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.