Tuesday, May 23, 2017

MPO's Legislative Priorities: SRC Number 1

Our local Metropolitan Planning Organization meets today the 23rd, and they've got a letter they want to send to the Legislature on the "transportation package."
Proposed letter to Legislature
From the text of the proposed letter (italics added):
Co-Chairs Beyer and McKeown and Members of the Committee:

The Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study (SKATS MPO) is the regional metropolitan planning organization for the Salem, Keizer, Turner and surrounding urban areas, with an area population over 250,000 residents.

In April and May, the SKATS Policy Committee discussed the subject of proposed state-MPO taxing districts that is being considered by your committee’s transportation bill. SKATS members see the potential benefits of the district concept for cost-sharing large projects, but of course, have questions about the specifics of the proposal and look forward to seeing how these districts will be defined in the state transportation bill. They also raised a concern that all the non-Metro MPOs would have difficulty in matching state funds at a 50-50 level -- especially for high-cost projects -- and request that provision remain open for a subsequent discussion and decision by the Oregon Transportation Commission (OTC).

The Policy Committee also discussed major congestion and freight projects that might be funded through this proposal. The following is a list of six projects within the SKATS MPO boundary that would improve freight mobility and congestion on both the state and Salem-Keizer regional systems. Each project shows the county is it located in, along with its planning level cost estimate. The Salem River Crossing (Phase 1) bridge is our top priority along with these listed projects, all of which are significant to the sustainability of our transportation system. The remaining projects are listed in order of decreasing costs:
  • Salem River Crossing (Phase 1) [Polk County & Marion County]: $250 million
  • Chemawa Road @ I-5 Interchange Upgrades [Marion County]: $210 million
  • Salem Center Street Bridge Seismic [Polk County & Marion County]: $60 million
  • OR22 @ O51 Interchange & Frontage Roads [Polk County]: $55 million
  • Cordon Road Capacity Upgrades [Marion County]: $47 million
  • New interchange at OR22 @ Cordon Road [Polk County]: $36 million
The highest priority for the Salem is not "Salem River Crossing (Phase 1)." That project is currently being litigated at LUBA and there is considerable evidence that in its present form it is deeply, fatally flawed. There is also considerable community criticism and opposition. Even if you do not agree with that criticism, it is a fact that there is no local consensus around the SRC. In a 5-4 Council vote on an intergovernmental agreement with DLCD, the City of Salem recently sent a message in opposition to the SRC's current form. The SRC does not deserve any such "top priority." It deserves a high priority only if you already "know" it deserves a high priority. This is circular! An impartial planning process and impartial public participation process would not lead to this claim for #1 priority, and would recognize that there are important issues yet to settle.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

City Council, May 22nd - Two Downtown Murals

Council meets Monday, and finally there are some details on the murals proposed for downtown.

Just in time for thinking about the murals, Strong Towns has had a "Public Art Week."

In one of the notes, they say
What's clear to me is that public art cannot be used to cover up failures in urban design. A neglected, unproductive street with a sculpture on the corner, is still a neglected, unproductive street.
And, well, that's just exactly the problem here.

Penny's Plaza, the parking garage,
 and the alleyway are together charmless and desolate.
A woodpecker motif might add a little charm.
From the Staff Report:
In December 2016, in recognition of the value of art to the vibrancy of Salem’s downtown, the Downtown Advisory Board recommended the use of Urban Renewal Agency funding for the two mural installations. One mural is to be located on the Chemeketa Parkade’s east stairwell, the other is to be located on a short, rounded wall of the City-owned lease-able space in the alley between Liberty and Commercial, accessed from Chemeketa Street.

The proposed murals are the result of the Salem Public Art Commission’s effort to commission murals from well-regarded northwest artists, recognized for the quality of their recent public commissions. In creating the Salem Public Art Commission and the Public Art Fund, the City Council in 2010 recognized “that visual arts contribute to and provide experiences that enrich and better the social and physical environment of the community…” Beginning with more than 25 artists of interest, the Commission sought interest and availability from 10 northwest artists. Of the four submitting conceptual designs for the mural sites, the Commission selected two: Blaine Fontana and Damien Gilley. The murals will be the subject of a Salem Public Art Commission public hearing on June 8, 2017. If approved, the Damien Gilley piece will be installed before July 5, 2017 and the Blaine Fontana piece will be installed beginning July 10 through July 25.
Waldo Stewards on north side of Chemeketa,
Blaine Fontana
(You can match this to the streetview at top)
Blaine Fontana's proposal, "Waldo Stewards," is more straight-forward and if not exactly site-specific, is grounded in something of a concept about a specific Salem thing:

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Arches on the Minto Bridge are Huge!

Mostly the new Minto Bridge and path is fabulous. But one detail I keep returning to is that the arches are big and even clunky. I don't find them, or the whole of the bridge, as graceful as I hoped they would be. For me this diminishes the landscape and vista a little. I had hoped it would be a more interesting architectural grace note, complementing and complicating the view. Instead, I find that it dominates the view, and is too big and obvious for the setting. Maybe you feel otherwise, but here's why.

Minto Bridge on May 4th, via Travel Salem
Because we approach the bridge on the paths, the arches are foreshortened, and while the original bridge approvals were done using a profile view, such a profile is not the "natural" way the bridge is experienced by a person using it and viewing it. There is a procession with the connecting paths, and this procession creates the primary view and sense of the bridge as an experienced object in space. In this procession, the arches are tall and narrow, not low and wide. With the side elevations only, the action and experience of procession was absent, and an important dimension of the bridge design missing in deliberation.

Those profile views make it look low and wide. The plans called for a 50 foot peak, and it is possible that the arches are only 50 feet high. But I swear the arc shown here in the initial drawings is flatter than the arc as-built. If so, the peak may be more than 50 feet high. (There may be more to say on this later, as there are almost certainly engineering constraints driving the details, which we might instead want to consider primarily aesthetically rather than structurally.)

Original Council-approved concept drawing (2010)
The drawing showed a 50 foot peak - it looks too flat now
But even more than the curvature and height of the arches, it's the diameter of the arch tubing itself that is jarring.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Police Station Design Unlikely to look like Bond Marketing Materials

Now that we have resolution on the new Police facility, let's talk about design a little. It's not any great insight to say that the drawing the City has been using to sell the revised Police Station bond is conceptual only.

Cop shop as playground? Look at all the kids!
Corner of Division and Commercial,
from mid-block, looking NW (see image below)
Still, the image has a number of problems, and while it might be a stretch to say it's wholly "misleading," it is more than a little bit of a rainbows and unicorns interpretation of things. It's a fanciful mock-up.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ride of Silence Tonight

This evening, May 17th, the Salem 2017 Ride of Silence will be at 6:15pm. John Henry Maurice and Joanne Heilinger of the Salem Bicycle Club will lead the ride, which departs from the "red lot" downtown. All are welcome.

Since 2003 "the mission of the world wide Ride of Silence is to honor bicyclists killed by motorists, promote sharing the road, and provide awareness of bicycling safety."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Oregon Black Pioneers win 2017 McMath Award for Historic Preservation

Tomorrow night, Wednesday the 17th, the University of Oregon will award the 2017 George McMath Historic Preservation Award to the Oregon Black Pioneers.
Since 1993, the Oregon Black Pioneers, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization based in Salem, has produced publications, mounted exhibitions, presented lectures, sponsored conferences, organized musical and theater productions, delivered classroom presentations and curriculum to public schools, and recognized burial sites for Black pioneers in Salem. Their dedication to shedding light on Oregon’s African American pioneers has revealed a rich history that enriches the experience of all Oregonians.
This is the first time the award has not gone to an individual or to someone principally concerned with the preservation of buildings.

Oregon Electric cars on High Street at Court, circa 1912
You might remember the exhibit "Rails through Salem: A Black History Connection" a couple years back.

Or the book, Perseverance: A History of African Americans in Oregon's Marion and Polk counties.

Or the dedication in 2007 of a monument "in remembrance of Oregon's black pioneers, named and unnamed, buried in Salem Pioneer Cemetery."

They've amassed a substantial body of work that should be noticed!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bike More Challenge at Mid-Month: Could use more Institutional Support

Looking at the leader boards for the Bike More Challenge in Salem, it's hard not to conclude that it's not very effective at the moment. People who already bike may not find it useful or interesting, and as an incentive for new people to try out bike trips it also may not be useful or interesting.

The Challenge has been around for a while, and participation even in Portland has been flat or declining. Its peak seems to have been in 2011, so in addition to whatever trends might characterize Salem in particular, there are larger statewide trends as well.

Even so, entities that you might think would embrace the Challenge as a public symbol and statement about institutional values have generally not embraced the Challenge and have not put much institutional force or many resources behind it. For them it remains a fringe-y side show. But maybe it's time for institutions and leadership to say "this is important." It's supposed to be a fun Encouragement project, and in that way shouldn't be taken too seriously. But maybe we aren't taking it seriously enough.

Or maybe the Challenge is just tired and it's time for something new.

Either way, current levels of interest have not been encouraging.

0.7% participation at City of Salem Public Works
The City transportation group does not participate, and this is one of the surest signs that institutionally bicycling is not taken seriously enough at the City. While the City is working on things like the Union Street and Winter-Maple bikeways, most staff do not themselves seem to find bicycling a worthwhile activity to employ personally and by example to advocate. It's not that big a deal, but it's a sign and symptom.

Another group worth considering is ODOT, many of whose groups and functions are based on Salem.