We here at the world headquarters of Salem Political Snark, which just happens to be Salem, Oregon, absolutely love well-reasoned factual blog posts with a healthy dose of snark.
Especially when those posts haven't been written by us. (Well, me, though there's always me, myself, and I, the unholy trinity.)
So here's a big snarky thumbs-up to the always-interesting Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger for including these lines in a post today, "City Council, August 24 - Nonsense on Broadway at Pine."
This is a real problem at the City. They have trouble admitting they are wrong. It sure seems like they dig in on every issue, every time.
Sure thing, City of Salem. You bet. We know you always tell the truth.
The nonsense being talked about is the stubborn determination of the Public Works Department to always assume that traffic volumes in Salem will increase forever and ever, thereby needing constant expensive road improvements at the expense of the environment, greenhouse gas emissions, and the safety of pedestrians/cyclists.
Thus the well-informed advice of Gary Obery, an expert on walking and biking safety at the Oregon Department of Transportation, that a right-turn lane isn't needed in a Broadway widening project is discounted because, as noted above, City of Salem staff think they always are right and concerned citizens wrong.
The Breakfast on Bikes blog post goes into considerable detail about why the staff report for Monday's City Council meeting is misguided. Here's the overarching right-on concern.
We'll zoom out a little and start with climate. The slow-moving train wreck that is our approach to climate is going to dwarf our problem with traffic violence. If our forthcoming Climate Action Plan is to be effective, it will have to influence, even determine, traffic planning. Currently we plan our roads as if there was no emergency on climate.
Two weeks ago Council tabled the matter of widening Broadway Street NW at Pine Street. The Oberys, Angela and Gary, had raised questions and Council wanted more information.
On the project the City published a Supplemental Report with an enumerated list of responses to the objections and concerns. One of the primary justifications for the turn lane is that we are planning for more driving.
But this is not at all where we need to be. Though there are problems with ODOT's "Every Mile Counts" program, even ODOT is beginning to see that we have to reduce driving. They dodge a little and say we need to "reduce vehicle miles traveled per capita," and of course what is necessary is a total reduction of VMT, not merely a per person reduction. The sum matters more than the rate here. But VMT reduction is on the table now at ODOT.
The City also needs to start talking about VMT reduction. We have to stop planning for more driving, and need to start planning for less driving. We will never hit our climate goals if our planning continues to assume as axiomatic that "traffic volumes are expected to grow."
A new turn lane goes in the wrong direction.
It sure does. And the insistence of City of Salem staff that a new turn lane is needed also shows how muddled things are at City Hall, where the City Manager, Steve Powers, has failed to do what his job title demands that he do -- manage his employees in accord with high-level goals set forth in the 2017 Strategic Plan.
Instead, Powers sits back in his City Manager easy chair and lets Peter Fernandez, the Public Works Director, carry on with the out-dated rule-of-thumb that Fernandez has been inflicting on Salem for many years: speeding traffic along as rapidly as possible takes precedence over reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
So city staff can't take Gary Obery's expert opinion about the new turn lane seriously, because this would be a crack in the wall of the Public Works Department always being right about everything -- even when their wrongness is on full display, since a new turn lane is at odds with the City's own Strategic Plan.
The basic problem is that the people who should be in charge of things at City Hall aren't, while those who shouldn't be in charge are.
Salem has a City Council with a 6-3 progressive majority. However, Salem has a strong City Manager/weak City Council system. Currently we're suffering through a weak City Manager, Steve Powers, who excels at bean-counting but not at making clear to his staff what beans most deserve to be planted and fertilized.
This leaves the bureaucracy free to do what bureaucrats do best: the same thing, over and over.
No matter that the Earth is warming dangerously. No matter that we humans have ten years, at most, to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. No matter that the initial greenhouse gas inventory for Salem showed that the transportation sector is the largest contributor to our carbon pollution.
Fernandez and Co. have always used now-outdated traffic planning rules, and they will keep on using them until the Earth goes up in flames unless a higher-up says, "Stop! We're doing things differently now. The internal combustion engine no longer is Salem's priority. The well-being of our people is."
In the absence of a City Manager capable and competent enough to lead Salem forward into the 21 century, rather than backward into the previous century, the City Council needs to serve as a check on the bureaucracy. So far, the council hasn't shown much interest in doing this.
The upcoming council meeting on August 24 will be a test of whether City of Salem staff get to continue to ignore the well-informed views of concerned citizens. Because sometimes a turn lane on Broadway is way more important than it seems, being a window into the desired future of Salem.