driving, climate, and safety.

What is now the annual burning:
Yesterday's front page in San Francisco
We'll zoom out a little and start with climate. The slow-moving train wreck that is our approach to climate is going to dwarf our problem with traffic violence. If our forthcoming Climate Action Plan is to be effective, it will have to influence, even determine, traffic planning. Currently we plan our roads as if there was no emergency on climate.*

Yesterday here in Salem
Interior page today here
Two weeks ago Council tabled the matter of widening Broadway Street NW at Pine Street. The Oberys, Angela and Gary, had raised questions and Council wanted more information.

(See previously:
On the project the City published a Supplemental Report with an enumerated list of responses to the objections and concerns. One of the primary justifications for the turn lane is that we are planning for more driving.

We are still planning for more driving
But this is not at all where we need to be. Though there are problems with ODOT's "Every Mile Counts" program, even ODOT is beginning to see that we have to reduce driving. They dodge a little and say we need to "reduce vehicle miles traveled per capita," and of course what is necessary is a total reduction of VMT, not merely a per person reduction. The sum matters more than the ratio here. But VMT reduction is on the table now at ODOT.

From the Every Mile Counts brochure (highlighting added)
The City also needs to start talking about VMT reduction. We have to stop planning for more driving, and need to start planning for less driving. We will never hit our climate goals if our planning continues to assume as axiomatic that "traffic volumes are expected to grow."

A new turn lane goes in the wrong direction.

Generally there are other problems with the Supplemental Report.

Mr. Obery is an expert, not some random neighborhood crank
There's a weird passive-aggressive deference-dismissal tone to the report. "Mr. Obery" is not some random neighborhood crank, but is an expert on walking and biking safety at ODOT. While the City's response is superficially deferential, on item after item they dismiss the concerns as wrong-headed. Substantively they give no deference.

This is a real problem at the City. They have trouble admitting they are wrong. It sure seems like they dig in on every issue, every time.

AASHTO says, therefore it must be true ("Benefits of Project")
As counter to several of Obery's comments is a kind of autoist fundamentalism, citing the authority of AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, as a kind of proof text. But there are big problems with AASHTO generally. For starters, consider the name: the letter "H" in it stands for highway, and even though in legal terms all roads are often considered a "highway," this is also an expression of our mid-century autoism. AASTHO is mainly concerned with high-speed roads and, still dominated by mid-century engineering dogma, often applies highway/freeway design standards inappropriately to urban contexts because we overvalued free-flow in congestion relief.

Strong Towns has mentioned problems with AASHTO often, calling this kind of proof-texting a "safety myth."

Excessive deference to AASHTO via Strong Towns
Indeed, a new professional trade organization, NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, was formed in part because AASHTO standards were wrong-headed, and there needed to be a group and engineering guidance with a more specifically urban focus. They omitted the word "highway."

NACTO has a someone different position on turn lanes, and argues in urban contexts that we should generally have fewer turn lanes, not more of them.

Adapted (red comments added) from
the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide
And we know the City knows this. They are removing dual-turn lanes in some places around downtown. A dual turn lane isn't exactly like the slip-lane function of a right-turn lane, but the general idea of using the minimum number of turn lanes rather than designing for the maximum is sound. If turn lanes were always "a safety improvement," we would not be seeing these deletions.

One of the City's turn lane deletions
And "a safety improvement" for whom? Our mid-century autoism improved safety for people in cars at the expense of safety for people on foot. The turn lanes may reduce car-to-car crashes, but do not always improve things for people walking. The Supplemental Report equivocates on that "safety for whom" part, sometimes talking about safety for people in cars, sometimes for those not in cars. The City should always be more explicit about safety for whom in any discussion of safety. Mid-century autoism distributes "safety" unequally across different user groups, but conceals this in a general notion of safety and user that defaults to those in a car.

Driver fragility - they get annoyed easily
In the end, the project is about driver impatience and driver fragility. "The proposed right-turn lane removes hurry the turn."

How about we extend this care and concern to non-drivers?

We are failing badly on walking and biking
(final Our Salem indicators, June 2019)
If we are going to make progress on climate, we will have to flip the script, and start making walking and biking more delightful and making driving less delightful. We need to end the subsidies for driving, and "removing pressure" on drivers is a kind of indirect subsidy for driving. When we "remove pressure" on drivers and increase pressure on people walking and biking, it's no wonder we fail to meet our goals.

Some other items seem less important as arguments here on this particular project, but still interesting as a general expression of our autoism.

The City takes care to point out that the safety project for a new enhanced crosswalk where a driver struck and killed Caroline Storm in 2015 (before the crosswalk) is "not a traffic calming project."

Enhanced crosswalks have no traffic calming function
Really, this seems like a willful and perverse misapprehension. If the crosswalks aren't going to slow speeds, and if we don't design our urban streets for slower speeds, then we aren't going to reach our safety goals. We have to design both for fewer crashes and for less lethal crashes. We should embrace traffic calming broadly, and this includes calming functions for enhanced crosswalks - and even adding retrofitted elements to increase the calming function if necessary.

The City also claims for the proposed turn lane that "[t]he amount of new pavement is negligible." It would be interesting to see an actual number on that. If a turn lane is 50 feet deep and 10 feet wide, that's the same amount of pavement as a one foot strip on 500 feet of bike lane. At SKATS next week, we'll see the County counting pennies on a foot of bike lane. A single segment of a short turn lane is, in the big picture, not a huge burden, but it is symptomatic of the City's propensity for overbuilding on roads.

Shaving one foot off the bike lane or sidewalk for savings
(also the appeal to "AASHTO standards") via SKATS
Finally, the City denies the project is a crypto-SRC measure:
This project is not-and never has been-associated with the Salem River Crossing project. The discussion for installing the right-turn lane began in 2010 to mitigate the traffic changes resulting from the proposed Broadway Street NE road diet.
Sure thing, City of Salem. You bet. We know you always tell the truth.

In a separate note over the weekend, we'll look at the City's Safe Routes to Schools projects, which are also at Council for Monday, as well as a couple of other items.

Update, Monday the 24th

The City's published some additional responses, and one item in particular seems worth contesting.

The City claims the turn lane would reduce right-hook hazard

But the weave and merge across a dashed bike lane segment
mainly displaces the right-hook hazard away from
the intersection rather than eliminating it.
The dashed segment of advisory bike lane merely shifts the right-hook hazard away from the intersection. Cars make the weave at speed too often, and these are not very comfortable facilities. So this is not much of a safety advantage, if any, for people biking.

Just because the dashed bike lane segment will be "clearly marked" doesn't mean people driving honor it.

This is a "safety" feature wholly subordinated to a capacity increase in a turn lane, not a safety measure that can stand on its own.

Additionally, here's a couple of clips from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. What they show suggests the proposed treatment here is not best practice. They caution against weaving movements.

The main drawing doesn't show driveways
And they add as a "don't" a caution against the weaving merge

* At the New York Review of Books, Bill McKibbon reviews Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency. After discussing first one degree of warming, which we have already hit, then two, then three degrees of warming, he moves on to apocalypse:
I’m not going to bother much with Lynas’s descriptions of what happens at five degrees or six. It’s not that they’re not plausible—they are, especially if humanity never gets its act together and shifts course. It’s that they’re pornographic. If we get anywhere near these levels, the living will truly envy the dead: this is a world where people are trying to crowd into Patagonia or perhaps the South Island of New Zealand, a world where massive monsoons wash away soil down to the rock, where the oceans turn anoxic, or completely deprived of oxygen. Forget the Cretaceous and the asteroids—at six degrees we’re approaching the kind of damage associated with the end of the Permian, the greatest biological cataclysm in the planet’s history, when 90 percent of species disappeared. Does that seem hyperbolic? At the moment our cars and factories are increasing the planet’s CO2 concentration roughly ten times faster than the giant Siberian volcanoes that drove that long-ago disaster....

The pandemic provides some useful sense of scale—some sense of how much we’re going to have to change to meet the climate challenge. We ended business as usual for a time this spring, pretty much across the planet—changed our lifestyles far more than we’d imagined possible. We stopped flying, stopped commuting, stopped many factories. The bottom line was that emissions fell, but not by as much as you might expect: by many calculations little more than 10 or 15 percent. What that seems to indicate is that most of the momentum destroying our Earth is hardwired into the systems that run it. Only by attacking those systems—ripping out the fossil-fueled guts and replacing them with renewable energy, even as we make them far more efficient—can we push emissions down to where we stand a chance. Not, as Lynas sadly makes clear, a chance at stopping global warming. A chance at surviving.
The review is worth reading in full. (And is out of the paywall at the moment, so read it now.)


Tom Andersen said...

Councilor Andersen here.Thanks for your comments, in this case and on all traffic/transportation issues. I pulled this from the Consent Calendar last week for this and other concerns. I have sent multiple questions to the city staff about various issues with this right turn lane, have met several times with Gary and Angela Obery and am meeting with Gary in an an hour to discuss the supplemental staff report which addresses some, but by no means all, of my questions; perhaps not satisfactorily .



Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Glad you're on the case! Thanks, Councilor Andersen.

One of the reasons that Supplemental Staff Report is disappointing is that the City's whole framework remains stuck in mid-century autoism. Even if as a spot project it is possible to make a course-correction here on Broadway, we will see the very same problems on, for example, any re-evaluation on the "hybrid" plan for State Street between 17th and 25th. Between Our Salem and a Climate Action Plan, we need to adopt policies that no longer assume a constant rising tide of car traffic and driving, and instead adopt policies that create durable incentives for non-auto travel, and end the policies that directly and indirectly subsidize drive-alone trips.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added notes on right-hook hazard and NACTO recommendations against weave/merge movement on dashed bike lane/mixing zone.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

On FB, Councilor Andersen posted last night a summary of action on the Broadway/Pine question:

"Tonight the project came before the Council, at my request, for a full blown discussion. I moved to adopt the road diet without the right turn lane, for many reasons: environmental/climate action – we should not be encouraging more single occupancy car traffic and not place great emphasis on how fast cars can move through our streets; protection/safety/encouragement of pedestrians and bicyclists; the nearby presence of alternative ways for through traffic to move north in Salem, such as Liberty to the Parkway and Hood St. to Fairgrounds Rd to Portland Road as opposed to driving through the neighborhood (traffic in the neighborhood should be just that, traffic originating in the neighborhood not just passing through it); and the retention of the residential character of this close in neighborhood. Many citizens voiced their opposition to the right turn lane on the above grounds, as well as others. Thanks to all of them. I am pleased to report that my motion passed and there will be a road diet for traffic calming and safety reasons but without the right turn lane for all the reasons expressed above. This was a good example of how citizen involvement and close council questioning can change the overemphasis on cars/traffic as opposed to people and neighborhoods."

Thanks, Councilor Andersen!