Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) 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…”
(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.”
— 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.
(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.