Wednesday, August 28, 2013

During Sunday Streets, Think Why Closing State Street for Boise Access would be Bad

It is concerning that out of the debate on the Boise Project is renewed interest in the old proposal to close the State Street RR crossing and have a new at-grade RR crossing and main entry further south.

Closing the State Street Entry Means a Real Dead End
Are people really thinking about how it would work to walk down State Street and find a gated, locked dead-end?  And then to have to walk down Front Street and along the railroad to loop around to find an entry to the park and Carousel?

Closing State Street in this way would locate the Carousel at the end of a suburban-style cul-de-sac, and make it even more auto-dependent.  Instead, we should want to knit the Carousel and Riverfront Park more closely to downtown!

The paper's editorial on Sunday, an early version online SJ piece, and even some commenters, have expressed some nostalgia for the old access proposal, and it's worth reminding folks that it was bad, bad, bad!
One idea discussed in 2011 [earlier in fact, at least to 2009] was to build a new access road from Front Street, going across the railroad tracks and into the park. A state prohibition on adding more at-grade crossings meant that the city would have had to close the State Street crossing. The city secured a permit from the state to close the crossing, but it lapsed in 2011. City officials and the developer blamed each other for the failure of this option.
This isn't an idea that should be brought back!  It creates new barriers and multiplies difficulties, especially for people on foot and on bike.

It created barriers at the natural sightline and procession down State Street, and would have made a dead zone on State Street between Front and Commercial. 

Imagine Sunday Streets with the old access plan;
State Street between Commercial and Front is a dead-end
In fact, the Downtown Advisory Board and their Downtown Strategic Action Plan recognized the importance of the intuitive connection and procession down State Street.  See the dotted purple "park to park" connection - one that we'll see in action on September 8th for Sunday Streets.

The Downtown Strategic Action Plan
recognizes the importance of the natural
connection down State Street
If you participate in Sunday Streets on September 8th, think about how things would work if State Street were closed at the Carousel!

Here's a more detailed plan view.

Former access plan with new rail crossing,
long drive, and State St. closure; no crosswalk or car crossing at Ferry
This is the location that would have become the main entry to the Carousel.  Without a crosswalk across Front here, this would have ratcheted up the difficulties for people on foot and on bike, and created a sense of interruption, instead of progression, for getting to the Minto Bridge.  Imagine having to walk some on Front Street!  Who enjoys doing that?  Even for people in cars, there would be a good chunk of out-of-direction, non-intuitive travel. (As we restore more of a two-way grid, we should be simplifying travel, not complicating it!  It should be remembered that putting in a new light on the by-pass was nixed and so there would be no direct auto access from Ferry Street, either.)

Ferry Street site of old access proposal; right-in, right-out only (SJ photo)
The Carousel was placed directly inline with State Street for a reason, and it is unwise to mess with that.

If the park parcel must have some number of apartments (and there are good reasons to think the highest and best use of this parcel might actually be as an expansion of Riverfront Park, but it's also possible to conceive of a more diverse mixed-use configuration as well), here's an idea:

One idea for the access problem
Fortunately, the Marquis nursing home facility as presently sited appears to make a "Ferry Street" driveway more difficult, even impossible.  But using the Pringle Creek undercrossing even further south could offer a solution, one that doesn't add car traffic to the Carousel, and keeps State Street open for all park users.

As we think about access solutions, we should be thinking about connectivity that puts people on foot first and makes it easy to choose not to drive!

For more on the development and its design iterations:
All posts on the project can be seen here.

"ODOT Rail...would not grant a new at-grade crossing without
completely closing another existing, nearby at-grade crossing"
From September 28, 2009 staff report


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

What looks like a cut-n-paste of a 2009 news article on the proposed closure is on the Carousel's own blog:

"Salem City Council on Monday will consider a request to close a rail crossing to Salem's Riverfront Carousel off State Street.

The request, made by Boise Cascade developer Pringle Square LLC, asks the city to seek permission from state transportation officials to close the rail crossing and create a new one on a public street to be built farther south on the former Boise Cascade site. A public hearing is scheduled during the Council meeting at 6:30 p.m.

If the council decides to move forward with the request and the Oregon Department of Transportation Rail Division approves it, a gate cutting off direct access to Riverfront Park via State Street would be installed at the existing rail crossing, allowing access to emergency vehicles only.

Pedestrians would still be able to cross Front Street NE at State Street but would have to walk north to Court Street NE or to the new south entrance to access the park." [bold added]

Brian Hines said...

There is no requirement in state law or rule for a current RR crossing to be closed, if a new one is opened. This is an important fact that needs to be recognized.

A new RR crossing could be opened on the Pringle Square property without any changes being made to the State Street crossing.

However, for some reason neither the City nor the developers is looking into this obvious alternative to taking over part of Riverfront Park for a private access road.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I don't understand the exact regulatory environment, and find it puzzling. But here's a quote from a 2009 article on the Carousel's now dormant blog:

"In late February, the city submitted a railroad crossing application to the Oregon Department of Transportation Rail Division for a new grade-crossing. In its review of the city's application, rail officials 'would not grant a new at-grade crossing without completely closing another existing, nearby, at-grade crossing,' according to city documents."

It is possible that, as you say, statute or administrative rule, but the effective and functional regulatory environment at present requires closing one when a new one is opened.

I believe this is bad policy to hold so inflexibly, but that seems to be the way things are working right now in "the real world" with rail.

See the letter from ODOT rail in this post: "We are opposed to any new at-grade crossings."

Unfortunately, the "obvious alternative" has been looked into often by the developers and city! And ODOT rail keeps saying No.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

updated with highlighted graphic/excerpt from 2009 staff report

Anonymous said...

Here's a link to the statutory situation in ORS 824.200 -

824.202 says "It is the policy of this state to achieve uniform and coordinated regulation of railroad-highway crossings and to eliminate crossings at grade wherever possible."

So that's in statute. Maybe it's true that there is no "requirement" to close a crossing when a new one is opened, but it sure seems very, very clear and plain that it will be very difficult to open a new crossing and keep the State Street crossing open. This is far, far from a sure thing and equally far, far from an "obvious alternative."