Given how pleasurable and safe it is for all ages to ride a bicycle on protected bike lanes, rather than dangerous white lines painted on the side of busy streets, it was irritating to watch a video of last night's City Council meeting and see Mayor Bennett, along with city staff, do their best to shoot down the popular proposal put forward by Salem Bike Vision.
One way among several to create a protected bike lane
Councilor Virginia Stapleton handled the falsehoods with more patience and calm than I would have been capable of. Stapleton is taking the lead in championing the protected bike lane proposal on the City Council, though it seems clear that the idea also is supported by other councilors.
Yesterday I wrote about the upcoming council meeting in "Tell the Salem City Council you want protected bike lanes." I noted that Salem Bike Vision had sent out an email saying that the project list for a $300 million bond measure to be voted on in November was expected to be finalized at the meeting.
But the $15 million budget to build a network of protected bike lanes in Salem hadn't been added to the project list yet.
Councilor Stapleton came to the council meeting with a motion to do just that. She said that she'd spent a lot of time on the phone last week talking with constituents and others about how to find a way to pare down road/bridge construction projects planned for the bond so 5% of the $300 million bond could be used to build protected bike lanes.
Or if not $15 million, I believe Stapleton said $10 million could be acceptable. Everything seemed normal up to this point of the protected bike lane discussion. Then things got disturbingly weird.
Several councilors said they hadn't seen Stapleton's motion prior to the meeting. She said this was a surprise to her, since she'd given the motion and supporting documents to the City Attorney, Dan Atchison, figuring that he would share the motion with councilors and staff.
That didn't happen -- the first sign that City of Salem staff were doing their best to make sure money for protected bike lanes didn't make it into the bond measure.
Another sign came when Peter Fernandez, the Public Works Director who has never showed any real commitment to improving Salem's bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure, jumped in and began spreading some highly annoying B.S.
In the course of talking about the need for center turn lanes on certain streets -- somehow that subject got mixed into the discussion of protected bike lanes -- Fernandez said unconvincingly he was a strong supporter of Salem's Climate Action Plan which calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, of which the transportation sector contributes the most in Salem.
Echoing the absurd argument used by proponents of a Third Bridge across the Willamette, Fernandez said that idling vehicles waiting a while to turn left increase carbon emissions, so building more roads with left turn lanes is a Green thing to do.
Like I said, total bullshit.
If Fernandez had wanted to demonstrate how committed he is to combatting global warming, all he had to do was say, "I'm in favor of protected bike lanes, since the more people get around town by bicycle or on foot, the closer we'll come to meeting the goals of the Climate Action Plan. I'll work with Councilor Stapleton on finding a way to fund the Salem Bike Vision project by reducing the road construction budget in the bond measure."
But he didn't say that. Neither did Mayor Bennett, who appeared astoundingly clueless about the process being used to come up with a list of bond measure projects.
After Stapleton made her motion to add protected bike lanes to the bond measure, which was seconded by Councilor Andersen (an avid cyclist), Bennett criticized Stapleton for her motion, telling her that he couldn't understand why she was trying to change the bond measure projects "at 8 pm" of the council meeting.
Councilor Stapleton replied that she had been bringing up the Salem Bike Vision proposal at every opportunity during previous council meetings devoted to the bond measure, yet kept being told that wasn't the right time yet. Stapleton said it was her understanding following the council work session the previous week, that the projects for the bond measure could be finalized at this May 23 council meeting.
Stapleton was right. Bennett was wrong. Here's a screenshot of part of the memo from the acting City Manager regarding the work session.
"As early as May 23, 2022, Council may adjust the package..." Exactly what Stapleton tried to do, until she got so much unjustified resistance from Mayor Bennett, combined with the failure of City Attorney Atchison to forward her motion to the City Council prior to the meeting, Stapleton decided to table her motion, which can be voted on the next council meeting.
Discussion then turned to the public opinion research mentioned in the Next Steps above. This led to more evidence that city staff are trying to prevent Salem residents from enjoying protected bike lanes, even though the authority to decide what projects are included in the bond measure is in the hands of the City Council.
Councilor Stapleton asked Courtney Knox Busch, a City of Salem staff person working on the public opinion research, to describe the question being asked about protected bike lanes. Busch said that she didn't have the exact language before her, but it said something about how people would feel about the bond measure if a change was made to add the protected bike lane project.
Councilor Chris Hoy, who was recently elected Mayor (takes office in 2023), immediately realized how loaded that question would be. After all, Busch and Bennett had just taken pains to emphasize to Stapleton that there was time for her to try to get the Salem Bike Vision proposal added to the project list, since the bond measure didn't need to be finalized until August 8.
So currently there is nothing to be changed in the bond measure, since it hasn't been approved by the City Council yet. Hoy correctly said that the survey question should say something like, "How would you feel if the bond measure includes protected bike lanes."
Busch waffled around in her response to Hoy, offering up a rather lame statement that the survey research company being paid to do the public opinion research knows that they're doing. She assured Hoy and the rest of the council that this wasn't a "push poll" intended to get a certain answer.
OK, but it sure looks to me like Mayor Bennett and City of Salem staff are doing what they can to kill the popular protected bike lanes proposal. Hard to say why. My suspicion is that they've heavily bought into traditional road projects and don't want $10-15 million going to bicycle infrastructure.
City staff kept saying they don't want the bond measure to be controversial. Well, here's some news for them. If you keep on playing games with Councilor Stapleton and other advocates for protected bike lanes, you're going to end up with a controversial bond measure.
Stapleton smartly asked Busch to bring a tally of the public comments in favor of various bond measure projects to the next council meeting. Stapleton said she suspects protected bike lanes is one of the most popular projects, if not the most popular.
I think she's right. There's a lot of people in Salem who want be able to get around on a bicycle without risking life and limb. Ignore them, and you're diminishing the chance of the bond measure passing.