Strategy and Vision Missing
The other day Gary posted his thoughts and some analysis from conversations with Jeff and Doug. Looking at the long list of projects, he argues for stronger editorial or curatorial oversight - for a vision and strategy - and says he fears "the tragedy of averages and popularity contests."
At the Advisory Committee meeting on Tuesday, in response to a comment by one member about strategy and vision, the consultant team mentioned the "green transportation hierarchy" just beginning to be used as a way to talk about and analyze mobility choices and facilities. Indeed, it is an example of a more strategic vision of mobility, one that could govern the kind and number of transportation projects to fund and construct.
That we seem to be going out of our way to omit such a strategy and vision is troubling, but it seems it may be by design. (See the critique of Levels of Service analysis.) The ways the City opposed what became House Bill 3150, which permits a local 20mph speed limit on streets intended for walking and biking, and moved to create a parking lot on 2nd Street NW, are consistent with a limited interest in strategic vision. I don't think the absence of one is accidental. What we're gonna get will surely be "new and improved," but it will also remain in important ways an ad hoc project list.
Outreach and Buy-in a Weakness Also
Back to Gary's note, he also talks about "buy-in" and and it's worth an extended quote, as I think he zeros in on another important missing piece:
One of the key components to adopting and implementing a planning document such as this is "buy-in" from the affected city/state officials. Management at affected agencies (City of Salem, ODOT, Salem-Keizer Schools, etc) need to be engaged early and often....Engineers and planners (and management) are more likely to support new ideas when they can have a discussion with their colleges, ask questions, see examples, etc. So far, I haven't seen much in the way of engaging decision makers at the city or ODOT, Salem city council, etc. I'd like to see this happen before the plan is presented to council. [bold added]He contrasts the approach in Salem to one in Eugene:
The City of Eugene hosted a bike-ped work session for staff from the public works and transportation divisions. I thought this was a highly effective means to inform and engage decision makers.I would add that despite the presence of four or five representatives from neighborhood associations on the Advisory Committee, there doesn't seem to have been much direct outreach to the neighborhood associations themselves. I worry a lot that the bike plan, walking plan, and safe routes plan will baffle them when it goes out to Council for adoption.
Mission Critical for Five Year Plan:
Downtown Proper Misses Cut - What about North Downtown/Broadway?
I want to submit a list of key sites in Salem and use that list to drive a selection for the most critical projects that we should make every effort to complete in the five year horizon. This is not exhaustive, and I will be curious to learn whether you agree or disagree!
Though he has not published his thoughts, in conversation Doug has argued persuasively that we ought to continue to upgrade Chemeketa from Front to 24th and make it into a world-class bike boulevard. He makes a compelling case. But while I think that project should remain a goal, in the five-year window we are talking about here, other projects might yield an even bigger return.
While downtown is consistently mentioned as the biggest "black hole" for people on bikes in Salem, and obviously is super important as a commercial and employment center, I also find that I am increasingly hopeless and giving up on downtown proper in the near-term. Near-term only, please note! Its problems are too big, too systemic, and too difficult to solve in five years with the bike plan. Downtown proper is a whole-traffic-system-whole-roads problem, and I just don't see how "transportation enhancements" alone solve that problem.
I worry, for example, that a Church Street bike boulevard will need two-way traffic on Church; and that this change to Church Street would have to wait for a change to the entire two-way grid. Hopefully the Downtown Circulation Study will address the system as a whole in a way the bike plan update does not.
Consequently, I am leaning towards the conclusion that the circulation study, and not the bike plan, will be the place for downtown bike projects - for complete streets that include robust bicycle connectivity. And that's why I find myself not quite as enthusiastic about immediately continuing to improve Chemeketa as a bike boulevard and why I'm leaving Riverfront Park off the list (as well as Willamette University, Salem Hospital, and the Capital Mall). These are really important, and I don't like leaving them off the list, but the bike plan update as currently structured isn't the right tool for fixing these problems: it's taking a knife to a gun fight, an abacus to aerospace calculations.
So, instead I'm really getting interested in the potential of the North Downtown/Broadway district - there's something close to a clean slate there, and it's nearly possible to get it right from the start! There is tons of potential in improvements to Broadway/High, Hood, Market, Norway, and 5th in the Grant neighborhood. There's no reason that biking and walking cannot become the preferred mobility choice for short-trips here. This area could become the City's showpiece walkable neighborhood and commercial district. (But of course this requires that "buy-in"...)
Except for Lancaster, the other areas focus more on "interested and concerned" and less on commuters, who tend to be more experienced and confident.
The Most Important Trip Generators and Destinations for the Five Year Plan:
Union Street Railroad Bridge
Project Areas (with one or more relevant projects):
Union St. RR Bridge Connections
North Downtown / Broadway District Connections
Lancaster Corridor Improvements
Church St. Bike Boulevard
Connections to Minto-Brown Park
Wallace @ Glen Creek Intersection
Minto-Riverfront Bridge and Path
Bush Park - Minto Connector on Miller Street and River Road
Salem Industrial Drive Improvements to Kroc Center
(Gary didn't address the project list as a whole, but he did single out the Airport loop as a project whose value he didn't get, and the North Downtown/Broadway district as an area worth a higher priority.)
So that's what I think the priorities should be, and hopefully a good enough description of how I got to them. What do you think?