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)

All ages joined Jeff McNamee of SATA for the session. There were kids, young adults, the young at heart, and several from the City, including Keith Keever, Parks Superintendent.  Several folks, including Dino Venti, also joined from BRMBA, adding their expertise in riding and construction.

The pond is a logical feature and center for a park.
A trail could wrap around it.  Folk watch a blue heron feeding there.
In addition to several ridges and natural bowls already there, a former quarry had left a pond - where everybody saw a Blue Heron.  Osprey also soared above.  It's a significant natural-ish area, and retaining as much of that character as possible is a value.  It's also prone to high water and occasional flooding, and accommodating the river's seasonality is an important design constraint.

Running in and also outside of the project area is a large number of hand-built and very large jumps, ramps, and tables. Some of them are essentially "underground" or "guerilla," and it turns out there's an impressive amount of biking going on there under the radar already.

There's a collection of amazing hand-built jumps and ramps
just outside the project area - they're huge!
Since the area is a magnet and enjoys this established scene, there's a great deal of sense in building on that at this site. A formal bike park might lose something in hip cachet, of course, but it will gain in quality of facilities, in safety, and in popularity.

One of the City staff hit on another great reason for a bike park there. At two kinds of moments the area around the softball fields is idle: When there is no tournament, which is often; and during a tournament for participants and spectators in the gaps between games, or for those who have limited interest in the game. By placing a first-class bike park there, families would be able to bring bikes and have something for the kids to do. People could also watch the advanced bikers do tricks and stunts. And when there is no tournament scheduled, the park will add activity, eyes, and ears to an area that is currently inactive and not well watched. A bike park can also be used as an amenity in pitching for national tournaments and the associated tourism.

A comparison with the bike/skate park in Marion Square Park is instructive.  That park is bounded by Front Street, Commercial, and the Marion Street Bridge.  Its north side has parking lots and at least one vacant building.  Union Street is not yet improved as a bikeway. The park suffers from inactive edges, too much arterial traffic, and a lack of eyes and ears from having one use only.  It is not integrated into the wider urban patterns of time or of space.  A well-designed bike park in Wallace could improve on this experience.

Finally, a bike park could be a great pearl in the string of trails and experiences along the river that is the larger vision for SATA and Friends of Two Bridges.

Imagine a Park hooked into the system with the Union St RR Bridge
and the Minto Bridge!  And then extending north into wine country.
In addition to the obvious matters of funding and other kinds of administrative hurdles, one significant potential hitch is the proposed Highway 22 connector, which would run along the western boundary of the project area.

OR-22 Connector will add traffic, pollution, noise,
and a large barrier to a bike park (south at top)
If we don't like what Commercial, Marion, and Front streets do to Marion Square Park, we should be very critical in thinking about the way the proposed OR-22 connector will impact Wallace Marine Park and any expansion of park facilities northwards.  Borders and edge conditions are important, and busy roads like urban highways siphon energy, create barriers and dangers, and add pollution.

After the tour, people threw out ideas and Jordan marked them on tracing paper laid over an aerial map. The topography offered clear opportunities and useful constraints, and it did not seem difficult for Jordan to lay out a basic structure with different pods of features aimed at different skill levels and different styles of bicycling.  It will be interesting to see them formalized into a drawing.

Pitching ideas and features on tracing paper over the map -
for a lot more than just a pump track!
The next steps will include taking formalized drawings and pitching the idea officially to City Parks and other staff.

SATA has also been awarded a recreation trails grant from State Parks and Recreation for planning and trail design at the Lincoln and Spring Valley sites. Look for more on these later this year!


Jim Scheppke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Scheppke said...

I deleted my previous comment because I obviously didn't read the post past the jump where you do address the "Salem Alternative." But I would add another concern which is that West Salem seems to be getting the lion's share of our infrastructure investment in the past decade or so -- new schools, new roads, new sewers, the Union St. Bridge and soon the Minto Island Bridge. West Salem only has about 16% of the city's population. Is it fair to the rest of the city to keep adding more and more new facilities and amenities to West Salem?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

That's a good question!

One metric, though, might be urban renewal areas, and at present 6 out 7 active in Salem are on the east side. Only one is on the west side. That doesn't capture schools, of course, It would be interesting to look at the $100M road bond and parcel out the projects by area. Developing a nuanced answer is probably a little more complicated than we might think. I think your larger point is right, but I'm not sure the case is quite as slanted as you might fear. I have thought that the more general problem is not west Salem vs. east Salem, but center vs. periphery, with the sprawly hillside devopment in west Salem rather than the Edgewater redeveopment as part of the problem. Still, it is complicated by questions of equity especially in the outer eastside mess of I-5/Lancaster/Cordon/unincorporated County land.

So at the moment, though, I won't try addressing it in general. Maybe readers will have thoughts? (Would you like to write a guest post to make the argument in more detail?)

As for siting this project specifically (and I may repeat some points):

1) Recently for State Parks and Recreation, and now in the prospective transition from Parks and Rec to quasi-public entity, the Fairgrounds management group is showing less interest in the existing bike park. Keizer Rapids Park had one in the master plan - and may still have one - but momentum and funding there seems to have tailed off. In any event, Salem needs a new one.

2) Wallace Park is considerably larger than the area that is at present developed, and there's a "border vacuum" on its north side. Creating multiple park uses on land that is currently vacant except for a range of activities from "unsanctioned" to "unsavory" to outright "illegal and unsafe" and a better set of park edges will improve the park systemwide.

3) The City is already using the softball fields to recruit national-level tourism, and adding another amenity in close proximity to the fields and to downtown would strengthens Salem applications and drawing power.

4) The City has essentially abandoned a vision of a riverfront trail on the east side of the river. The Trail Alliance is working, and working successfully so far, on a vision of a riverfront trail on the west side of the river and through wine country. A bike park here would mark the jumping-off point for that trail. Salem needs a riverfront trail, and development patterns as well as politics make a west side alignment more likely. A riverfront trail will also be a draw for tourism.

5) With the Minto Bridge and with improvements to the Union St. RR Bridge connections, especially for people on foot and on bike Wallace Park increasingly operates as an extension of Riverfront Park and the downtown waterfront. Since it is on the river side of Wallace Road, which remains a formidable boundary, Wallace Park occupies an intermediate zone between downtown and West Salem, and it may not be quite right to consider it as "only" part of West Salem. (It is interesting you enumerated the Minto Bridge as part of west Salem, btw.)

6) There's already a lot of off-road, bmx, bicycling going on there now - an amount that might shock you, and certainly will surprise you. Since it's already there, why reinvent the wheel? Instead, it makes sense to leverage it.