Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 in Review: Forget Bikes, it was all about Parking

One story seemed to lead the year in Salem. Parking. It was the Year of Parking.  At a Salem City Club event on "holiday wishes," one downtown business owner wished for the addition of  “a thousand more parking spaces” downtown.  That was the year in Salem.

Heaven or Hell?
Our Valorization of Cars
in Birk's Divine Comedy
#1 - Parking RULZ Everywhere

It wasn't just downtown parking.  It was a little staggering, in fact, how parking insinuated itself into almost every discussion and warped things.  It's true that the vast, vast majority of trips are made by car and with a single driver, and that only about 1.5% of commute trips are made by bike.  But the question is, are we at all seriously interested in changing this?

Downtown Surface Parking Lots in Red
Parking Garages in Solid Brick Red
On-street parking stalls not included
Really, 1000 more stalls???
click to enlarge (1 mb total, 1874 x 1114 px)
At Council in October, a petition for free parking downtown ruled and through the rest of the year talk continued on the interpretation and enforcement of the rules. Read the stories here.

One of the pushpins discusses the issue with access off State Street
and the shared Carousel parking lot
[highlight added to sidebar]
On the Boise Redevelopment, populist angst - and resulting complications with Federal review - over the Carousel Parking lot and access on State Street put that project on hiatus. Read the stories here.

It's all about parking at the Blind School redevelopment
 (Howard Hall in lower left)
At the Blind School, the Hospital's plan for redevelopment centered on multiple parking lots. Read the stories here.

The cost of new parking particularly offended
(view to northwest from Liberty)

At the proposed new Police Station and Civic Center upgrade, the cost of a parking garage alarmed critics.  Their preferred solution was adaptive reuse of an existing building with a large surface parking lot. Read the stories here.

Each of the situations involved numerous other factors, and it is an oversimplification to say they all boiled down to the disposition and cost of parking, but it is amazing to think how the accommodation of car storage shaped each project and ultimately provided a lightning rod for criticism that in several cases halted or delayed the project. Parking was a key and powerful issue in so many ways.

It is the story of the year.

#2 - Sunday Streets

However!  There was a ray of glorious sunshine.

Bike angle parking at Willson Park on Cottage Street
The City undertook the first Open Streets event, and it was a great success. Streets that were normally full of cars - or, since our road capacity is so under capacity most of the day, the threat of a car - were happily full of people on foot, on bike, and on other human-powered wheels.

The Rest - New Connections 

"With our Salem Alternative we will March into a Glorious Future"
International Institute of Social History Collection
Two studies lurched along
City Council adopted the Salem Alternative after some delay and the Third Bridge marched forward.  The Downtown Mobility Study also ran into some parking friction and the study yielded a modest set of recommendations to be phased in over a quarter century.

Funding wrapped for several projects
Because of the Great Recession, projects for the "Keep Salem Moving" Road Bond came is significantly under budget, perhaps even around 80%.  The total was $100M and 15%-20% of that is a very nice number, and the City will be able to fund more projects with the savings.  One of the projects is sidewalks and bike lanes for Brown Road between Silverton Road and Sunnyview.  Since it straddles County land, it took four major funding sources - City, State, and Federal.  It shouldn't be this difficult!

Bridge funding looks to be sewn up
Via City of Salem and Greenworks
The funding package for the Minto Bridge also was complicated, and it looks to be sewn up finally.  The Oregon Transportation Commission was going to give approval for the final bit in November, but that now looks to come in January, and it's hard to imagine things will fall through.

Plans matured for a key connection to the Union Street Railroad Bridge
Out of the Downtown Mobility Study one of the first projects with a plan is a light at Commercial and Union and intersection improvements to make the east-west crossing easier for people on foot and on bike.  Hopefully it will continue to move forward (it would be in a 2015-2020 cycle).

Not looking real pleased at the absence of sidewalks and bike lanes
Congressional Powers look at our execrable walking conditions
Congressman Schrader went on a walkabout to see the terrible conditions along the McGilchrist Corridor. We ask Veterans and the disabled to negotiate a road signed for 40mph that lacks shoulders, sidewalks, and bike lanes. The episode also highlighted ways that State and Federal agencies don't factor transportation into siting decisions - the costs of transportation are ignored and externalized, even for client populations with known disabilities. At a higher lease rate, a downtown location well served by transit would have been a much better use of taxpayer dollars.

For most of the year, it was illegal to bike to these!
Potemkin Multi-modalism
Ah, but even our transit agency was not immune. Cherriots put in a new Keizer Transit Station that poorly serves people on bike and isn't really attractive for walking.  Mostly it's fancy furniture and hardware. For much of the year it was against ordinance to actually bike through the station to these bike racks. Salemites deserve more thoroughly considered multi-modal facilities.

Biking and walking to school coverage
More bad conditions
New Energy for Bike Safety Education and Safe Routes to School
The Boys and Girls Club restarted Bicycle Safety Education with the Salem fleet, and independently at Grant and Hallman Elementary Schools new classes started under the Safe Routes to School umbrella.  The district-wide Safe Routes project that was part of Bike and Walk Salem still seems stalled, however.  Overall, as the subhead says, "solutions to turn the tide are slow to come."

Honorable Mentions

McGilchrist Block in better times, circa early 1950s
Salem Library Historic Photos
Downtown Reinvestment
Across the street from each other, at Liberty and State, renovations for Amadeus Restaurant in the Grey Block and the forthcoming renovation of the McGilchrist and Roth buildings hold great promise for activating and improving this corner! There's also the Salem Arts building midblock.  That 1936 building, also known as the Skiff and Montgomery Ward building, is being renovated with artist spaces.  There are lots of underused and essentially abandoned second-story spaces in downtown, and it may be that focusing on rehab of these should be the priority over new construction at Boise and elsewhere.

Tax lot and building ages at Salemis

Urbanism in unexpected places
One of the best developments of the year is the online periodical Salemis. It is interesting, though, that at the center of the project is the question, "What is Salem?"  You may recall from a few years back the column and blog, "Desperately Seeking Salem."  There's a real sense of uncertainty about what Salem is - both a sense of void, that there's not as much there as you might wish; and a sense of hidden and undervalued resource and charm, that there's more there than you think.  Salemis explores both sides, and casts a pretty wide net, with lots of different writers and photographers.  Bikes and urbanism generally have been a low-key, but steady, presence there throughout the year.

In November at an independent TEDx symposium, Portlander and Transportation Consultant Stephanie Wright of Transportation Planning firm Nelson/Nygaard talked about urbanism to an audience that wasn't necessarily there for transpo-wonkery!

Planning has started for a path along the red alignment,
connecting Hyacinth and Bill Frey Drive to the Kroc Center
The Kroc Center continues to create problems by its siting
After a planning study, the City is applying for $1.5 million in lottery-backed funds to complete a path connection that will help kids and families reach the Kroc Center from Hyacinth.  Other options, which included long bridges over both the Parkway and railroad, were deemed too expensive.  Including the $8 million the City kicked in during the construction phase, as well as other transportation infrastructure, the public subsidy for this facility will reach well over $10 million, and it remains to be seen whether the Center can cover its own operating expenses.  That same $10 million applied to, say, after-school programming at nearby schools, might actually have gone a lot further.

As we think about a new Police Station and other facilities, we have to remember that siting matters and frequently imposes later operational and capital costs not included in the original capital costs of construction.

231 Likes on Criticism of a Billion Dollar Boondoggle

320 Likes for Recreational Cycling

Salemites show preference for recreational cycling
The progress by the Salem Area Trails Alliance was terrific, and an exciting proposal for a bike park in Wallace Park matured.  SATA plans to take the concept to City Council this winter. SATA also organized trail work parties at Sprague and other sites outside the City.  In December, SATA participated in the Gingerbread Gala, a mainstream charity event that showed some movement by bikes from the fringe into the establishment.  That was neat.

But it wasn't all sunshine.  While Facebook is an imperfect proxy for popularity and depth of support, from here, it is significant that bicycle recreation remains more important to people than bicycle transportation and creating a rational transportation system that serves all citizens.  People are interested in expanding leisure time options, but aren't so interested in changing the fundamental structure of the City in better ways.  As long as we can drive and park, "it's all good."

Leland Report
Planning for the State Hospital North Campus Redevelopment
It's far too early for any conclusions, but planning for redeveloping part of the State Hospital campus kicked off, and if the examples of Sustainable Fairview, Boise Cascade, the Blind School, the Civic Center and Police Station, and the Kroc Center tell us anything - it's so very important to watch and participate during the early stages to ensure projects are positioned for success.

Looking to 2014
  • Get involved early and often on the State Hospital North Campus project!
  • The Third Bridge and "Salem Alternative" juggernaut will seek to bowl over opposition as it looks to become the local preferred alternative for evaluation in the Final Environmental Impact Statement
  • Maybe the "Middle Commercial" study will kick off.  That's another opportunity for early and frequent participation. 
  • Will the Bike Safety Education programming grow?
  • Recent episodes of groping and harassment as well as looting of Little Free Libraries are one index of ways that our pedestrian-unfriendly streets and low walking habits contribute to vacant streets that lack eyes and ears on them for safety.  Will we connect our driving and development styles to these patterns of local petty crime?  
  • Sunday Streets 2014, even bigger and better!
  • How will free downtown parking continue to evolve?
  • Initial planning for a seismic retrofit of the Capitol building will likely kick off. (Look for more parking implications!)
  • Elections.  Councilors Dickey and Tesler will move on, and how will that affect multi-modal policy at Council?
  • At the State level, jockeying for a new big Legislative transportation package has started.  What's that going to look like?
Do you have a favorite story of 2013?  What was your Number One? Is there a significant story we missed here? Or a different ranking?

You can read previous year-end reviews here.


Brian Hines said...

Great summary of 2013 transportation issues here in Salem. Thanks for doing what you do. The Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog really enriches this town. You're one of the first web sites I peruse every day.

Even when I don't agree with you about some issue, I always am able to understand where you are coming from. It's refreshing to read opinions that are based on facts and solid reasoning, rather than hyperbole and false assumptions.

Not that I'm talking about the Statesman Journal opinion page, though I guess I could be, now that I think about it.

Every time they print another absurd letter to the editor from a global warming denier, I feel like roaring like a polar bear on a melting ice floe.

Curt said...

For me, it was the year of the "Grey Dawn"

It really became obvious that activists in groups like No 3rd Bridge, parking petitioners, (no) Pringle Access, and Salem Community Vision are almost entirely retirees fighting the steps the city is taking toward a more progressive, dynamic and diverse urban environment than what we have now. I don't think the disconnected, low rise, low density, unwalkable sprawl that characterizes Salem is an accident. People have been active in Salem for a long time to make it that way.

When the year began, I thought city council and staff were primarily responsible for Salem's stagnation. While they don't do themselves any favors, I have a new appreciation for the job they do and the challenges they face in moving the city forward.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Jim Scheppke said...

Great post SBOB! One correction: Councilor Dickey does not have to resign her seat to run for County Commissioner so she's not going anywhere yet.

2014 could be the year when we stop the 3rd bridge. This can be done if the DLCD declines a request to grant exception on four (count 'em!) state land use goals -- a distinct possibility. We can also all work against the addition of the "Salem Alternative" (aka 4D Lite) into the city Transportation System Plan. There also needs to be some kind of funding plan developed for the project in 2014, informed by some polling. That should be interesting.

If the City is determined to develop a FEIS they need to go back and look hard at Alternative 2A which is clearly the best of the "build" alternatives in the DEIS -- adding up to 3 lanes to the existing bridges and connecting the Marion St. Bridge to Marine Drive.