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BTA backs downtown Salem bike lane; community is split

Posted by on July 14th, 2009 at 1:12 pm

“The more lanes I have, the more people I have… Once you put a bike lane in, it’s going to cut down a lane of traffic. That is my concern.”
— Krishna Bhaptarai, owner of Katmandu Foods and signer of a petition against the bike lane plan

Our story about a plan to re-stripe Commercial Avenue in downtown Salem with a bike lane and one less motor vehicle lane has exposed a wide range of opinions about the project.

The City of Salem plans to use funds from their 2008 Streets and Bridges Bond Measure to repave Commercial street through their downtown core and re-stripe with a new road configuruation (see existing and proposed configuration below). According to a document distributed at an open house about the project at the end of June, City planners say the project, “presents an opportunity…to address on-going concerns with the lack of bicycle facilities in downtown…”

The plans would remove one motor vehicle lane, add a bike lane, and add a sharrow to the widened left lane.
(Graphic: City of Salem)

But not everyone thinks a bike lane on the street is a good idea. Many commenters wrote in to share that they felt a bike lane directly adjacent to angled parking would be a bad idea. Others felt that there was no need to have a bikeway on Commercial because other streets would be better options.

On the other side, many people support the idea and chalk up the opposition as simply not understanding the project and its impacts. One Salem resident wrote:

“Four full auto lanes is overkill on this stretch, the city has done the engineering work to back it up. I think the opposition is mostly due to a lack of understanding of what the project actually entails.”

“While we understand the concerns of business owners, we believe bike lanes will improve transportation options and positively impact accessibility to downtown merchants and offices.”
— BTA statement

The Portland-based Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) just released their position on the project this morning. They support the bike lane plan and point out that it is based on an, “extensive, consensus-based outreach effort known as Salem Vision 2020.” That process included a survey where 85% of respondents said that biking and walking options to downtown were “Important” or “Very Important”.

Here’s an excerpt from the BTA’s prepared statement (emphasis mine):

“While we understand the concerns of business owners, we believe bike lanes will improve transportation options and positively impact accessibility to downtown merchants and offices.

…Residents, visitors and employees understand that Salem is at a tipping point for ways to travel downtown and they are demanding more choices.

Traffic analyses show that removing one travel lane on Commercial Street will not impact traffic flow. The potential for conflict with a bike lane next to angle parking could be reduced through education and outreach for both cyclists and drivers. Striping bike lanes on the street represents a proactive approach to changing ingrained behaviors and making roadway users more aware of each other.

We feel that Salem has strong political support in Mayor Janet Taylor, a 2009 Alice Award winner. Mayor Taylor has done an admirable job of leading the Salem community and elected officials, even in the face of resistance… We hope that City Council will respond to this petition with the same foresight and respect to public interests.”

BTA Alice Awards-34
The BTA wants Salem Mayor Janet Taylor
— shown here accepting an Alice Award
back in April — to support the plan.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The BTA also urged folks to speak up when the issue comes to City Council (date TBA, see below).

City of Salem Transportation Planning Manager Julie Warncke says this is the first time she recalls any organized objections to a bike project, but she also acknowledges that this is the first major one in the downtown core. “It’s congested downtown,” she told me, “there’s a lot of politics around doing anything.”

Warncke said the plan doesn’t technically need City Council’s approval, but they sought out Council’s blessing simply because of the project’s location. Initially there was a council date of July 27th, but now, says Warncke, “we’ve delayed it work out some issues.” Perhaps sensing that this project might garner attention, she added, “It won’t be a public hearing or anything like that…but it may morph into one by the time we get there.”

Warncke said she and staff have worked on the proposal with the bike community for the past 6-8 months. She said they’ve had “a good debate about the trade-offs of the bike lane next to angled parking,” but that ultimately they decided it best to keep it in the plans. “I think if we decide not to,” she added, “there are a lot of cyclists who would be fine with that.”

Bikes aren’t allowed on sidewalks in downtown Salem, and Warncke feels that there are a segment of bike riders who just don’t feel comfortable taking the lane on Commercial. Warncke feels the configuration would be safe and points out that Salem’s other street with angled parking and a bike lane (Winter St., near Willamette University) has been in use since the early 1980s without incident.

What about making the angled parking back-in only (that’s what City of Portland Bike Coordinator Roger Geller suggested in a comment yesterday)? Warncke said they discussed it but didn’t feel comfortable with that idea. “Some say it’s safer, but you’re still backing into the space where conflict can occur.

In the end, Warncke says, “We are not the decision makers, we are just going out for public input.” So far that input has been overwhelmingly supportive. Until now.

Some of the signatures of a petition opposing the plans.
(Download petition here – PDF, 300kb)

As of June 23rd, at least 20 downtown business owners had signed a petition against the plan. I obtained a copy of the petition. See who signed it by downloading the PDF here (300kb).

Krishna Bhaptarai is the owner of Katmandu Foods. He told me today that he signed the petition because, “The more lanes I have, the more people I have.” Bhaptarai said he has nothing against bikes, but that his concerns have to do with the health of his business:

“Downtown Salem is one of the most difficult places to have a business. On top of that, traffic is a problem. Once you put a bike lane in, it’s going to cut down a lane of traffic. That is my concern. I’m not against the bike lane, but it’s going to decrease the traffic for cars. My belief is that it will handicap my business.”

What about people who bike to the store, I asked. “The number of people biking to my shop is zero,” he replied.

Besides the loss of a motor vehicle lane, Bhaptarai said he feels biking in the lane the way the street is configured now is “very safe”.

If enough downtown businesses oppose the plan, there’s a good chance the re-striping won’t happen. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

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Comments
  • Schrauf July 14, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Interesting. The idea that removing one traffic lane of FOUR will reduce the number of cars on the street is laughable.

    Having said that, cyclists taking a lane on either the right or left side of a four-lane 25 mph one-way street is the easiest place TO take a lane – so it probably already is a relatively easy place to ride – and with less danger of right hooks and dooring, compared to a bike lane.

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  • BURR July 14, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    wow, myopic business owners, what a novel concept.

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  • She July 14, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Jonathan,

    Your article says “Bikes aren’t on sidewalks in Salem” do you mean they are not legally allowed on sidewalks in Salem? This was a little unclear to me…

    If that is the case then one would think there needs to be a bike lane.

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  • Bjorn July 14, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    If more lanes = more customers why isn’t Bhaptarai pushing to remove parking on at least one side and add a 5th or even a 6th lane. By his logic that should add 25-50% to his revenue!

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  • brettoo July 14, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I don’t know the area but am just wondering: would it be possible/useful to run the bike lane inside the slant parking, i.e. between the parked cars and the sidewalk?

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  • xathras July 14, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    I’d second the notion of back-in slant parking. As it is, you’ve got to time the lights to find a safe time to back out, and can’t actually see anything of the road until the back end of the car is well out into what would be the bike lane. (Part of why that lane is little used is because folks expect people to be backing out, so use the other lanes unless they are looking to park.) With back-in parking, at least the driver is positioned to be able to see oncoming traffic of whatever kind sooner.

    @ #5 There are curb extensions at the corners, and careless parkers would probably block the bike lane pretty regularly were it between the cars and the curb.

    @ #3 Bikes are prohibited on the sidewalks in downtown Salem.

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  • E July 14, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Sorry kids, NO rational downtown shopping area configuration should have 4 lanes of auto traffic. That’s just ridiculous. Cars just zip right by; businesses benefit more from slower-moving bicycle and pedestrian traffic, which do not mix well with 4 lanes of cars.
    The business owner quoted seems to believe he’ll be giving up 1/4 of his car-driving customers and getting nothing. He’s just wrong. A lot more bikes will fit in that lane than cars, and they are much more likely to stop. If he was selling auto parts that would be one thing, but he’s selling exotic foods and health products! come on, which audience buys more of those?
    :D

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  • Kenji July 14, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    She-

    Correct. Bicycles are not allowed on sidewalks in the core downtown area (city ordinance).

    There’s a misperception by some of the businesses here. There’s such thing as too much traffic- that will actually hurt business. When there’s so much traffic that you can’t exit your space, that’s a problem.

    I’d say big vehicles parking in those spots is more of a problem than bikes for conflict. Folks just can’t see around the car to see whether they are backing out safely.

    I’ll just start walking into these businesses in my Lycra. Heck, I know some of these folks.

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  • joeb July 14, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    “The number of people biking to my shop is zero”

    Hmm, very interesting. I don’t know the area, but I wonder what bike lanes and staple racks in place of a diagonal space or two would do.

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  • LuckyLab July 14, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    The simple fact is Bhaptarai is wrong. More lanes means more people going by his business quickly (usually well over the posted speed limit in that stretch). The other businesses really don’t see bike commuters as core patrons, and frankly most of those businesses on the list are not drop-in type businesses that will benefit from walk-in/ride-in traffic. (There are a couple that might, but most not.)

    Putting the lanes in front of parking is not really conducive to the traffic patterns of the area, if you want to move from one side of the street to the other to make a turn without using the crosswalk.

    I still think behind head-in, angle parking is dangerous.

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  • wsbob July 14, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Mr. Bhaptarai’s comment: “The number of people biking to my shop is zero,” leaves me wondering why people wouldn’t be biking to his shop. People’s comments here and on the other thread suggest that there are people on bikes riding this street. Are they just not stopping at his shop, and why might that be?

    Maybe he needs better signs or a bike rack out front of his store.

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  • steve July 14, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Katmandu Foods is a fantastic business, selling delicious goods. I stop by there whenever I happen to be in Salem.

    Just sayin’.

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  • katrsixtyseven July 14, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I’ve shopped at Katmandu before, and since I don’t drive, it’s likely I rode my bike downtown.

    @Kenji–I never had much incentive to wear a lot of spandex before, but maybe it’s time to start! Maybe it’s time to start a “Salem Shoppin’ in Spandex” campaign!

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  • Jeremy July 14, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    The Winter st example is not a good example when it comes to angled parking and bike lanes. The traffic on that road is very little and the amount of people coming and going out of those parking spots isn’t very much. I usually take the lane when I am on that road.

    No seasoned bicycle commuter will use the purposed bike lane. Not to mention all the SUV’s and trucks that will be extended into the purposed bicycle lane. This will leave the lane to new riders which will make the possible outcome for injury even worse.

    I think Julie Warncke needs to hop on her bike between 5:00pm-6:30pm and do laps around Commercial st where the purposed bike lanes will be. I won’t take long until she’ll be hugging the middle lane like I do.

    Education on the bicycle lane won’t work. Backing out of those parking spots is hard enough without bicycles directly behind them.

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  • peejay July 14, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    What’s great is that the business owners are OK with the fact that they’re misinformed, and just want to be confirmed in their prejudices. I’d like to know if they conduct all their business in the same way: “I feel that if I run electric fence lines along my shelves, it’ll cut down on shoplifting. The stupid City Council should overturn their ban on dangerous electricity in retail stores, or I’ll go out of business from all the shoplifting!”

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  • steve July 14, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    What’s great (peejay) is that the commenters are OK with the fact that they’re misinformed and just want to be confirmed in their prejudices…

    A bike lane makes no sense in this area and no cyclist with a desire to remain living would use a bike lane in that section.

    Little white strips of paint do not always make sense. Neither do many of you.

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  • Hart July 14, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Seriously, six lanes of traffic and parking and they’re terrified of losing just ONE lane for bikes that will probably triple their bike and foot traffic business? How short-sighted are these business owners? Absolutely stunning.

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  • Drew July 14, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Bike lanes and traffic calming help businesses thrive. People are more likely to stop and patronize shops. Gives extra time for a motorist to consider whether to stop or not. 4 lanes of traffic stress cars, peds, and bikes, all of which would then be less likely to stop and patronize a business.
    Design the public right of way with people in mind, and you get customers. Design it for cars and you get less people and more automobile exhaust.

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  • bikieboy July 14, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    “…at least 20 downtown business owners had signed a petition against the plan.”

    no wonder downtown Salem is such a wasteland, with visionaries like this.

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  • karmanaught July 14, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    In my opinion, they should put this proposed bike lane on both Commercial and Liberty downtown. Traffic during rush hour can be pretty intense during the noon time hours and between 4-6pm. My only concern here would be the delivery trucks that offload daily in the morning hours usually taking up a lane of traffic that would also block any such bike lane. Personally, I usually take High St. North and South bound on my commute in and out of the downtown core and cut through the alleys to get to my destination, avoiding the traffic downtown altogether.

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  • karmanaught July 14, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Incidentally, I have made many purchases at all the places listed who signed this petition. Even though I do drive, the hassle of finding a parking spot and the stupid 2 hour parking rule per block is counter productive to me. In my opinion, the new parking rules have not really changed any thing except inconvenience the downtown regulars who come down daily to hang out at coffee shop and shop downtown. People who come downtown like that view the downtown core as an extension of their living room. Many people will come down and hang out at one of the coffee shops and drink their coffee and work on their computers or what not while waiting for friends to show up, socializing, then go hit a bar for a drink, then go to lunch or dinner, back to the coffee shop for more socializing, and then maybe even to movie or retail browsing. The two hour imposed limit has not changed this pattern, just an added inconvenience of car swapping.

    . I see the same 50 cars parked there every day, only now they just swap parking spots every 2 hours.

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  • are July 15, 2009 at 8:31 am

    angled parking works best when you can pull through without having to back out. they ought to put the angled parking in the center of the street, leaving twenty-something feet on each side, space for two wide traffic lanes. the sidewalks would be much more amenable, and there would be no need to stripe a bike lane.

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  • Mouser July 15, 2009 at 9:03 am

    I agree with those that say these business owners are being myopic. I ride my bike around town often but never ride downtown because frankly, my bike is older and it scares me to pedal in traffic. I usually park my bike outside the downtown limits and walk into town or drive my car, the latter of which I try to avoid due to parking. Personally, with more bike lanes downtown, I would patron businesses in that area of the city more often. Perhaps it is true that “seasoned” bicyclists wouldn’t bother with the bike lanes but those of us that enjoy riding but are maybe a little less experienced in riding with traffic or for those that have children, it is ideal and I truly believe that it would bring more business into downtown Salem.

    As far as the concern over parking goes, I think it is a valid concern but should not be a deal breaker. There are plenty of solutions to the problem including “compact only parking”, or simply signs that remind drivers to watch for bicyclists. As the article states, the slanted parking with a bike lane on Winter St. has never been a problem. One person commented that there isn’t much traffic on Winter which isn’t entirely true. Compared to Commercial St. the traffic is certainly less, but people do come and go all the time. I know this because I attended Willamette University and parking has always been a problem on campus. It is two hour parking in those spots and they are used all day long by people coming in going for classes, meetings, etc.

    This could be a positive thing for downtown Salem. We should focus on creative ways to get around the real concerns in this project rather than discredit it on face value.

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  • JohnB July 15, 2009 at 10:11 am

    I’m with brettoo (#5). This seems like a great place to put the bike lane INSIDE of the parking, next to the sidewalk.

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  • Kenji July 15, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I think the way to get more traffic to businesses downtown is to have more qualified traffic. E.g. traffic who’s main motive to be in the area is to shop. It would be best to move the commuters to a different corridor. Most commuters don’t have shopping on their mind- most are thinking of getting home (and about how traffic sucks and how that bike is blocking traffic even though said bike is actually traveling faster than said traffic)

    The bike lane would be great for the more recreational cyclists and more casual cyclist. I myself have no problem in traffic since I’m used to it.

    I’m intrigued by the back in parking.

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  • peejay July 15, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    What’s even better (#16) is when someone latches onto the idea that all bike lanes are bad, just because they don’t feel they need to use them, and wish to punish non-vehicular cyclists because they’re not as macho as them. I’m a vehicular cyclist, but I like it when many other people get to ride in the streets as well, so I might promote a bike lane even in a case where I might not use it.

    I also love it when people miss the point of my analogy. The business owners who signed the petition don’t care whether a bike lane may or may make sense for cyclists; they just don’t want any space taken away from cars, even if those extra cars don’t help their business at all. They also don’t understand how important cyclists could be for their business, especially the one Jonathan interviewed, who clearly has no proof that he gets zero business from cyclists, but can’t get away from his pre-conceived notions. Like some commenters here, Steve.

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  • brettoo July 15, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    I guess what we really need is some hard data. For example, when cities consider putting in streetcar tracks downtown, they overcome store owners’ knee jerk negativity by pointing to the experience of Portland, where property values along the streetcar line supposedly increased. (I don’t have the figures, just reporting what I remember reading once.)

    I think the city also claims that they overcame neighborhood resistance to bikeways by showing that residents of those streets eventually realized that they made the streets calmer and safer, but I don’t know about actual data on property value increases or surveys.

    Anyway, I wonder if anyone’s actually done a study on how downtown bike lanes affect sales and business activity? If not, and if this proposal goes through, it might be a nice opportunity to collect some before and after data. I agree that it seems intuitively likely that the bike lane would increase business activity.

    Or is this more like the Hawthorne situation east of, say, 34th, where the city decided that it was better to have cyclists use adjacent neighborhood streets like Lincoln and Salmon than to put a bike lane on the busy commercial part of Hawthorne itself?

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  • Perpatrator July 17, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I circulated this petition.

    I should note that NONE of the signers of this petition were anti-bicycle. They are simply acknowledging that the vast, vast majority of shoppers downtown arrive by car. Downtown shoppers are what keep them in business, not recreational cyclists. Not a single one of them spouted the anger I am reading in several of these posts from folks on the opposite side of the issue.

    Portlanders should put their efforts into Portland and leave Salem to the folks who live and work here. This is a complex issue with many facets that have either been misrepresented or not mentioned in this article or its posts.

    To all those Salemites reading this – STOP TRYING TO MAKE SALEM LIKE PORTLAND! Portland is great, but it is Portland. Salem, for once, should try finding its own identity instead of constantly chasing the shadow of Portland. That may or may not mean bike lanes everywhere in the future, but there is a time and place for everything and all we are saying is now is not the time for a bike lane on Commercial Street in downtown Salem.

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  • katrsixtyseven July 17, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    @Perpatrator

    I’m curious if you have actual data about how people arrive in downtown Salem. Most people I know walk or bike. I don’t doubt that most people arrive by car, but I’d like to see some figures.

    I’m a downtown shopper *and* a cyclist. In fact I do most of my shopping and eating out downtown. And I’m not a “recreational cyclist”–cycling is my main transportation. Not all cyclists are “recreational cyclists”. I think it would be grand if Salem became more like Portland in this one area–more people who aren’t merely “recreational cyclists” but who choose not to drive most of the time.

    It’s true that the Commercial St. plan may be flawed, but it would be nice if those who don’t support it would educate themselves about cycling before making generalizations. There are many different types of cyclists.

    Cheers

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  • SR July 21, 2009 at 7:31 am

    Perpatrator (#28) The worst prejudice is perpetrated by those that don’t recognize their own. What is your bicycling experience, especially downtown? What do you think of those that DO bicycle to work, shop, dine or socialize downtown? Do you say they are pretty awesome and you wish more people did? Do you think the streets might be less congested if more people could be attracted to ride their bike downtown? Do you think about how your day might be better if you could/would bike more? Your comments sound like you think people that bike downtown to work or consume are some sort of anomaly, not a useful solution to what you say is a congestion problem. You may not be “anti” cycling, but you sure don’t seem to see it as having potential to improve your fellow petitioner’s businesses. Oh, I’m from Salem, by the way.

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  • Anonymous July 22, 2009 at 10:46 am

    The reason these uneducated business owners are wrong about traffic is because they don’t understand traffic.

    http://www.streetfilms.org/archives/on-herald-squares-transformation-and-disappearing-traffic/#comments

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