Unfortunately it has what look like some holes, and while elements from it might be incorporated into a winning proposal for reconfiguring our downtown streets, if it is considered at all a "final" concept, it still could benefit from some refinement.
There's no Family-Friendly Biking Yet
|Court Street Concept, June 2013|
|Channelizing on Liberty/Commercial|
|On Oakland Street in SF, a Planter protects a bike lane|
(via Green Lane Project)
The Approach to Street Furniture is Inflexible
|Curvy hedgey things atop brick planters|
Slowing down pedestrians -- changing point A to point B behaviors by interrupting long city concrete blocks with gentle green curves. Enjoy a variety of extraordinary plant material.But is too speedy walking really the problem downtown? And if it is, is the problem to solve that there's not enough barriers to deflect people or things to look at? Or is the problem that there are too many zoomy cars?
It's not always easy to discern the planter configurations in the drawings, but they look to be curved brick planters that mostly run perpendicular to the flow of walking. Since they won't be able to contribute to the carrying capacity of the sidewalk - and indeed explicitly are meant to "interrupt" - as permanent fixtures they may represent ornaments that waste the sidewalk space a little. On a smaller scale, they are a little bit of "ornamental emptiness." This piece does not actually look like something that really improves walkability. Maybe as more detail comes out there will be reason to reconsider, but I see this as something that clogs the sidewalk rather than enlivens it.
Lord & Schryver is an Awkward Touchstone for Downtown Design
"The general design of the project would follow the design principles of nationally renowned Salem landscape architects Lord & Schryver."
Overall this whole Lord & Schryver angle has seemed also a little strange.
|One of the early commissions, the large garden and grounds|
for the Jarman House by the Library
(via On the Way)
Moreover, the formal garden tradition had its roots in technologies and designs of 17th century fortifications - think about all the geometry of the box hedge - and with the aristocracy. Formal gardens are about war, power, and wealth. In general they are not gentle, soothing, meditative things! We might want gardens and greenery to be lovely and calm and nurturing ("Let the garden embrace you" remains the Conservancy's motto), but this particular tradition of formal garden is not primarily that, no matter how much we might try to reinterpret it today.
I know. We celebrate fancy buildings by eminent architects, and these were usually expressions of wealth or prosperity also. But the best buildings downtown are often on a second-tier, somewhat plainer ones that have proved more flexible. Our fancy City Hall was demolished. The McGilchrist and Roth buildings remain. There is a certain pragmatic plainness that we might want to consider more fully here.
Too much Parking
Finally, a real philosophical beef. The extra space from the auto travel lanes appears to be mostly allocated to auto parking.
|Parking detail on Liberty/Commercial|
The center median and its sidewalk will also encourage - even require - midblock crosswalks, formally striped, or informally and jaywalky. This detail would need significantly more thought.
The new parking in a center median is a move in the wrong direction, notwithstanding the allure of slower auto traffic and a reduction in travel lanes. This is not more peoplespace, but essentially remains carspace.
What about the Funding?
There is talk that because the Conference Center will soon be paid off, there could be a substantial pot of Urban Renewal Funds available to bond, up to $30 million.
As much as "street reform" is a passion here, what downtown needs even more is housing. Downtown really needs more market-rate housing, and it needs a judicious mix of affordable, subsidized housing so that downtown doesn't become just a playground for the prosperous.
I would prefer to see a comprehensive street redesign be part of the next road bond or other transportation package and to see the urban renewal dollars going more to support housing and ancillary redevelopment.
Maybe that's wrong, but housing really seems like the more urgent need for Urban Renewal dollars - and of course more people living downtown will be more customers for business, customers who are able often to walk rather than drive!
Overall a Good Starting Point
In the "streetscape" concept there is the start of some good ideas, but it needs more thorough consideration for what people on foot and on bike really need, and more consideration for how auto traffic and provisions for auto parking best fit. By providing more on-street car parking and by "interrupting" people walking on the sidewalks, it falls short of a new vision for our downtown streets. It remains a little autoist.
If the concept is a conversation starting point, then "hooray!" But if it's a final concept, then it needs more work.