Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 in Review: Sidewalks and Viaducts - Miniatures and the Giant, but where's the Middle?

The sidewalkification of bicycling and the Third Bridge dominated 2012. It was a year for thinking too small and for thinking too big, with grandiose, even delusional, ambition.

Salem Tries to Kickstart the Bridge
An intermediate zone of mid-sized, right-sized, and more meaningful projects was largely absent. And while some of the small things weren't bad, many weren't great either, and in general there was a deficit of things to cheer for.  It was a year where too many things deserved refusal, boos, or critique rather than praise and cheers.  This was a little demoralizing, seemingly more of the "one step forward, two steps back" from 2011.

Planning - Lots of Talk, but Sustained Action was Elusive

Planning efforts seem to start with optimism and vision, and attracted commensurate praise - and end with indifference and silence.  After a little over a year of public hearings, Bike and Walk Salem was finally adopted, but there seemed to be no momentum behind its recommendations.  Vision 2020 came to a quiet end, and the North Broadway Parking Study seemed to stall.  The latest in the series is the Downtown Mobility Study.  It kicked off in style - but will its burst of creativity and vision stall out in 2013 like the others did in 2012?

The End of Great Ideas?
Street Piano consigned to Smoking Zone in the fall
Salem's Bicycle Friendly Community renewed at the bronze level and this seemed to ratify the stall.  Things were holding steady, with out much improvement or increase. 

A way clear of headstones could not steer around controversy
A lousy process by the City at the Planning Commission and then Council exacerbated hard feelings in the debate over the prospect of a non-auto connection between Hoyt and Rural in or near the Pioneer Alley and Cemetery

And of course the costly, oversized, and unneeded toll bridge and highway.

Construction and Funding - Sidewalkification and the too Small

In many ways it was a better year for walking than for biking.  The City committed to a program of bulb-outs downtown and on Edgewater in West Salem.  The City also installed several new crosswalks with rapid flashing beacons.

The channel at Garnet requires tight 90-degree turns
and lacks access to Market Street
For walking this was great.   But equally visible infrastructure for people on bike was largely absent.  And more annoyingly, at many railroad crossings, especially those in the "quiet zone," City engineers designed facilities that forced people on bike onto the sidewalk, and made "pedestrian style" the default way to bike.  These facilities did not include wider sidewalks, and pedestrian style also implied uncomfortable passing for both those on foot and those on bike. 

Curb cuts are far, at distant block corners from Garnet
As last year the City declined to apply for Flex Funds, so this year it declined to advance a slate of strong projects for the TE/OBPAC funds or the new "Enhance-it" STIP funding (resulting from the new Federal transportation bill), focusing instead on one project for each, on legacy remediation for Brown Road and on the Minto Bridge respectively.

Minto splendor via City of Salem and Greenworks
In better news, the City committed to funding the Minto Bridge and Path, and redirected Urban Renewal funds when external grant sources fell through. 

Pringle Creek
Racing in 2011
Bike Culture

Several projects and events went on hiatus.  Kidical Mass struggled again this year.  There were no bike counts.  And the best race for spectators, out at Pringle Creek Community, didn't return in 2012.  The Boys and Girls Club Cycle Challenge didn't return, either. Bike Safety Education in the schools also remained on hiatus.

Some new and on-going projects were well-received, though.  A September Green Apple Day of Service offered a skills course, tune-ups, and community ride.   The Short Track race seres at the fairgrounds continued to attract racers, even from Portland.  The Northwest Tandem Rally was huge.  And the Salem Area Trails Alliance made great progress on the trail system at Spring Valley Park.

Disaster and Loss

There was too much mourning.  At least three people on bike died after people in cars hit them:  David Apperson, Hank Bersani, Miguel Maciel-Alejo

Team Bersani rides in memory of Hank Bersani
at the Monster Cookie
People in cars failed to yield or stop and also hit two people in marked crosswalks. John Dashney was struck on a neighborhood street with a new crosswalk and median, and Connor Jordon was killed by a driver who failed to stop at a red light.

January Flooding:  Wallace Park bathroom and parking lot
And we were all reminded of Mother Nature. It snowed on the Spring Equinox, with cherry blossoms garlanded in white.  More importantly, it flooded twice, the highest waters since 1996 in January.

2012 River Levels ranged from 5 to 30 feet
January's flooding damaged bridges and added $8.5 million in unexpected maintenance needs.

But even regular high-water levels brought trail closures to Minto Park, and the impact of ordinary high water on our transportation and parks system will be a bigger topic for 2013.  On December 30th, the river level was down past 14 feet, and parts of Minto were still closed. 

Minto Trails close around 18 feet
Looking Forward in 2013

There's little certainty, and many questions for the coming year.
  • What will the State Legislature do for ODOT funding and the Columbia River Crossing?
  • What will the City decide for the Salem River Crossing?
  • Will the Downtown Mobility Study yield a buildable plan that also includes a funding plan?  And will any projects from Bike and Walk Salem move forward with funding plans?
  • Will Salem's fleet of bikes disappear as Bike Safety Education efforts continue to flounder?
  • Will the Minto Bridge and Path complete its funding plan?  Will we see more detailed designs?
  • What will the latest iteration of the Boise Redevelopment Project look like?  Will ground finally break on it?
  • Will we finally figure out ways to work cooperatively on complete streets and transportation connections?  Or will we continue to operate with separate silos, separate interests, and separate design overlays for people on foot, on bike, on the bus, in the car?
What did I miss?   What stood out to you, in good or bad ways, in 2012 and for 2013?


Jim Scheppke said...

Great summary SBOB. You are doing a great community service with your blog. Big thanks.

To look on the bright side of 2012 two things stand out. NO Third Bridge has organized and is making headway to stop the madness. I think 4D is DOA. I doubt that the Council can come up with a true "consensus" (their stated goal) to build and pay for any kind of 3rd bridge (even a small one). They may just try to push something through on a 5-4 vote, but that will eventually come back to bite them.

Also, the Downtown Mobility is great! Something positive that the enlightened folks in this town can really rally around.

Thanks again for being a "thought leader" on how to make our town a better place to live.

Walker said...

"Will Salem's fleet of bikes disappear as Bike Safety Education efforts continue to flounder"

I didn't even know flounder lived in the Willamette!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Ah, Walker, but you may not have heard of the three-eyed freshwater flounder, an obscure variety that dwelled in the slough in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some have conjectured they were mutants spawned by the extreme pollution in the Willamette during this period and were possibly an invasive that survived on paddle steamers and commerce with canneries on the coast. Others have argued they were a form of native catfish with pronounced flat bodies, far from the more cylindrical form of other catfish. No close-up photos have been found in archives or newspapers, and so we depend on written descriptions. It is therefore difficult to be certain of much about them. A taxidermied head may survive in the Cabinet of Curiosities at the Abbey of Mt. Angel, and if the sample has not deteriorated too much, it is hoped DNA analysis will shed more light on this mystery at some future time.