Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jacobs On Old Buildings: New Ideas need Old Buildings

There might be no better set of buildings in Salem than these three to illustrate Jane Jacobs on building age.

Here the brand new, but expensive and empty, Rivers Condos; the abandoned 1911 D.A. White building; and the 1913 Boise Building, now the home of Normandy Guitars, stand side-by-side.*

On this map of the Downtown Historic District (full size here), only the Boise Building is inside the district - located in pink at the "FR" of Front Street. The tax lots for the White Building and the Rivers Condos, at the corner of Court and Front, are all outside the district. We will touch on this later, but Jacobs would likely argue that one of the biggest problems are the voids where surface parking lots have replaced buildings.

Just as Jacobs argued for multiplicity in route selection, so she argues for multiplicity in building selection. The contrast between Keizer Station as new construction of uniform age and Salem's downtown as a jumble of new and old construction of various ages illustrates her points.

In this chapter it is natural to think of our debates about forestry. Jacobs argues for a mix of building ages like the mix of trees in old-growth forests with secondary and tertiary understory. In both the mixture and diversity yields an ecosystem with the greatest resilience and vitality. And both are on-going and sustainable.

Old Buildings Incubate Entrepreneurs and New Enterprises
Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them. By old buildings I mean not museum-piece old buildings, nor old buildings in an excellent and expensive state of rehabilitation...but also a good lot of plan, ordinary, low-value old buildings, including some rundown old buildings...they need old buildings to incubate new primary diversity.

Only Chains and Established Enterprises can Afford New Construction
If a city area has only new buildings, the enterprises that can exist there are automatically limited to those that can support the high costs of new will see that only operations that are well established, high-turnover, standardized, or heavily subsidized can afford, commonly, to carry the costs of new construction. Chain store, chain restaurants, and banks go into new construction. But neighborhood bars, foreign restaurants and pawn shops go into older buildings. Supermarkets and shoe stores often go into new buildings; good bookstores and antique dealers seldom do....hundreds of ordinary enterprises, necessary to the safety and public life of streets and neighborhoods, and appreciated for their convenience and personal quality, can make out successfully in old buildings, but are inexorably slain by the high overhead of new construction....Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.
It should not be surprising that a manufacturer of aluminum hollow-body guitars might find an older building attractive!

Conversely, as of this June 2009 map and list of stores at Keizer Station, with the possible exception of the OSU Fan Shop, all of the stores were national chains.

From the Delta to the Sustainable Forest: Old Growth and New Understory
Even the enterprises that can support new construction in cities need old construction in their immediate vicinity. Otherwise they are part of a total attraction and total environment that is economically too limited - and therefore functionally too limited to be lively, interesting, and convenient....when mingled building age is replaced by the economic rigor mortis of one-age construction, [it leads to] inherent inefficiency and consequent needs for forms of 'protectionism.'
Jacobs believes that building and development subsidies are generally overused.

"Flourishing diversity anywhere in a city means the mingling of high-yield, middling-yield, low-yield, and no-yield enterprises."

One potential problem with Salem's new proposed NCMU zoning is what Jacobs calls the problem of "the corner grocery gimmick." This entails some token ground floor retail, typically a lone corner grocery in otherwise homogeneous new construction. It is faux diversity.

Further Thoughts
In many ways this was the most provocative chapter. While many of us are fans generally of historic preservation, Jacobs' emphasis on diversity in the age of buildings means she probably would not support an excessive attachment to retaining unchanged a neighborhood whose buildings were of a uniform age. At some point rigor mortis would set in.

But her move also frees her to advocate for an essentially market-driven argument in favor of preservation - new small entrepreneurs need old buildings. Historic preservation is also an economic development strategy, which does not rely merely on tourism or aesthetics.
If such an area [with older buildings, but otherwise not lively] is examined to see which of the other three conditions for generating diversity are missing, and then those missing conditions are corrected as well as they can be, some of the old buildings must go; extra streets must be added, the concentration of people must be heightened...but a good mingling of the old buildings must remain, and in remaining they will have become something more than mere decay from the past or evidence of previous failure.
The old buildings have a sort of communal sweat equity no amount of planning or subsidy can provide.
The economic value of new buildings is replaceable...but the economic value of old buildings is irreplaceable at will. It is created by time. This economic requisite for diversity is a requisite that vital city neighborhoods can only inherit, and then sustain over the years.

The strand of free-market conservatism or libertarianism is unexpected and fascinating here! Jacobs is against utopian planning and the market subsidies apparently too often necessary to prop up that planning. She shows cultural and social progressivism with a kind of libertarian conservatism. On the surface this is almost like old-school Oregon progressive Republicanism! Salem's current culture is in many ways the opposite: Social conservatism with urban renewal and market subsidies.

Maybe things like a relaxed noise ordinance; a real mix of downtown housing for a real mix of incomes ("workforce housing"); improved transit, bicycling, and walking access; and the like will encourage new entrepreneurs, encourage night life and a more diverse mixture of street users, thereby accomplishing the business development that Urban Renewal Districts have not yet reliably performed.

*Though it is not really directly relevant, in an indirect way the ownership of the two older buildings also make the point. V. Green notes in a comment that the White building "is owned by Margaret Furlong who also owns the Manning & Boise buildings on State Street." The Manning building is across the street from the Boise building, and houses Furlong's bisque porcelain ornament business. It should not surprise us that the small, essentially quasi-artisanal, manufacturing enterprises behind aluminum guitars and bisque ornaments find homes in old buildings!

Now if we can just find some enterprise for the White building! One of the problems, of course, is busy Front Street and the way it and the railroad together operate as a moat dividing downtown proper from Riverfront park. Front is designed to convey people past these buildings and past the waterfront - not designed to make connections.

Friday, July 30, 2010

OMSI First out with Sanyo Solar eBike Charging Station

Via BikePortland comes news that OMSI has installed a solar charging station for eBikes and eVehicles.

From the release:
Through a collaborative effort from the SANYO North America Corporation (SANYO), InSpec Group (InSpec), and Portland General Electric (PGE), the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) has installed a solar canopy charging station to service electric cars, e-bikes, and most portable personal electronic devices. The solar charging canopy marks the first such installation in North America aiming to provide a solution for the increasing use of alternative transportation. The canopy is now available for public use....

The solar canopy has been installed in OMSI's south parking lot and is large enough to cover 3 standard-sized parking spaces for automobiles. It features weatherproof lockers, each with 120V AC outlets, with two of the lockers serving as charging mounts for the SANYO ‘eneloop bike' Synergetic Hybrid Bicycle, a pedal-assisted hybrid electric bicycle. Additionally, beneath the canopy there is a bicycle rack for bicycle parking.
Sanyo also gave OMSI three bikes. Photos of the installed station can be seen in the BikePortland article.

Willamette University and the City of Salem had had some conversations about a charging station, but multiple considerations suggested it might not yet be practical, among them being variety in transformer/charging packs across different manufacturers.

It will be interesting to follow the use of the station at OMSI and to see whether such a station can be duplicated elsewhere.

Sanyo Solar has a factory in Salem, and some had hoped Salem might be first to roll out a charging station.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Short Blocks Nurture Mixing and Diversity

Jane Jacobs looks at the circulation of people like a biologist or hydrologist might see the flow of water. She uses fluid imagery and sees the messy vitality of the delta rather than the simple order of a man-made ditch as her paradigm. Her point is easy:

Long Blocks Entail Monotony and Simplicity

Long blocks yield
endless stores and a depressing predominance of commercial standardization...there is geographically so little street frontage on which commerce can live, that it must be consolidated, regardless of its type or the scale of support it needs or the scale of convenience (distance from users) that is natural to it. Around about stretch the dismally long strips of monotony and darkness - the Great Blight of Dullness...this is a typical arrangement for areas of city failure.
Long blocks also mean people
are kept too much apart to permit them to form reasonably intricate pools of city cross-use...they sort people into paths that meet too infrequently, so that different uses very near each other geographically are, in practical effect, literally blocked off from one another.
Here she uses an image of fertility and explains why the generative power of city streets requires complexity and not simplicity:
Long blocks, in their nature, thwart the potential advantages that cities offer to incubation, experimentation, and many small or special enterprises...[they] also thwart the principle that if city mixtures of use are to be more than a fiction on maps, they must result in different people, bent on different purposes, appearing at different times, but using the same streets....

[I]t is fluidity of use, and the mixing of paths, not homogeneity of architecture, that ties together city neighborhoods into pools of city use, whether these neighborhoods are predominantly for work or predominantly for residence.

Jacobs observes that short blocks offer multiple paths to a given point, and that this ostensible inefficiency, the variety in route selection, is actually a profound source of generation, novelty, and creativity for a city district.

Salem's downtown has short, square blocks. This detail is from a 1917 USGS quad.

Street grids are surprisingly efficient at allocating traffic. Because there are multiple paths (see taxicab geometry) between points, each individual can make a set of easy decisions about where to turn and how to get there. They also accomodate different kinds of traffic: car, truck, bus, bike, foot traffic easily. The sum of these individual decisions tends to be an efficient allocation of traffic. The invisible hand lives!

Here's the approximate area of the Sunnyslope zoning map but from the 1917 map. It was open farm and orchard land back then.

But starting mid-century, the quest for planned efficiency led to a ramified (or dendrite) model of arterial, collector, and local streets. In theory, such planning looked good. In reality, this planned network of streets exacerbated congestion, degraded neighborhoods, created sprawl, and instantiated the kinds of planning and market failures we deride in planned economies.

Here's the current zoning map. It shows the suburban-style long blocks with loop and lollipop street networks.

Fortunately, Salem has escaped the worst effects of this kind of development. Still, Salem's suburban-style fringes are not well suited for neighborhood diversity, for economic incubation, and for a post-oil future. It is likely that in 100 years, the old gridded part of Salem will be the most vital and enduring.

At present, however, Salem's downtown doesn't have all the other ingredients, and short blocks alone cannot guarantee vitality. We will see that Salem does better with the mixture of old buildings, but not so good with mixed uses and concentration. In fact, in the longer term, the greatest assets of downtown are its mix of old buildings and its short blocks.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Breakfast on Bikes - this Friday at Union St. RR Bridge

Summer is here, and there's no better time for Fuel-Free Friday Fun - how about Breakfast on Bikes!

Friday, July 30th, we'll be on the Union St. Railroad Bridge from 7am to 9am with coffee, pastries, and fruit for you.

Mechanics from Santiam Bicycle will also be available for quick check derailleur adjustment, lube, and tire inflation!

See you then!

Thanks also to our sponsors - please support them with your business!
Cascade Baking Company
Coffee House Cafe
LifeSource Natural Foods
Salem Bicycle Club
Willamette University Sustainability Council

(You can see how Marion and Center streets have a dotted green line in this bike layer from google. Our mapping project should correct this and highlight effective low-traffic routes!)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

City Council, July 26th - First Public Look at Bike Plan Process

Monday Public Works presents a report on the plan for the bicycle and pedestrian updates to the Transportation System Plan! This will be the first substantive public report on the project. A couple of excerpts:
The current Bicycle Plan places a major focus on building new bike lanes. The updated Bicycle Plan will go beyond an emphasis on bike lanes to develop innovating approaches to addressing the following special focus areas:
  • Accommodating all types of bicycle users, including entry-level, recreational, and other non-expert users who are not comfortable riding on bike lanes on busy streets;
  • Identifying downtown area bicycle routes and facilities that are more direct, convenient, safe, and comfortable;
  • Providing safe and convenient bicycle routes to schools; and
  • Improving bicycle routes to transit stops, especially to stops on major transit corridors.
About the Safe Routes to School plan, the report notes that
The School District's transportation system currently runs 218 bus routes per day...Last year district transportation reported a total of 2,867,568 student miles traveled with a total transported student rides per day of 20,0006. Of these totals, 23,980 miles traveled and 938 student rides per day were in hazardous walk zone areas. Many parents drive students to school even when they live well within the school walk zone area, adding to traffic congestion and vehicle trips.
It's encouraging to see these tied together and embodied in institutional rhetoric! Bikes are increasingly mainstream!

The Stakeholder Advisory Committee will be an important steering mechanism. The plan envisions a 20-person committee: 9 from public agencies (ODOT, DLCD, Cherriots, 24J, City of Salem, Marion County, Planning Commission), 5 from advocacy groups (Bicycle, Pedestrian, Elderly, Disabled, Schools), 5 from resident and business interests (including neighborhood associations, minorities, business owners), and a little discretionary fudge factor. (The numbers add to 19, not 20)

One area of possible omission comes from business: Go Downtown Salem, the Chamber of Commerce, and freight interests - though it seems likely that one or more members of these groups will be on the committee anyway.

Here is the Portland Business Association's critique of the Portland Bike Plan, and it might be good collaboratively to get out in front of some of these objections. (More on the PBA in a BikePortland article.) Additionally, we saw in Portland recently at the JPACT meeting how some freight interests didn't understand the ways removing cars from the road increases freight capacity and represented a more cost-effective approach than road expansion.

The steering committee may not be the right place to engage these interests, but it seems like conversation with folks having known objections might usefully start earlier rather than later in the process. It's important to have a plan with the political support for funding and implementation.

CH2M Hill and Alta Planning will be the consultants.

Better Biking: One-Quarter of Statesman's 20 Under 40 Want It

Today the Statesman released their Salem 20 under 40.

In interviews earlier, fully 25% of them talked about the importance of bicycling and wish it were easier to bicycle in Salem.

How great would it be if 25% of Salem trips could be made by bike! That's about 15 times what our current "mode share" for bicycle trips is, and that would very cheaply solve Salem's traffic congestion problems! It would also help with community health and climate change.

Clearly bicycling is more important to future community leaders than the current crop of leaders themselves think.

Anyway, a tip of the cap and helmet to:

Angela Yeager
Elizabeth Miller
Evann Remington
Kat Franken
Khela Singer-Adams

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kidical Mass Family Bike Ride Sunday; SJ Recognizes Ride Founder

From Kidical Mass HQ:
The next Kidical Mass ride will be this Sunday, July 25th, 2010. We'll meet at about 4:00 pm at Hallman Elementary School. If you're able, please bring non-perishable food to donate to the Marion-Polk Food Share. During the ride through the quiet Northgate neighborhood we'll pit stop at the new Northgate Peace & Forgiveness Community Garden and have a snack at the Marion-Polk Food Share warehouse and office.

And congratulations to organizer Kat for her recognition at the Statesman 20 under 40 fete Thursday night!

Read more about it in the Sunday paper!

Bike Racing Chief Writes Apology to Car Drivers and Talks about Sharing the Road

In the Wednesday Statesman, Kenji Sugahara, Oregon Bicycle Racing Association Director, wrote a public apology for the way racers and club riders sometimes cluster in a peloton that occupies an entire lane or more.
I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to any drivers who were inconvenienced one evening last week while driving on River Road S.

There were about 40 cyclists on the road and the group did not ride in a manner that meets the expectations of our cycling community.

We understand the frustration some of you may have faced while trying to get home from a hard day at work. We ask that folks share the road and, in this instance, we did not do our part.

It's a welcome return to advocacy for Sugahara, who has been busy with racing activities - so much so that he posted a "missing persons" ad on a milk carton on his blog.

The remainder of Sugahara's piece talks about principles to share the road for both people who bicycle and people who drive autos.

Comments on the piece are largely predictable, but the piece does point out what amounts to an institutional problem for bicycle riders who race and participate in club rides.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Keizer Rapids Park Needs More and Better Bike Parking

Keizer Rapids Park is already pretty sweet, and as it gets built out it's going to be a regional gem. Already the dog park, amphitheater, frisbee golf course, and trails are significant attractions. (Here's some history!)

Connectivity is a problem, as the park is walled off from the neighborhood by fences and private property, and the only street in is Chemawa, which even though it dead-ends is still a bit busy and narrow.

Fortunately, Keizer City Council just approved the final bit of planning for improvements to Chemawa that will include bike lanes and sidewalks!

Less fortunate, however, is the initial installation of bike parking.

At the Frisbee golf course it appears that at least during the summer there is steady demand for bike parking. This is taken at the trailhead and starting tee for the course. There's a gravel auto lot, but no bike parking.

Meanwhile, over at the amphitheater, an obsolete "wheel-bender" style bike rack has been installed! When there's no concert or other event at the amphitheater, bicyclists don't appear to be using this rack - with good reason, since it is not a good rack! (For more on good bike parking see the APBP Bicycle Parking Guidelines.)

The park's use will just grow and grow, and hopefully the City of Keizer can make it even easier to bike to the park!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Proposed Salem Heath Parking Lot Threatens Historic Bush Neighborhood

Back in the first flush of urban renewal and hospital expansion, Salem lost a bunch of great old houses along Oak Street to the east of the hospital. This is one of them. A couple were relocated elsewhere in the city, but most were demolished.

It's that deja vu all over again feeling!

Over at LoveSalem, Walker's got a note about one of the more important land use decisions facing Salem: What to do with the Blind School parcel?

You can see it in blue on the zoning map. Fortunately, it appears that a zoning change would be necessary. Interestingly, it is also just above the flood plain. (Check out the differences small elevations make in this photo from the 1964 flood!)

Walker's language about it is strong, and yet it is an important matter. What is most disconcerting is the disconnect between the hospital's mission to promote heath, and the ways our overreliance on drive-alone car trips systematically degrades health by encouraging transportation choices that remove physical activity from one's life and instead contribute to greenhouse gases and other toxic products from petroleum combustion.

Cars are an important transportation tool - no one wants bicycle ambulances or fire suppression trikes! But it is in all our best interests to create a transportation system that doesn't assume the drive-alone car as the default transportation choice for everyone.

A parking lot there would also remove historic properties that might be better and more sustainably reused, would adversely impact the livability of the historic Gaiety Hill Bush Park Neighborhood, and remove Church street as a low-traffic bike- and walkway.

In many ways a parking lot is not consistent with community goals.

It is not consistent with many of the Vision 2020 Action Plan goals:
Provide Places for People to Live and Gather
3. Develop new downtown housing

Create a Vibrant Destination
5. Offer more restaurants with outdoor eating for dining and gathering
6. Support performing arts venues, live music
9. Support more small, locally-owned shops and boutiques

Preserve and Enhance the Look and Feel of the Historic City Center
11. Highlight historic character of downtown
12. Create welcoming entrances for the City Center
13. Protect the character of the adjoining historic residential neighborhoods
14. Enhance pedestrian friendly, clean and attractive sidewalks and streetscape
17. Continue to rehabilitate historic buildings

Expand Options to Get About the City Center
18. Actively manage City Center parking resources
21. Improve bicycle facilities; add more bike lanes and pedestrian bike paths

Improve Connections to Parks, Creeks and River
23. Create more riverfront and creek side corridors and trails

Nor is it consistent with community hopes for more greenway space. A group of neighbors have been advocating for a series of greenway connections in the city, and this is also inconsistent with that goal.

Of course, a significant problem is that the State is strapped for cash and needs to monetize the parcel quickly. Haste will make waste, it seems here.

Surely better uses for the parcel can be identified!

We'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mixed Primary Uses: On Good Streets, People Appear at Different Times

The important thing to understand about Jacobs' thesis is that she believes too-quiet streets are boring, unsafe, and an economic bust: "On successful city streets, people must appear at different times."

She explained this in "social terms while discussing street safety and neighborhood parks" and now in chapter 8 "On Mixed Primary Uses" turns to its economic effects.

Multiple Uses Create Synergies
She notes that residents on a street and nearby streets can support "a modicum of commerce" by themselves. People who do not live nearby, but who work in the area, support an additional amount of commerce. She says that "we support these things together by unconsciously cooperating economically." Enterprises would not be able to thrive based on residential trade or commercial trade alone are able to thrive when these two populations combine. "As it is, workers and residents together are able to produce more than the sum of our two parts."
No neighborhood or district, no matter how well established, prestigious or well-heeled, and no matter how intensely populated for one purpose, can flout the necessity for spreading people through time of day without frustrating its potential for generating diversity. Furthermore, a neighborhood or district perfectly calculated, it seems, to fill one function, whether work or any other, and with everything ostensibly necessary to that function, cannot actually provide what is necessary if it is confined to that one function.

Daily Totals and Hourly Distribution are Distinct Matters
She draws a distinction between total daily numbers and their distribution. "Sheer numbers of people using city streets, and the way those people are spread through the hours of the day, are two different matters."

As we have had occasion to mention several times, the Capitol Mall and Civic Center are two instances where large numbers of people are insufficiently distributed because of single use and monoculture.

Even in downtown Salem, and even if the new condos and other new housing were fully sold, the numbers of people would be still too small to make a difference. More is necessary!

Waterfronts as Resource
Jacobs also notes that "the waterfront itself is the first wasted asset capable of drawing people at leisure." She thinks big. "Part of the district's waterfront should become a great maritime museum." She also calls for restaurants, tour boats, and other attractions. And she says that "there should be related attractions, set not at the shoreline itself but inland a little, within the matrix of the streets, deliberately to carry visitors farther in easy steps."

Front Street and Oregon Electric Rail Line together act as a moat that divides downtown from Riverfront Park. It's hard to get there, and there's a reason people drive cars to it so often. Front street also is not lined with business that draw traffic from the park or send people to the park. That matrix is entirely missing.

"CBDs" Embody Functional Analysis and Blight
She derides "central business districts" as "duds." "Most big-city downtowns fulfill - or in the past did fulfill - all four of the necessary conditions for generating diversity. That is why they were able to become downtowns. Today, typically, they still do fulfill three of the conditions. But they have become too predominantly devoted to work and contain too few people after working hours. This condition has been more or less formalized in planning jargon [as the cbd]."

(Photo reference and notes - Pringle Creek Urban Renewal Area.)

Vitality, Diversity and the City's Need for the Profane
Salem wants vitality without diversity. Jacobs answers that without diversity, there is no vitality.

This is why projects such as cultural or civic centers, besides being woefully unbalanced themselves as a rule, are tragic in their effects on their cities. They isolate uses - and too often intensive night uses too - from the parts of cities that must have them or sicken....

American downtowns are not declining mysteriously, because they are anachronisms, nor because their users have been drained away by automobiles. They are being witlessly murdered, in good part by deliberate policies of sorting out leisure uses from work uses, under the misapprehension that this is orderly city planning.

Jacobs goes on to discuss the San Francisco Civic Center, a development strikingly similar to Salem's Civic Center in the larger Pringle Creek Urban Renewal Zone, as well as the Capitol Mall area. Fortunately we haven't had the same level of blight, but both areas suffer from a decided lack of vitality and diversity:
Fourty-five years ago, San Francisco began building a civic center, which has given trouble ever since. This particular center, placed near the downtown and intended to pull the downtown toward it, has of course repelled vitality and gathered around itself instead the blight that typically surrounds these dead and artificial places. The center includes, among the other arbitrary objects in its parks, the opera house, the city hall, the public library, and various other municipal offices.

Jacobs concludes that "Every city primary use, whether it comes in monumental and special guise or not, needs its intimate matrix of "profane" city to work to best advantage." She calls this "jumbles to the simple-minded" and contrasts it with the "profane monotony" like housing projects and a "sacred monotony" like civic centers. (italics added)

(City of Salem Zoning Map 8309S, with annotations - click to enlarge)

Residential Areas also Need Mixture
She also notes that residential areas need diversity.
Residential districts lacking mixture with work do not fare well in cities....

Most city residential districts also have blocks that are too large, or they were built up all at once and have never overcome this original handicap even as their buildings have aged, or very commonly they lack sufficient population in sheer numbers. IN short, they are deficient in several of the four conditions for generating diversity.
Perhaps more than anything in Salem, the suburban style expanses of "quiet" residential neighborhoods yield monotony and dullness.

Here we have an example from the Sunnyside neighborhood, which we discussed earlier in some comments. It shows perfectly the ways that neighborhoods structured to be far from economic generators of diversity, and essentially to require automobiles and to hinder walking or bicycling.

Salem is working on some new mixed-use zoning codes, but it's not clear how robust these will in fact be.

(Next up: Small blocks)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

MWVBTA Meeting Tuesday, July 20th

The July meeting of the Mid-Willamette Valley chapter of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance is coming up! We'll be gathering next Tuesday, the 20th, at the Sassy Onion, from noon to 2:00 p.m. Please join us for the following agenda items, and any additional topics that you would like to bring to the table:

Fundraising and budget
SKATS TIP update
Updated bike map status report
Breakfast on Bikes
Recent City Council items (Safe Routes to Schools, noise ordinance, downtown parking)
Bike counts 2010
Salem bike routes signs
Bike parking infrastructure

If you are a member of the BTA, are interested in the BTA, or would just like to make Salem a better place to bike, please join us!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Doing Bridge Pedal? Like the Idea of Biking I-5 Car-Free? Join the BTA!

In Portland, Providence Health has been a huge supporter of bicycling. Their Bridge Pedal ride across the Portland bridges - even the Interstates, on the Fremont and Marquam bridges! - is one of the signature events in Portland bike culture. It's a chance to see the city in ways you never do. Even in a car, you just don't get these views! If you're interested in a unique kind of bike ride, consider Portland on Sunday, August 8th.

The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is one of the beneficiaries of the ride. With Providence they've put together a terrific membership deal: Save $25 on a first-time or renewal membership!
To get the discount:
1. Go to:
2. Click the link to register online
3. Choose the last option (Bridge Pedal registration/BTA membership package)
4. Accept the terms and conditions
5. Choose your ride and complete the rest of the form

As Salem's bike culture matures, we hope that Salem will grow into events like this and like Sunday Parkways. In the meantime, if you're looking for a family-friendly event in August, this one's pretty grand.

(Fremont Bridge, Bridge Pedal 2009: Jonathan Maus, BikePortland)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

On the Generators of Diversity: The Simple and Few are Withering

Chapter 7, and the four chapters that follow, are the center and pivot of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In "The Generators of Diversity," Jacobs makes her most ecological case for the benefits of diversity. In her chapter on block size she will use images that suggest a river delta; in her chapter on building ages she will use images that suggest a forest with old growth and new understory.

In every case, Jacobs argues that the generative power of a jumble vastly outstrips the creative potential of high-theory simplicity and order. Multiplicity and the many will always trump the simple, the neat, and the few.

Cities are Complex, not Simple
A thriving urban ecosystem requires multiplicity and difference. "Diversity is natural to big cities," she says.
A lively city scene is lively largely by virtue of its enormous collection of small elements....Big cities are natural generators of diversity and prolific incubators of new enterprises and ideas of all kinds. Moreover, big cities are the natural economic homes of immense numbers and ranges of small enterprises.
The diversity is economic, with different kinds and shapes and sizes of business, and it is also cultural, with equally multiple forms of recreation, diversion, creativity, and education.

Functional Analysis Over-simplifies and Kills
She starts with a critique of functional analysis.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of contemplating a city's uses one at a time, by categories. Indeed, just this - analysis of cities, use by use - has become a customary planning tactic.
We see this in the Transportation System Plan and its chapters. The Comprehensive Plan and planning code is similarly anatomized.

to understand cities, we have to deal outright with combinations or mixtures of uses, not separate uses, as the essential phenomena....A mixture of uses, if it is to be sufficiently complex to sustain city safety, public contact and cross-use, needs an enormous diversity of ingredients.

Economic Diversity is Key
An important part of the diversity, perhaps even the most important part, is economic. One of the reasons cities generate this diversity is the way clusters of small businesses can share the benefits of support services. Large businesses can be closer to self-supporting, and might generate enough business to consume the whole output of a vendor. A vendor needs a larger number of small businesses to sell an equal output. From the other side, small businesses can cluster to generate demand for a given service.

(Happily Jacobs doesn't use jargon. But over at the Oregon Economics Blog, the jargon for this, "agglomeration externalities," is explained without the addition of much more jargon in more detail.)

Size Matters
It's clear that Jacobs is talking about big cities, however. She says
towns and suburbs, for instance, are natural homes for huge supermarkets and for little else in the way of groceries, for standard movie houses or drive-ins and for little else in the way of theater. There are simply not enough people to support further variety, although there may be people (too few of them) who would draw upon it were it there.
Additionally, in towns and suburbs, people are distributed too sparsely, and "when distance inconvenience sets in, the small, the various and the personal wither away."

But size by itself is not enough. She cites the Bronx and Detroit as large failures.
Apparently there is no limit to the numbers of people in a city whose potentiality as city populations can thus be wasted. Consider, for instance, the Bronx, a borough of New York containing some one and a half million people. The Bronx is woefully short of urban vitality, diversity and magnetism....And if the Bronx is a sorry waste of city potentialities, as it is, consider the even more deplorable fact that it is possible for whole cities to exist, whole metropolitan areas, with pitifully limited city diversity and choice....

[Detroit] is ring superimposed upon ring of failed grey belts. Even Detroit's downtown itself cannot produce a respectable amount of diversity. It is dispirited and dull, and almost deserted by seven o'clock of an evening.
It is interesting that even in the 1950s and early 60s, the auto and auto industry had already failed Detroit (though of course other ingredients might factor into its blight as well).

The Four Indispensable Conditions
At the end of the chapter she distills her thesis into four conditions.
To generate exuberant diversity in a city's street's and districts, four conditions are indispensable:
1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two. These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common.

2. Most blocks must be short; that is streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.

3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close-grained.

4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there. This includes dense concentration in the case of people who are there because of residence.
The necessity for these four conditions is the most important point this book has to make....All four in combination are necessary to generate city diversity; the absence of any one of the four frustrates a district's potential. [emphasis added]

In the next four chapters, we'll drill into these four conditions. What in general we see in Salem is an attempt to simplify and neaten. Salem wants a lively downtown, but it wants only auto traffic, not transit, walking, or bicycling traffic. It wants quiet after 10pm. It wants "aimless" youth who congregate on the transit mall to go elsewhere. It wants a few large institutional employers, not many small entrepreneurial merchants.

Salem wants large chunks of uniformly textured stuff. It is not comfortable with a more kaleidoscopic chaos. Even though Salem might never get the size for real multiplicity, Salem can do more to encourage a creative jumble, a truly generative matrix.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

City Council, July 12th

Council meets on Monday night. Safe Routes, the noise ordinance, and parking are some matters of small interest.

Councilors Clem and Dickey will ask Council for a letter in support of a Safe Routes to School grant application for Hallman Elementary School. The funds would support a SR2S coordinator for two years.

Councilor Tesler wants to ensure that a revised noise ordinance will contain provisions for "entertainment zones" that will, among other things, help to allow an actual night life. This is not merely important for young people and night owls. It benefits everyone.

As Jane Jacobs points out time and time again, a diversity of street uses that sends different waves and pulses of people at different times on the street is the crucial ingredient in urban vitality and urban safety. Downtown needs this!

One item on the agenda is a request $500K from Urban Renewal funds for downtown parking garage improvements. These funds are for capital expenses rather than an operating expenses, but we'll treat them as one-time operating expenses for the moment.

Last month we saw that the Downtown Parking District would cost $1,131.25 per spot this year. This $500K spread over 2314 spots (also a simplified assumption; the actual number would be smaller, and the per spot figure commensurately larger) adds $216.08 per spot to the annual cost, for a total cost of $1,347.33 per spot this year.

That's over $100 per month!

With more reasons to visit downtown, encouraged by things like a revised noise ordinance that permits a more regular night life, it will in time be easier to end the artificial subsidy of auto parking. Salem needs a thriving downtown, not a dull one propped up by "free" parking! (We'll have more to say on this in some new Jane Jacobs posts.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

16% of the "20 under 40" Long-List Ask for Better Bicycling Opportunities

As if to answer The New Yorker's "20 under 40" fiction list, the Statesman is working on a Salem 20 under 40.

The paper published questionnaires for 51 twenty- and thirty-somethings and has been asking for community voting. As partly a popularity contest, the final selection may not necessarily represent the most interesting young adults in Salem. Nevertheless, it is a way to look at what readers of the Statesman, a self-selecting bunch these days, regard as important in the next generation of community leaders.

So the good news is that 16% of them talk about the importance of bicycling and wish it were easier to bicycle in Salem.

How great would it be if 16% of Salem trips could be made by bike! That's about ten times what our current "mode share" for bicycle trips is, and that would very cheaply solve Salem's traffic congestion problems! It would also help with community health and climate change.

The bad news is that 84% of them didn't think bicycling was important enough to mention, not even as something other people should do and as something the community should regard as an important part of a rational, sustainable transportation policy, properly responsive to the likely effects of climate change and increasingly expensive energy.

So what does this tell us? That bicycling is more important to future community leaders than the current crop of leaders themselves think. But it also tells us that we advocates for bicycling have work yet to do as far as selling bicycling as a central part of future transportation solutions.

Anyway, a tip of the cap and helmet to:

Andrew Bollinger
Angela Yeager
Chip Conrad
Elizabeth Miller
Evann Remington
Kat Franken
Khela Singer-Adams
Melissa Austin

State Fears Popularity of Temporary Transit Mall?

State Parks doesn't like the temporary Transit Mall, according to the Statesman.
By the end of the week, the state parks department wants the transit district's Cherriots buses to leave the site in front of the Capitol. Cherriots was talking with state officials on Wednesday in hopes of extending the deadline into next week, which would provide more time to get the Cottage Street NE location ready.
On the surface this is hugely disappointing.

The Jane Jacobs reading has been on hiatus, and perhaps this is a good time to start is up again. Citing the Washington, DC, architect Elbert Peets, she notes:
What is happening is this: the government capital is turning away from the city...From the Chicago Fair of 1893 came the architectural ideology that sees a city as a monumental court of honor sharply set off from a profane and jumbled area of "concessions"...There is no evidence, in this procedure, of feeling for the city as an organism, a matrix that is worthy of its monuments and friendly with them...The loss is social as well as esthetic...
Working with Cherriots to enliven an otherwise dead zone in the the city, a zone constituted by a single purpose, and promptly emptying at 5pm daily, the Capital Mall could have enjoyed two strong uses and developed some of the life it so desperately misses.

This is a sad insistence on what Jacobs calls the "Great Blight of Dullness."

Parks should love the ways that the relocated transit mall gives people an actual reason to enjoy the mall park. As it is, apart from the fountain and the glories of the springtime cherry blossoms, the mall remains isolated and empty of real reasons to visit or use it. It lacks amenities, cafes, things that would send pulses of people to it at different times throughout the day. Here is vitality and diversity! What's wrong with that?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

For the Birds Benefit & Connecting the Dots

The Salem Art Association Project Space will be holding a terrific benefit for the wildlife harmed by the Gulf oil disaster.

It's called "Benefit for the Birds."

It's also a DIY project - purchase a small canvas, create your own art, donate it back, and then it will be sold at a gala.

Sounds great!

But how much oil will be consumed as part of it?

Most people will drive cars to and from the events. Some of the art will involve petroleum as well. (We're not talking non-petrol oil paint here, but it's also worth considering the environmental nastiness of many chemicals used in making art, from solvents to toxic pigments).

If the project does nothing to address the underlying cause of the oil disaster - our insatiable demand for cheap petroleum products - does the project reduce the likelihood of future disaster? Certainly, it does not address the longer-term problem of carbon dioxide.

Salem Art Association, is there something we can we do to connect more of the dots here? This is a great project, but it only goes part way!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Intro to Smart Cycling Series Kicks Off

League Cycling Instructor Gary Obery taught the first Introduction to Smart Cycling clinic Saturday mid-morning.

The weather was perfect! - not too hot. One parent and child pair arrived on a tandem!

About 20 sat under the cherry trees on the mall and discussed road movements and traffic interaction. Then they went out on some Salem streets to practice and analyze!

The class split up into two groups and frequently stopped to discuss real-life situations.

Afterwards, several went off to the Salem Saturday Market!

Gary says he'll do it again next month, so look for more!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Carbon Now and Then: Nixon White House in 1969; Britain, July 2010

Carbon has bipartisan consequences. In Britain today, and in the Nixon administration over a generation ago, conservatives and progressives together were able to talk about it.

The new conservative, coalition British government has determined that increasing air service is incompatible with curbing emissions. According to the New York Times,
Britain’s coalition government has set out to curb the growth of what has been called “binge flying” by refusing to build new runways around London to accommodate more planes.

Citing the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, abruptly canceled longstanding plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport in May, just days after his election; he said he would also refuse to approve new runways at Gatwick and Stansted, London’s second-string airports.

The government decided that enabling more flying was incompatible with Britain’s oft-stated goal of curbing emissions.

Even more interesting, the Nixon Library released memos today discussing climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

In a 1969 memo Daniel Moynihan, a Democrat working in the Republican administration of Richard Nixon, wrote about the "carbon dioxide problem" and urges the creation of a "world wide monitoring system." He warns that increasing CO2 could "raise the level of the sea by 10 feet. Goodbye New York. Goodbye Washington, for that matter."

Alas, the problem has not seized "the imagination of persons normally indifferent to projects of apocalyptic change."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Transit Mall and Parking Garage Relocation Provides Opportunities

The Courthouse Square fiasco is demoralizing - but it also provides opportunities for change!

If you have been wondering about taking your bike on the bus, Cherriots is using a bus for their customer service office. The bus has a bike rack, and presents an easy, low-stress environment in which to practice placing your bike in the rack and taking it out of the rack. So take it for a test-drive and then take advantage of multi-modal trip flexibility!

As for staff who work at Courthouse Square, news today is that the parking garage and bus mall will be closed for 60 days. Staff who park in the garage will be offered space at Willamette University, whose lots are quiet for the summer.

This is an excellent opportunity for Salem City staff, County staff, and Cherriots staff to seize! The time is ripe to grow the culture of car-pooling, bussing, walking, and biking! Use this disruption creatively and help people create some new greenhouse gas friendly habits.