Thursday, May 19, 2011

down the rabbit hole

word on the street is that the stakeholder advisory committee process for the lloyd district bikeway development projects may be broken.

a couple of the freight people have literally walked away from the table, and some of the commercial real estate interests are raising eleventh hour objections to stuff that was agreed to months ago.

but as of this morning, they were at least limping along okay, still getting stuff done. looks like they are keeping the bus/bike only lane on vancouver south of broadway in the plan after all, etc.

but something weird has happened to the 12th avenue overcrossing project.

back in april, david lorati of the central eastside industrial council publicly trashed the SAC process in an open letter to project manager ellen vanderslice. go ahead and experiment with signal timing on the 12th avenue bridge, he said, but don't change the lane configurations for at least a year because

"truck users remain unconvinced that reducing a lane will not severely restrict their movement on a major entrance and exit to the district."

they "remain unconvinced." obviously this is not data, and in fact it seems to anticipate rejecting whatever data might be produced.

here is some data that might be relevant: at what hours exactly does franz bakery run its 105-foot, 40-ton triples over the bridge, and when exactly do they encounter traffic congestion, and to what extent is it actually the case that they cannot use any other route, etc.

if some of these businesses have become dependent on running oversize loads through a mixed use district, maybe they should be assessed some portion of the cost of upgrading the transportation infrastructure they are in effect taking away from other users.

and frankly, if freight has difficulty with congestion on the 12th avenue overcrossing, the problem is not bicycles or pedestrians, but private automobiles.

a week later, dave lister ran a screed in the oregonian, talking about the "agenda-driven mayor" and the "politically appointed transportation chief," skateboarder tom miller, who is supposed to have told the CEIC in exactly so many words, "portland hates freight," whatever that is even supposed to mean.

while he did not directly reference lorati's letter, lister cited eleven hundred businesses and eighteen thousand jobs at stake, which numbers roughly correspond with the geographic reach of the CEIC. but that district extends all the way south to powell, and includes hundreds of businesses that for one reason or another have chosen not to join the CEIC. anyone south of, say, stark is probably less concerned with an exit from 84 onto northeast 12th.

jonathan maus reported that the project had "gotten enough heat," that "sources" said the mayor's office had "taken an interest[,]" and that his transportation policy advisor (presumably katja dillman) would be meeting separately with the CEIC.

but then gerik kransky posting to the BTA blog indicated that portland bottling and franz bakery have said privately that they are "willing to accept the needed improvements [kransky's words] being proposed in option 2" -- which kransky calls "the most desirable solution" -- if the changes in signal timing actually yield better traffic flow over the bridge.

it is unclear how this will be measured, or over what interval. but more to the point, it is unclear who cut this deal, if it is a deal, and with what authority.

freight interests are/were already represented on the SAC. there is no reason this constituency should be given a larger, separate voice from any of the other stakeholders. the stakeholder advisory process is not perfect, but it is what we have. you want to turn these decisions over to lobbyists and power brokers, you better bring a lot of money. watch what happens to the milwaukie light rail bridge over the next several months.

something like 1,750 cyclists cross the 12th avenue bridge every day. roughly a quarter of these are heading south over the bridge and taking a left onto irving. while some significant fraction of these are sufficiently daunted by the difficulties of fighting for a space in the left turn lane that they will take the sidewalk and wait for a cross light at the south end of the bridge, another sizeable number do assert their rightful space on the road and execute a vehicular left.

whatever PBoT ends up doing here should not make life more difficult for these vehicular cyclists, and it should not impose additional bike traffic on the pedestrians using the sidewalk along the west side of the bridge. the number 70 bus stop should be moved off the bridge and to the south of the intersection under any scenario, and pedestrian crossings should be adjusted to facilitate this.

the so-called "option 2," which would put southbound bicycle traffic on a ten-foot wide multi-use path with pedestrians, is not acceptable, for reasons i have detailed elsewhere. while "option 1" places southbound bicycle traffic in a segregated bike lane, it has at least the virtue of keeping cyclists on the bridge deck and making it possible for a cyclist who intends to turn left onto irving to do so in a somewhat vehicular fashion.

at the SAC meeting in march, ellen vanderslice was quoting rob burchfield as suggesting an "enhanced do-nothing" option, which would simply put sharrows on the bridge deck indicating that a cyclist may assert the travel lane. this would be in combination with changes to the signal timing and maybe facilitating the existing use of the sidewalk as a southbound MUP. but apparently "enhanced do-nothing" is now off the table.

so apparently freight gets its way here, and southbound cyclists will be relegated to an MUP. the argument can certainly be made that a mixed-use path is a "bicycle path" for purposes of 814.420, the mandatory sidepath statute. certainly motorists will expect to see cyclists up on the MUP rather than on the deck once this is in place.

i would say thanks a lot, but i am not sure whom we have to thank. possibly the BTA.

Monday, May 2, 2011

not there for you

on his blog earlier this week, joe rose (i know, i know, consider the source) gives the briefest possible summary of an interview he recently had with rob sadowsky over an eight dollar sandwich.

supposedly they talked about "the directions that [sic] the BTA is moving this year," but all we are allowed to hear is that "the word 'integration' was used a lot."

anyway, the money quote is here:
The BTA will also work on its image. It's not there for the "take the lane" cyclists who want to fight motorists for the right of way around every corner. "They don't even want bike lanes," Sadowsky said.

let's parse this a little.

first, if the BTA has an image problem, i am pretty sure it is not that it is identified with the vehicular cyclist agenda. but that is what rose implies here. joe sixpack thinking g*dd*mn BTA out there pushing this here hardcore foresterite agenda.

on the contrary, the BTA has positioned itself as a largely uncritical cheerleader of whatever the hell PBoT throws down.

second, who exactly is it -- rose or sadowsky -- who characterizes vehicular cyclists as "fight[ing] motorists for the right of way"? the offhand use of the phrase "around every corner" here suggests that this is rose, not sadowsky, speaking. "taking the lane" got not much to do with corners.

no one is "fighting motorists," and the issue is not "the right of way." the vehicular cyclist simply wants to be permitted to share the roads under existing right of way principles. build all the sidepaths you want, but repeal the far to right and mandatory sidepath statutes. and educate the motoring public that cyclists are not required to use the sidepaths.

i will accept that sadowsky probably said "they don't even want bike lanes," because this is a roughly accurate statement about vehicular cyclists. well, except for the word "even," which seems to suggest that anyone who does not "want" a striped bike lane is some kind of luddite. but maybe even the word "even" made sense in some fuller context, which we are not given.

to clarify, incidentally, what a vehicular cyclist "does not want" is to be legally required to use a bike lane where safety considerations would indicate asserting a position somewhat farther left. the mandatory sidepath law literally forbids a cyclist to exercise this judgment.

but again, the way rose has framed this, it would appear that what sadowsky is saying is that the BTA wants nothing to do with vehicular cyclists, or has no interest in representing their concerns. i asked rose whether his notes reflected a full, verbatim quote, in context. he deflected the question.

if it is in fact the case that the BTA would openly oppose any effort to repeal the mandatory sidepath statute, i think sadowsky needs to state the matter plainly, not in some garbled paraphrase in joe rose's blog.

Monday, April 18, 2011

open letter to ellen vanderslice


i enjoyed talking with you the other day at the open house for the northeast williams traffic safety project. you guys put on a very good presentation, and i think you provided a good opportunity for meaningful public feedback.

i actually like what you are proposing for segment 1, not that i myself have ever had any difficulty passing a bus on the left where appropriate and letting the bus overtake me safely where appropriate. but i acknowledge that certain formal treatments such as the cycletrack with the boarding islands to the left can actually facilitate a rational interaction between modes. and i said as much to adrian when i spoke with him.

much of what michelle and alta and PBoT have put forward is reasonably well thought through. but as i mentioned to you, and to michelle, and to adrian on saturday, i do have problems with your plans for segment 4.

if you cannot persuade the merchants to give up onstreet parking, and you choose to yield to them on the issue, then you should give up the second travel lane, simple as that. the existing configuration is unacceptable, because a narrow bike lane is squeezed between a narrow travel lane and a not very wide parking strip.

i simply will not use the existing bike lane, and an overtaking motorist can just move over to the left lane as far as i am concerned, 814.420 be damned. what PBoT should do is reinforce this reality by removing the stripe and putting in sharrows. the proposed dashed "advisory" bike lane is unacceptable, because it continues to suggest to both cyclists and motorists that it is somehow safe for the cyclist to ride that far to the right.

on a somewhat different note, let me reiterate something i suggested to you on saturday, for which there really was not time for any lengthy discussion.

by saying they cannot do without the onstreet parking, the merchants are acknowledging that they are burdening the transportation infrastructure. this is just a tautology.

PBoT is trying to address a situation here that involves a heck of a lot of traffic -- motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians --, and that has potential effects throughout the neighborhoods, not just on williams, if any substantial diversion results from anything you are doing.

to me, this almost cries out for a transportation system development charge overlay. suddenly, we are talking serious money. you can actually signalize all these intersections and put in some curb extensions, boarding islands, and so on. and you can actually deal with some of the side issues on cook or fremont or wherever, maybe build out the rodney greenway.

it is not too late to start thinking on a larger scale here. let's do it right.


stray thoughts on williams

[slightly edited from something i posted to the AROW discussion boards the other day]

in segments 2 and 5 (that is, from the I-5 onramp to russell, and from skidmore to killingsworth), they are talking about taking it down to one travel lane, but that lane would be 13 or 14 feet wide. apparently emergency vehicles need this if there will be only one travel lane.

so speed reduction in these segments is to be accomplished not through narrowing of lanes, but only through the mechanism of preventing anyone from passing the slowest motorist.

the details of managing bus/bike interaction in segment 1 (weidler to the I-5 onramp) and i guess segment 2, to russell, have not really been fleshed out, but the emerging concept seems to be keeping the bus to the left of a through cycletrack, with passengers crossing the cycletrack to board and de-board on some ADA-compliant island.

the idea of creating a shared bus/bike lane is almost off the table. in rolling this out at the SAC meeting last week, adrian witte of alta literally said, quote, "shared [use] is a downgrade." i told him this was my takeaway quote for the day, and that i strongly disagreed.

last tuesday night at the BAC meeting rob sadowsky raised the shared lane as a possibility he thought ought to be considered. it works in other cities, he said, it is a matter of socialization. i thanked him by e-mail afterward.

note also, witte acknowledged to me that they have not yet thought through how to manage conflicts at intersections if the cycletrack model is selected.

the eight hundred pound gorilla is of course segment 4, cook to skidmore, where all the street level retail is coming in. the plan thus far is pretty much to do nothing. not the "enhanced do nothing" that i think would actually be a good solution on the 12th avenue overcrossing, but literally nothing. except maybe put in some signals to bring the speeds down. give the place a "main street" feel, which i actually think would be a good idea, but not as a standalone treatment.

we are looking at parking on both sides, two ten-foot travel lanes, and a narrow bike lane in the door zone. the merchants are coming forward with the story that we need all the onstreet parking. why we need two travel lanes is less clear.

i asked witte whether they had done any utilization counts for onstreet parking on side streets. it didn't seem like they had. also whether maybe some of these street level retailers, at least on the west side, could put some parking in the alleyways behind.

at the very first SAC meeting, and again last tuesday when dan layden was presenting this to the BAC, i pointed out that williams is designated a neighborhood collector, not an arterial, and that PBoT maybe should think about diverting some of the through traffic off to MLK and interstate, maybe by way of fremont.

layden made the interesting claim that fremont is also technically a neighborhood collector, but i am looking at counts of over 12k, so this would appear to be a more completely lost cause than williams.

someone might remind PBoT that when they go to salem and ask for authority to control speeds only on roads with counts below 3k and existing speed profiles below 35 mph they should think of trying to keep some roads under these numbers, otherwise they cede control to ODoT.

at the first SAC meeting, i also commented that we might think about whether we want more "destination"-type development here, bringing in outsiders for a couple of hours at a time to just park, drink, throw their trash on the ground, and leave. or maybe instead some stuff that actually serves the neighborhood.

something that has not been addressed yet at all in the material presented by alta and PBoT to the SAC is pedestrian crossings. and not just in segment 4, though this is critical. the story, apparently, is that they want to get the "floor plan" down first.

i actually have no problem with separated facilities, where they are appropriate. depending what exactly they do here and there in segments 2 and 3, a buffered bike lane or a cycletrack could be workable. but in segment 4, i would like to see an enhancement to the "do nothing" option, specifically, take out the door zone lane and put in sharrows.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

head fake in the fifties

the theme of last tuesday's meeting of the citizens advisory committee on the 50s bikeway project was a lowering of expectations.

feedback from the open house in january was largely positive, with comments focusing much more on reducing speeds and diverting motor traffic from neighborhood streets than on what have you done with my onstreet parking.

but co-project manager rich newlands wanted to brace the committee for some disappointments.

first, delay. they want to have a second open house, sometime in april or may. there will then have to be yet a fifth CAC meeting after that, in may or june. design and engineering will have to be pushed back to late 2011, and construction would begin in summer rather than spring 2012.

next, more delay. if they implemented everything in the november design proposal, they would be over the 1.5 million budget by some unspecified amount. so they are looking at breaking the project into two phases and funding the second phase from other sources down the road. the suggestion seems to be that the alternate route at the southern end of the corridor would be phase two.

and then the killer. while it looks like they will be able to put in some kind of user activated signal at 53rd and burnside, they have not been able to get ODoT approval for a crossing signal at 54th and powell, on the alternate route. maybe they can get a rapid flash beacon, maybe not.

this is a particularly horrible crossing, and several of the committee expressed disappointment bordering on anger -- one pointing out that the whole idea of the alternate route was to provide something less stressful than 52nd for the faint of heart, and that forcing these people to cross powell at 54th without a solid red signal for cross traffic would be "leading lambs to slaughter," another saying his neighborhood association would "walk away" from the project if ODoT could not be persuaded to change its position.

newlands said he would try to set up a further conversation with ODoT, maybe bring someone from the agency in to talk directly with the committee. another delay.

then, scaling back. the bike boxes and the "cross bike" markings are off the table for now. apparently none of the proposed locations for the bike boxes meets existing criteria for volumes of right turning motorists versus through bike traffic. there literally are no criteria at all for the "cross bike" markings, and head traffic engineer rob burchfield says "not yet."

note that these would not have been covered by the federal grant anyway, as they are not MUTCD compliant.

between foster and powell on 52nd, they are now looking at removing the center turn lane and widening the bike lanes, rather than painting the bike lanes green or blue or some such, which would have inconsistent with the uses of those colors elsewhere, to identify conflict zones.

and a non-controversial change. rather than struggle with removing parking on northeast 57th between hancock and thompson, they have decided to just take 53rd on up to thompson and connect to 57th from there. apparently there is already a pedestrian activated signal there.

the downside is that anyone coming west on hancock from father east, intending to head north on 57th, or anyone coming south on 57th intending to head east on hancock, would either be diverted a few blocks or have to suffer a couple of blocks on 57th without striped lanes. on the plus side, the existing curb extension on the northwest corner of 57th and hancock would not have to be rebuilt.

also the residents there get to keep their onstreet parking.

speaking of which. the project managers seem to be comfortable with the feedback from the open house on removing some parking from 52nd south of division. this would allow space for six-foot bike lanes, but it would also exacerbate the need for traffic calming and pedestrian crossing measures. and this was mentioned in the comments from the open house.

lewis wardrip was there from traffic operations to talk about curb extensions versus medians through this stretch. the latter treatment would actually remove more parking spaces from near the intersections, and if you made them 160 feet long instead of 120 you could get some serious traffic calming.

in deep wonk mode, wardrip explained the "gap study" his office would have to do before making final recommendations on pedestrian crossings. a pedestrian is assumed to be moving at 3.5 mph, which is a little over five feet per second. if the street is forty feet curb to curb, it would take a pedestrian about eight seconds to cross.

somebody stands there with a stopwatch and clipboard and counts the number of times per hour there is a gap in motor traffic of eight or ten seconds or whatever the criterion is. sixty gaps per hour does not need a refuge island or a curb extension, fewer than sixty does. you get down to twenty gaps per hour you got a whole 'nother set of issues.

the posted speed limit on 52nd south of division is 30 mph. measured 85th percentile speeds are 36 to 37 mph. you might not be able to get ODoT to consent to reducing the posted limit to 25 mph, says newlands, which i sort of get, but then he says "you might not want it."

if he explained why, i did not catch it. possibly this was supposed to connect up with one of his themes for the evening, which was something like, we have to keep in mind what is our scope here, are we planning a bikeway, or are we trying to address liveability issues more generally. seeming to imply that the liveability people can get their own d*mn process, though possibly the opposite was intended.

which brings us finally to the one seriously positive development, which pretty much got buried in all this other negativity.

oh, but first. on this business about speed limits and traffic calming and median refuges and so forth on 52nd south of division. at the CAC meeting i attended back in september last year, i was among those who raised the question why we might not think more aggressively about reducing speeds and traffic counts through here. my recollection is that newlands said we were limited by the fact that south of powell, at least, 52nd is designated a neighborhood collector. (between powell and division is it actually a local street, where calming and diversion measures are permitted.)

at the time, newlands suggested that there is such a thing as revisiting the designation, but -- and here is the point i am making, finally -- it does not appear that he or anybody else is following up on that approach. you define certain things as not achievable, and then you simply do not pursue them.

anyway. the large positive.

the november design included diversion of motor traffic from 53rd between glisan and burnside, and from 52nd between lincoln and division. residents along the route between burnside and stark were asking for speedbumps, but apparently after talking with the project managers they would be satisfied instead with a diversion of traffic from their neighborhood.

unposted, thus default 25 mph. rather narrow right of way, with onstreet parking on both sides. a safer limit for all concerned would probably be below 20 mph, but of course that is not on the table.

newlands stopped short of making a firm commitment, and in fact he made it sound as though all three proposed diversions were uncertain, but he said he wanted to conduct a "separate public process" around these, apparently including presentations to each of the affected neighborhood associations. yet another delay.

bottom line. okay, there is a very serious stumbling block at the 54th and powell crossing. but this is the so-called alternate route, and we could always talk about taking it a block or two further east. the delays going forward seem modest in geologic time, and the disappointments on some of the non-MUTCD treatments here and there seem not only slight, but in retrospect obvious, as in, these could not have been funded with federal money anyway.

but we seem to be looking at three -- count 'em, three -- diversions. compare that to anything you could have accomplished ten years ago. and yet the committee is left feeling they did not get everything they wanted. meanwhile, the public has been engaged right and left, and apparently not only is losing some onstreet parking not such a big deal, but many of the neighbors along the route want even more traffic calming.

on balance, a reasonably good outcome.