Sunday, May 26, 2013

Boise-Carousel State Street Pickle: Rail and One-Way Grid Don't Make it Easy

Today's guest opinion in the paper about the proposed extension of State Street to service the apartments in the first phase of the Boise redevelopment project highlights an important question.

Entry and view from Carousel Parking Lot and Access Drive
Unfortunately, this is truly a complicated venture and space limits in the paper surely made the writers leave out multiple elements and nuances.

One of the biggest is the element of rail (and inflexible approaches to "rail safety") and more general questions about our transportation and street system in this corner of downtown.  It may, in fact, be that the biggest constraint on developing the site is how mobility for people on foot, on bike, and in cars is managed.

Editorial against  entry
You might recall the first time plans for the site were floated. These included closing off the State Street entry to the Carousel and creating a new at-grade crossing within the development. The Railroads and ODOT Rail are working to decrease the total number of at-grade crossings (those without going over or under the railroad) and they would not allow a new crossing without closing an adjacent one.

The entry was to have included a new access off of Front Street going south, into and out of which you could only turn right.

Former access plan with rail crossing and State St. closure
To access the Carousel by car or even on foot you would have had to enter the Boise development, go past the residential development (however it was configured) and then reach the Carousel parking lot.

This was a lot of out-of-direction travel, and also created a dead-zone on State Street where it dead-ended into Front.   Access to the Minto Bridge would have become more complicated as well.  Walking or driving down State Street to reach the Carousel is direct and intuitive, and the access plan was a labyrinthine instead.

The Carousel group was originally in favor of this, as I recall, but hopefully as plans for the Minto bridge have matured, they have seen that closing State Street would be a mistake.

And fortunately that plan went on hiatus and then died.  Now we have this new plan.

Site Plan Overview:  No new RR crossing
It is far from ideal.  The disposition and design of the apartments aren't very civic-minded and critics in the SJ piece rightfully point to their shortcomings.

But the site, hemmed in by the railroad, the park, hamstrung by onerous restrictions on at-grade crossings of railroads, and awkwardly pinched by our one-way street system here is quite problematic.

It's a pickle!  And you can't just blame it all on the developer and architect.

Now, hopefully there are better design solutions out there.  Maybe a different design team could have or will come up with one.  The current architect's strengths seems to be resort communities, and this may not be the best match for an urban mixed-use redevelopment project.

But this is also an example of the way our current approach to rail safety and our commitment to a one-way grid downtown really makes things difficult on a developer who is trying to do something most of the community wants. (Even if we might disagree on some of the details, there is a general consensus that the Boise shell should be redeveloped, isn't there?)

There are lots of kids at the Park and Carousel, and our transportation scheme for the development should prioritize safety and comfort for the little ones on foot.  Inflexible rail standards and our street grid make this difficult.  (Not to mention adults on foot - our commitment to autoism is a factor as well!)

Some folks have said that this plot should be sold back to the City and folded into Riverfront Park.  That might indeed be the best and highest use of the land.

At the same time, it seems quite possible that these apartments are necessary to provide the revenue that makes the redevelopment of the Boise warehouse shell itself happen.  If you cut out development here, the whole package may not pencil out.

It's a pickle.  In multiple ways.

Raising questions about the State Street extension and the relation of the proposed development to the Park and Carousel is important.  But critics should also remember that the first alternative required closing State Street, and this was a terrible solution.

If there were an obvious solution, it would have come out by now.  So hopefully there are folks who see a compelling design problem and will be able creatively to think of an unexpected design solution.  In the mean time, if it should be easy to simplify and say "no third bridge," here it's all complication and nuance.

1 comment:

Frances said...

I wonder if they will also give attention to the development of Boise Apts...