Sunday, December 23, 2012

The North Downtown Appendix to the Downtown Mobility Study

The part of town right by Boon's has always been a little mysterious.

Boon's Tavern
It's the oldest part of Salem, for one. When Jason Lee relocated from Misson Bottom (site of Willamette Mission State Park), he chose a site very near Boon's. Mill creek winds through here just before it drains into the Willamette, and waterwheels offered power.

This site is ground zero, the origin, of Salem!

Almost a century later, between the two world wars some warehouses were built, served by the Oregon Electric line on High/Broadway.  In the spaces between the commercial industrial development and the creek, there's also a strange group of residential housing, apartments and single family homes.

See the house and box hedge in between the warehouses?
via the Google
This area is a little wacky with odd lots and dead-ends, winding and almost hidden streets, and things that time forgot.  Just north of it is the redevelopment on Broadway with Salem Cinema and Broadway Commons.  

You might recall a very popular note in Emily Grosvener's "Desperately Seeking Salem" about the area.  There's a history here that hasn't been written!

It's also a real barrier for people on bike, and the auto traffic patterns are more than a little convoluted.

Something of an outlier and appendix to the Downtown Mobility Study is a longer-range set of proposals for this North Downtown parcel bounded by Commercial, Division, Broadway, and Belmont.

North Downtown Area
North-south travel here is possible, if sometimes difficult. Liberty and Commercial have full bike lanes here - though they're certainly far from family-friendly. Bike and Walk Salem designates that couplet is for future study and "enhanced" bike lane treatments. Broadway/High also has bike lanes for part of it, and the Broadway corridor is designated for a complete bike lane treatment. Church/5th through here is not improved as a neighborhood bike boulevard, but it's pretty quiet and offers adequate movement for the moment.

The more interesting question is east-west connectivity.

East-West movement along D Street alignment impossible
Crossing Commercial at D nearly so
Because the nearest signalized crossings are on busy Market Street and on the Division Street Charlie Foxtrot at Commercial and Front, east-west connectivity here is a real problem for people on foot or on bike. With the grocery store at the corner of D Street and Commercial, some kind of connection to D Street on the other side would make it walkable for the Grant neighborhood. As it is, things on Front Street, including the Union St. Railroad Bridge are somewhat orphaned by the moat of Commercial/Liberty. A D Street alignment would also connect nicely with Boon's and the "Hobo Bridge" on Knapp Street.

Initial Alternatives
The concept alternatives are too abstract, alas, and it's too hard to parse them out, project a future, and make a judgment. It seems like the plot of street connections should be done in tandem with the redevelopment so that each piece complements the other. Trying to put a street grid plan there now seems premature.

Who knows what the car traffic will actually be in a decade or two?  It may be that changing living, working, and mobility patterns will bring a completely new set of problems to solve, and this seems like a location ripe to capitalize on problems and solutions we can't envision just now.

Moreover, this is one of the few parts of town with some genuine hidden, jumbly oddball charm, and it would be so very nice to retain some of it. This is a place where we might be suspicious of things too rational and planned.  We should not wish thoughtlessly to bulldoze connections where old warehouses and residences yet remain.  Surely some of the warehouses can be reused and redeveloped!  The new street connections should work with them, not against them. 

Because of this area's legacy, we should not be quick with a race to the bottom of crappy cookie-cutter apartments and strip malls. The area should be interesting, not indifferent and generic.

And so it is too difficult to know how to think about the connectivity proposals in the study.

1 comment:

Lori said...

"As it is, things on Front Street, including the Union St. Railroad Bridge are somewhat orphaned by the moat of Commercial/Liberty. A D Street alignment would also connect nicely with Boon's and the "Hobo Bridge" on Knapp Street."

Exactly! I live on the 800 block of Market St and as a runner, I love to run to the railroad bridge and Riverfront park, except for this exact scenario you mentioned. It is quite tricky to get there on foot from the NE, and more often than not, I take the straight shot down Winter St to Bush Park just to keep things simple (and safe!). It is a shame it is so difficult to get to the Union St RR bridge on foot.