Wednesday, June 11, 2014

New Panera Block Puts Parking in Back

The new Panera on middle Commercial opened the other day, and it is a striking 180-degree turn from the old Weathers building. Parking is in back rather than front, and outdoor cafe seating faces the sidewalk on Commercial and Liberty.

After: New Panera on middle Commercial

Before: The Old Weathers Music Store Lot
Notice parking along sidewalk
(click to enlarge)
But the building is still unsatisfying in important ways. More than anything, the set-back and expanse of bark mulch through which a mini-swale winds, creates too much separation from the sidewalk and keeps the building feeling suburban, mall-ish, and car-oriented rather than urban and fully walkable.

The Patio and Swale
It's still not integrated with the sidewalk. The outdoor seating should be an extension of the sidewalk, but instead it looks like a back yard, just rotated around 180-degrees.

Parking now in back
The bike parking is deployed on the parking lot side - the "main entry" still. But it's in an obvious place, not at all hidden, with good staple racks.  Hopefully they'll need more soon! (I forgot to check if there was a curb cut so you could mount the curb easily.)

Bike Parking
The building solution here might be the best that can be done. The problem with sidewalk integration really depends on a change in the road. Who wants to be near all that speedy, stinky auto traffic?

The City will very soon kick off a study for this section of Middle Commercial, and it would be so incredibly wonderful if some design for a multi-way boulevard like this could be developed:

A Nelson/Nygaard proposal from the helpful
Stroad to Boulevard tumblr
You see how slower, local and multi-modal traffic with a priority for people on foot - the very traffic that will be making stops at businesses - goes to the edges, and through-traffic stays in the center. This model accommodates a human scale for local movement, and honors the fact we're still car-dependent for through-movement. Commercial, Lancaster, Market, Silverton Road - all our huge arterials should be candidates for reconfiguring along these lines.

In addition to Panera there look to be a couple of other office spaces in the block, and it will be interesting to see what goes into them.

So, have you been by the new Panera?  What did you think about the building and site?


Ben said...

The trouble with this type of critique is that it's made without knowing the facts. Looking at the photos, it's clear that the "expanse of bark mulch" and "mini-swale" you refer to is actually a stormwater bioswale required by the City (as mandated by EPA and DEQ requirements). With that east end of the property being the topographical low point, the laws of gravity require the stormwater bioswale to be located there in order for the bioswale to collect and treat all othe water on-site. And the sizing of the bioswale is dictated by the amount of asphalt and roof surfaces elsewhere on site.

So while you criticize the design for the large "setback and expanse of bark mulch" that separates the building and patio from the sidewalk and street, realize that it's because of the necessity of compliance with government stormwater regulations, and not because of poor design choices. These regulations are fairly new, so expect to see more of the same with future development projects around town.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Frankly, I like the look. And the setback to me is also good because who wants to sit on the side of Commercial street and eat all that carbon pollution? This way you are back far enough to feel the outdoors and smell your food. This setback also gives you a sense of safety.

I have seen some outdoor eating areas along busy streets like on 17th and Center, but there they have to screen the street heavily and you can't hear yourself over the cars going by.

It would be nice to have a bit more grass over the bark dust...but maybe that will come over time.

Curt said...

I agree with the critique. The wall on the Alice side is underwhelming and doesn't make the walk very interesting.

I think Ben is right about the swale. Portland has had these regulations in place for many years now. It doesn't seem to impact the overall design of the infill developments there regarding the integration with the sidewalk. Most are not required to provide on site parking. So that would reduce the footprint and reduce the size of the bioswale.

Its OK. The ordering area is kind of a cave. The seating area is very nice though. Very bright and airy. Hawthorne St in Portland has a lot of road noise too. I think it is offset somewhat by the amount of people out on the street. There is enough human activity on the sidewalk that you don't focus on the car traffic as much. That is the real appeal of sidewalk dining to me--people watching and seeing neighbors and such. Commercial St. doesn't offer anything like that so outdoor dining doesn't appeal to me much. I don't like the Lifesource patio either. Just staring out at a treeless sky over an ocean of windshields with the roar of Commercial St. in the background is not appealing.

Can't complain too much though. At least its one place in Salem where I can order a half dozen fresh bagels with a tub of cream cheese and not get confused looks. I have tried to make other places downtown work for me but they just don't get it. One of the many small things I took for granted in other places I have have lived.

The new patio at ACME looks like it has great potential. New bike racks and a pet friendly sitting area. Looks very unique for Salem.

Lee said...

I don't like sitting anywhere on Commercial. Ventis, LifeSource, French Press or wherever. They're all very unpleasant. This is one of my biggest complaints about Salem's establishments, lack of good outdoor seating or patios. I don't really enjoy most of the downtown outdoor seating either.

When I go out to grab a beer I usually go to F/Stop, because they have a decent patio that doesn't have 4 or 5 lanes of traffic speeding by and I can easily bike there. They don't have food though, which is a bummer.

Janet said...

I agree with Lee and Susann. There's no appeal for me in eating a meal with my chair up against the bumper of a parked car or facing an oncoming stream of noisy, smelly, usually speeding cars, any one of which could hop the curb or clip a corner. People who never walk along major auto corridors don't realize how noisy and smelly the experience is. Clearly, though, there are people here who don't mind it, as I see customers on the French Press patio all the time, yelling above the din. I don't patronize corporate chain restaurants with national advertising budgets so won't be testing the Panera patio, but at least it creates the illusion of safety and a physical buffer zone between cars and customers. A south-facing patio at the southwest corner of the building would have made more sense to me, though, as the bulk of the hideous building would probably have blocked some noise and fumes.

Janet said...

P.S. I love your posted example of a more human-oriented model for that stretch of Commercial. I think it's too late, though. It's a state highway (at least I think it is, isn't it?), the city has encouraged too much way-south development, and there's a shortage of options for high-volume commuter and commercial car and truck thru-traffic. I think the 12th-13th Street corridor would be a great candidate for this, though!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks, Ben. You are right that the note could be improved with more on the recent changes to stormwater detention requirements. "Swale" was shorthand to invoke this, and it wasn't clear enough by itself. Thanks for expanding on this and to Curt for yet more.

It's also true that I don't know the extent to which this swale solution was a design choice or the result, as you suggest, of relatively inflexible new policy/code. Especially if it is the result of narrowly written code, I hope that we can iterate with new design standards after we see a few more of these. I think the way the building faces don't greet the sidewalk directly is not successful, and that we will need to find better ways to place swales in relation to the sidewalk and building edges.

To Curt's point, the Alice side looks a lot like the way things were handled on the West Salem Clinic, also by CB|Two. Both of these buildings don't relate very well to the street and sidewalk, and the strip of bark mulch a common design element.

Perhaps I failed in tone, but what I wanted to express was that this project represents meaningful progress and is a step in the right direction, but isn't a fully formed template or design solution - whether that's because of code or because of voluntary design choices.