Saturday, February 20, 2021

City Council, February 22nd - Our Salem and Weasel Words on Climate

In the aftermath of the ice storm, Council meets on Monday to consider changes to the Comprehensive Plan.

The Staff Report for Our Salem on the Comprehensive Plan is sortof cheery, but it swerves a little from one of the central matters. In the details it makes little progress on our climate goals.

The details remain distant from "carbon neutral"

Here it discusses most recent revisions from the initial September draft, but does not say that the Plan projects to meet our climate goals but only that it "would help Salem move closer" to achieving the goals.

The revisions largely aim to help create more complete neighborhoods. Under the proposed Comprehensive Plan Map, there would be more opportunities for residents to live closer to and more easily access shops, services, and amenities without driving, and the revisions would allow more people to live and work in the same area or on the same property. This would help Salem move closer to its greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals.

Council should ask for more revision and a plan that has a realistic chance of actually meeting the emissions goals, not merely "help Salem move closer." (There are also significant questions about the way the City understands "complete neighborhood," and it is likely they are using a very loose and overbroad interpretation of that, which allows them to make overstated claims for the effectiveness of this draft plan. See link below on that.)

Those are totally weasel words!

Farther down in the Staff Report, in a detail discussion of climate, we see that the "preferred scenario" really doesn't even "help Salem move closer":

Specifically, the daily VMT per capita is projected to be 17.66 if Salem were to continuing growing under current policies (e.g., current trends) versus 17.56 under the revised preferred scenario. The GHG emissions from transportation similarly did not significantly change: 792,000 annual metric tons of CO2e under current trends to 777,000 under the revised preferred scenario.

No significant change is the real analysis! It hardly helps at all.

Conversion to EVs won't be enough

There is no scenario in which keeping vehicle miles traveled the same (even if we convert all our cars from fossil fuel to electricity) gets us to the reductions we need. We need more thorough change, including large shifts from drive-alone trips to walk, bike, and bus trips.

Defending the current approach, the City says "we're helpless," and claims that land use doesn't make much difference. They appeal to a new analysis, the "sensitivity memo":

While this is a small degree of change, it does seem to suggest that land use changes could have a greater impact on how people travel within Salem compared to how people drive through Salem or to or from Salem. The results overall continue to highlight that land use changes alone will not result in drastic reductions in VMT or associated GHG emissions. Both of these points are supported by sensitivity testing done by the MWVCOG.

"Support" is pretty strong for what the memo actually says, which is far more limited.

They could not interpret two tests
(Not a good look for the SRC's modeling!)

The tiny changes in bus use suggest
we need major revisions still (yellow in original)

Modeling relies on 2010 assumptions
that are questionable today

Even more, they didn't test right-priced parking

A full critique of the modeling is not possible just now, but two things are likely true:

  • We have not tested big enough interventions and changes in land use. The current "preferred scenario" represents only small, incremental change, and there is a need to evaluate larger changes. If our goal is for a 50% reduction in 2035, why aren't we cycling through iterations until we hit one or more that actually achieve 50% reduction? Then we really have something to consider and debate.
  • The fact that two of the tests could not be evaluated suggests there might be problems with the model. SKATS should provide us with a margin of error or confidence interval on these forecasts. Note the ridiculous decimals in the mode split table. That is false precision, all the more so in light of the fact that two of the tests rendered garbage data and could not be interpreted.

To adopt the current preferred scenario as a settled matter is very premature, and we should have a two-pronged approach. It is true these are in tension with each other, but I do not think they annul one another (that is a whole 'nother topic!):

  • We have to use the analytical tools we have, so we should continue to evaluate greater interventions in land use to see how far they take us in greenhouse gas reduction. And,
  • We should ask for more transparency from SKATS in forecasting and ask for a probability range in outcomes. The modeling is in early stages, and later ones will correct for many things. This doesn't mean we should throw out the modeling, but it does mean we need stronger explicitness about the uncertainty ranges.

Previously here on the draft vision see:

Other Items

Council will consider subsidizing free parking at the Library.

Research into best practices indicates that financial costs are one of the most common barriers that our patrons face. In recognition of this, the Library Bill of Rights adopted by the American Library Association states the following, “Libraries should examine policies and procedures, particularly those involving fines, fees, or other user charges, and actively move toward eliminating any that may create potential barriers to access or academic achievement.

This is not quite right. Our compulsory autoism is the barrier, not the cost of parking! That we require people to spend on cars to reach the Library is what is messed up. This analysis has a strong autoist bias. 

The 88% of people in the City survey calling for free parking include lots of people for whom the cost is not a real burden at all, but is simply is an annoyance, and because we have trained people downtown and at the mall to expect free subsidized parking, they want it everywhere.

If a subsidy is necessary, instead of subsidizing free parking, the Library should consider subsidizing bus passes. 

Taking books closer to people in a branch system would also be a better move than more free parking.

In general, the City needs to be removing subsidies for free parking everywhere and we should support cost-burdened patrons in other ways. There are better ways to address equity than free parking.

Previously, see "Free Parking at the Library Could Cost about one Staff FTE." (2016)

Bullets for the rest:

1 comment:

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I'm still waiting for some real suggestions about how to achieve a reduction in GHG via land use planning that is real and able to be implemented.

Requiring greater density has been tried and the only thing that seems to have taken hold is a minor improvement in overall density. Example, the average lot size used to be about 6,000 sq feet, so the City adopted a minimum lot size of 4,000 sq ft. However, very few people wanted to spend the money for a single family house on small lots. Over 15 years of having that policy, the average lot size went down to 5,800 sq ft.

The City also added more density to the multifamily zone so that you could build RM2 that would allow up to 24 units per acre i believe. But the cost of building 3-story apartments was not practical for decades, so few were built to that standard.

I guess my point is that you can make a policy, but it has to be implementable in order to get you to the desired goal. So, I am still looking for more than wishful thinking. Has anyone come up with real things?