Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review: One Step Forward, but Two Steps Back

It sure feels like we lost ground this year. Nothing seemed to catch fire, and everybody seemed tired. For every project that seemed like a win, there were several blanks, duds, and outright losses. Within a year of sharrows going down on Chemeketa, for example, the downtown sewer project took several out.

In a nutshell, that's 2011 for me.

Mostly, it seemed like it was a discouraging year for people who bike. I feel like a real negative Nellie saying this, but it seemed to take too much of a Pollyanna-ish stretch to suggest it was a good year.

So, was it encouraging for you, did you think the City took two steps forward instead? I would especially love to hear about that! What else was important?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

West Salem's Bone Property and Colorado Drive Extension at Planning Commission

At the Planning Commission next Tuesday, in addition to the Bike Plan, there will be a hearing on what is, I think, the first application of the Neighborhood Center Mixed Use Zoning. A street will need to be reclassified to accept a busier level of traffic, and some neighbors are not happy.

Chapman Corners, the Straub Property and Condemnation for Schools

The corner of Doaks Ferry and Orchard Heights is pretty old and old-timers will remember it still as Chapman Corners - a name remembered in Chapman Elementary School.

It's on the edge of development in West Salem, and there has been lots of conversation around how best to build here.

One of the parcels holds an historic home, whose core building precedes statehood, that is still held in the family of former Governor Bob Straub.

The school district wanted the land for schools, but in part because of the Great Recession and housing bubble, the property's value declined and the family and district were unable to find an agreeable price. The district subsequently initiated condemnation around the house (the house remains) and built two schools.

School siting can be complicated, but already the decision for suburban land on the edges of development is making it more likely parents will drive their kids to school and deprive them of the benefits of active transportation - walking, biking, skateboarding, and the like.

The West Salem Plan

Concurrently, the West Salem Neighborhood Plan calls for additional density and commercial center development along Orchard Heights (yellow and purple on map), and appropriate development here might yield the kinds of walkable neighborhoods West Salem essentially lacks.

The map is somewhat out of date. Already with the schools and other development, the exact parcels marked here won't be developed precisely as the map suggests - but the larger concept is clear: More density at Chapman Corners.

The Bone Property

Not actually in purple, but one of the first parcels to be in play, is the Bone property.

The Bone estate is on the northwest corner, and it will go before the Planning Commission on Tuesday. The Commission will look at two questions: Should the City rezone the property for higher density? And should the City build a new collector street to serve the property?


The zoning question appears to have community support. The City has enacted a new zoning designation, the Neighborhood Center Mixed-Use (NCMU) Zone, which it hopes to apply to this parcel.

The key values the code seeks to instantiate are:
Sense of place
Pedestrian orientation
Compact urban form
Neighborhood vitality
Innovative design
Transit accessibility
Connectivity with surrounding neighborhoods
Accommodation of the automobile
Disagreement on a New Collector Street

But not everything is copacetic.

Part of the project involves a new collector street. Colorado Drive would be extended through the property as a higher-traffic collector street and Landaggard would remain as a quieter local street, with connections to Colorado.

According to a recent piece in the Statesman, the neighborhood association opposes the plan:
West Salem Neighborhood Association co-chairman Don Homuth said the association does not favor the change.

"The WSNA will vigorously oppose running the collector street through the newly-passed NCMU development to be considered for the northwest corner of Doaks Ferry and Orchard Heights, a.k.a. the Bone Property," Homuth said in an email. "We worked very long and hard on the NCMU designation, and throughout the discussion, it was always intended to place a particular emphasis on pedestrian friendly, with cars being allowed into it for parking or convenience, but never — not even tangentially — did we envision that someone would suggest running a 'collector street' through it."
It's hard to know how to analyze this. One the one hand, Chapman Corners is still on the edge of a low-density and hilly development. Even in ideal circumstances, with a higher density development, it is not clear how actually walkable in practice it will be. Sometimes this looks like a planning exercise better on paper than in reality, and it may not be the best place in Salem to pilot the NCMU zone.

On the other hand, when we visit the early 20th century streetcar commercial districts in Portland, like those on Mississippi, Alberta, Hawthorne, Belmont, Division, 28th, and so on, which in important ways at least partially model important aspects of the neighborhood centers, it seems pretty clear they are all served by collector streets. This shouldn't surprise us: The reason they are commercially viable is because they serve multiple uses and are busy across multiple hours. People are constantly going in and out of the core commercial areas.

According to the current drafts of SRC 532.005 and 532.010, NCMU zone is
A district...located within one-eighth of a mile of a major intersection, as measured from the center of the intersection to the point in the district that is nearest to the intersection....Major intersection means the intersection of two streets, one of which is designated in the Salem Area Transportation System Plan as a major arterial or minor arterial, and the other designated as a major arterial, minor arterial, or collector.
I believe a "major intersection" has always been part of the zoning, and it unclear where the communication breakdown occurred with the neighborhood association.

It is likely that a higher density commercial center at this location in West Salem will perish without provision for significant volumes of auto traffic and the people they bring. There simply will not be enough close-in neighbors walking and biking to support business. Presumably, if the district were already walkable, more schoolkids would be walking and biking to the new schools. With time, as a center prospers, more people may walk and bike, but at first, the district will remain auto-dependent, and long-term success requires acknowledging this in the nearer-term.

What to do here is not necessarily clear. The City and community generally has an great interest in making development under the NCMU zone a success. Perhaps West Salem residents with a better understanding of the zoning and history, or others who have followed the NCMU zoning more closely, can comment and clarify. It's likely there are other factors not included in the SJ piece. Much depends on an actual site plan: Maybe the intersection of Doaks Ferry and Orchard Heights is enough, and Colorado would be a superfluous addition - though it's hard to see Doaks Ferry and Orchard Heights with parking here.

In any event, this is a new direction in Salem planning, and it deserves substantive conversation and debate with a view towards making a pilot project a success.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Travel Offers Reminder of 12th and Mill's Difficulty

Holiday trips to the train station and bike rides past Mission Mill for the holiday lights have reminded me how lousy is the crossing at 12th and Mill.

You might remember the City's plan for the crossing.

It's complicated, of course, by the train tracks. On 12th, the right-of-way width also makes a median more convenient on the south side of the intersection. But most crossing takes place on the north side.

Plans to finish the 12th Street Promenade and add a pedestrian median to 12th are dormant at the moment. The City has tried to fund it, but it never seems to come together. Grantors, for example, haven't found the plan competitive, and the City has declined to fund it straight-up, preferring to build out auto capacity.

But crossing 12th street here is very difficult, and Willamette University and Tokyo International University of America together funded and built a private footbridge across 12th street. Initially the bridge was open, but vandalism and theft led the universities to close the bridge to the public. Crime diminished by 90%. It's hard to argue with that!

Nonetheless, the crossing remains difficult for the public, and the bridge is not very bike friendly.

In fact, in a 2002 Strategic Master Plan, Willamette identified it as a key east-west corridor:
Many pedestrians still find it necessary to cross Twelfth Street at grade to reach the eastward continuation of Mill Street, across the rail tracks, and into the neighborhood beyond. With plans for a tennis center west of 14th Street on Mill, more pedestrians will want to cross Twelfth Street...Safe and convenient access across Twelfth Street at Mill will help to reconnect what is now a rather isolated area around TIUA.
Interestingly, in the current 2008 Master Plan, connectivity at this intersection is not as urgently discussed. If nothing else, Bush School was built rather than the tennis center, and this might be seen to diminish the walking demand. Maybe there's more to learn about this, but for the moment it's interesting to see the crossing called out in the 2002 master plan.

And there's still a need for it.

The crossing is difficult for lots of people, not just Willamette staff and students, and it's not surprising the City's proposed Bike Plan identifies the intersection as an important "tier 1" intersection improvement.

(Both the 2008 and 2002 plans are interesting, and there might be more to say on them.)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Girdling Downtown: Institutional Growth and the Etiolaton of Business

Walking around over the holiday, and talking with folks, it was clear that something we just don't talk about enough when we talk about making downtown more lively and healthy is the extent to which the harm is self-inflicted.

For we've girdled downtown.

Downtown used to be a residential neighborhood itself, and connected to close-in residential neighborhoods. The people who lived nearby were customers for business.

No more! As institutions - important Salem institutions - have expanded, they have removed homes and replaced them with larger buildings and superblocks. Since there are fewer nearby customers, businesses must chase after driving customers who live much farther away.

The bark that would nourish the trunk and core is gone, cut away.

In nearly every direction, downtown is separated from residential districts by many barriers. With the growth on the west side and the difficulties crossing Wallace, Edgewater, the river, Front, Liberty, Commercial, west Salem is psychically far from downtown. The Mission cluster-frack, Pringle Parkway, Pringle Creek Urban Renewal Area, Bush Park, Salem Hospital, and Willamette University form barriers on the south side. The Capitol Mall, 12th Street, and the railroad form barriers on the east side.

The barriers aren't always stops. In fact, in many instances the barriers are constituted by single-use buildings. Pringle Creek Urban Renewal zone has SAIF and the City of Salem; the Capitol Mall has State government. Both areas empty at 5pm and on weekends. At 7pm or on Saturday, there's nothing to lure you to the districts, and there are no residents in them. So it's not surprising people don't walk or bike to them or through them to downtown. The superblocks even make driving less attractive.

If you want to know why there aren't enough people in downtown....maybe planners and politicians should give more though to the barriers we ourselves have created.

There are plenty of other issues, of course. The problems don't reduce to a single master narrative of one variable.

But land-use and zoning are implicated in the problems downtown faces, and it's hard to say that conversations around downtown vitality give enough attention to this part of the problem.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays

Policy and planning are important, but, you know, the nuances of a Transportation Improvement Program aren't always the most exciting.

Here something completely different. Two great emotional appeals for biking. Not great because of what they say, but because of how they say it: They express moods, one wintry, one summery. Both have stuck with me: Both say something ineffable, maybe something you can't say in words.

Who cares it's a beer ad! It captures cheer and a little chill - just like a real holiday jumble.

And! "That's the way, Patriot. Let the OPECs keep their gasoline. We'll just tap into a far more efficient energy source. Manpower." It's amazing a national account went with this, however briefly.

This next one's almost ecstatic - it's a gloriously lyrical take on biking and its pleasures.

Have fun, be safe, enjoy the knowledge the days are getting longer.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

West Salem Wayfinding Says Where but not How

Signs matching the downtown wayfinding went up recently in west Salem. While they are great for telling you where, they aren't very much help with how.

The Map Doesn't Give Direction

If the maps work for people with some knowledge of the area, a reliance on implied knowledge means the maps likely fail for people unfamiliar with the area - their target audience! Because the maps are dominated by auto-centric busy roads, and essentially ignore the logic of walking, their mode-blind presentation misses details key for people on foot or on bike.

Suppose you are from out of town and attending an event at the Conference Center. You are out for a walk and you encounter the map on the far end, the west end, of the Union Street Railroad Bridge. The map marks three destinations outside of the park:
  • West Salem Shopping
  • Westgate Shopping
  • Edgewater District
Your location - and the map's - is marked by the red arrow.

There are no straight connections to any of these from the map's location. The best alternative routes are indirect - but they are left to the viewer's imagination. The maps fail to show you how to go there.*

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Open House and Comment on Regional List of Transportation Projects

Earlier this month our Metropolitan Planning Organization announced the public comment period for the SKATS Draft FY 12-FY 17 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and Air Quality Conformity Determination (AQCD).

The six-year TIP (2012- 2017) lists projects which will be funded in the near term with a combination of federal, state, and local funds.

Why care about this wonky topic? Getting projects onto the list is an essential procedural step in getting transportation projects built when they rely on more than just local funding (the bond projects, for example, aren't on the list unless they have a federal or state component). Basically, if a project is not on the list, it doesn't get funded. Projects from the new Bike Plan, then, will in many cases need to get on this list. The list also shows how we prioritize travel modes.

Open House
Date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Time: 7:30-10:00 a.m., 4:00-7:00 p.m.
Where: MWVCOG Conference Room 109 High St. SE Salem, OR 97301

Public Hearing
Date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Where: Chemeketa Center for Business and Industry, Room 102 626 High Street NE Salem, OR 97301
Time: Noon

You can also send comments via email to Mike Jaffe, MPO Program Manager at the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments/Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study.

Look for a more detailed analysis in January!

The List Sorted by Dollar Amount
Project numbers are keyed to the map. Projects in italics are clearly good for people on bike. Some projects may add bike lanes and sidewalks, but because they are fundamentally car-centric road widening and capacity increases, with incidental bike lanes and sidewalks, they may not be all that friendly for people on foot and on bike. Transit projects are good too, but that's not our focus here.

If you know more about a particular project, and are able to offer detailed criticism and analysis, please don't hesitate to comment!

Tens of Millions
4 I-5 @ Kuebler Blvd. Interchange. $18,625,000
2 OR22: Overcrossings and Overlay pavement. $17,590,000
5 Hwy. 150 (OR 221) Wallace Rd. @ Glen Creek Rd. $10,375,000

Friday, December 16, 2011

Minto Path Misses Cut for Flex Funds; Brown Road and Cherriots Advance

Today the Department of Transportation released the list of "Flexible Funds" projects advancing to the next round of evaluation, and the Minto Path application failed to move on.

You'll recall the vigorous debate over applying for "flex fund" dollars to finance the Minto trail.

City staff haven't got feedback from ODOT yet, but it seems likely that since the project didn't complete the triangle linking homes and jobs and retail, it was clear to others also that this was a recreation project rather than a transportation project, and not a good fit with the program criteria.

Last week Council authorized a back-up, the City applying for a Federal Highway Administration Transportation Community and System Preservation Program grant.

Other area projects that did make the cut for round 2 are a County one for Brown Road and two from Cherriots, one for Courthouse Square, the other for bus stops.

One of the problems with the Minto Path project was advocates learned about it too late to be able to offer meaningful comment and criticism that might have yielded a useful course-correction. It is unfortunate that the City of Salem for two rounds now will have no projects funded by the Flex Fund program ($42M total so far).

The Vision 2020 Bike/Ped Workgroup will be discussing grant funding, project selection, and lead-times the first week of January. Hopefully the City will see the advantage to longer lead-times and more conversation and debate with a view towards advancing visionary and transformative transportation projects.

Think Holiday Treats - Thanks to Cascade Baking, LifeSource, and the Gov Cup

Without the support from our sponsors who care about sustainable transportation, each month's Breakfast on Bikes wouldn't be possible.

This month Cascade Baking Company leads the way with holiday breads!
Cascade Baking Company is providing 6 different Holiday Breads. German Christmas Stollen, Welsh Bara Brith, European Nut Loaf, Danish Julekage, Apricot Delight, and Italian Panettone.

The Stollen is very traditional and includes candied fruits & raisins and fresh ground nutmeg. Stollen sells for $12.00. Welsh Bara Brith is based on a traditional Welsh Christmas bread. Ours has whole grain wheat combined with cherries and hazelnuts. The bread is coated in honey just after bake and is a wonderful alternative Christmas bread. Welsh Bara Brith sells for $12.00. The European Nut Loaf is similar to a Polish Christmas bread and has ground walnut combined with Northwest honey, currants, and cinnamon that is rolled up in a sweet pastry dough. European Nut loaf sells for $15.00 per loaf.
Danish Julekage is done in a traditional manner and is braided in a 3-braid or wreath shape. Cardamon is the predominate spice in this Christmas bread and sells for $12.00 a loaf. Italian Panettone is the lightest of Christmas breads with a taste of fruit and fresh vanilla. We use cranberries, golden raisins, and lemon and orange candied peel. Panettone sells for $14.00. Finally, our Apricot Delight is a wonderful pastry that rolls up dried Apricot, Cream Cheese, and local made Apricot preserves. Apricot Delight sells for $11.50.

And remember the Governor's Cup Coffee Roasters. They just added a liquor license, too, so don't forget the music and libations.

LifeSource Natural Foods will have olive oil and balsamic vinegar sampling today and they've boosted their beer selection. And they've got lots of other things from staples to fancy treats for your holiday table.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dogbane and the Pineconian Order: More Art at the Speed of Bike

Yesterday at the State Library's lunch hour lecture series, two very bikey ODOT employees talked about their work. And though the subjects of their talk were highway projects, the work and its ends didn't unfold at the speed of car.

You might have seen ODOT Archeologist Kurt Roedel around town. Riding a single speed Schwinn Varsity with narrow, messenger-style handlebars, he's got a distinctive profile!

Kurt talked about a project to relocate about 150 dogbane plants from the side of a highway to a nature preserve.

Dogbane has very long fibers and it turns out is great for baskets and weaving.
“People purposely try to eradicate dogbane,” said Robert Kentta, cultural resource director of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. “They see it as a weed. Some people also think it’s toxic for livestock.”
To the Tribes, dogbane is a key component in their way of life. The plant’s reddish-brown fibers are gently stripped from twigs and twisted into a strong string that can be used in everything from creating fishing nets to weaving intricate baskets.

In 2007, Kentta contacted ODOT archaeologists Kurt Roedel and Mary Turner to inform them that the important plant was growing in a narrow strip of right of way along Oregon 99W north of Corvallis...

Roedel and Turner worked with District 4 crews to preclude spraying for one year to allow the dogbane to grow large enough for transplant to a safe location.
Until he "retired" from competition last summer, you might remember Chris Bell as the perennial winner of the "Brian Reynolds Distance Award" for highest mileage during the Bike Commute Challenge. Especially during the summer, Chris regularly commutes by bike from Portland to Salem!

When he's not biking he's an ODOT historian.

Chris talked about a restoration project on one of Conde McCullough's early designs. It was revised significantly by the Feds before being built and presented several uncertainties. Located on an old historic highway to Crater Lake, the Mill Creek Bridge had been neglected, the concrete was deteriorating, and pieces of it were missing.

During research for the restoration, early drawings turned up showing a column detail, light post, and lamp for a set of missing light fixtures.

Chris was able to match the drawing to an existing column on the Historic Columbia River Highway. The Stark Street Viaduct had been built a few years earlier, but it also used the same columns.

Chris calls the pattern "the Pineconian Order." The scroll is vaguely Ionic, but the pine cones make it distinctly Oregonian! The restoration team was able to make a cast and reproduce the columns for less money than off-the-shelf comparable pieces would have cost. That's pretty cool. (Column detail Michael Goff.)

Bikes weren't a formal part of the lectures, of course, but while driving you can't weave a basket or admire a pine cone on a column. It's not surprising that these two custodians of art and history, while even working for the highway department and on highway projects, might also find beauty at the speed of bike.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Annual Keizer Christmas Lights Ride Tonight

The Salem Bicycle Club's holding the annual Keizer Christmas ride tonight!

The relaxed ride leaves at 6:30pm:
Meet in the Keizer Bi-Mart parking lot east of the store near the intersection of Cherry Ave and Sam Orcutt Way. Decorated bikes are encouraged, but not required. Bring a can of food or other donation for the Marion-Polk Food Bank. Legal head lights and tail lights are required.
Hot chocolate and coffee afterwards!

If you're curious about club riding, this is a great ride for an introduction.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bank and Drive-Through by Scott's at Hearings

Last Spring there was debate (see here and here) about allowing drive-throughs in the Downtown Historic District, and this fall Council approved the ordinance.

These were changes permitted in general, and therefore ostensibly theoretical, though everyone knew a single project was driving the change.

Now that project is here, and there are two hearings on it in particular.

On Wednesday the Hearings Officer will undertake a Conditional Use review (agenda here, staff report here).

Thursday night the Historic Landmarks Commission will hold its design review. The staff report is here.

The building is on the corner of State and Commercial, and you will recognize Pioneer Trust Bank as the tall building. On the surface the new structure will have a modern, neo-historical two-story brick-ish facade (can't tell if it actually will use brick facings), even broke up with cornice and window detailing into smaller units, that mostly looks like it fits into the neighborhood. It's smooth jazz here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Infographics can Condense Stories

Here's excerpts from some punchy graphics that perhaps could be adapted as we talk about and promote the new bike plan (click on any to enlarge). They don't necessarily tell a new story, but maybe they condense, simplify, and make easier to convey some core ideas:

Saturday, December 10, 2011

City Council, December 12th - More on Minto, Council Goals

Lots of transportation and transpo-relevant stuff on Council agenda for Monday!

Minto Path

You'll recall the vigorous debate over applying for "flex fund" dollars to finance the Minto trail.

The City has identified a new grant source for the trail project, the Federal Highway Administration Transportation Community and System Preservation Program (TSCP). According to the selection criteria, "priority will be given to requests that address livability, especially from a highway perspective." Since this a recreation play rather than a highway alternative or enhancement, I'm not sure how strong the proposal meets this set of criteria, either. Still, since the dollar amounts are the same, City staff also say,
FHWA grant awards will likely be announced in April2012. If the Agency is notified in March that the requested amount of ODOT Flexible Funding will be awarded for the Minto Trail staff will withdraw the FHWA application.
So this is pretty clearly a back-up funding plan.

"Takings" and Right of Way Acquisition

A couple of meetings ago Council discussed condemnation at Lancaster and Market. Monday Council will declare
the public need and the City of Salem's intent to negotiate the acquisition of right-of-way and easements for construction of the Eola Drive NW Corridor Improvements, from Kingwood Drive NW to Gehlar Road NW....[here's a google view]

[Staff further observe] two of the needed acquisitions will impact entire properties in such a way as to require acquisition of the entire parcels...
It seems clear - but to many it may not be - that facilities for walking and biking should proceed in the same manner as facilities for car driving. The City should not have a double standard here. At the same time, perhaps we should consider how we can meet transportation needs by solutions that take up less space - like bikes!

Also, not on Council agenda, but worth mentioning here, there are meetings for the Eola Ridge Park Master Plan. The next one will be Tuesday, January 10, 2011, 6 p.m. at the West Salem Roths. The park potentially connects Burley Hill Drive and Eola Drive. It may be that some of the problems created by the omission of bike lanes on Burley Hill can be mitigated. If you live near there - get involved!

Updates and Check-ins

There's an update on the Stimulus Funding (ARRA) projects. The City got "awards totaling over $13.5 million" and it's interesting to see them all. The most notable for B on B, of course, is phase 2 of the Union Street Railroad Bridge, consisting of $3.5M:
The project has resulted in the encapsulation of lead-based paint, painting, bridge repairs, and installation of security cameras.
On summer days, not just hundreds, but more than a thousand people use the bridge! This will go down as a very good investment, and once connections across Commercial and Wallace are knit, even more will be able to use it.

And there's an update on the Council goals. Some of them are relevant to the bike plan update.

The Downtown Mobility Study is key:
4. Create a bike/pedestrian avenue downtown (possibly High, Church, Chemeketa Streets)
Status: Pending
The draft Bike and Walk Salem Plan proposes Church Street NE/SE, Union Street NE, and Chemeketa Street NE as bicycle corridors through downtown. City Council and Planning Commission held a joint work session on this planning process on October 24, 2011. The Planning Commission opened a public hearing on the proposed amendments to the Salem Transportation System Plan on November 1, 2011, and continued the public hearing to January 3, 2012. Following Planning Commission recommendation, a public hearing will be scheduled before City Council. Implementing bicycle corridors on Church Street NE/SE and Union Street NE will require a traffic engineering analysis to address both the direction of travel and intersection safety. This analysis will be part of the proposed scope of work for the Central Salem Mobility Study.
5. Improve bike/pedestrian connections to the Union Street Railroad Bridge
Status: In Process
Studying how to improve bicycle and pedestrian connections to and from the Union Street Railroad Bridge will be an area of focus undertaken through the upcoming Central Salem Mobility Study. City Council held a work session on November 7, 2011, to better define the components of the study. As a result of this work session, staff is preparing information on potential scope elements to share with City Council. It is anticipated that a Request for Proposal will be issued within the next two months. Following consultant selection in the 3rd quarter of FY 2011-12, staff will bring a report to the Council to refine the scope of services before entering into a contract. The study will take approximately 12 to 18 months to complete.
(I'm surprised to see the study so far out; I had thought that it was already in motion. Informal conversations, however, have suggested that the scope of data gathering and complexity of modeling have introduced difficulty and delay. I hope to learn more about this.)

Other matters

In passing, the intergovernmental agreement between ODOT and the City for enlarging the intersection of Wallace @ Glen Creek should be noted.

I haven't followed Mill Creek Industrial Park very closely, but it is interesting to see a proposal to push the Project Completion Date from December 31, 2011 to December 31, 2014. Probably a consequence of the crappy economy, but you have to wonder also about the future of suburban office/industry parks on a city's periphery.

There was an interesting piece in the New York Times about this. Writing from her new book, Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes, Louise A. Mozingo notes that
suburban offices are even more unsustainably designed than residential suburbs. Sidewalks extend only between office buildings and parking lots, expanses of open space remain private and the spreading of offices over large zones precludes effective mass transit.
Finally, the mixed-use redevelopment project for the Marion Parkade is stalled and City staff recommend that its deadlines NOT be extended. (Here's an update from a year ago.) The City here is pretty clearly signalling dissatisfaction with the development team.

This is on Union, between, Liberty and High, and there's lots of potential for a bike-friendly development, and it will be interesting to see how it goes, though it will almost certainly go slowly now.

Friday, December 9, 2011

North Downtown Parking Study Commences

Do you look to the future or look to what is already accomplished?

An email went out this week with notice that the North Broadway / High Street Parking Management Study has a project website and is about to gear up.

Do you see a fresh sheet of paper, a clean slate?

Because the area is not as highly developed as downtown proper, I have argued that the chance to create complete streets, to adjust the streets for true mobility choice, may be greater here than in downtown proper. Gary Obery has also argued for North Broadway/High Street as a focus area.

As you can see from the map, the orange and yellow are all projects labeled tier 2 and 3. We didn't carry the argument. We were looking too much to the future.

The immediate development along High/Broadway doesn't have the retail and commercial density, doesn't have the concentration of destinations. The new townhouses nearby haven't sold and filled in. Most would conclude that the district is more promising than happening.

Doug's proposal, which has attracted more support, centers on Union, Chemeketa, and Church streets. He's looking to what is already there.

The magic of downtown is in fact what's there: The old streetcar grid and the old commercial storefronts. This historic grid is the most walkable part of Salem.

Salem's downtown has short, square blocks, perfect for walking. This detail is from a 1917 USGS quad. In the horse-and-buggy era, as well as the streetcar era, people used to walk a lot. Even after a century, the street grid and older building stock are still made for walking, still embody the logic of walking. And with restaurants, offices, boutiques, and other business, downtown is full of places you might want to go.

With the right improvements in downtown, there are a lot of short trips currently made by car that could be shifted to walking or biking trips. Think of the Fairmount, Bush, Englewood, Parish/North, and Grant neighborhoods. Folks who live there should visit downtown often and feel they can walk or bike.

Out in neighborhoods from mid-century and later it's not as easy. Land use is critical. Even with good infrastructure for walking and biking, the destinations are spread out, zoned along and confined to wide arterials like Lancaster and Commercial, and in many ways still auto-dependent. The disposition and distribution of businesses and amenities will need to change in tandem with reconfigured street engineering.

This is why it makes sense to focus on downtown, even if there are important ways that the benefits may not be distributed equally.

Even so, the Parking Plan represents an opportunity. Things in the Grant neighborhood haven't been messed up with very many one-way streets, and the residential neighborhoods breathe in more flexible rhythms, not confined to the nine-to-five of an office park, like the Capitol Mall with State offices to the southeast. The future is bright.

In fact, the neighborhood is optimized for walking and biking!

Near Broadway and High streets are lots of homes, in yellow/brown/orange on the zoning map. Many of them are historic, and Virginia Green has captioned several of them.

Many of them don't have attached garages or even a front driveway. Instead they have a generous front porch and a detached garage in back, off of an alleyway.

Interestingly, the newest commercial building, Broadway Commons, has exactly the same structure! It is really a walkable development - but at the same time it accommodates car trips from out of the immediate neighborhood. It serves both near and far - at least in theory.

It's pretty clear, though, that there's not yet a balance for the the businesses there. For Broadway Commons, it has seemed that waves associated with the Church and its worship services have provided much of the traffic. Businesses across the street like Salem Cinema, are also dependent on car trips.

But if the neighbors can find ways to walk and bike to the district! And if the area attracts some other businesses, like a mid-sized grocery store or something!

Hopefully the parking plan won't conclude that large bunkers for free parking are necessary, and it can work reduce the size of surface lots.

It will be interesting to watch the project. The page is blank at the moment, full of opportunity.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bike Plan a Damp Squib at the Planning Commission

The Planning Commission met Tuesday night for a work session on the Biking and Walking Plans.

The meeting was more than a little anti-climactic. In truth, not a great deal of work was accomplished, and nobody's heart really seemed to be into the matter.

The session was, probably, just a dud. It fizzed softly and expired quietly.

Turkey left-overs and tryptophan? Holiday shopping fatigue? Who knows.

There may not be a point to trying to say more.

Towards the end of the meeting, Commissioner Gallagher said that as it stood, he was a "no" vote on it. Commissioners Fry, Levin, and Lewis had also expressed reservations. It seemed that a tepid vote to proceed would be the absolute best outcome in January if nothing changes.

And maybe if Gallagher is firm in his "no," others will fall in and the Planning Commission would not recommend adoption to City Council.

Almost certainly the best thing to do with a squib (or a turkey) is to take the mulligan.

The next meeting will be on January 3rd at 5:30pm. Please come to it and show your support!

If you haven't commented, here's the online comment form. A surge of commenting, publicity, and advocacy will help ensure the next round is not also a dud.

The Cemetery

An extended footnote: It's crazy how much of the conversation around the plan was framed around takings and property rights rather than framed as looking to the future and working towards a wonderful new transportation system for Salem. Folks are zeroing in on a few trees and have lost a sense for the forest.

The cemetery and the matter of vacating the right-of-way north of it loomed over the meeting. A representative from the developer was there, and Commissioner Levin mentioned it. It is still contentious.

So contentious that an appeal had been filed with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

But it's not difficult to understand the appeal, as the City's 180-degree reversal was not well founded. Here's the original staff recommendation:

That would have made all kinds of good sense.

Instead, the City moved forward with the vacation and stretched reason to do so. Political expedience rather than the formal vacation criteria seemed to rule the Council decision, and it will be interesting to see if the LUBA ruling confirms this reading of the City's approach.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Airport Open House and Draft Plans Likely Overestimate Air Demand

Now that the Delta-Seaport fiasco is hopefully out of the City's system, the latest wish is for runway expansion to serve commercial flights.

This City is hosting an open house tomorrow:
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
5:30-7:30 p.m.
Airport Terminal Building
2990 25th Street SE, Salem Oregon
It will have information on:
Master Plan Status
Environmental Process Overview
Project Justification
Runway Alternatives Considered
and Next Steps
Here's the preferred expansion alignment:

It's difficult not to be cynical about the "need" for this. This is a multi-million dollar project and the money could much more usefully be spent on something sustainable.

To get a sense for some of the "optimistic" thinking behind it, take a gander at these excerpts.

The forecasts assume a compound growth rate based on past history. But with increasing petroleum costs both from peak oil scarcity and from a likely carbon tax, past growth is not likely to be duplicated.

And indeed in comparing projections from 1997, even the study's authors find that the past is not a good guide!

But nevertheless, here's a table of just insane exponential growth that's actually included in the study! They say outright that it is not the preferred growth model, but if it is so clearly unmoored from plausible reality, why include it?

This is a bike blog and it's just not possible to read all the airport stuff closely. Hopefully someone who is on the committee or works in an airport-related industry can comment and clarify.

(I scanned and cherry-picked the most egregious examples of craziness; they may not be representative. Still, I think they are adequate to show that the projections are at the very least on the high, high, upper-end of the most "optimistic" confidence bar. It seems impossible that this represents a sober analysis for a future with diminished expectations.)

The study documents can be found here. The Statesman piece, which omits any cost estimates, is here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bike Plan at Planning Commission Work Session Tomorrow

Tomorrow night the Planning Commission will hold a worksession on Bike and Walk Salem.

The meeting will be at 5:30 in Council Chambers. At the meeting, City staff and advocates do not expect the Planning Commission to take public testimony. This is a question-and-answer session with a view towards crafting a plan subset that has realistic prospects for funding and construction in the next few years - and then a priority list for something like a decade and the next bond measure.

If you'd like to support bikes, please do come to the meeting - just be aware that there won't be an opportunity to address the commission. But a good crowd in the audience always helps! Plus, they're still taking written comment. If you haven't used the comment form, don't forget to let the City know biking is important to you!

Doug Parrow has led much of the thinking and analysis of the plan, and he's drafted a proposal on a stripped-down core for immediate action:
The most concentrated bicycle traffic in Salem is found adjacent to the downtown area. Yet many riders are intimidated on the downtown streets and banned from riding on the sidewalks. Family friendly bikeways on which motorists and bicyclists could comfortably share the road would provide facilities that cyclists of all capabilities could use. A network of family friend streets downtown would set the city on a path to meeting one of the most requested needs--a system of connected facilities accessible to all cyclists....

The city should focus its initial efforts at implementation of the bike/ped plan downtown by using current design standards to make the following streets family friendly bikeways:
  • Church St from Mission St to Union St - this street is designated in the draft plan as a Tier 1 project for installation of bike lanes. Traffic volumes on Church St are low and it could be developed as a family friendly bikeway without materially affecting motor vehicle traffic. Church St would provide a critical north-south connection between Bush Park and Union St
  • Union St from Front St to Summer St - this street is so designated in the draft plan
  • Chemeketa St from Front St to 12th St - this street is identified in the draft plan as an existing bike facility, but additional improvements are needed to make it family friendly. This is the only one of these three projects not currently on the Tier 1 project list.
Doug compares Salem to Fargo, North Dakota:
Painting sharrows on Chemeketa St represented a modest step forward in providing for safe use of downtown streets by bicyclists, the city can and needs to do more. We need not look to Portland for examples of projects that improve the walkability and bikeability of our streets. With relatively minor measures, Fargo, North Dakota dramatically improved Broadway in its downtown area to make it safer, more attractive place for people. If Fargo can do it, Salem can do it.
Here's part of a brochure from Fargo, and sponsored in part by the downtown merchant association, that talks about biking downtown:

Pretty neat!

Look for more after the meeting.

Prospects for Bike Lanes on Brown Road to Improve

In Sunday's paper, reporter Chris Hagan and assistant traffic engineer for the City Tony Martin talked about what all is involved in building sidewalks. One of the examples Martin talks about is Brown Road.

It so happens that Brown Road is a project slated for design funding at some point in the next few years.

SKATS and the TIP

You may recall from mid-November the flashing beacon on Silverton Road and the question about how it might relate to neighborhood north-south mobility.

The Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study Policy Commitee met just before Thanksgiving last week.

At the meeting they included a basket for design funding in the new 2012-17 Transportation Improvement Program.

I say "basket" because as I understand it, including it in the Program list doesn't mean it's necessarily funded. It just means that it's officially on the docket to be available for Federal funding and is a project "for which funding is reasonably anticipated." If projects aren't on the list, they can't get funded.
The SKATS Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) authorizes the allocation of federal, state, and matching local funds for transportation activities and improvements within the SKATS area boundary...The TIP represents the formal programming mechanism by which funds are committed to specific transportation projects by the affected jurisdictions in the SKATS MPO area.
In the basket the committee put three projects:

Brown Road sidewalks and bike lanes, Wheatland Road sidewalks and bike lanes, and the Minto path between the Riverfront-Minto bridge and Minto Park.

Legacy Projects

The projects were assembled from the Transportation Enhancement list from a year or more ago. You can see the evolution of the list here, here, and here.

Two of the three projects are remediation: The addition of basic sidewalks and bike lanes to mid-century roads built in what was unincorporated county land (and subject to fewer development standards). They may not conform to the Bike Plan priorities, either.

Brown Road is a tier 2 project, Wheatland Road is outside the bike plan's project boundaries, and the Minto path is a tier 1 project.

In fact, as part of the committee's deliberations (and of the technical committee that feeds recommendations to the policy committee), there doesn't appear to have been discussion of the Bike Plan. It is not yet a datapoint for discussion. (Minto was already a priority for Salem City Council, apart from the Bike Plan.) Hopefully after the plan's adoption it will have an immediate and more powerful effect on project planning and selection.

Public support will also encourage electeds and planners to plan and construct a larger proportion of projects for people who walk and bike.