Tuesday, March 20, 2012

my thoughts, somewhat exactly

[picking up after an absence of nearly a year. the stakeholders advisory committee for the north williams traffic safety project may finally be nearing a decision.]

you have to begin by asking what it is you are trying to accomplish.

and in what follows, i am not going to adhere all that closely to the ten objectives agreed to by the SAC, though i will say this was nearly as useful an exercise as if they had actually worked toward creating a consensus decisionmaking process.

and it bears noting, of course, that (a) the ten objectives are weighted toward safety for pedestrians and cyclists and (b) they do not mention automobile throughput or the supply of onstreet parking at all. though of course a design that had the effect of pushing through motor traffic and transient parking onto nearby neighborhood streets would be a disastrously ironic outcome.

okay, so what are we trying to accomplish.

according to kittelson, at peak hours you have about a thousand motor vehicles per hour through segment four, somewhat fewer through the other segments. one imagines that a significant portion of the segment four count is through traffic that might usefully be diverted elsewhere.

kittelson also notes high levels of speeding, especially in segment two, but also in segment four. and the crash data cited by kittelson suggests that motorists coming off 405 onto cook, turning left onto williams, and then right onto fremont, are a serious problem.

so those are three things to look at without even talking about bicycles: diverting some of the through traffic, calming the speeds, and regulating the situation at cook. while each of the eight alternatives now on the table includes putting in a signal at cook, it does not seem to me that any of them does much to divert through traffic or calm speeds. except to some extent those that take the whole thing, including segment four, down to one lane.

so then let's talk about bikes.

at peak hours there are as many as four hundred cyclists through segment four. total cyclists per day [at russell] are a bit over three thousand.

it is mostly in segments two and three that you have what people are calling "bus/bike conflicts." these have been the impetus for the proposed left side treatments.

i myself personally do not have much or any difficulty with buses. if a bus is going to make multiple stops within a few blocks, i will soon leave it behind, maybe leapfrog it once or twice at most. so the only real "conflicts" arise when i first overtake the bus or if it overtakes me and then almost immediately pulls to the curb -- which should not happen if the driver is adequately trained, and actually cannot happen if i am asserting the travel lane.

if both the cyclist and the bus driver know how to negotiate the situation, it works pretty smoothly. the driver signals her intention to pull to the curb, i move to the left and overtake only when it is clear the bus is actually stopping and i am not crowded on my left. the driver signals her intention to pull out, i hang back. there is no circumstance in which i am to the right of a bus that is anywhere near a stop.

unfortunately, we have almost intentionally created a culture in portland in which cyclists are asked to take very little responsibility for their own safety, but are instead told to hide behind a line of white paint and hope for the best. the striped lane, the lack of vehicular cycling education, and the mandatory sidepath and far to right laws combine to create problems that need not exist.

but enough about me. end of rant.

there are other difficulties with the left side treatments. a motorist entering from the west will need to pull out across the cycletrack or buffered bike lane in order to see past the line of parked cars. during peak hours, cyclists queuing to turn right will overflow the green boxes. and on and on.

my own preference is the option numbered 2A, the right side buffered bike lane. this option most nearly conforms to how i use the street today, which to be perfectly frank does not usually involve staying in the bike lane except south of tillamook and north of skidmore. i will use the striped lane as an occasional refuge, but usually i am a foot or so to the left of the outside line, avoiding the door zone and discouraging overtaking motorists from passing too close.

what i particularly like about option 2A is that it takes motor traffic down to one lane throughout, including segment four. this is the only serious calming feature in any of these proposals. a further improvement would be to put in at least one more traffic signal at failing, to allow the signal progression to force speeds down to about twenty mph. [note: this feature, signal progression, is lacking in each of the eight options presented.]

obviously, limiting motor traffic to one lane through segment four is controversial. and actually, if we are talking about conducting an experiment and coming back to this in september, the experiment should be exactly this, to close one travel lane through segment four. people can see their fears realized or dispelled.

which brings us to the immediate problem. at some point, possibly today, the SAC has to make some decisions that they may not be ready to make.

there was an interval of several months during which the discussion was somewhat diverted to or refocused on racial justice issues, but i do not think we have made much progress there.

there is all kinds of new development, mostly in segment four, including a lot of destination stuff -- cafes, restaurants, bars -- presumably for the most part owned by and leased to people who do not live in the neighborhood, though i suppose this would bear some investigation. and lately some high density residential with street level retail. i have no idea what these apartments would rent for, or if they are condos what they would sell for, but again it seems likely all of this will lead to further gentrification.

the new seasons coming in at ivy can be seen as providing somewhat affordable access to healthy food in what is otherwise almost a food desert, and they claim they will be employing kids from the neighborhood. but the profits are still going to shareholders and executives who live elsewhere.

by all of which i mean to say that anything we do here "for bikes" is merely a symptom, not a cause, of gentrification. there is much that ought to be done to rebuild these neighborhoods, and i suppose the argument might yet be made that elements of this project that go beyond basic safety concerns should be held hostage to the city making serious commitments on that front.

i would like to think that we could focus on the safety issues without that distraction. but i am afraid we may not be there yet. obviously, i am not privy to whatever conversations may be occurring among various members of the SAC outside the public meetings, but it is my impression that very little has been done to establish trust among people whose perspectives and interests seem sometimes to be radically divergent.

even before the SAC was expanded by nearly half, the committee had made no effort to organize itself or to create mechanisms for decisionmaking or for communicating among themselves outside the public meetings. at the november meeting, they had an opportunity to try to establish a consensus model for making decisions, but they instead settled on a two-thirds vote with minority reports.

if the whole thing falls apart, as i am afraid it might, we will be looking back at lost opportunities.

postscript re option three.

the signal at cook and the rapid flash beacon at failing and at least two or three of the curb extensions are probably the least you could get away with here and say you had done anything useful at all. it would be better to have a full signal at failing. the green bike boxes are for the most part superfluous, with the possible exception of russell. the box at fremont is redundant and inconsistent with the transitional lane. most of the other intersections are manageable in their present form. option three does nothing to divert excess motor traffic or to calm speeds.

and it does nothing to address the problem that we have a narrow bike lane sandwiched between a line of parked cars and a ten foot travel lane through much of segment four. this is substandard even by PBoT's own criteria, and their criteria -- set forth in appendix A, part C2a of the bike master plan and illustrated in the cross section diagram accompanying option three -- ought to be unacceptable to the rest of us. if the distance between the line of parked cars and the center line of the street is fifteen feet, i am riding three or four feet from the parked cars, and motorists should be giving me at least three feet clearance. but of course the safe passing distance statute does not apply where there is a striped bike lane or the motorist is going not more than 35 mph.

even as a vehicular cyclist (though not in the forester camp), i cannot support option three.