Friday, September 20, 2013

State Awards Grant to Study Middle Commercial Street Improvements

Yesterday the State announced the list of successful Transportation and Growth Management grants.

The City of Salem applied for two, and won one.

The winning grant is for a study and refinement plan on south Commercial Street (I'm thinking of it as "middle" Commercial) between Madrona and Ohmart for a complete street with facilities both along and across for people on foot and on bike.  (The corridor was also designated a critical ADA corridor in Bike and Walk Salem.)
This commercial district developed at a time when little thought was given to non-auto travel. Much of the area consists of commercial properties with a mix of parcel sizes, numerous driveways, and few connections between the public realm and shop entrances. This lack of an inviting, attractive circulation system can be a limiting factor for reinvestment. Although this area is experiencing a moderate resurgence of development activity, several parcels such as the old Safeway store remain vacant or underutilized.
The grant study area also includes the terrible Y-intersection of Liberty and Commercial.

The award citation also mentions "improving the visual character and functionality" of the streets, and it is interesting to see "curb appeal" included so strongly as part of the transportation system. Is the place inviting and comfortable for people to walk in?  A study that successfully embraces this aesthetic dimension will represent a significant step in the way we think about the whole transportation system.

The unsuccessful application was for a citywide study of arterials and collectors:
Many of Salem's arterial and collector streets were originally developed as farm-to-market roads. The city grew up around these roadways that are now the backbone of the city's transportation network. Many of these roads are not constructed to the City's Street Cross-Section Standards.
You wonder if this one didn't win in part because it's not all that difficult to see what the proper standards are for each street - this one suffers from maybe the solutions being too clear and obvious, not going beyond the minimum.

The Commercial Street project scopes out a more narrow problem, and does look to a solution beyond the obvious minimum solution of upgrading to current standards.  (Commercial is mostly built out to the standard here.)

The Old Weathers Music Store Lot on S Commercial

Proposed Development for old Weathers Music Site
Parking in Back - Cafe Seating in Front!
So it's great news the City got the grant.  With new food-oriented businesses going in, complimenting existing ones like Ventis, the French Press, and LifeSource, there's potential for making it really walkable and even turning it into an identifiable district with its own distinct character.

The challenge, though, is to get off the cycle of "study churn" and "shelf studies" and create something that is enthusiastically embraced and assertively funded.

This may not be easy.

But as always, we start with a completely blank slate, full of opportunity and promise...

Trivia Update for Historic Maps!

Some time ago a friend of the blog had shared a bunch of old USGS quad maps.  Here are two side-by-side clips of the study area.

USGS Quads for 1915 (left) and 1939 (right)
Click to enlarge
Notice in particular that Triangle Drive and Sunnyside Road
were the main highway south - "Jefferson" and "Pacific" highway
On them you can see the 12th street cut-off and the realignment of the highway along the new Commercial Street.  In this interwar period, there were still lots of orchards out in this part of town, parcels mostly of 5 and 10 acres.

Maybe the project will also send some love to St. Barbara's Cemetery, Salem's Catholic alternative to the Odd Fellows/Pioneer Cemetery between Rural and Hoyt.  It has some very significant burials, but doesn't get nearly the attention the Pioneer Cemetery does. 


Kelly Carlisle said...

The Commercial/Liberty "Y" is a terrible, terrible intersection. Even if you're in a car. Certainly if you're on a bike or on foot.

I totally agree with your observation that we can study and shelf things to death. "Analysis paralysis" is alive and well.

Just as bad, or worse, however: car-centric decisions.

I promise to try really hard to be optimistic about this grant study.

Curt said...

Plans will move when the Salemites want them to move.

FWIW council has adopted some of the streetscape concepts from the 1996 Core Master Plan in their council goals along with improving connectivity to the Union Streets Bridge and have made a good faith effort at shoring up a funding source. Buuuuttttt..... not as important as free parking. Even "low cost and no cost alternatives for reducing peak hour bridge congestion" competes with free parking.

Can't help but notice that parking is the dominant land use within the study area. Since we "need" free parking downtown so they can compete with the "free" parking in this study area--it will be interesting to see if people are willing to cut back on this parking supply in order to improve the walkability and connectivity here. Especially given the fact that certain downtown business owners (and parking petitioners) shop (and park) here.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

updated with historic maps of the area

And yeah, watching the issue of "parking" here will as you say be very interesting!