Friday, May 20, 2022

City Council, May 23rd - Next Steps on Bond

Council meets on Monday, and final adoption of Our Salem will be the big thing. At this point it will be a done deal, and there may not be very much to say. So that will be in a second post this weekend.

Most interesting is the next steps on the proposed Bond. The Staff Report has a troubling approach, proposing to diminish valuable projects and using the old "divide and conquer" strategy. It is interesting to see what is considered untouchable, and what is very much touchable.

In response to the overwhelming popularity of the the protected bike lane proposal (which is great to see), the City tries to say "look at what we are already doing!" and also says we have to wait on the meat of the bike lane proposal.

The Steering Committee recommendation [already] includes two total miles and approximately $10.9 million of protected, off-street, or buffered bike lanes, including missing links in the currently planned network. These links include the Pringle Creek Trail Connection, a multi-use path connecting Marine Drive and Wallace Marine Park, and bike lane facilities as part of the McGilchrist and State Street projects. Areas proposed for protected or buffered bike facilities not included in the Transportation System Plan (TSP) require a TSP amendment and a public outreach process as additional lane width may impact other policy decisions relating to street tree canopy, planter strips, on-street parking, and right-of-way acquisition from private property. Salem’s TSP is set to be updated with public outreach and engagement beginning in July 2022.

Perhaps the most salient fact on the protected bike lane proposal is that it is for busy streets rich with commercial destinations and for straight-line connections between commercial districts. But that's not what the City is talking about here as they deflect to projects currently proposed for the bond. The Pringle Creek Trails is a meandering parks trail. Marine Drive is an alternative to Wallace Road, and few non-park destinations will be on it initially. State Street is a short segment of four blocks only. It is an urban upgrade, a 4/3 safety conversion, not a bike lane project (remember, $14 million for four blocks). The current design for McGilchrist is the only one here that really meets the spirit of the protected bike lane proposal for a functional network. This answer by City Staff is only partially responsive to the underlying problem.

After the Work Session, a knowledgeable advocate wrote to Council with related concerns:

I found myself discouraged this evening when listening to the presentation related to “Upgrades to Existing Roads” as related to bicycle facilities.

Bike lanes “that meet the current standard” are not helpful in a city hoping to encourage more residents to choose active transportation. Using the “current standard” so as to avoid additional costs and efforts is not helpful for a city seeking to offer safe and comfortable transportation options to people who want to ride their bicycles. The “brave and the strong” are on the road and will stay there, but we “interested and concerned” ask you to not be fooled by paint and “current standards.” In this case, “current” means that they are in Salem’s Transportation System Plan. In this case, “current” does NOT mean a standard that is modern, popular, leading-edge, or even up-to-date.

In the Staff Report, the City also proposes to reduce funding for crosswalks and sidewalks.

The current recommended project list includes a category for safer pedestrian crossings budgeted at $7.5 million in investment. This would improve approximately 15 pedestrian crossings, depending on the complexity of the roadway. The current list also includes improvements to Fisher Road, State Street, and Pringle Road, and these individual road projects include a total of seven pedestrian crossings. Given these project-related crossing improvements, a $3.5 million reduction from this category would leave $4 million for safer crossing improvements throughout the City and still result in achieving roughly the same number of pedestrian crossing improvements....

There are also two other separate sidewalk improvement categories: 1) for sidewalk infill, or missing sidewalks; at $7.5 million and 2) sidewalk replacement where sidewalk panels are failing at $10 million. Reducing either of these categories may also free up funding for other priorities.

Given our climate and safety needs, why are we talking about cutting already small allocations for crosswalks and sidewalks? 

Tualatin Valley Fire Response Car

The City is also protecting other categories. The size of fire trucks and the way we configure fire response has been left alone, for example. A citizen even writes, "It has baffled me as to why [on unambiguous medical ambulance calls] a fire truck has shown up after the ambulance." Earlier another citizen pointed out that Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue has six Fire Cars, each staffed by one Paramedic, "a cost-effective option for responding to situations that don’t require a traditional fire engine and four-person crew."

Did we ever think in more detail about this?

Reflection on medical response was even in the 2018 Fire Strategic Plan.

But so far there hasn't been much inquiry into the fire portion or other buckets in the proposal.

Conversation in the City Council Work Session on May 16, 2022 mostly centered around projects within the Streets and Sidewalks, and the Parks Improvement categories. Further consideration of projects within the categories is not expected to significantly change funding amounts for each category within the proposed bond but will require a reallocation of resources.

Altogether this looks like a classic divide-and-conquer, forcing advocates to fight over the leftovers and crumbs.

We should not reduce sidewalks in order to fund bike lanes! That is such a 20th century move.

But for the moment, let's assume the protected bike lane proposal does in fact need the whole TSP amendment process. 

If we don't fund the bike lane proposal in the bond, when and how will it get funded? 

Does the City have secret intentions for other bonds? If this is the only bond for the next 10 years, our window for effective climate action will have closed by 2032. We need to get started now. I know the politics of saying there will be more bonds are difficult, but we need to have a plan for climate action. The immediate politics of passing a bond seem to be submerging any larger strategy for the next decade.

The Staff Recommendation for now is to do more polling or focus group testing.

Direct staff to solicit additional public opinion research on the proposed Community Improvement Bond package for November 2022 ballot, including opinion on protected bike lanes, and consider modifications to the proposed project list recommended for Community Improvement Bond funding.

A partial problem with that is it will likely frame up the bike lanes as some special interest and not as a more general instance of climate action, one of several. Maybe the polling/testing will turn up other critique and comment, and will helpfully redirect and revise the whole. But it may just be being deployed as a way to sideline the bike lane proposal.

In the end, the process still seems rushed in order to meet an August deadline for the November ballot.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

There was a lot more support for the bike lane proposal! Also other interesting comment. From the late afternoon tranches of Public Comment yesterday:

A few neighbors highlighted the deterioration on the Church Street Bridge over the confluence of Shelton Ditch and Pringle Creek and asked that the restorations of the bridge railings not be cut. This is the most significant of the cluster of local bridges associated with Conde McCullough here in Salem. (A little bit on that here, here, and here.)

A couple of letters in opposition to Marine Drive also surfaced.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

And many letters in support of the protected bike lane proposal. Here are some notable ones:

A downtown bike shop owner wrote, "I can't stress the importance of creating protected bike lanes throughout Salem. Biking through town should be a show of sustainability, fun, and a rite of passage for our kids rather than an act of bravery."

A Traffic Engineer specializing in walking and biking, writing in a personal capacity, has "concerns over the use of the terms 'buffered bike lanes' and 'protected bike lanes'. The two terms are not interchangeable. Buffered bike lanes are what we have on most of the downtown portions of High and Church Streets. These types of bike lanes basically have about 2’ more of paint that separates the bike lane from the travel lane. Protected bike lanes on the other hand have some form of physical separation between the bike lane and the travel lane. While there is no "official" definition of a protected bike lane, it is commonly understood to include significant barriers to errant vehicles such as planter boxes (like Multnomah Ave in Portland), parked cars like we have on High street between Trade & Ferry here in Salem, or a raised curb. While buffered bike lanes are better than regular bike lanes, protected bike lanes appeal to a much broader segment of the population."

A Willamette Prof writes, "Many of my students, especially low-income college students at Willamette University, use a bike to get around Salem. They don't go far from campus because they don't feel safe when riding their bike beside automobile traffic. This is an access issue and an equity issue."

And our group suggests another way to think about overbuilding in our current notions about an urban upgrade, focusing on legacy standards that should be revised and should govern future projects: "safety improvements from more new sidewalks and the [protect bike lanes] can be funded by trimming other upgrades that are not focused on safety. There are three such projects, the urban road upgrades for Fisher, McGilchrist and Pringle roads. These upgrades can and should be redesigned. These road upgrades will not be built under the old TSP. They will be built under the new TSP design standards. There will be plenty of opportunity to redesign the upgrades with significant savings. For example, 350 Salem opposes having center turn lanes for Fisher and Pringle roads. In some cases at substantial intersections, a left turn lane may be needed. It is very feasible to redesign these upgrades to save 20 percent or more and still have good bike lanes and sidewalks. Speed is already a safety problem on these roads. Adding a continuous center turn lane will only make the speeding problem worse."

Clearly there will be more to say. Last night, Cherriots President Davidson went to social media to ask for still more support. Maps with that post suggest they are scaling down their ambitions, and that we'll return to that in separate note.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Hinessight has a review of Council discussion, with comments on tone and substance: "Mayor and city staff try to keep Salem from having protected bike lanes."

Salem Reporter does not comment on tone, and more flatly reports, "City to poll voters before finalizing infrastructure package."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Well, what do you know. In a letter to Council this evening, September 12th, regarding Objective 1-G in the Fire plan:

"A few months ago 350 Salem made a public records request to ask for the results of this analysis which was supposed to be completed in July 2020. The response received was that this objective was not completed and that the SFD has no plans to complete it. The response cited the City’s projected General Fund budget deficit in future years as the reason they are not going to pursue this objective. This makes absolutely no sense since successful “alternative non-emergency medical delivery systems” would presumably save money rather than cost more money. It would help resolve budget deficits."