Wednesday, January 29, 2020

New head of ODOT Public Transport Apparently Worked on Failed CRC

Karyn Criswell
via her Linkedin profile
ODOT today announced the
new leader for the newly-formed Public Transportation Division. Karyn Criswell steps into the role of division administrator February 1, 2020.

"We are excited to tap into Karyn’s experience bringing diverse interests together to forge partnerships that improve the public and active transportation system as an integral part of our state’s transportation system," said Cooper Brown, ODOT’s Assistant Director for Operations.

Criswell will oversee the passenger rail and transit programs administered by ODOT. This will also include things like bicycle and pedestrian programs and other transportation options.
On Linkedin, there's some disappointing information. A testimonial from an unknown coworker suggests Criswell was a propagandist for the failed CRC:
Karen and I worked together at the Columbia River Crossing project. She was part of the leadership team for the strategic communications and public involvements elements of the project. As such, she was a trusted partner and collaborator, with a strong understanding of politics at the local and state level as well as being very strong in written and oral communications. I would welcome an opportunity to work with her again and do not hesitate to recommend her for any position where critical thinking and good communication skills are needed.
On the surface, then, this looks like someone who might subordinate public and active transportation to ODOT's autoism and focus on big highway expansion rather than someone who would champion walking, biking, busing, and rail and act as a counterweight on autoism. She was also someone ODOT Director Kris Strickler would have worked with on the CRC.

ODOT's release, interestingly, does not mention the CRC.
“I’m excited to more fully integrate ODOT’s multimodal services within the agency so that our approach to managing the statewide transportation system includes more equitable access to public transportation, passenger rail, and bike and pedestrian options for all Oregonians,” said Criswell. “Enhancing these transportation options is key to several challenges facing our state including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, providing transportation options for our growing population, and managing congestion in our urban areas.”

Criswell has over 20 years of transportation experience in the private and public sector, with the last five years in various roles with the former ODOT Rail and Transit Division. She most recently led a team to develop and deliver the $200 million per biennium Oregon State Transportation Improvement Fund, a new state public transportation program created by the 2017 legislature. Prior to joining ODOT, Karyn spent 15 years in the private sector providing communications and planning consulting services on a wide range of transportation projects throughout the Pacific Northwest.
So, hard to say for sure. Maybe Criswell will be terrific, but there are caution signs.

BikePortland has a longer piece from December on the ODOT Kremlinology as Strickler reorganizes the agency. It seems clear that non-auto transport and climate are not, in fact, a big priority.

This will be something to watch, and as others comment, especially informed ODOT Kremlinologists, this post may be updated.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Vicks Leveraged Influenza Worries in 1920 Advertising for VapoRub

While we wonder what will happen with the new coronavirus, here in Salem later in February of 1920 there was a resurgence of influenza and the City invoked some quarantine measures.

February 26, 1920 (detail of near full-page ad)
A small ad, one-column wide typical in 1919, August 13th
More interesting is the surge of large, national advertising for Vick's VapoRub. Its sales had exploded during the epidemic the previous year, and now they were ready to capitalize on this next year's flu season.

Full page ad
With treatments for so many illnesses!
February 10th, 1920
The advertising touted it for a broad range of aliments beyond the flu, and dressed things up in a good bit of pseudo-science. It also drew on patriotic and military themes as well as racist themes. It's quite a package for a something of a patent medicine. (Like a goop, as it were?)

Monday, January 27, 2020

SKATS Considers Annual Work Plan, Still Struggles with Climate: At the MPO

While there are no big action items of interest on the agenda for Policy Committee at our MPO for Tuesday the 28th, there are a number of background regulatory, analytical, and administrative issues that show our autoism and on which we desperately need a course-correction.

Front page today in the Oregonian
On Emissions and Climate

Last week at the meeting of the LCDC (the oversight board for DLCD, like the OTC is to ODOT), staff briefed the board on the Statewide Transportation Strategy and Related Land Use Actions. The STS, you may recall, is about emissions. (Full meeting agenda and packet here. Recent previous notes on the STS here and here.)

Public comment on the Staff Report highlighted a serious omission: The Staff Report did not mention less driving and reducing VMT. Here's 1000 Friends on this.

1000 Friends say we aren't talking about VMT reduction
And more:

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Supreme Court Mystery Tree, EV Charging Station, Cherriots Smart Trips Marketing - Bits

A few notes that don't really fit in anywhere...

Last spring on a ramble by the Supreme Court building a mysterious tree seemed a little remarkable. Was it a Cork Oak or some other tree that had a story attached to it? It did not look like any native tree from around here, and seemed like it might have been a gift or the legacy of some gardener. Its twisty branching and textured bark stood out.

On the side of the Supreme Court - A Cork Oak?
(March 2019)
It looks like that question will remain unanswered.

Gone! Northeast corner where that possible Cork Oak was planted
The general building renovation apparently included many of the nearby trees, and they are nearly all gone now. That's a bit of a bummer!

Southeast corner with other stumps and trunks
Just down the street, the charging station for electric cars appears to be up now at the Capitol.

Friday, January 24, 2020

City Council, January 27th - Parking and Housing

On Monday Council will hold a formal Public Hearing on the proposed "missing middle" code revisions.
This code amendment revises the Unified Development Code (UDC) to update Salem’s design and other related standards for multifamily housing. The purpose of the amendment is to help meet Salem’s housing needs by removing barriers to the development of multifamily housing while ensuring that new development is compatible with neighborhoods.

The proposed code amendment would create more flexibility in how multifamily design standards could be met, create a new set of limited standards for multifamily housing projects with five to 12 units, remove three- and four-family projects from the definition of multifamily housing to ease the development of projects, simplify the review process for projects that cannot meet the City’s design standards, and reduce parking requirements for multifamily projects.
Because there are already processes for a subsequent round of amendment to code (between compliance with HB 2001, Our Salem on the Comprehensive Plan, and a Climate Action Plan), it has seemed best to adopt these as Staff recommends forthwith and to move on to planning the next iteration. They are "good enough" and we should not fuss too much over them just now.
Housing for people? Or housing for cars?
via PDXShoupistas
And in that next round, we have to talk about our Parking Mania more. Our public talk right now is dominated by the problem of homelessness. And if we are going to make real progress on housing for everybody, we have to reckon with the ways we have prioritized housing for cars over housing for people.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Surveying Themes in Criticism of Missing Middle Housing

Next week Council will consider the first round of changes on the missing middle code reforms. (See notes for January 13th meeting on the preview. When the Staff Report comes out, there might be more to say.)

Aside from feelings and fears about change, there are some arguments that circulate, and it would be helpful perhaps to name them more explicitly. This will be very partial and fragmentary, and I do not expect to "prove" anything. My hope is that more of the debate could be empirically grounded and less emotional, and that there could be more text and less subtext. So here are some more-or-less substantive themes in criticism of missing middle housing. Maybe you will be able to extend the analysis or, if you remain a critic of missing middle housing, maybe you can sharpen your criticism. Housing is complicated, there are bits we don't understand, and it's probably not very wise to be too dogmatic about it.

Models of Change

One of the biggest themes is there seems to be two models of neighborhood change floating around:
  • Abrupt and disruptive change linked to Big Developer
  • Gradual change and filtering linked to smaller developers
If supporters for housing reform have an idea of markets and of neighborhoods with a more "natural" rate of replacement and transition, critics see more disruption with an "accelerated" rate of demolition, replacement, and transition. Crucially, they see Big Developers as primary agents of the disruption. They draw a line connecting missing middle housing and Big Business. By contrast, Strong Towns and other reformers have a kind of successor to the Jeffersonian "yeoman farmer," and see small scale developers as the agents of more gradual change.

Eugene criticism of HB 2001

A Salem FB discussion

A Portland twitter thread on HB 2001
On the gradual theory, an old house might occasionally get demolished, but if a fourplex is built to replace it, that means there are now three new households not trying to bid up the price on three other old homes nearby. This is a selective thinning that creates a more healthy total neighborhood ecosystem.

On the disruptive theory, Big Developer comes in and just clearcuts old homes.

If clear-cutting is really a significant threat, then policies could be adopted to incent more gradual change or to make clear-cutting more expensive. Legalizing missing middle housing isn't itself the problem; any problem would be the sudden, catastrophic change from clear-cutting. Policy could address that. (But see at bottom for some evidence from right here that the threat of clear-cutting is overstated.)

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Study on Traffic Forecasting Urges Embrace of Uncertainty

Last week in a note about the Technical Advisory Committee at the MPO, I appended a brief note about a study on a favorite topic, "Traffic Forecasting Accuracy Assessment Research" from the Transportation Research Board.

That's a bell-ish looking curve with a bias to the left
The note was too brief, it needed follow-up, and a reader even offered a cranky comment in the absence of more discussion. The comment is dismissive and I am not sure it was offered in good faith, but I will use it here as a jumping off point.
What I find extremely funny about this post is adding a graphic from the city that forecasts biking and walking in 2035 and accepting it as a fact or accurate prediction,* but in the same post adding a graphic to show that model forecasts are not accurate but instead have a distribution (everyone who does forecasting knows this, its not a revelation!!!)

It appears that the author likes to rely on forecasts when it fits their viewpoints and biases, but rebuke forecast when it doesn't!

BTW - that bell-shape forecast distribution show that the majority of forecasts are within 20% plus or minus of the actual future volumes. I have no problem with that level of accuracy. How many people do you think can predict the Dow Jones Index 20 years from now within 20% +/-??
One reason the comment does not seem to be offered in good faith is that its assumed audience is a fellow forecaster or someone with similar knowledge. Of course "everyone who does forecasting" knows about a distribution on forecasts. Here I am not concerned with professional, guild knowledge addressed to other professionals. This kind of insider talk is not the issue. The relevant issue here is the outward-facing information, what public and electeds "know," and they see only a single number in a forecast.

Here is a forecast from the SRC, for example. (You can read a longer discussion of it, with references, here.)

2040 counts from a January 2019 SRC report
If those who generated the forecast understand there is a distribution and margin of error, they have hid it. The forecast as it was presented to City Council is full of false certainly and precision.

The claim here, is that this kind of forecast needs visible statements of uncertainty.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Ten Days in Jail for Tearing Down a Whites Only Sign in 1920

Rather than a soothing story as we head into the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, here is a more ambiguous one, a story of courage and righteous anger, but also peril and undue punishment, right here in Salem from 100 years ago.

morning paper, February 24th, 1920
Clear evidence of explicit segregation has not been plentiful, but some surfaces here in the post-war climate of 1920.*

Saturday, January 18, 2020

City Council, January 21st - Council Goals and Strategic Plan, part 2

In addition to a Climate Plan, there are several other items of interest at the Council Work Session on Tuesday. I started with the Climate Plan, and wish it were more emphatic and stronger, because I think it would provide framework for so many of the other issues. When we center climate in our policy analyses and debates, other matters and actions snap into sharper focus.

"slower driving" should be included here
It's also mostly about walking - sidewalks and crosswalks
Take the goal to "increase safety for cyclists and walkers to include missing connections for safe routes through the City."

(By the way, it's nice to see "walkers" instead of "pedestrians"! We could go further and say "increase safety for people walking and biking," so that the emphasis is on all people, who will throughout the day and throughout their lives use a variety of transportation activities, and not be limited to one only as some emblem of self-ID or affiliation.)

Just in 2019 and now the start of 2020, the traffic deaths involving people walking have nearly all been in marked crosswalks. The crosswalks have been no guarantee for safety. The death of two people biking and skating are less clearcut, but one involved excessive driver speed, and the other remains a little ambiguous, since the person biking is not able to tell their own story, and police were quick to take the driver's story.)
The Safer Crossings program is important, but it is small and, moreover, the bigger problem is with drivers. Even when we provide better crosswalks, drivers still make catastrophic errors and kill people. Conversely, when people walking or biking make errors, they get killed. We do not adequately account for the asymmetry, that it is always the person on foot who is more vulnerable and who pays the ultimate price.

Fuel subsidy is but one of the ways we subsidize
our autoism - via twitter
And an important element in improving aggregate urban safety is driving less and driving slower. A real Climate Plan will focus on driving less, and safety for people on foot and on bike fits easily under the master narrative of this Climate Plan.

Friday, January 17, 2020

City Council, January 21st - Council Goals and Strategic Plan: Slow-walking on Climate

Council meets on Tuesday (because of the holiday) for a Work Session on Council Goals and the Strategic Plan.

Dissent today at the 9th Circuit Court
(Judge Josephine L. Staton)
Is scoping first a dodge?
The Staff Report on a Climate Action plan is thin. It doesn't actually mention "reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Instead, it mentions only "practices, programs, and plans...aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change."

It also calls for scoping before actually embarking on a plan.

This is at least a little bit of a slow-walk. Maybe scoping is truly necessary, but altogether it reads like the City wants to do the minimum, to create as little disruption or change as possible, a bit of a Potemkin plan with more signalling than substance.

By contrast, the language recently announced from Barcelona is much more urgent. From Reuters:
The city of Barcelona has declared a “climate emergency”, setting a new target to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 through more than 100 main measures that will also help residents adapt to the impacts of a warming planet.
(Over the weekend there will be a little more to say on other items at the Work Session. Updated with link.)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Historic Landmarks Commission to Consider old Leslie Junior High

Just what counts as adequate "mitigation" for the demolition of old Leslie Junior High is on the agenda tomorrow night the 16th at the Historic Landmarks Commission.

Leslie Junior High School, 1927 - 1937 (2014)
The Staff Report calls the demolition a "Level Three Adverse Effect" and summarizes what is required. The HLC will evaluate the School District's proposal and decide whether to write a letter of support, to write a letter of concern or outright opposition, or to be silent. The HLC has no formal approval function, however.

Mitigation for Loss of Leslie Junior High School
The District proposes to
create a video to memorialize and document the history of the building and site. [The District] will also include educational information on site inside the new construction, such as a display panel. Your organization is invited to participate in the memorial project. Some ways to particpate include [etc.]
I read the tone of this as weird. It's like a form letter! "Your organization" is not very specific and it also looks like they are trying to offload responsibility for the project onto the HLC. It does not seem to be a very thoughtful overture.

It will be interesting to see if the HLC has a similar reading or otherwise has any criticism.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Reviving Interest in Bike Counts: At the MPO

The Technical Advisory Committee for our local Metropolitan Planning Organization meets on Tuesday the 14th. There is no great substantive matter on the agenda, but maybe a few things to note in passing.

Are we going to get serious about bike counts?!
(Minutes from the last meeting)

2008 bike count map
(not in meeting packet)
In the heady days of the late aughts and early teens, it seemed like we were in the middle of a fourth bike boom and that this one would have traction, would blossom into broader transportation change, and that bike subcultures would grow into the wider culture. Part of that optimism was an attempt at an annual volunteer bike count project.

(Here are reports on the 2008 and 2011 counts, and all notes on bike counting.)

In the trivial sense that the count project generated data, it was successful. But it was difficult to sustain in an on-going way. The City did not seem very interested in using the information to leverage more bike lanes or inform transportation planning. It remained very fringey. The struggle to adopt the TSP update, "Bike and Walk Salem," was also dispiriting. And of course the City's focus on the SRC revealed their real priorities.

So the count project just seemed like wheel-spinning and something ornamental for "box-checking" purposes. Without progress and real enthusiasm from the City, it was difficult to retain volunteers. Volunteers need to have purpose and to feel useful! Why are they giving their valuable time and effort?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

City Council, January 13th - Multi-family Housing Standards and Sneckdown Alert

Probably the informational report on car camping programs will get more attention at Council on Monday, but it's the proposed multi-family housing standards that we will talk about here.

I am not sure it is important to dwell on it, however. The plan has things that could be improved, but compliance with HB 2001 will require a whole new set of code amendments, and it would be easy to implement fixes to this proposal at that time. So I am not inclined to fuss too much over this.

Final summary

Page 2/2

Saturday, January 11, 2020

America's Greatest Women in 1923 and Women of the Century Project

The Statesman and its greater media empire are running an interesting "Women of the Century" project.
USA Today Network will name 10 American women from each state and the District of Columbia who've made a significant difference in the world as Women of the Century.

The Statesman Journal is coordinating Oregon's part of the project.

We'll assemble an expert panel to brainstorm candidates and consider public nominations.

You can get started nominating women at usatoday.com/womenofthecentury/.
They're focused on the 19th amendment and women who lived and were active after 1920.

Coincidentally, the National League of Women Voters' selection for "America's Greatest Women" in 1923 turned up recently, and it is interesting to consider in light of the contest.

May 13th, 1923
Most of us probably know only two names, Jane Addams and Edith Wharton. The others have faded and are all in the domain of specialist knowledge at this point. (Maybe you will know more about one or more of them?!)

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Our Salem Visioning May be Limited by Autoism and our Busy Streets

The City and consultant team have published a long summary of the fall visioning exercises.

I think they are too zoomed out to be really useful, but as a kind of snapshot, maybe they tell us some things.

These neighborhood hubs sure cluster along our major arterials
And one of the things they disclose is that we are still limited by autoist patterns and major arterials.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

City First Zoned in December 1926, Appealed to City Beautiful Concept

May 10th, 1927

Front page, but a small piece
December 21st, 1926
Though it was front page news, the actual zoning ordinance and map did not get much of a headline or even a very long notice. In December of 1926 the City passed Salem's first zoning law, and neither the paper nor the public seemed to pay much attention. This level of coverage seems disproportionate to the hullabaloo it had earlier occasioned.

New Commissioners

Back in the summer, on August 2nd, the Mayor appointed a whole new slate of Commissioners to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

One of our old friends, a candidate for the originator of the "third bridge" concept, Hedda Swart, was among them. I am not sure if he was a traffic engineer with the Highway Department yet, but on the surface it is easy to see him as a substitute for Conde McCullough.

Mid-month they elected officers and started work.

Scooters at CATC Tonight

The Citizen Advisory Traffic Commission meets tonight the 8th to talk about a left-turn restriction on 12th Street at Cannon Street.

12th & Cannon SE - note "no left turn" sign below posted speed
I don't know anything about this, and maybe more will surface. CATC is one of those secondary committees for which the City hardly publishes anything - no meeting packets, no printed minutes or other notes, usually just the barebones agenda.

This is right at the Wye where the 12th/13th couplet splits, there are some other driveways and small streets, and it's complex and messy.

(Not really affected by the proposal, but in the area, the northbound bike lane here is not very comfortable, and drivers too often whip a right turn onto east-bound McGilchrist without yielding or checking properly to see if there are any people in the bike lane. That intersection is always harrowing.)

CATC agenda, January 8th
More interesting is the "e-scooter discussion." But again, there is no indication about any draft proposal or concept.

In the paper a couple summers ago
See "What Should the City do with Scooters?" and all notes about them here.

CATC meets at 6pm Wednesday the 8th on the third floor at City Hall in the Public Works Conference Room.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Traffic Violence was Bad in 2019 and even Worse in 1919

The numbers are superficially similar, 43 in 1919 and 49 in 2019. The number of traffic fatalities in Portland seems hardly changed after a century. But of course cherry-picking numbers like that hides so much more than it reveals.

War, death, and speed:
Aerial combat in World War I as trope for driving*
November 23rd, 1919
Yesterday the Oregonian published their year-end summary of traffic violence. Last year, a terrible year for traffic death, they note drivers killed at least 49 people.

Today on Oregonian front page
Exactly 100 years ago, for 1919 Portland newspapers reported drivers killed 43 people, "an alarming increase over 1918" when drivers killed 28 people.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Speeding Driver Kills Jaime Le Ann Hall on Skateboard Friday Night

A person apparently speeding and making an unsafe pass of another car struck and killed a person on skateboard late Friday night.

The investigation developed very quickly, and the paper published a relatively complete story before the Police published a press release on their flash alert public wire:
A Salem man was charged with manslaughter and DUII after he allegedly struck a skateboarder with a car Saturday in northeast Salem.

Salem Police officers and medics responded to a crash around 2 a.m. in the 600 block of Hawthorne Avenue NE where they found a woman dead at the scene.

The suspect, Javier Luevano-Plascencia, 23...was later arrested at the police department after consenting to a blood and urine sample.

The victim was identified Monday as Jaime Le Ann Hall, 42, of Salem...[who] was crossing the street on a skateboard.

According to the probable cause statement, a witness told officers he was driving south on Hawthorne Avenue when the suspect passed him on the left "at a high rate of speed" and struck the woman
Note the active verbs and concrete driver: "he allegedly struck a skateboarder with a car." Also nothing about whether Hall had a helmet or was illuminated like a Christmas tree. This is the right way to report things. It may be in no small reason because charges have already been filed and the initial assignment of blame was unambiguous.

(And 2am on Saturday morning is like last call on Friday night, so I take this as part of Friday night rather than "very early Saturday morning.")

(Updated: Front page on Tuesday the 7th)
Maybe more will be reported, and if so this will be updated. But this initial phase looks whole.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Before Department of Energy, Berg's Market Used Howard Street Charter School Building

The new site for Howard Street Charter School is almost finished.

Howard Street Charter School almost finished (December 2019)
via FB
The school says
See you on Monday at 3pm for our Ribbon Cutting ceremony and public open house. Students start back Jan 7.
While the building's former use by the State and Department of Energy has got most of the attention, the site has an older and even more interesting history.

December 1st, 1946
It seems like a good time to revisit this. For the whole story, see "Veterans Hall Litigated, Abandoned Before Bergs Market at New Howard School Site."

New Grocery Store - July 12, 1955

Friday, January 3, 2020

Apartments on former State Hospital Site at Planning Commmission

On Tuesday the 7th the Planning Commission will consider the latest site plan review for 246 apartments at the North Campus of the State Hospital.

Apartment blocks in blue; private drive and parking lots
off cul-de-sacs; single detached homes line D and Park
I'm having a hard time thinking about it, though. This will just be a shallow overview, therefore.

I thought we were done with WWI
June 29th, 1914
The Staff Report is also a little confusing.

Staff Recommendation is not strong and gives two choices
Initially it recommends denial, but then says, but if you don't want to, that's ok, and here's an alternative.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

After Zoning Tax Fails at Ballot, Zoning Commission Quits in 1926

Before the City could be zoned in 1926, there was drama.

June 22nd, 1926
On June 21st in 1926, all of the Planning and Zoning Commission resigned:
the resignations declared that the "comprehensive bridge program," and activities formerly planned had become impossible following the refusing of the public on May 21 to grant $15,000 for expenses and expert engineer service.
In some of April and throughout May there had been lots of press and discussion about zoning and planning. In April Council had taken the Commission's request for funding and referred it to the voters. Some wanted a "do not pass" recommendation even. Passage was never a sure thing. A Letter to the Editor on May 19th explicitly talked about the values of a walkable neighborhood, the threat to the corner store, and the centralizing tendencies of zoning. (The writer also wanted a nearby garage and filling station. We may return to it, as an example of transition.)

The issue the previous day, on the 18th, had several articles in discussion.

May 18th, 1926
On the election of Friday, May 21st there were four funding items on the ballot:
  • A tax levy to provide $5000/year for three years to fund the Zoning Commission's work.
  • $30,000 in bonds for a fire truck and other fire equipment.
  • A tax levy to provide about $30,000/year for bridge construction and maintenance.
  • A tax levy to provide about $22,000/year for street work.
The Election season was strange by our modern standards. There had been a separate school election for the purchase of the future Leslie Junior High School just a couple of days earlier on Wednesday the 19th. Of the four on that Friday, only the fire department bond measure passed.

But less than the politics of the proposed tax levies themselves, it's the underlying planning matters that remain interesting today.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Roll into the New Year with a Helpful New Law

January 1st, 1920

From June earlier; the law passed
Others have written about the safer stopping law better than anything possible here.

See especially at BikePortland:
And for a New Years Resolution, support our 350.org chapter as they advocate with the City for a Climate Action Plan with teeth: Actionable policies, assessment criteria, and real consequences.