Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vancouver WA Suggests Salem Should Explore a TMA for Downtown

Although it was during the OSU-UO football game, and I expected downtown to be a little quieter, I was still surprised with just how sleepy it seemed mid-afternoon yesterday on "Small Business Saturday."

In the Friday paper there was also a note about the trees, wreaths, and other decorations the Salem Downtown Sponsorship and the City are putting up.

What is the Question?

The lack of people and the decorations suggested that maybe Salem is asking the wrong question. The administrators of the downtown Economic Improvement District, first Go Downtown Salem and now the Salem Downtown Partnership, have asked "What do you find downtown?" - that is, what do people find once they get downtown? Do they find clean and attractive sidewalks? Do they find parking? Do they find businesses, amenities, and events they desire?

But maybe the question should be, "How do you go downtown?" with a focus on making it easier for people to come downtown. Maybe the focus on "parking" is something of a red herring, since after all that's the end-state for a car trip downtown.

Vancouver Tackles How

This appears to be the approach The City of Vancouver (Washington) is taking.

The Downtown Vancouver Growth and Transportation Efficiency Center Plan offers a
vision for downtown Vancouver...where people from all walks of life come to gather, live, work, shop and enjoy. The City hopes to maintain Vancouver’s small-town feel while continuing development by adding future employment and housing. This GTEC will assist the city by removing cars from downtown streets, clearing unnecessary parking, and providing pedestrian, bicycle and transit friendly links to major destinations. It will help provide additional transportation capacity without the need to build more on-street parking and/or parking infrastructure.
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?!

As a central part of the Plan, Vancouver will
develop a Transportation Management Association (TMA) in the downtown. TMA’s are non-profit, member-controlled organizations that help to manage transportation services in a particular area like the downtown and are generally public-private partnerships, consisting primarily of area businesses with local government support. City of Vancouver is in process of hiring a consultant to help with development of this process, and the City is working in partnership with the Vancouver Downtown Association with this effort as well.
Bikeportland just shared the news that the contract for the consultant had been finalized. Vancouver will form a Business Improvement District that sounds a lot like Salem's Economic Improvement District to fund the TMA on a pilot basis.

A TMA for Salem has been Recommended Already

A couple of years ago, as part of managing the difficulty with crossing the Willamette here in Salem, the Rivercrossing Alternate Modes Study recommended forming a TMA for Salem's downtown:
The Salem Transportation Management Association would be a new organization created to work with the major employers in downtown to implement the recommended TDM [transportation demand management] strategies. Representatives from the City of Salem, downtown business associations, and each of the major downtown employers (the State of Oregon, Willamette University, Salem Hospital, the City of Salem, etc) would likely sit on the board of directors....

The purpose of a TMA is to have a single organizational body dedicated to tackling difficult transportation problems, such as congestion and commuting by single occupancy vehicle. It can help agencies meet goals and enact plans related to multimodal transportation, and can maximize the resources of individual businesses. For example, a business with limited parking capacity for employees and customers can reduce SOV commute trips by employees and free up parking capacity for business patrons. A local TMA can facilitate the implementation of effective transportation programs and services and provide a forum for businesses, neighborhood associations, and local agencies to work together to address transportation issues. A TMA can also advocate for the interests of local businesses and employees at the local, regional, and state level.
Without knowing more, the comparison here may not be exact, still it is interesting that the Vancouver "go downtown" website has a clear focus on transportation rather than on promoting individual businesses and events like First Wednesday.

Currently, we are focused on car parking because people don't feel they have a choice: Our bus system is weak, most people think biking downtown is a deathwish, and so it's no wonder they have a monomodal fixation on the car trip and finding a car parking spot. By creating a robust menu of choices, we will be better able to allocate existing resources and not have to build new expensive infrastructure.

As the Salem Downtown Partnership gets its sea-legs and starts building out its programming, maybe it should give more attention to the way people go downtown and not merely what they find once they get downtown.

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