Look, I love surveys. Properly done, they're a great way to find out how people feel about some issue. But the City of Salem's survey about ideas to relieve downtown traffic congestion strikes me as a simplistic, poorly-thought-out effort.
(Paper version is here; online version can be found here.)
First, the survey is weirdly open-ended. It consists of a single question, with other queries being background information about the person taking the survey.
Well, it isn't a bad idea to ask people this open-ended question. But as I noted in a comment on a Statesman Journal editorial about the congestion survey, failing to ask people about how they feel about various ways that have been identified to improve downtown traffic flow seems like a missed opportunity.
The City of Salem's Congestion Survey is curious. Also, suspicious. It basically only asks one open-ended question, what's your idea for reducing downtown congestion?
I've never seen a similar survey by the City of Salem. Usually, as with the recent Riverfront Park and Streetscape surveys, citizens are asked their opinion about various discrete policy options.
In this case, it seems as if City officials wanted the single open-ended question to elicit cries of "Build another bridge!"
Already several ways to reduce congestion around the exsiting bridges have been suggested. For example, adding a lane to the current bridges and making the approaches flow better.
So why didn't the City survey lay out these options and ask people their view of them, along with an open-ended question? Instead, it's predictable that the Salem Bridge Solutions group will pack the survey results with "Build a third bridge!"
This really won't advance the cause of reducing congestion, since there is no money for a new bridge, there isn't majority political support for it on the City Council, and other ways of reducing congestion can be implemented much more quickly at a far lower cost.
Here's how the editorial, "Group urges community to complete survey on traffic congestion," which sounds like it was written by the Chamber of Commerce, starts off.
Salem is asking residents for ideas to reduce traffic congestion in downtown and West Salem, and the Salem Bridge Solutions group is hoping the community will tell it that a new bridge was needed a decade ago.
However, a new half-billion dollar bridge across the Willamette River isn't what the City of Salem's Congestion Relief Task Force is supposed to be considering. This fact was made clear in the staff report that preceded the City Council voting to form the task force., which I quoted from in "City Council plans to reduce traffic congestion without a Third Bridge."
Over the past decade, regional transportation experts, City staff, and the community have been considering options and alternatives related to a new Willamette River crossing. The process has been lengthy and controversial. When completed, the process will yield a Final Environmental Impact Statement for a new facility, not the facility itself. We understand that even with a Final EIS in place, it may take another decade or more to fund, design, and begin construction of a new bridge.
In the meantime, congestion and vehicular mobility continue to plague the downtown and inner west Salem areas around the existing bridges. There is a need to address vehicular mobility and traffic congestion immediately and independent of decisions related to the Willamette River crossing. If approved by Council, the charge of the Task Force will be to study the issues and develop a list of short-, medium-, and long-term projects and a funding strategy that-when implemented-will reduce traffic congestion and improve vehicular mobility.
So the goal of the task force is to study traffic options independent of what happens with the Salem River Crossing or Third Bridge. Yet given the fact that the only question on the congestion survey is entirely open-ended, the pro-bridge Salem Bridge Solutions group sees this as an opportunity for its members to write in "Build a new bridge!"
Which is at odds with the information provided in the survey itself, which speaks of the task force coming up with near-term options to improve traffic flow in the downtown area.
I'm worried that after Salem Bridge Solutions supporters flood the survey results with "Build it now!" this will become a distraction from the actual purpose of the Congestion Relief Task Force -- to identify ways to improve traffic flow in the downtown area that don't involve the fantasy of constructing a Third Bridge.
The Statesman Journal editorial is remarkably off-base in several regards.
First, it praises the grass-roots activism of the pro-bridge Salem Bridge Solutions group while ignoring the longstanding grass-roots activism of people opposed to a new bridge. In recent years five city councilors have been elected who oppose spending half a billion dollars on a Third Bridge that would mostly be paid for by tolls on both the new bridge and the two current bridges: Tom Andersen, Cara Kaser, Sally Cook, Chris Hoy, and Matt Ausec.
So that's a pretty clear sign that people in Salem aren't enamored with building a new bridge. Another sign is the result of a scientific survey mentioned in the editorial which found that traffic congestion and roads were "less urgent concerns" that homelessness and affordable housing.
But the Statesman Journal editorial board appears to view facts as just irritants to be ignored. For the board said:
We disagree with those conclusions. All three issues are of paramount concern to residents and deserve the city's attention.
Hmmmm. A phone survey says that traffic congestion and roads aren't a big concern of Salem residents. But the editorial board somehow knows otherwise, saying homelessness, affordable housing, and traffic congestion are all of "paramount concern" to residents.
Well, there's no evidence of this, except in the half-billion-dollar bridge-loving minds of the Statesman Journal editorial board. And they're forgotten the cardinal rule of transportation planning.
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