Saturday, April 30, 2016

Decomissioned Post Office Finds New Life as Funeral Home

The love letters will still come, only this time they're from the grieving.

Before: The Old Vista Post Office
No longer a dead letter office, the old Vista Post Office has been remodeled and transformed into a Funeral Home.

(Did you see that coming???)

Transformed loading dock: Awning cut out and turf added
The treatment of the loading dock is interesting. To open up the entry, they cut away most of the awning and the side walls. They also cut into the dock slab itself, laid turf in a well, and set a few trees in it.

On one side of the dock they poured a ramp and placed a staple rack under the eave. The ramp is probably mainly for wheelchair access - but it would work great for a person on bike to roll right up to the rack!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Performing our City: There's Something about Salem

A cut of the Chamber's "sizzle" video has been making the rounds. You've probably already seen it. It looks great. Does anyone basically not love it on a first impression?

But it's important to remember there is also a sense that it was conceived almost as a substitute for evening and weekend transit. There's a coincidence there that is not so coincidental. Better marketing for Salem, not transit or other substantive improvements, is what the Chamber thinks is important.

Why support transit when you can commission
a "sizzle video"?
The video itself serves up an easy interpretation. As the pianist on the Elsinore's stage suggests, it's a performance. It's an attempt to "change the narrative" with a new script. I read the thing like a dating profile. It's a highly curated performance of one idea of the best of Salem.

So what version of Salem is it performing?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Return of the Parklet Idea Generates Discussion

You might remember a downtown night three years ago when folks tried to audition a parklet.

A Parklet with picnic table, hobby horse, and potential for fun

It was even permitted!

But the City shut it down anyway
For reasons that were never made fully clear, the City shut it down. Since then it hasn't been tried.

But over on the Facebook perhaps there is new interest.

And maybe this summer there will be strong enough interest to make a go of it again!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

I-5 Widening, Freight, Questionable Priorities: At the MPO Tuesday

Our local Metropolitan Planning Organization meets on Tuesday and they'll be formally adopting a couple of I-5 widening projects into our regional 2015-2020 plans. (Agenda and meeting packet here.)

They're not obviously "bad" projects per se, but they do show the brokenness of our process, the feebleness of our regulatory scheme, and misplacement in our current priorities. It should be easy to find better projects - but currently that's difficult.

Location for proposed I-5 widening
The two:
  • Add one travel lane in each direction to Interstate-5 between Kuebler Blvd. and Delaney Road. ($48 million)
  • Start the planning for widening Interstate-5 to three lanes in each direction from the Delaney Road (Battle Creek) Interchange south to Albany. ($3 million)
From the FASTLANE application on the primary project:
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) wishes to complete the widening of I-5 through the Salem urban area as described in the Final EIS. I-5 is a National Highway System (NHS) route and is also on the state freight system and the National Highway Freight Network. In the area of the project, the 2-lane section of freeway carries almost 58,000 vehicles daily. Of that total, over 22% are single unit and multi-trailer trucks. Due to traffic volumes and grades in the area (5-6% in some locations) which slows large trucks, this section is subject to frequent congestion. Daily traffic in the project area is projected to grow to over 84,000 vehicles by 2040.

The proposed project includes the following elements:
  • Adding a third travel lane southbound beginning at the Battle Creek Road overcrossing and extending to the Delaney Road interchange including replacement an overcrossing of an off-ramp to Commercial Street that is not wide enough to accommodate a third travel lane (MP 248.41 – 250.32);
  • Adding a third travel lane northbound between the Kuebler Boulevard and Delaney Road interchanges including replacement an overcrossing of an off-ramp to Commercial Street that is not wide enough to accommodate a third travel lane (MP 248.41 – 251.53); and
  • Replacing the Battle Creek Road overcrossing (MP 250.32). It is not currently wide enough to allow three travel lanes on the freeway and has substandard vertical clearance.
The project location is illustrated on Figure 3. The estimated total cost for the project is $48,000,000. The FASTLANE grant requested is $20,000,000.
Since the funding is mostly coming from the new Federal transportation bill and comes from a set-aside for highways and freight, this is probably a "use it or lose it" situation. It's not like we could reallocate that money to a better project list. (See below for a little more detail.)

So there's a limit to the sputtering and complaining that is possible.

Nevertheless, there's probably a case for "lose it." It will not be possible to argue this in any detail here, and this will have to remain a suggestion. You may not therefore find it persuasive.

But we'd probably be better off calling a halt to major freeway widening. The benefits of widening are increasingly dubious, perhaps even bogus, and depend on faulty assumptions.

Friday, April 22, 2016

City Council, April 25th - Water Rights

Council meets on Monday and there's no new transportation item on the agenda. So let's start with a "hmm..." that is outside our interests here but yet seems important.

Salem's claim to water from the Willamette River
Council will consider whether to
execute a Purchase and Sale Agreement with the City of Hillsboro for the sale of 56 cubic feet per second of the City of Salem's Willamette River water right.
The Staff Report says "go ahead" and claims that
In addition to the 200 cfs water right on the Willamette River, the City holds a total of 239 cfs in water rights on the North Santiam River. The most recent long-term water demand forecast indicates that for the next 100 years or more, the water rights on the North Santiam River alone will be sufficient to meet the water needs of City customers. [italics added]

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bike More Challenge, Monster Cookie's 40th Anniversary open Wheeling Season!

It's here! This weekend marks the formal opening of the wheeling season - and the 40th anniversary of the Monster Cookie.

You've probably already been out enjoying the unseasonable and crazy 80+ degree days we've had, and though it may not enjoy quite the same warmth and sun the Monster Cookie is this weekend, Sunday the 24th.

Day-of-ride registration ($30) opens at 8am on the Capitol Mall Fountain.

It's a metric century - 62 miles - through the rolling hills of French Prairie out to Champoeg and back.

Remember Governor Geer, who rode his bike out to Champoeg on May 1st, 1900, to set in motion the establishment of the historical marker and now park!

Rebranding and Rescheduling the Bike Commute Challenge

Maybe this is news to you - but maybe it's not.

Earlier this month, the Portland Bicycle Transportation Alliance announced that they were making some changes to the annual Bike Commute Challenge.
The new and improved Challenge is for new and existing riders alike and it’s all about who can #bikemore during the beautiful month of May (National Bike Month)! And it’s even easier to win this year because every ride counts. That means participants will now be able to log their bike rides to work, the store, or just for fun. If you’re pedaling, it counts!
The change is great to see because clearly the old September BCC wasn't as interesting or as effective as it used to be. Fewer had been participating, and as an "Encouragement" activity, it wasn't encouraging meaningful numbers of new bike riders and scaling the right way. It's helpful also that includes errands and other trips and is no longer just focused on work commutes. Finally, the social dimension of it also better accommodates ride-buddies and other helpers and encouragers.

The thing's still mostly Portland-centric, but it can be adapted for local focus.

Some folks are working on some Salem-specific activities - and there may be more to report!

Check it out.

There are prizes!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Free Parking at the Library Could Cost about one Staff FTE

Let's talk a little about free parking at the library, since is a small issue in our campaign season.

One of the candidates for Mayor says:
visitor parking at the city library ought to be free. We should put community literacy above parking meter income. Free library parking is a service the city should provide to honor its citizens.
How about a sidewalk so you don't have to push a stroller
through the driveway?  Other road users have more urgent needs.
"Free parking" sounds like a great idea, but our parking garages are expensive infrastructure and entail significant costs.

Free parking at the Library could also drain the general fund and take away from other important needs.

Free parking is also a move that encourages more driving rather than less.

As a total proportion of the budget, free parking at the Library's not probably that big a deal, though it's far from free - but as a sign of our commitments, it would be a move in the wrong direction.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Bike Parking at Gaiety Hollow is Substandard, may not meet Code

Gaiety Hollow, the museum for the gardens and landscape architecture of Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, secured final approvals and opened this spring. They held their first formal public open house a little over a week ago.

One of the matters outstanding had been the dispute over bike parking. On an appeal the Hearings Officer ruled against the Lord & Schryver Conservancy, and they elected not to continue an appeal. (For the history of it, spanning a full year, see notes here.)

So now we have some bike parking.

Frankly, it's awful.

If it is deemed to meet code, whatever City process we have that allows something like this to meet code is strong evidence that we need to rewrite our bike parking code - as was envisioned in Bike and Walk Salem! - and perhaps even change the process.

If this is "success" for bikes, we should want no part of it.

New bike parking on east side of driveway and SRC 806
Comb and Toast
Racks - not
First off, it's an old-school wheel-bender toast rack. It barely accepts a wheel, and offers nothing by which to secure the bike frame. The narrow slot for the wheel also makes it easy to torque and bend the wheel itself - hence the disparaging name "wheel-bender." It has fallen out of fashion and professional groups like the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals do not recommend them.

The slots are also spaced too closely together and almost certainly don't meet City code for dimensions on individual bike parking spaces:

From SRC 806.060:
(c) Dimensions. Bicycle parking spaces shall be a minimum of 6 feet by 2 feet, and shall be served by a minimum 4-foot-wide access aisle.

Same model of rack on west side
does not appear securely fastened
There are two rack units, one on the west and one on the east side of the driveway. The one on the east looks certain that it also lacks a four-foot access aisle. Imagine trying to reach your bike with a car or truck parked there. The rack puts you and your bike also in the door zone.

Finally, the racks do not appear to be securely fastened to the ground. So they're pretty mobile.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Sleepy Hollow at End of Mission Street: Down the Memory Hole!

Earlier this week I mentioned "Sleepy Hollow" as a distinct place and historic name in Salem. It has been lost, and it appears that very few, maybe no one, remembers it. (If you know of any research or discussion of it, please add a comment! The usual suspects are silent on it.)

Sleepy Hollow area at the head of Mission Street -
The "hollow" between Gaiety Hill
and what is now Fairmount Hill
(1876 Birdseye view of Salem, Library of Congress)
This isn't at all a narrative or much more than a couple of scattered notes, but maybe someone can build off this. (If not, I'll try to get back to it sometime.)

Here's a couple of notes from Willamette Farmer, an early paper associated with John Minto. From 1875, so far these are the earliest mentions I have found. It would be surprising, however, if they were the earliest in absolute. Maybe buried in the Statesman there are earlier citations.

June 18th, 1875

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Defense against Developer Dark Arts: Historic Districts' Unpredictable Charm

A commenter recently criticized the use of the word NIMBY here, and they had good reason. It's not a very helpful word: It polarizes, simplifies, and stereotypes. At the same time, it does point to something real, an opposition to or fear of change itself.

The context for the word's usage was a discussion of change in a historic district.

With Fairview and the State Hospital percolating along, the recent Heritage Neighborhood designation for Grant and soon-to-be designation for SESNA, and the failure a few years back of a Historic District in the Fairmount neighborhood - all these together point to ways that our conception of historic preservation is problematic.

I want to suggest that a big part the problem is that rather than conceiving of historic preservation as a "bridge," a bridge linking past, present, and future, instead we have too often framed historic preservation as defense against "intrusion." And what that really means is an attempt to insulate districts and places from change. It's an exceptionally static notion of preservation and history, and in this it is often allied with a fundamentally NIMBYist notion of a city, a neighborhood, and their history.

We need a more flexible sense of historic preservation that values the past not so much as a bulwark against threats from the present and future, but more as something with value to bring into the future itself. Something that retrieves value and makes it bloom again: Preservation is a perennial, not an annual fixed and preserved in the amber and glow of nostalgia.

Purity and Danger in the Historic District

Gaiety Hill Bush's Pasture Park HD Map, 1986
The defensive rhetoric is most clearly seen in the 1986 nomination (126pp) for the the Gaiety Hill-Bush's Pasture Park Historic District:
Since the late 1970's, there have been no major intrusions within the district. Major intrusions have not occurred partly because of an economic slowdown and a trend toward residential upgrading and the desirability of living in the close-in, inner city neighborhood.

The major intrusions are along Liberty Street which serves as a major arterial to downtown Salem. These intrusions, which have been excluded from the district, consist mainly of medical offices and other commercial offices which are drawn to the area by its proximity to the hospital, downtown and landscape qualities of the area. The recent consolidation and expansion of the Salem Hospital adjacent to the north end of the district will exert tremendous pressures upon the historic district to make way for commercial expansion and demolition. Recognition of the historical qualities of one of Salem's few remaining close-in neighborhoods should help reduce this pressure....

Bush's Pasture Park contains one major intrusion. A 9-acre parcel of this property was sold to Willamette University in 1946 and now contains McCulloch Stadium and ballfields. Its location below the ridge line and isolation at the north middle part of the park significantly reduces any impact it might have on the integrity of the district. In addition, public improvements such as the tennis courts and playgrounds have been placed and controlled with sensitivity to the original pasture character of the Bush estate.
The rhetoric is all about defending the boundaries and about the purity of the interior. It's all about the threat of alien forms. It's totally defensive in posture, and defines itself against a kind of "other."

It seems like a clear instance of in-group/out-group definition and all the psychological dynamics that implies.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

In the Neighborhoods this Week: SCAN, Morningside, Lansing-NESCA

In the neighborhoods this week there is news about a possible new mural in Sleepy Hollow, about the Wilco store on South Commercial, and a reminder about the Lansing-NESCA plan.

SCAN - Wednesday

At SCAN, the minutes from the last meeting have a couple of interesting items.

Mural proposed for 1198 Commercial St SE
The Assistance League has proposed a mural for the north side of Encore Furniture. (That would be for the blank wall that faces the restaurant.) The building has lots of blank walls, so just about anything would be a small delight!

There was also news that the Hospital is going to sell the Everson House on the corner of Church and Mission Street instead of making it into a quasi B on B or temporary housing for institutional use. It's not clear whether the Hospital has grown tired of the neighborhood's criticism and decided it wasn't worth continuing with the project. Or perhaps they genuinely reassessed internal needs and realized it was no longer needed.

Friday, April 8, 2016

City Council, April 11th - Capital Improvement Plan

Council meets on Monday and the five year Capital Improvement Plan for 2016 - 2020 leads the agenda. (A better pdf of it is here. City CIP website here.)

Transportation is only 18% of the total
Utilities are 74%
Over on the Facebook, the City spins the CIP as if it initiates a bunch of new projects, when in fact it mainly compiles and coordinates them. It also minimizes the extent to which stormwater, sewer, and tapwater projects dominate.
Council will consider the proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) which, based on public input, would bring a number of bicycle and pedestrian improvements. For example, Central Salem is slated for the Union Street Family Bikeway as well as a bike lane conversion on Church ST SE (between Trade ST SE and State ST) and Streetscape improvement projects downtown. Northeast Salem would see a substantial improvement with the extension of Fisher Rd NE resulting in safer access to the Fred Meyer shopping center. The North Lancaster area would enjoy new bicycle lanes, new curbs and sidewalks and streetlights as Brown Road NE is brought up to modern urban standards. And, in Southeast, the widening of Kuebler Blvd. SE will include a bike land and sidewalk (from Commercial ST SE to Interstate-5). Also, tree-planting is included in every road improvement project we construct in the City of Salem.
Most of the "bicycle and pedestrian improvements" have been in the pipeline for quite a while, and do not represent some new responsiveness to "public input." You can see the dollar amounts in the "previous" column, which have been accounted for already in previous five-year cycles of the CIP. The Union Street bikeway phase 1a is another piece from a previous CIP. And the removal of dual turn lanes comes from the mobility study's recommendations formally adopted in August 2013. The downtown streetscape is a perennial topic, not at all new. I wish the City were less breathless and more impatient, more explicitly aware of how long people not in cars have to wait for things.

One way of looking at things (this chart not in the CIP)
On the whole it looks like there's a substantial chunk of projects that are helpful for people on foot and on bike. Here's a different look at them (chart not included in the CIP). Projects helpful are in green, mixed-bag in yellow, and unhelpful or mainly autoist in red. You might have a slightly different opinion on this or that project, but I think the overall split broadly shows the picture. There are no game changers yet, but because of the urban renewal spending downtown, there's a very pleasant density of incremental improvements there.

But you can still ask about this as a genuine "glass half-empty" or "glass half-full" moment.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Historian of Jay-Walking, Jay-Driving, and Autoist Triumphalism to Talk in Eugene

This looks like a great talk! From the email:
Where: LCC Downtown, Room 112 (101 W 10th Ave, Eugene)
When: 6.30pm - 8.30pm
When: 8th April 2016
In his book Fighting Traffic, Peter Norton writes
Motorists arrived in American city streets as intruders, and had to fight to win a rightful place there. They and their allies fought their battles in legislatures, courtrooms, newspapers’ editorial pages, engineering offices, school classrooms, and the streets themselves. Motorists who ventured into city streets in the first quarter of the twentieth century were expected to conform to the street as it was: a place chiefly for pedestrians, horse-drawn vehicles, and streetcars. But in the 1920s, motorists threw off such constraints and fought for a new kind of city street—a place chiefly for motor vehicles. With their success came a new kind of city—a city that conforms to the needs of motorists. Though most city families still did not own a car, manufacturers were confident they could make room for motor traffic in cities. The car had already cleaned up its once bloody reputation in cities, less by killing fewer people than by enlisting others to share the responsibility for the carnage.
The blurbage on the talk is brief, but it suggests the talk might be applied history - how to undo the autoist changes wrought in the 20th century.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Downtown Funeral Home to be Redeveloped as Drive-through Coffee Shack

Shoot. The former Barrick Funeral Home will be redeveloped to just about the lowest common denominator.

(Not an official rendering, for illustration only)
The building will likely be demolished, not reused
The City of Salem has taken a formal application and started a site plan review for a drive-through coffee shack of the most ubiquitous brand at the corner site.

The developers are masters of drive-through coffee it seems
Because of a drive-through configuration already on the property for loading and unloading coffins and the bereaved, there wouldn't need to be any new curb cuts or much change to the access flow. The sales flier had also advertised that it was in an overlay zone that permitted a drive-through.

For the developer that's a feature.

For the rest of us, this is a regrettable bug. Downtown has no business with any new drive-through enterprises!

But there is not likely to be any legal or administrative reason not to approve the project, so we'll have to live with it.

But if we want a more vibrant, more walkable downtown, drive-through, auto-oriented coffee is not the answer.

Moreover, the coffee shack represents erosion and flight from the core downtown area. It looks like this new drive-through will effectively replace the corner store at Liberty and Chemeketa that closed last month. So we go from sidewalk-oriented to drive-through. That's a distinctly retrograde move and a missed opportunity for something more vibrant on the corner. It will reinforce the autoism of Highway 22 here.

In the end, it's not a catastrophe, but it's not progress either.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Autoist Triumphalism tricks even Trained Professionals

You might have seen the note on Sunday about some informal oral histories-slash-interviews done in the 1950s for KOAC radio by the young Marion County Historical Society.

It's terrific the current instantiation of the historical society is digitizing them and making them more widely available. (Check out the youtube!)

This piece was about an interview in 1955 with Della Bradley Stamps (1884 - 1971) and her childhood recollections of growing up in Woodburn.

The museum's curator says
Stamps' family arrived in the Woodburn area in 1887, where her father...operated a repair shop for cars. It took me the next 10 minutes to realize the cars she was referring to were railcars, not automobiles.
I suspect it didn't actually take a trained historian the full ten minutes to tumble to the different sense of "car." This is likely a bit of folksy and conversational exaggeration.

But it is not unplausible that there was a bit of double-take on the two kinds of "car."

More importantly, the admission trades on the near certainty that the intended audience for the piece, the expected reader, will hear the word "car" multiple times in a discussion of the 1890s and 1900s, and still think of an automobile.

It trades on the narrative of autoist triumphalism.

And instead of this being a lesson in the ways we routinely misread and misinterpret history as it has been rewritten by the winners, it's normalized as comical accident.

This is a nit, not at all an important detail in the context of the story about the radio piece, but it is fairly central to interests here on the blog. It's one of our hobby horses.

We want to dethrone the automobile, and make it but one tool of many in the transportation toolbox, not the all-powerful master tool used to hammer every nail, hammer every screw, and hammer every cut.

This presentist moment of anachronistic interpretation illustrates the thoroughgoing nature of its current dominance.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Stuck with Posters and Slogans for Earthquake

Earlier in the week did you see the piece in the paper's "Holding Court" feature about the "Cascadia: Oregon's Greatest Natural Threat" series co-sponsored by SEDCOR?

Posters and catastrophe at Holding Court
The posters read:
  • Food and Water
  • Transportation
  • Energy
SECOR writes:
Could your business survive without electricity for 3 months? Experts agree that a major earthquake would likely cause critical services, like drinking water and sewer, and top-priority highways, to be down for up to a year. While there’s much to do to improve the reliability of basic services, the government can’t do it all. Every company needs to be prepared for the impacts of a severe outage of critical lifelines--fuel, transportation, utilities, communications, water and sewer--as well as the potential loss of data....

This series will give you the tools you need to not only prepare your business for disaster recovery, but to play a critical role in helping the community recover from catastrophe.

Business leaders engaged in the state’s disaster planning efforts have indicated that in a major disaster, interruptions of infrastructure lasting longer than two weeks will put their enterprises at risk. We can expect some interruptions to last much longer...even up to 36 months or more. Business leaders need to prepare their facilities, IT and data, and their valuable human resources now in order to be ready for a major catastrophe.
At first it seemed the series was a good idea and was pretty neutral, but now that they've had several presentations over the course of a few months, it seems possible that there is a politics here, as well.

One, unfortunately, that dovetails with the way the City is handling the Police Station debate and the Chamber's position on transit.

The message? You're on your own.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

City and County Lobby Feds for Salem River Crossing Funding

A reader sends along an interesting note.

Earlier this week, CFM Strategic Communications briefed the Marion County Board of Commissioners on the status of projects and funding in Washington, DC. (See video, this part of the presentation starts at about 37:30.)

Preparing the way for an ask of $430 million for the SRC
After the summary of the new FAST Act, talk turns to this year's agenda and future projects.

Unsurprisingly, one of them is a proposal for an earmark or allocation of $430 million, basically to fund the whole of the Third Bridge.

About 8 minutes into the presentation, it's true that CFM admitted the Salem River Crossing was "not quite ready for prime time, not quite ready for an application," as of course that can't formally proceed until there's a "Formal Record of Decision," which at the moment is not scheduled until the spring of 2017.

But you see the lobbying, preparing the groundwork. N3B had reported back in February that the Mayor was lobbying Representative Schrader for Federal help, and this is clearly an extension of that.

So as criticism of the Third Bridge has sometimes focused on the lack of a realistic funding plan, it is important to consider that if money were suddenly to appear, if the Feds decided on a large infrastructure program, and they did not also commit to a "fix it first" philosophy, and were instead lured by shiny new infrastructure projects, then funding the Salem River Crossing might start being a real possibility.

So from here it has seemed best to base criticism of the bridge on the fact that it is a bad idea, on the merits (or lack thereof), not that it was too expensive and "we can't afford it." Even if we could afford it, the proposed bridge and highway is harmful and wasteful.

If we base criticism principally on the expense, once it is no longer "expensive," then there may not be adequate basis for any other critique.

Other Notes on Priorities

It is also interesting that the slide for 2016 doesn't show any "ask" for seismic retrofits, doesn't show much about climate change or greenhouse gas reduction beyond the "concerns" about a "waste-to-energy" program. (Or anything for biking and walking, for that matter.) If earthquakes and climate change are two huge and likely catastrophes we know about, the legislative priority is silent on them.

Though it's not something we will pursue here, it should be noted also that CFM is apparently doing lobbying for the City of Salem, for Cherriots, and for the County. This consolidation and leverage is great for CFM, but it may not be great for the citizenry.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Fairview Addition has a House: It's a Foursquare!

The redevelopment at the former Fairview site is on the short-list for the most important project in Salem. And while the development in Pringle Creek Community is in some ways "greener" and more deeply committed to sustainability than what was proposed for Fairview Addition, in one important way the development at Fairview Addition is more interesting.*

Fairview Addition is less autoist and is more walkable.

The first house at Fairview Addition is going up, and you can already tell a lot about the direction for basic mobility and for the pleasures of walking in the built environment.

From Pringle Creek Road at the intersection with the new Strong Road, there's an old oak that looks like they're trying to preserve it as a great way to mark the corner. (Hopefully the soil scraping for the sidewalk did not go too close to the root system!)

And you can see the house in the distance.