Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Market and Old Laundry, the Hoopla, the Urban Highway: Newsbits

After several behind-the-scenes tries, it looks finally like a possibility for the laundry just south of Broadway Commons was ready to go public.

Capital City Laundry: Oregon State Library
Note the Oregon Electric lines and tracks on Broadway!
The paper yesterday had a story about the possibility of the Salem Saturday Market moving from the State of Oregon Green Lot to the old Laundry building across the street from Broadway Commons.

The plaza at Broadway Commons is a candidate for the best urban space in Salem, Salem Cinema is a block down the street, and the Grant Neighborhood is a great place to be right now.  The corner of Gaines and Broadway has fabulous potential.

Interior of Capital City Laundry Today
The building is empty, and there's a lot to like about the idea.

But moving the market activates the space only one day a week. Some of the other possibilities for the space might have used it five or even seven days a week.

This stretch of Broadway just has tons of potential, and it would be great to energize the corner with a greater presence that just on Saturdays.

The Oak and Parking Lot behind Laundry
Parking is also a question. The building is closer to neighborhoods than the Green Lot, and might attract more walking and biking. It's a great opportunity for a high quality, covered bike corral for year-round cycling - either on the gravel lot or using some on-street space.  But wouldn't it be nice to see something on a paved surface, perhaps underneath the old oak?

Proposals for Howard Hall Adaptive Reuse Due August 23rd, Looks Alarmingly Pro Forma

Salem Health has had its RFP out for Howard Hall since the 10th of this month and they expect to close it on August 23rd.

It's all about parking
 (Howard Hall in lower left)
How hard, really, are they trying to find a use for it, trying to integrate it into their plans?  The timeline looks awfully compressed, and they expect to award a successful proposal on September 9th. 

In this context, an RFP with such compressed timelines could suggest a pro forma attempt to say, "Well, we tried. But we couldn't find a use for it, so I guess we'll have to knock it down. Shoot. We were hoping we wouldn't have to do that. Darn."

It will be interesting to see what is proposed, but good things take time sometimes.

(For more on Howard Hall and the Blind School Parcel, see notes tagged Blind School Redevelopment.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

First Wednesday on August 7th to Feature Bikes

The poster for August's First Wednesday is out!  And the theme is cycling - unicycling, bicycling, heck even tricycling.

But that raises a pair of questions:  Who's going to cycle downtown who isn't already cycling downtown, and what is the City going to do to make it easy for occasional or new cyclists to venture into the "black hole" of downtown traffic?

City plans are a bit thin at the moment, and it's not clear they've thought through what a bike-focused event might actually look like and what it would take to attract meaningful numbers of people to choose bikes instead of cars - but things seem sure to heat up as the 7th approaches!

Still, there are some things maybe to think about for next year.
  • This would have been a terrific opportunity for a criterium bike race downtown!  There was talk of one a few years ago, but it never came together.  Maybe the time is ripe?
  • How about temporary cycletracks, reserving a few lanes in downtown for bike traffic?
  • Product Demos.  Remember that "Brooks Run Happy Cavalcade of Curiosities"? 
  • Heck, what about a Tour de Fat style carnival?  The poster sure suggests it!
  • Bike Art like Mary Lou Zeek's Different Spokes from 2008.
  • Any fabricators of hand-built frames in Salem?  Maybe a custom bike show.
  • A show of vintage bikes.

Brooks Cavalcade of Curiosities
Hopefully they'll also improve on the bike corrals.

Temporary Bike Corral on Sidewalk
State Street, First Wednesday July 2013
What would you like to see next year?

Update, July 30th

FoxBlue has created a poster with details on some of the downtown offerings.

Ventis and One Fair World are offering discounts, and the Peddler will have a workstand and repair station.  Mary Lou Zeek will also have an interactive art project.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Breakfast this Friday

It's summer!

Friday, July 26th, we'll be at the North Office Mall Building on Winter street NE from 7am to 9am with free coffee, snacks, and fruit for you.  Bring your friends, recruit a newbie!  There's no better time to try bicycling to work.
Aaron and Cory

Please support our generous sponsors!
Cascade Baking Company
Governor's Cup Coffee Roasters
LifeSource Natural Foods
Salem Bicycle Club
Willamette University.

Cory and maybe Aaron from the YMCA/Hillcrest Second Chance Bikes will also be available for quick check derailleur adjustment, lube, and tire inflation!  (You may also remember Cory from Cranksgiving in 2010.  Maybe it'll be back this year!)

View Larger Map

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Downtown Advisory Board Talks Bike Parking and Mobility Study Thursday

Thursday, July 25th at noon, the Downtown Advisory Board meets in the Kalapuya Conference Room of the IT Department at 295 Church St SE, Ste 201.

They'll be talking housing, the Downtown Mobility Study, and permanent bike corrals, which are being piloted during First Wednesdays this summer.

Temporary Bike Corral on Sidewalk
State Street, First Wednesday July 2013
From the agenda:
  • Should the Downtown Advisory Board recommend that the Urban Renewal Agency board support approval of the North Downtown Housing Investment Strategy?
  • Should the Downtown Advisory Board recommend that the Urban Renewal Agency Board support approval of an amendment to the RDURA Plan to add curb bulb-outs and permanent bike parking to the Riverfront-Downtown Urban Renewal Plan? [emphasis added!]
  • Should the Downtown Advisory Board recommend the Urban Renewal that the Urban Renewal Agency Board support approval of the Central Salem Mobility Study recommendations?
Comb and Toast
Racks - not
If there's one thing that worries me a little, it is the generally low quality of the temporary corrals. They have used comb racks that are not recommended and do not meet current best practices for bike parking.

The cones and barricades also made things look more like a construction zone than an inviting place to put your bike.

The installation on State Street also was up on the sidewalk, and the idea of the corral is to use an on-street car stall more efficiently, serving six or more bikes in the space one car occupied.

In general it would be great to reduce the number of bike racks on the sidewalk to free up the "furniture zone" for sidewalk cafe seating or benches or other amenities, and to shift parking to the street, where it belongs.  Having bike racks on the sidewalk is also a cue that potentially misleads people into thinking you can bike on the sidewalk downtown.

Finally, the theme for July's First Wednesday was "dogs."  While some people do take out their dog on a leash and sortof "sleddog" by bike, for most of us, dogs and bikes are not a very good combination, and July's theme was not a good match for bicycling.

August's theme is bikes. I believe, and it will be interesting to see how that works.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Strip Development on South Commercial: Does a New Beer Business Say Anything about Change?

Beer! It's summertime and that's the time for beer. The growler-fill movement has hit Salem and there's now at least two new ones in the Salem area, including a "fill station" on South Commercial, the B2 Taphouse. How does it fit into the urban streetscape?

B2 Taphouse from Sidewalk:  Not oriented to Commercial Street
As craft brewing has matured, the forms it has taken in Portland have seemed to cluster around either old industrial areas or old (and sometimes new) storefronts on streetcar lines (also old and new). Many of the pubs are family friendly, at least earlier in the evenings, and pubs or breweries often anchor walkable redevelopment phases in changing neighborhoods.

In Salem, both Santiam and Gilgamesh have sited in industrial areas, though they are not super walkable.  Although the McMenamins are known for their preservation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings - like Thompson's and Boon's, which are more walkable - they also have a few older pubs in strip malls.  The growler fill business, as opposed to the pub or brewing business, has been popular elsewhere, but perhaps because of craft beer's reach here, Oregon has been slow to catch on.  But it's happening now, and it's happening in Salem.  And at least in one instance, it uses a strip mall configuration.

Draft Morningside Neighborhood Plan
In light of the new Morningside Neighborhood Plan, as well as the hoped-for TGM grant to look at transportation along a segment of South Commercial, what really are the prospects for neighborhood brewpubs and other kinds of commercial enterprises that are markers for a "walkable" neighborhood?

B2 Taphouse Site on South Commercial; Drive-thru bays
in center of building on both sides
The B2 Taphouse is located in a new-school strip mall. The mall has a front building oriented for drive-thru business, and a back building that is standard strip.  The two parts are oriented towards an inner "courtyard" for car parking.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

City Council, July 22nd - Parking, Parking, Parking

Geez.  One of the craziest arguments sometimes proffered towards those of us who think on-street metered parking might be appropriate is that we want a dead downtown.

Liberty Parkade (on the weekend)

Back in September 
things kicked-off
Nobody wants an empty downtown!  Nobody.  We all want a downtown crazy full of commerce and culture and people.  We are united in that desire.

Metering is the big item on Council for Monday.  Who knows how that'll go.

But since arguments for metered parking don't seem to have made much headway, let's switch courses.

What a Persuasive Anti-Meter Argument Would Look Like

Here are arguments that could change my mind, what it would take for proponents of free parking to persuade me that I should support continuing free parking.  I think the case against a giant bridge and highway is overwhelming, and I'm confident.  I don't see how the City or pro-bridge forces can be persuasive.

I'm considerably less confident that meters right now are a great idea, so here's an outline of what could persuade me:
    Meeting last October
  • It seems to me there's a clear pattern of infusions of Urban Renewal dollars into the parking district. Council's agenda for Monday has a three-quarter million infusion!  Claims that there is funny bookkeeping or a conspiracy to milk the district for general fund monies to be directed elsewhere do not ring true to my eye.  Proponents of free parking should drill into the yearly parking district budgets over the last decade and show in detail why they believe the City's claims are false.  It doesn't have to be forensic-level accounting.  But so far I have only seen a discussion of some summary spreadsheet:
    The City Manager decided to round up the $425,000 number to $500,000 (an extra $75,000 every year), then added a fictional operational shortage of $160,000 a year, and rounded that up to $200,000 (another extra $40,000 a year). Then deducted the $383,000 from eliminating the Parking Tax (rounded up to $400,000) and landed on a shortfall of $1.1 million a year.
    This is more confusing than clarifying and lacks specific year-over-year detail to support a strong claim about slack city budgeting or misleading city claims about the budget.
  • Discuss in more detail the subset of block faces that do meet the 85% threshold at peak occupancy and why exactly they should not be metered.  There is merit to the argument that overall downtown does not meet the 85% threshold, as a figure of 75% overall seems to describe more accurately the overall picture.  However there is a smaller subset of block faces that do seem to meet the 85% threshold - the latest number is 92% - and opponents of metering should say in detail why these blocks are not good candidates for meters and why the elimination then of the parking tax would not meet with rejoicing.  
  • Talk more about the idea that free parking has been a great success.  We've had 40 years of free parking, and from this vantage point it hasn't yielded a healthy downtown now - and it seems likely, ever. So why such strong insistence that more of a failed policy is going to yield different results?  The empty storefronts seem to go with free parking.  If free parking was so powerful and so necessary, wouldn't we have a healthier downtown already?  When exactly was there a "golden age" of free parking in Salem that yielded a terrific downtown?
  • Since the examples of successful metering in Pasadena, Tacoma, PDX/Lloyd District, and Oregon City as well as Ashland, downtown PDX, Hood River, and Corvallis haven't been persuasive, how about free parking advocates cite case studies where metering garages and keeping on-street parking free has been successful.  This is counter-intuitive, free-parking advocates must understand: By putting a cost on the plentiful and underused resource (garage stalls) and keeping the scarcer in-demand resource free (on-street stalls), metering only the garages flies in the face of normal economic/market theory, and should be backed with more than mere speculation.  Let's see some data about how this actually works.
I think all of us who think meters might be helpful also desperately want a vibrant downtown.  We aren't dogmatic.  An evidence-based argument could totally be persuasive, and I think a good one would address at least the first three points in detail.

(Other agenda items after the jump)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Celebrating a Half-Century of Scott's Cycle in 1965

With the drear, drear civic debates these days, a pick-me-up is in order. Here's something more cheerful. You may recall an earlier note about the antecedents of Scott's Cycle in 1913.

May 16th, 1965
Here's a piece from 1965 on the occasion of the sale of his business to the group that included current owner Larry Lewis.  Reflections on the different bike booms, bike transportation, and the civic stature of bike dealers are also interesting.
The surprising thing, as Harry W. Scott look back on nearly a half-century as "the cycle man" of Salem, is that the important things in his life haven't really changed.
April 24, 1915
The store, he recently sold at 147 Commercial St. SE, no longer is the hub of downtown Salem, and America no longer travels exclusively on two wheels.

But his stock in trade, the bicycle, is as popular as ever, and in fact, selling faster than when he was just starting for himself in Salem in 1916.

"We sell more bicycles now than ever. It used to be that adults rode bikes to get to work. Now they and the whole family use them for pleasure."

Variety of Bicycles

Once, bikes were fairly uniform in type. Now, says Scott, there are sizes and styles for all tastes: "stingrays" with long handlebars for in-town riding, 10-gear racers for the cyclist who really wants to cover ground, and everything in between.

The automobile, which might seem to be the foe of the bike, is actually helping sales, Scott observed.

It's so hard to find parking and get through the traffic, many have turned to the bike for salvation, he chuckled.

Scott, 69, a business fixture in Salem and a former school board member and Salem First Citizen, looks back nostalgically on his long time cycle shop, which he sold last month to Donald Edward Collins, Jr., who has a large cycle shop in Eugene.

Scott's chop, which will continue to bear his name and his brand of service, has been remodeled and enlarged and is now the biggest in size in Oregon, Scott said. The Salem manager is Larry Lewis, who was with Collins in Eugene for seven years.

Pleasure from People

The other important thing that hasn't changed in the last 50 years is the pleasure Harry Scott gets from being with people, whether they are his customers - many from the third generation - or fellow civic worker on the Salem School Board, the State Board of Education or in other community activities that have kept Scott busy.

"It's been an interesting business," observed Scott, now taking life easier at his comfortable home on a three acre plot at 1045 Cunningham Lane SE.

The main course of his civic activities was 16 years on the Salem School board, starting in the post-war era when the district began to quadruple in number of schools through consolidations and new construction.

Leaving the board in 1961, he was appointed by Gov. Mark Hatfield to a seven-year term on the State Board of Education.

It's a fact which Scott neither brags about nor apologizes for that he failed to finish high school. He was called to work by his father after his sophomore year in Salem and the chance to complete his formal education never returned, although he never stopped learning.

If anything, the inability to get a high school diploma has made him even more determined than most leaders in seeing that the present generation gets as much education as possible. In his own family, two of his three sons have doctorates.

Interested in Bicycles
January 30, 1913
Scott got into the cycle business almost by accident. His father an uncle bought a second-hand furniture store in Salem. Scott concentrated on bike sales, got interested in bikes, and soon bikes became the speciality of the house. A year or so later, in 1916, Scott became a teenage businessman, setting up his own shop on State Street where Hogg Bros. is now located.

Came World War I and he and cousin Charles Piper, his partner, were drafted the same day. The sign they posted on the shop - "Gone to War," with a drawing of the two cycle-mounted youths chasing the Kaiser back to Berlin - was reprinted in numerous trade publications.

Bested by Perry's
September 9, 1916
After the war, Scott set up his shop again Feb 11, 1919 at its present location. Until its sale it was the second oldest business in Salem under the same ownership. Perry's drug store next door is the oldest.

Scott specialized in used bikes, but also sold motorcycles. Motorcycles were crowded out later to a different location, and in 1957 he sold that end of the business.

The bike business is "cyclic" like most others. It boomed during the war, when cars and gasoline were hard to get. But people were so accustomed to four wheeled transportation that he had to conduct learn-to-drive schools on old Sweetland Field at Willamette University.

The revivial of interest in bike-riding elates Scott for reasons other than business. Bike-riders are a pleasant lot, he believes, happy, cheerful and fun-loving.

He hopes to see them around for a long while.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Don't Fight the Car Parking, Bike to the Art Fair this Weekend!

Not overcast this year!
People who ride their bikes to the Art Fair this weekend will get a free bag-o-chips.

Plus you don't have to hunt for a parking spot.

According to the press materials there will be two monitored bike parking enclosures. (map here)
  • Near the entry off Bush and High
  • Near the entry off Leffelle and Church
Bring your own lock.

Donations will be accepted to benefit the South Salem High School music programs.

"Parking Made Easy" Pamphlet May be Wishful Thinking

While Council seems ready to moot the Parking Task Force recommendations on Monday, a petition drive to ban meters downtown seems poised to thwart any Council action.

It's hard to know how useful this will be in our debate - but the State has just published a new pamphlet, Parking Made Easy:  A Guide to Managing Parking in Your Community.

Parking Made Easy
Ha, ha!  You say.  Parking Made Easy.  Sheesh, it's anything but.

Still, it's nice to see a short section on bike parking, treated not as a special-interest facility, but as an important piece of managing on-street parking - part of the total transportation package.

Quality Bike Parking as part of the solution

Excerpt on Salem
Of less certain value is some of the way it handles data, alas.  Here's a bit on Salem:
In 2006, Salem, Oregon had over 200 30-minute parking stalls within its 1,200 stall downtown onstreet parking inventory. The long-term parking quickly filled up each day, leaving only 30-minute stalls available. With few parking options in sight, customers used these spots and frequently returned to find parking tickets on their cars. People became frustrated with “heavy handed” enforcement and lack of options. Parking study surveys revealed that customer visits averaged 1.5 hours. Rather than continue to issue tickets, the city adjusted the time limits to two hours on the majority of 30-minute stalls to better correlate time stays to actual customer need. The number of 30-minute stalls was reduced from over 200 to 35, providing the right space and reducing tickets
Our current parking debate shows that the two-hour limit is not popular and that this change in 2006 was not as effective as the writers of the pamphlet might want us to believe.

It would be helpful to see data on actual business generated.  With the Great Recession and all, it's hard to control the data, but it seems like you ought to be able to tie parking data to receipts somehow.  If metered parking does in fact promote commercial activity, which is a significant part of the claim for doing it, we ought to be able to see evidence of that.

Something more like this, from New York City:

Parklet for Parking:  172% increase in retail sales!
Measuring the Street: New Metrics for 21st Century Streets
New York City Department of Transportation
As for our particular situation here, it feels like the positions on downtown parking in Salem have become too entrenched and hardened, and that there's not space right now for a data-driven approach to compromise and success. Mostly, it feels like an emotional appeal to the convenience of "no more parking tickets forever!"  Maybe the recent "open houses" by the city will have moderated feelings and brought more data into the wider conversation.

Over at LoveSalem in a comment Walker articulates a more nuanced approach:
It's quite possible that parking meters play a role in a thoughtful, holistic plan for revitalizing and improving downtown such that people want to be in and enjoy that place, and for accommodating them in all their variety. And when I see that plan, and where parking meters fit into it, it's possible that it will be worthy of support.
Unfortunately, that's not where the petition drive and opposition to the current plan is headed.  Instead, it's no more parking meters forever.  And even if you think meters are inappropriate right now, making a ban permanent is not good policy.

This pamphlet may come too late for Salem, and it may not be written to the right audience.  It seems more for policy-makers, but it seems that there's a need for a document written for business owners who think free parking is not only necessary but helpful.

If you check it out, what do you think of it?

(For all notes on downtown parking, including thoughts on why meters might be helpful, see here.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Salem Area Trail Alliance Brainstorms Bike Park in Wallace Marine Park

Yesterday a group of bike park advocates and City staff explored the wilds north of the softball complex parking lot in Wallace Marine Park.

They were brainstorming at a workshop for a bike park concept in Wallace Marine Park held by the Salem Area Trail Alliance, Dan Miller of the National Parks Service, and Jordan Sector of Sector Environmental Design.

SATA is one of the 2013 Oregon Projects participating with the National Park Service, Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, which "provides technical assistance to communities so they can conserve rivers, preserve open space, and develop trails and greenways."  Dan and Jordan work together often on projects and the Assistance Program made their presence possible.

A large number of trails are already worn down and marked
The group tromped through the existing "hobo trails" and single track to explore the topography and existing conditions off of which a formal park would want build - rather than work against. And then they sketched out a concept map.

The location in Wallace Park just north of the softball complex -
More than just a pump track! (north at top)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Newsbits: Wallace Bike Park Workshop and William Tebeau, ODOT Engineer, 1925 - 2013

The Salem Area Trails Alliance is holding a workshop today, postponed from last month, for a "family friendly pump track, jumps and xc trails" in Wallace Marine Park north of the softball fields.

Possible location in Wallace Park
This could be a link in the wider trail system proposed by SATA for the river and Eola Hills, as well as a terrific urban facility for off-road biking!

Sample Bike Park Design
What kinds of things would you like to see?  From SATA:
Calling all dirt artists! We need your input. We have a bike park design workshop planned for June 28th (Time TBA). What elements would you like to see in a bike park? Email SATA at salemtrails at gmail dot com if you're interested in attending the workshop. We'd really like to hear from a few local teenage riders. Thanks, Jeff...

Wallace bike park design workshop has been rescheduled for July 15th (1-4 pm). Please attend if you are available. Meet down at the softball diamonds located in the northern section of the park.
William Tebeau, 1925 - 2013

In the news yesterday was the obituary for William Tebeau, who passed away on July 5th:
In June, 1948 he became the first African American male student to graduate from OSU, receiving his BS in Chemical Engineering....

He was hired by the State Highway Department in Baker, presently the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) in 1948. He received his Civil Engineering license, was promoted, and moved the family to Salem in 1956. Bill did everything from construction, surveying, planning, hydraulics, and highway/bridge design in his 36 year career, retiring in 1984, leaving an exceptional impact on the Department.

In a 1988 article the Director of ODOT said that Bill was a cornerstone for the planning and research of Oregon's highway construction/improvement programs, was responsible for mapping Oregon's cities, counties and urban areas and had more influence on the education, personal development, and mentorship of ODOT employees than any other individual he could think of. Deputy Director at ODOT is quoted in a 2008 article that Bill was a great resource for any type of question you had, an endless volume of information, a tremendous engineering knowledge....

The family welcomes all in celebrating Bill's life on Saturday, July 20, 2013 from 2-5 pm at Center 50+ located at 2615 Portland Rd NE, Salem, OR 97301.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

New Keizer Transit Station has Nice Bike Racks - But Getting to them? Not so Easy

By Salem standards the bike racks at the new Keizer Transit Station are pretty posh. They're staples, generously spaced, and they're covered. What more could you want?

Decent Bike Parking in Salem!
But located on the sidewalk and a little isolated
Well, it would have been nice if more thought had been given to how reach them!

For there's no approved way to ride up to them.

Coming from Salem, on the approach from the south, things start off inauspiciously, as there is no connection from the corner of Chemawa and Keizer Station Boulevard, and you have to look through the trees to see the station.  It's kinda hidden.

Then, when you try to make a right-hand turn into the station from the extension of Chemawa north that becomes Keizer Station Boulevard, there's a huge lip - a mini-curb and gutter even - on the driveway, totally big enough to catch your wheel and enforce an involuntary dismount.  It's scaled for bus wheels, not bikes.

The lip on the Transit Station Driveway
Once in there, it's not clear at all where to go for bike racks.  There's no directional signage, and it dawned that the designers weren't envisioning people biking in.  It was pretty much for buses only. There did seem to be an outer ring road for cars in addition to the inner ring for the buses.

Poor Connections to Roadway
for People on Bike; Insufficient signage
for regulations and directions
So I continued around the outer ring and finally found a covered group of four racks (top image) on the sidewalk at the south end of an area striped for perpendicular car parking.

Then I went to the center and found two other clusters of racks, for a total of 10 staple racks, all covered.

And some other neat stuff.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sunday Streets Announcement Contrasts Gloriously with Construction Mess Piece

Love, love, love the front page today!

"Cars, man, why?"
Above the fold with the main headline is a tale of congestion woes and construction and car cares.

Salem Sunday Streets Coming Sept 8th!
And below the fold is the first public announcement about Salem's own Sunday Streets event, scheduled for September 8th.

Lots of work has been going on behind the scenes on this and, as the story suggests, some downtown merchants still apparently haven't been notified so they can be involved, so its appearance in the paper might yet have been premature.

But that's ok. It's a great concept and people are sure to enjoy it.  The matter will go to Council on the 22nd. It also is giving visibility to the importance of State Street as the gateway to Riverfront Park.

And you could hardly ask for a better illustration contrasting the joys of bicycling and the perils and social costs of autoism.

It's an open-and-closed case.

Thanks, SJ!

Update, July 21

Here's the route.

From Wallace to the Capitol - No Cars on State Street!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Ross: Sign Dross for our Loss? Autoist Analysis misses Dimension of Walking

The whole kerfluffle over the Ross Dress for Less sign is fascinating.

Yeah, it's pretty ugly
The sign is mainly visible from Center Street on the bridge heaing east and on Libery heading north. This fact leads a story in the paper, in fact:
Drive into downtown Salem from the Center Street bridge and it’s one of the first things you see: the giant blue letters for Ross Dress for Less, the new tenant in the Salem Center mall.
These are busy roads and they aren't pleasant for walking or biking. They're totally auto-oriented arterals and urban highways.

Uninviting, hard, blank wall that says
"move along, folks, nothing to do here, no reason to linger"
And in today's Winners & Losers, the paper says, "the store’s massive sign is out of character with downtown mall’s brick design."

And the character of that brick design is???

The biggest problem with the mall is not that there's a garish, over-sized sign on the corner, but that there are no doors, no apertures, nothing but a hard brick border along the sidewalk. Sure there are some windows, but fundamentally the environment is not friendly for people who are walking.

These are lousy edge conditions!

The problem with the facade is that it doesn't relate to the sidewalk and people walking on it.  It totally assumes you are driving to the mall.  But since it's downtown in a place where walking ought to be easy and pleasant, and not on a giant suburban parking lot, its isolation this way leads to fail all the way around.

The paper's blurb is interesting, and indirectly contains ambiguous observations about Salem's demographics, and downtown.  (Is perhaps part of the outrage over the sign its reminder of the Great Recession's dominant mode of coupon-clipping and discount shopping?)
Salem’s demographics and population density, as well as the visibility of Salem Center, made the location attractive to Ross, Wong said. It will be the third Salem-area Ross store — one is at 2325 Lancaster Drive NE and the other is in Keizer Station.

Separately, Salem Center soon will begin making at least $2 million in renovations to the mall’s common areas, said Linda West, a spokeswoman for Jones Lang LaSalle Retail, the mall’s manager.

The improvements will include new soft seating, upgraded flooring, additional lighting, architectural highlights, signage and remodeled public restrooms near the Nordstrom store.
Improvements will apparently happen on the inside, but nothing to make for more permeable or inviting edge conditions along the sidewalk.

In the end, the analysis of the sign, as did considerations of the Mattingly Mural, conform too much to a single-minded focus on "what can we see from our car?" and miss the more fundamental question of, "what is it like to walk there?"

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Salem National Forest Blog Chronicles Stroads, not Toads

Lancaster Drive is the wretchedest place to bike and walk.*  Most of the roads in and around there are substandard for walking and biking, and the City and County struggle just to complete legacy remediation for basic sidewalks and bike lanes.  And even when there are 1980s-era bike lanes and sidewalks, as there are on Lancaster itself, the roads are wide, super busy, traffic runs fast, and still just aren't pleasant at all.

So many of us don't get out there much.  And it's something of a blind spot for the blog, which has a distinct bias for downtown and the close-in neighborhoods.

But there's lots of energy out on the east side.  The biggest youth bike event in the city, for example, is the annual give-away at Casa de Adoracion, which last year raised around $20,000 and provided bikes for several hundred kids.

It's also where a significant stock of cheap buildings is.  In a recent post on The Atlantic, Kaid Benfield said:
I do think there has been a resurgence of entrepreneurship in recent years. It is taking place in older commercial buildings with lower rents and, increasingly, that means it is taking place in some locations we may be quick to dismiss as car-dependent and unsustainable. While surely the best way to preserve small business diversity and opportunity is not to preserve some of the most unsustainable architecture in America, my sense is that we – environmentalists and urbanists – have not put enough thought into how best to sustain what that architecture is now nurturing.
If, for example, you want food from the great immigrant cultures here, Lancaster and Silverton roads are where it's at.  More than "melting pot" it's alchemical crucible!  The area is not just the opposite of downtown, but are also its complement.  When we worry about downtown, there are elements of class and ethnicity that are almost certainly not given sufficient weight in analysis and the range of prospective solutions.

So it was with interest recently to discover an established blog on that outer urban landscape. Called the Salem National Forest Blog, it is written and photographed by a local educator, and approaches the main roads of north and northeast Salem ironically, as if they were part of the national forest system and the roads were trails.  In a typical inversion, it treats the ugly as beautiful or picturesque: The urban ramble in the sprawly landscape as wilderness hike.

You might say, "it's not about toads, it's about Stroads" - those nasty hybrid of local road and urban highway.

Leftover farmland...encroaching on apartment complex
The most recent post talks about older rural forms "encroaching" on newer urban forms.

Photos essays on Fisher Road Trail, Lancaster Drive Trail,
Portland Road Trail, Salem Parkway
There are multi-part photo essays on Fisher Road, Lancaster Drive, Portland Road, the Salem Parkway.

I have not had a chance to look at all of it, and I don't know where all it goes - visually or thematically.  It may not be as ironic as I think it is.  And it may be playing other games as well.

The landscape, urban forms, and entrepreneurial energy near Lancaster are certainly more complicated than the easy antithesis between our lovely historic downtown and ugly, blighty, car-dependent strip development along Lancaster suggests.

Nuance is a good thing!

Anyway, check it out.  What do you think of it?  How do you read its irony?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Carnage Fowls-up Bike Lane and Sidewalk at Foxtrot Intersection

You might recall the graphic of 20 years of bridgehead "multi-modalism" posted to the City's Third Bridge website and first presented in February at a City Club Talk.

One of the key intersections in it was Commercial at Division.

Fowl Carnage in the Bike Lane:  Salem-Style Multi-modalism
Yesterday a spectacular crash with thousands of stinky factory-farmed chickens, which Salem police indicated was caused by a truck driver driving too fast as she tried to negotiate a turn, spilled onto the bike lane and sidewalk.

Fortunately, there was no one on the sidewalk or bike lane, though several cars for sale on the car lot sustained damage.

Commercial at Division, Northbound
While the crash seems to have been caused by driver misjudgment, it is important to note that the intersection is designed with broad, sweeping curves, and is engineered for through-put.  It encourages speed.  It is an urban highway.

It's also a charlie foxtrot.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Morningside Neighborhood Plan out for Review; Vote on Wednesday

Remember, tonight is the work session on transportation for the NEN-SESNA neighborhood plan - the areas around Englewood and Bush Schools.

It's a blank slate.

What about a nearly finished product?

The project to update the Morningside Neighborhood Plan, Morningside 360, kicked-off almost two years ago, and a full draft of the Morningside Neighborhood Plan is out for review.  Tomorrow night, Wednesday the 10th, the Neighborhood Association will vote on it.

There are two reasons it's hard to know what to say about the it.

The first is general, about its meaning and intent.

Most of us approach language with an interpretive charity, right?  As we decide what it means, we want to give it the benefit of the doubt, we assume it is sincere, and we expect action to follow intention.

But almost inevitably, though, advocates and even ordinary citizens in Salem reach the point where they realize that too often plan language is empty gesture, essentially meaningless, a theatrical palimpsest on which others write the script that's actually followed.  It's not always this way, of course, but it seems like the technical details - is a sidewalk necessary here?  How many bike and car parking stalls are required? etc - in a plan are not so difficult to see enacted, but that more general policy goals really tend to be diluted or disregarded.  So what, really, is the value of a plan when its language is not likely to be interpreted very closely?  How cynical should we be?

The other reason it's hard to know what to say here specifically is that the area it covers is way too big and diverse to constitute an actual neighborhood.  It's an administrative planning unit bounded by Commericial, Kuebler, the railroad, and a bit of I-5!  How is this an actual neighborhood?

As a document of compromise and negotiation and multiple interests, it's not something that is necessarily going to be coherent. Nevertheless, like many other neighorhood plans, and perhaps more than most, it is a jumble, more a grab-bag than an articulation of a vision.

According to the plan,
[O]nly the goals and policy statements in a neighborhood plan and generalized land use map may be considered for adoption as a component of the Comprehensive Plan. Accordingly, the goals, policies and generalized land use map...shall be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan Map, Comprehensive Policies Plan and the statewide planning goals....

[these] Goals, Policies and Generalized Land Use Map...serve as the guiding document for the neighborhood association’s recommendations to city boards, commissions, or outside agencies. Likewise the neighborhood plan shall be taken into account by city boards, commissions and agency staff in making any decision or recommendation which would affect the Morningside Neighborhood.
The section on commercial areas shows some of the difficulties.  (One important note of background:  In lawsuits and mediation with the State, the City has contested the language of "activity nodes and corridors" since 2005 and never embraced it whole-heartedly after successfully stone-walling DLCD; some of the ambivalence, or even contradiction, here may in some sense be intentional.)

Part of the main "acitivity node and corridor" -
Will this ever be "a vibrant, transit-integrated...corridor with
design elements promoting usability by pedestrians and cyclists?"
(And will these things ever have decent prose?!)
The introduction to the section on Commercial Development says,
Key neighborhood priorities to promote revitalization retrofit of Morningside’s commercial corridors include support for a vibrant and integrated local business community, urban design elements to provide a diversified and engaging commercial streetscape, and pedestrian safety in commercial areas.
Even though they are on the edges, two giant roads shape the "neighborhood":  Commercial running north and south, and Kuebler running east and west.  These are significant barriers to anything but auto travel, and essentially all non-residential, commercial development is confined along these corridors.

Legislative Update, Sine Die - The Final Recking!

Buy a lottery ticket,
Support bikeways!
The Legislature adjourned on Monday, and a few weeks ago it was looking like nothing significant for people who bike would become law.

In a surprising dark horse win, one of the ConnectOregon bills came through with language making bike/ped projects eligible to compete for lottery funds.

A couple of other odds-n-ends passed as well.

Bills that Passed:
  • ConnectOregon V reform - While House Bill 2310 to fund "ConnectOregon" stalled, in a separate effort aided it seems by the BTA, Senate Bill 260 emerged from the back room and passed both houses.  Back in April it seemed dead in committee, but July 7th, it was resurrected and the bike/ped language added.  As introduced SB 260 did not contain the bike/ped language.  BikePortland has more on the bill that makes lottery funds available on a competitive basis for non-highway multi-modal projects.  Bike/Ped projects will compete against rail, air, transit - big projects and big interests.  It might be a step in the direction of "least cost planning."  Here's the BTA's statement.  (But see below for inconsistency with the bill that as I understand it actually authorizes the monies.)
  • Celphones, texting, and distracted driving - Senate Bill 294 creates an exception in existing law for taxi-cab drivers to use a hand-held celphone while driving.  Like SB 260, in a last-minute win, Senate Bill 9 filed by Senator Courtney increases the penalty for using a cel phone while driving from a Class D violation to a Class C violation, which means the maximum fine would increase from $250 to $500.
  • HB 3047 doubles the length of a motor vehicle license suspension from 10 to 20 years under certain conditions. 
  • While bills to enact a carbon tax failed, Senate Bill 306 to study a carbon tax did pass.
  • It's over!  And I'm thinking of
    no more parking garages.
  • Bonds and Budgets and Earmarks and Pork:  In bills not followed here previously, HB 5507 allocates $35 million from bonds for a "Capitol Master Plan."  There are rumors that because of - wait for it! - the high cost of parking, DAS has realized they don't want to build more parking garages and instead wants to invest aggressively in alternatives to drive-alone commute trips!  Look for more on this later in the month. It'll be interesting to learn more about the scope of the $35M.  (Update - it's just for the Capitol Building itself; the Capitol Mall Plan will be something else, and it is not nearly so far along.)  The Salem River Crossing planning process has blown $7M, the Columbia River Crossing $170M - so this would seem to be a midpoint in expected scope.  A companion bill, HB 5533, also allocates $42 million for ConnectOregon (see above) - but interestingly does not include the bike/ped language in SB 260.  Will the inconsistency be an issue?  HB 5533 also sends $3.5 million to Cherriots for the Keizer Transit Station.
(Interestingly, HB 2322 contains pork for Multnomah and Washington County transportation projects. Why not other counties, hmmm?)

I think that's it.  The scrapheap of failed bills after the jump.