Thursday, June 13, 2013

Free Parking Distorts Possibilities in Hospital Plan for Blind School

Really, it all comes down to free parking.

While the Hospital tempts the neighborhood association with a vision of "a sensory and therapy garden for children and adults, with a plaque commemorating the history of the property" contingent on demolishing Howard Hall, if you look at the map, you see there's plenty of room on the site for a therapy garden!

Way more Parking & Pavement than Building!
See all that grey?  Just delete a parking lot/structure.  Problem solved.

Driveway on Church has since been deleted
Fortunately, in the latest iteration of a concept plan for the Blind School parcel, any driveways on Church Street have been deleted.

But an important reason the hospital's parking is out of whack is that it is allocated extremely inefficiently.

Salem River Crossing Alternate Modes Study
The hospital should consider charging for parking.  It would provide a small revenue stream, reduce the need for additional capital investment, promote healthy transportation choices, and help the City of Salem reduce pressure for a giant bridge and highway across the river.

And make room for healthy, healing, lovely things like a therapy garden.

(Or, you know, the Hospital could just buy the Lord & Schryver Home Garden, just one block down the road, with easy access on the alley.)

Market-priced parking, it turns out, is one of the recommendations in the Alternate Modes Study.  You may also remember from the Comprehensive Plan:
12. The implementation of transportation system and demand management measures, enhanced transit service, and provision for bicycle and pedestrian facilities shall be pursued as a first choice for accommodating travel demand and relieving congestion in a travel corridor, before widening projects are constructed.

13. The Salem Transportation System Plan shall identify methods that citizens can use to commute to work and decrease overall traffic demand on the transportation system. Such methods include transit ridership, telecommuting, carpooling, vanpooling, flexible work schedules, walking, and bicycling.

18. The Salem Transportation System Plan shall identify methods that employers can use to better facilitate the commute of their employees, encourage employees to use alternative travel modes other than the SOV, and decrease their needs for off-street parking.
An Opportunity for Active Transportation

There's clearly an opportunity here. Salem Hospital has a smoke-free campus. Signs posted near entries and other places say, "This is a place of healing."

While automobiles possess a clear social utility that cigarettes do not, automobile exhaust as well as physical inactivity are also documented health risks. Car use and active transportation should be public health matters.

According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
The mobile source pollutants, including acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, 1,3 butadiene, diesel PM, benzene, and arsenic show high concentrations along and adjacent to the major traffic corridors....simultaneous exposure to multiple air
toxics, even at median exposure levels, creates the potential for adverse health outcomes, including cancer.

Geographically elevated cancer risks align with major highway corridors within the Portland area, which is consistent with on-road engines as an important source of benzene [and arsenic].
Located between the Salem Parkway and Mission Street, it's likely that the Hospital complex also experiences elevated air pollution.

Public opinion is slow to change, unfortunately. It has taken well over a half century of advocacy to create smoke-free public spaces. Why can't we learn from that campaign and work to promote the public health benefits of active transportation?

Oregon Health Sciences University might provide a model. Here's their 2011 Bike Program Report. They say
2011 was a banner year for biking at Oregon Health & Science University. We counted more bikes than ever on campus, marked one year of operation for our web application, test ran a popular bike valet, and the American League of Bicyclists Gold rated us as a Bike Friendly Business.

...OHSU has a robust array of incentives to aid transportation options: incentives recoup maintenance costs of biking; subsidies slash the cost of transit passes; yearend bonuses for employees incentivize walking and other active modes; and carpooling reduces a parking deduction by 50% or more. Reduced auto trips save the institution and the individual real dollars and cents by aiding health and reducing costs of commuting and parking. And for those who must drive, it eases traffic congestion and the demand for permits.
Salem Hospital should take a look! The reasons a bike program is good for OHSU are no different one would be good for Salem Hospital.

Maybe encouraging more employees and staff to bike can eliminate or reduce the need for additional employee parking.

Howard Hall

As for preserving Howard Hall and finding uses for it, it might be easier if the neighborhood association weren't quite so set on keeping the strip along Church Street as a private-public park. They fear big buildings and "commercial encroachment" in the historic district.

Howard Hall before Demolition
But if we want neighborhoods to be walkable and vibrant, we have to start thinking of small-scale commercial pockets inside of residential enclaves. Imagine a cafe or brewpub inside of Howard Hall! On game days, community festivals like the Awesome 3000 or Soap Box Derby, or other events there would be a place for food and drink. On a hot days at the park you could get a soda or beer or ice cream.

Some kind of mixed-use that is not strictly related to the delivery of health care could help regulate the street and park life. The neighbors, in fact, should be open to some kind of residential development - you know, apartments over ground-floor retail, on the old streetcar model.

Finally, we have to remember that the the confluence of Shelton Ditch and Pringle Creek makes the Hospital itself liable to flooding.

1964 Flood at Hospital and Blind School:  Salem Library Historic Photos
Look at the dry ground here.  There's a compelling public interest in letting the Hospital build on drier ground.  We should put parking in the flood plain, and important stuff on the higher ground.

This stands in tension with the neighborhood association's wish for a triangular pattern of development, with low, single-story development along Church Street and higher, mid-rise buildings towards Winter Street.

The problems here are hardly insurmountable.  It's good that the Hospital is taking the concepts out and engaging in conversation.  Hopefully it will result in a creative design solution that makes the new development vibrant, valuable, and lovely.

But we should remember that at the root of this debate and discussion is our insatiable appetite for free parking.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Some links...

More on the bike program at OHSU, a note about a "hospitality house" like a Ronald McDonald House to replace the Walton House by St. Paul's, and a note about a forthcoming RFP on adaptive resuse of Howard Hall.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Here are additional notes from the SCAN minutes of the meeting:

-- Questions from those in attendance:
-- Winter Rendering needed (not the computer renderings shown at the SCAN
meeting). Trees should be depicted as new trees, not the mature trees shown in computer
-- Parking: Salem Hospital described as “busiest emergency facility in the State.”
“A lot of people coming and going”
-- Alternative transportation looked at by hospital. Hospital doesn’t charge for
parking. Alternative transportation would reduce parking demand by only 5%
-- Intersection with Mission: Another light? No.
-- Elevation mentioned?
-- Hospital will try and keep existing trees
--Runoff controlled by bioswale but that is still being discussed. No water runoff is
allowed to go into Pringle Creek.
-- One attendee at the SCAN meeting voiced concern about Howard Hall “being set up
for failure?”
-- Hospitality House? Driveway? Exit on Church Street? NO exit on Church Street
-- Any discussions with historic preservation people (city or citizens groups)? No, but
hospital willspeak with them.
-- Have you considered a mix of century gardens and a portion of Howard Hall?
-- Have you considered Lord and Schryver plans for this area? (Not currently in design
--Representative Clem: Isthe rendering a weekend picture? Oris the view realistic with
the elevation? (No cars shown in the slot in the rendering).
-- SCAN President Dodier: SCAN will be looking at the Hospital plans in light of the
principles discussed today (no Church Street access, transition points in/on property,
Howard Hall, tree retention)
-- Surveyers are documenting the site and soil samples are being taken now.