All this week we'll be reading praise and glory for the Kroc Center. It's a gem, a show piece, a feather in the city's cap. The effort that went into winning the center and into fund-raising is just amazing. Nothing can diminish that.
But the project's not done yet! There's still work to do. Can we talk honestly about its siting? Land appropriately priced and sized is limited, and maybe the site they chose was the best available.
But why wasn't more thought and funding given to making the site accessible and safe for kids and others who might not be able to drive? There is much talk about the value of physical activity, but the idea that some of the physical activity might come from walking, biking, or skateboarding there seems foreign to too many. Moreover, the population for whom the center is designed is also the group least likely to own a car. There are many for whom biking or walking is the only affordable transportation.
The site is in an industrial wasteland! It's bounded by the Salem Parkway, the rail line, Portland Road, Cherry Avenue, and Hyacinth. Highways, rail, or busy roads, all of them. Manufacturing and logistics dominate the business base.
Things change, of course. The site also has the potential to be beautiful. On the north and east, a Claggett Creek restoration project promises wildfowl and flowers. But the area is still dominated by industry. Traffic speeds by, glass and metal and gravel litter the sides of the road. This is not a place a parent would send a child to walk or bike. This is a destination to which a parent must drive their child.
As you approach from Salem Industrial Drive, you see no sidewalks or bike lanes. Metal scrap heaps and high fences line the way. Large trucks dominate the width of the road.
Soon the center comes into view. A bike lane has appeared. But making the left turn into the center is impossible. No cars or trucks pause long enough to make the movement left out of the bike lane safe. Traffic moves at arterial speeds, not residential speeds. And they don't wait for pedestrians or bicycles. Why should they? Are any crosswalks marked? The pavement markings mostly disregard pedestrians.
Once you cross the moat and enter the compound, there's tons of bike parking. About half the parking is sheltered, all of it is near entries, and it looks to be well-lit and visible. Except for the wave racking, which is generally discouraged now, the parking looks exemplary. By Salem standards, this is first-class, maybe best in class.
In addition to this rack, there are 4 others spaced around the building. Anywhere that you'd want bike parking, there is bike parking.
(The one by the weight room looks to be installed a little close to the wall - but I didn't have a tape measure.)
But to what end is all this terrific parking? Who is going to bike there?
One parent I talked to, a member of the Salem Bicycle Club, said that he couldn't imagine biking out here. Even adults, he said, would find it intimidating. Another parent, who had taken her child out to the center a few days ago, also said that she thought traffic was too busy, trucks too big and fast, shoulders too narrow, and road edges too full of glass and metal shards.
Crossing the Parkway is also a huge structural problem. (In another post soon we'll look in detail at crossing the Parkway.) Keizer has been looking at a bridge over the Parkway and rail line. Apparently it got hung up, in part over the $2M+ price tag.
Crossing Portland Road is not much better. The approach from this way is slightly better because the bike lane on the right will lead directly to a right turn into the property. Still, few people find biking on Portland Road pleasant, and parents will not send their children there.
The Kroc Center is glorious, and we should all spend some time celebrating it. But after a bit, the community will need to roll up its sleeves again and figure out how to connect the Kroc to the neighborhoods surrounding it. Until it is no longer an island, the Kroc will be hampered by its isolation and kept from full flower.
Update - August 21st, 2012
From an SJ chat: