Mark Wigg is a marvelous advocate for multi-use cycling and pedestrian paths here in Salem.
A few days ago, in a post I shared a video of his testimony at a City Council meeting where he persuasively argued for a Salemtowne to Downtown path in West Salem -- which would be built largely with volunteer labor if City officials would simply approve the right of way for it.
At the meeting Councilor Jim Lewis, who represents West Salem, asked Wigg a skeptical question about how many people would use a Salemtowne to Downtown path.
Wigg gave a good answer at the time. Below, you can read a fuller answer that Wigg sent to me, and asked me to share. Glad to do it, Mark.
I've added some photos to Wigg's prose to illustrate his points.
Councilor Lewis asked a valid question.
Let me clarify the question and hopefully improve my response.
Councilor Lewis suggested that since he only sees one or two cyclists on Wallace Road during rush hour these days, creating a separate multi-use path would be a waste of effort, draw only a couple riders, and not affect traffic congestion.
Councilor Lewis and other drivers see miles of bike lanes and very few bikes. He is right.
For thirty years, we have been painting lines on Salem's busiest streets.
Yet with all this investment in cycling, the percent of people commuting to work by bike or walking has decreased since the 70's. Maybe the time has come to say that bike lanes on 35+mph streets with curbside sidewalks are not good methods to increase cycling or walking. They bring neither joy nor beauty.
Most cities that have successful cycling and walking programs (meaning they have a high percentage of all trips by walking and biking) have found that they must separate the vulnerable people from cars except when cars travel at less than 20mph.
Fear and Terror
Fear and terror prevent most of Salem's residents from cycling and walking.
Imagine the families decided to bike to downtown using the Wallace Road bike lane in the picture taken Monday morning at 7:52 am.
If you are a driver on Wallace you fear hitting the cyclist; your fear increases when you spot the little girl. And you think, what idiot would bring their family bicycling on Wallace Road? Fear can quickly lead to anger.
Then, you see that car pull out into the bike lane in front of that little girl...now you experience Terror.
Even imagining the scene causes a deep, visceral response in me. I have a daughter.
Imagine being that mother in pink and that little girl is your daughter.
Our "bike" lanes are empty, this is why.
Cyclists and pedestrians would rather enjoy a quiet, beautiful path and they use the ones in our parks where they are safe. We can make the Salemtowne to Downtown path a park-like setting and we can do it this year.
But can the path reduce congestion?
During my ten years with ODOT, managing some of the state's largest transportation projects, I learned that reducing congestion can sometimes be achieved by having a few hundred people not drive during the busiest periods.
Only a couple hundred drivers would need to modify their driving schedule, bike or walk to make a noticeable difference in congestion.
I calculated that for Salem's bridges we would only need 400-500 drivers to change behavior to bring the bridge traffic to a level of service "D-busy but moving" from "F-stop and go with long delays."
In the photo from Monday's commute, only sixty cars are visible. This "infinitely" long line of cars, is only sixty cars. It would only take sixty people to decide to bike or walk to clear all these cars from the roadway.
Imagine how many cars would not be on Wallace if 200 people were enjoying their ride on a new trail. Imagine how much fear would increase in drivers to have those 200 cyclists on Wallace. Don't worry, you won't see that many cyclists commuting on Wallace in the morning.
You are likely to see that many on the Salemtowne to Downtown path THIS YEAR if the city will acquire the right of way and lead the army of volunteers that are waiting to construct the multi-use path.
Over 7,000 people bike or walk over the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland each day.
Yes, a new multi-use path from Salemtowne to Downtown will reduce congestion on Wallace Road. Let's make it happen this year.
If we create beauty, joy will bring the walkers and riders.