Thursday, January 30, 2014

Did you see Speed-Freak Ben Taylor's Picture in the Paper?

The owner of Salem's first known bicycle is in the paper today!  Ben Taylor was into extreme sports, thrill-seeking, and was a speed freak.  He also delivered the mail.

Today's paper featured an uncaptioned image of Ben Taylor;
there's a larger reproduction in the library's
historic photo collection
Taylor is a mustachioed one, second from the right
You can read more about Ben Taylor here.  He was involved in that first bike, a very early motorcycle, an equally early airplane, and even the Klondike gold rush. He was a character!

Ben Taylor on bike at the Nesmith building, circa 1888
Salem Library Historic Photos
He loved speed in the 1880s, and loved speed in the 1910s.

Ben Taylor at the Fairgrounds in his plane, 1910
Salem Library Historic Photos

Apartments at Pringle Square - What about the Groceries?

Now that we've got a real project at the Boise site, we can return to some transportation matters. Assuming a person wanted to go "low-car," getting groceries in West Salem might be the easiest choice for people who move into Pringle Square at Boise.

That doesn't sound like it would make sense, as crossing the river sounds totally counter-intuitive, but as soon as you plot things on a map, it's pretty clear.

Pringle Square and Downtown Grocery Stores
There are only two grocery stores on the edges of downtown proper, and none in the core of downtown.  Grocery Outlet on the corner of an orphan stretch of D and two-way section of Commercial - more on Front Street, really - and the Safeway between Marion/Center/12th/13th.  Both, interestingly, are adjacent to railroads.

Here's the bike map:

The bike map shows lots of red and yellow!
For most people, biking downtown is not realistic,
not a comfortable or inviting prospect.
From Boise there are no obvious and easy ways to bike to either of these stores.  To reach Grocery Outlet, even if you go through Riverfront Park, you still have to contend with Front street and the railroad.

The one-way grid enforces a southward exit
To reach Safeway, it's decent going once you hit Chemeketa and the Promenade on 12th, but it's still challenging to navigate downtown streets between the Boise site and Chemeketa Street. Both traffic volumes and the one-way grid conspire to make things tricky.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

New Traffic Cameras Show Commercial Street at City Hall and Boise

Have you noticed them, the seeing eyes mounted on a goose-neck over the traffic lights?  You were maybe a little alarmed, thinking them signs of the surveillance state, too?

Camera at Trade and Commercial
(updating image at Tripcheck)
But while their video could certainly be used for surveillance, that's not their primary purpose.

At Council on Monday, during the update on the Road Bond, City Staff discussed the cameras and revealed that they are actually part of the $1.4 million "Regional Traffic Control Center, Motorist Information Systems, and Traffic Signal Communications Projects," 21 cameras scattered around the city.

Camera at 12th and State
(updating image at Tripcheck)
From the project description:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More on the Boise Boardwalk - And Keep the Cthulhu Keyboard! - updated

Last night Council voted with enthusiasm to advance the Boise project.

City staff didn't talk much about the boardwalk, though, and I hope it's not lost in the shadow of constructing the larger (and directly income-generating) buildings. Since it's for everyone, shouldn't it be among the things first built, and not the last?

In any event, one reason for a boardwalk design atop the slab instead of a path streamside - a reason it might be a positive good idea rather than a cheap fallback -  might be that there truly is no streambank to restore along this section of Pringle Creek.

The Cthulhu Keyboard
At the westeastside property line, one level below the bridge you can see the thickness of the concrete slab and the way it rises about three feet above the level of the new path.  For one, that's another giant bit of demolition, and two, maybe its stoutness is a feature rather than a bug.

Related to this, there's also that funny gridded concrete feature over which the water spills.

Call it the Cthulhu Keyboard?  (Maybe you will think of a better name for it?  Giants, Trolls, Aliens...what mythic figure placed it there, and why? I think it's possible that retaining this thing and highlighting its oddity could become a real feature of the path and walk!)

(Wait, who needs Cthlulhu when you have this?)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Bits: Dr. Lovejoy at Deepwood, Keep Highland Fun

In the popular imagination there's a strong connection between women's suffrage and bicycling.

Lovejoy from Wikipedia
On Tuesday at Deepwood, Kimberly Jenson will give a talk on Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, "Oregon’s Doctor to the World, Esther Pohl Lovejoy."

While the talk isn't going to be about bikes or transportation, it is interesting to note that Lovejoy herself bicycled in the 1890s and early 1900s when it was popular, but moved in 1906 to the car when she acquired one for herself.

The story of women and bikes is complicated by class, and as cars became markers of higher status, and offered greater speed and shelter from the elements, higher-status women who could afford them moved on to this newer - and more expensive - ground transportation technology.

London Suffrage Advocates, 1913
Here in Oregon, during the 1912 campaign, the "Suffrage Truck" was a dominant image, and not so much the bicycling suffragette.

Portland Suffrage Advocates, 1912
It is not possible to insulate even the story of women's suffrage from autoist triumphalism!

Anyway, Lovejoy seems like an interesting character, and the talk will likely be a good one.

(Suffrage Truck clip: “‘Neither Head nor Tail to the Campaign’: Esther Pohl Lovejoy and the Oregon Woman Suffrage Victory of 1912.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 108:3, Fall 2007)

Keep Highland Fun

Over the weekend a video about the Highland neighborhood started making the rounds, and it's great to see that it highlights bikes!

Clips from Keep Highland Fun
The Highland and Grant neighborhoods are some of the most bikeable in Salem, and it's nice to see how that works its way into everyday living and everyday fun. (Video after the jump.)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

City Council, January 27th - Boise and Pringle Square Back from the Dead!

The big news at Council for Monday is a reset on Pringle Square and the Boise Redevelopment.

The Boise parcel and slab over the creek
Even in winter the water is irresistable!
In a nutshell: The developer says, we'll sell you the park parcel as long as you approve the rest of the project.

More on the quid pro quo:
The Developer has indicated a willingness to sell the Property to the City if the Developer is able to determine that development plans for the remainder of the former Boise Cascade site are feasible. If the Developer is unable to develop the remainder of the former Boise Cascade site according to their Master Plan (Attachment C), the Developer desires to retain the Property in order to preserve maximum development flexibility in the future.
(Though what really does this mean?  If the land is so encumbered by the prospect of a Federal review for non-park uses, what is its market value?  Surely the price in the deal on the table represents an overpay by the City and an indirect element of subsidy.  How significant really is the "maximum development flexibility" in the shadow of the Federal review?

Maybe it doesn't matter what "really" is the case.  Pretty much we all want the project to move forward, right?  And the reality is, it's not going to happen without some application of emollient.  The City has made far worse investments.  If you think this is too much subsidy, please drop a comment!)

So, what about the design? I think at this point the only think I really want to address is the way the design treats people on foot. (Previous thoughts here and here.)

Commercial Street Sidewalk Environment

The redevelopment still doesn't embrace the sidewalk with much enthusiasm. Behind the urban setting, it's still auto-oriented.

The edges along Commercial Street will be inert and dusty,
the concrete bowels of a parking garage at street level.
As we've mentioned before, the border along Commercial will be the concrete bowels of a parking garage. Some of it may be glazed with frosted glass or something, but there won't be any retail activity. The ground floor sidewalk environment offers nothing inviting for people walking who don't already have a car there.

For an analogous situation, see the Marion Parkade along Marion Street:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Salemites Disco for Trails at Ike Box Tonight

Salemite, get down tonight!

Friday is SATA-day for Salemites and tonight's the Salem Area Trail Alliance benefit at the Ike Box.

Salem Area Trail Alliance
Disco Bingo Night
From 6pm to 9pm they'll be playing bingo, dancing, and raising funds for trail planning and building.  Check the facebook for more on the raffle and the festivities.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The More Paper: Auto Boom is Dead!

The "More Paper" says:  The Auto Boom is Dead.

From today's USA Today insert
Will it reconsider something in light of this?

May 2013 local editorial
The boom article indulges in a bit of "he-said, she-said" journalism, and what it doesn't reproduce is this:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Photo Essay: Construction on the Commercial St Bridge Replacement

Though we're predictably cranky here about one particular bridge, not all bridges are bad! Of course not.

Demolition begins, August 2012
The project to replace the Commercial Street bridge over Pringle Creek was capacity neutral and necessary because of the age of the bridge - plus, we get a nice path segment out of it! It's hard to see how anyone could rate this project as other than reasonable. (The deck is wide, I think, for parking, and maybe at some future point we can talk cycletrack or protected bike lane, etc. - so it's not quite maximally beneficial, but in the scheme of things, that's a quibble about striping and surface, not basic structure and need.)

Late last month the paper had a note about finishing it up, and with news about a Boise restart, maybe now is a good time for a photo essay on the construction.

April, 2012 - Bank and flume before clearing and construction

December, 2013 - Bank and flume site now

April 2012 - Ivy!
The only real narrative, I think, is the story of the bridge itself, and it is interesting to see in the long-precast concrete I-beams an expression of the most basic post-and-lintel construction. (Maybe readers who are engineers can chime in with more on the structural details?)  There are no larger implications for transportation or development or the cultural life of the city.  It's just a bridge replacement.  It is what it is, no more and no less.

August, 2012 - First Stage Demo

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Boise News: City to Buy Park Parcel, Expand Riverfront Park; New Wrinkle on Creek Path

In a not entirely surprising move, the City and Mountain West jointly announced today an agreement for the City to buy the "Park Parcel" and for the rest of the development to move forward.

See the Press Release here.

Consistent with the City's media strategy of late, they've also created a website here.

Though unremarked on in the initial note in the SJ, the path connection from the Civic Center to the Slough appears to be a boardwalk and to use the concrete slab and opening to creek below already in place.

Boardwalk detail

The hole and concrete deck on which the boardwalk would sit
August 2012
The elevations of the deck and brand-new path don't exactly line up, so this transition - and the need for the grade to be gradual and ADA compatible - will be a detail to learn more about.

The path terminates a couple of feet below the grade
of the concrete deck and boardwalk
Anyway, it is exciting to see the project move finally again, and if there might be questions about details, it is good to see movement on the big picture.

It sounds like there will be action at Council on Monday, so there will be more to say after the staff report comes out. Presumably also other details will emerge.

Lots to talk about!

Streetcar History Downtown, Notes on Mirror Pond and Fairview Addition

While downtown yesterday, thankful for some actual sun, I saw a new "welcome and information center" sign on the southeast corner of Liberty and Commercial State. A whole bunch had been installed a year or two ago, and I'm pretty sure this is a new one. The mounts into the concrete looked newly set, also.

New downtown historic signage - on streetcars!
(Strangely, it omits mention of the Guardian Building,
located until 1947 on this corner.)
The sign features our streetcar network in the early 20th century. It so happens that's also the core of the "walkable" city. So much of what we want to accomplish today centers on the virtues of the city of 100 years ago.

Streetcar system, early 1900s
The sign is totally worth checking out!

One of the routes went out south on Commercial and then Liberty. It was, as the map points out, to serve the Rural and Catholic Cemeteries - which we now call the Pioneer Cemetery and St. Barbara's Cemetery.

(Though it is tiresome now to keep pointing out, it is the automobiles, not people on foot, that are the cemetery interlopers, historically anachronistic, and non-contributing!)

Nearby the Pioneer Cemetery is some neo-traditional infill.

Eric Olsen Development on Rural Street South
(see below for "before" comparison!)
"The Front Porch is Back," as the website blurbs. It is one of Eric Olsen's developments, maybe the first - and only - in Salem. Though he was hired by a land-owner, and so perhaps had constraints he doesn't on land he has purchased himself, the streetcar-era styled development has some real charm and points to many of the design features that characterize his development in Monmouth.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Parkway Village Public Housing at Planning Commission Next Week

Maybe the most famous - or infamous - public housing project is the Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis. It was a bunch of towers set on a campus - the model and US template of mid-century urban renewal and Le Corbusier's "Radiant City" concept. (In the Pringle Creek Urban Renewal Area, SAIF and the Civic Center don't, actually, stray very far from this template, either.)

It was utopianism and good intentions run amok. 

Demolition of Pruitt-Igoe, St. Louis
And of course it failed and was demolished.

Infamous mid-Century Urban Renwal and Public Housing:
Pruitt-Igoe before Demolition, St. Louis
Next week, Salem's Planning Commission will look at a proposed remodel/rehab of the Parkway Village apartments of the Salem Housing Authority (hearing notice here).

They are on a much smaller scale and of totally different materials than Pruitt-Igoe.  In many ways they shouldn't be compared.

Additionally, good policy for public housing is far, far beyond our scope here, and if people had mastered it, we'd obviously have a much different state of affairs.

So I just want to comment on a couple of things. 

Proposed site plan showing edges on Parkway

As was pointed out recently, cheap land is often cheap because it's inaccessibleParkway Village is right on the Parkway.  Walkscore rates it:  "somewhat walkable."  Its transit score is much worse.  Fortunately there's a Fred Meyer in walking distance, but at a site far from transit centers, bordering an urban highway, and one of Salem's largest industrial areas, it practically enforces car ownership on the residents.  That's a huge chunk of income for insurance, gas, and maintenance!  So if one of the policy goals of public housing is to help people recover earning power, we don't do people any favors by car-dependent development, and the proximity to the Parkway's particulates surely isn't supporting positive health outcomes, either.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Change at the Oregon Transportation Commission; Minto Bridge Moves Forward

You probably saw the notice that the Oregon Transportation Commission had advanced the draft 2015-18 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which includes the final round of funding for the Minto Bridge.

So it is likely that will close this year. Hooray!

The bridge is getting closer -
the OTC advanced the final round of funding
For the meeting yesterday, the OTC conducted a conference call, and ODOT didn't send out a press release about it, I think. At any rate I missed it, but the agenda was short, and not all that interesting.

But what is interesting - though admittedly it's in an inside baseball kind of way - was notice in the Oregonian that the OTC is heading for significant turn-over.

Moving to Vegas
Resigned for Health
Harry Esteve writes:
Pat Egan, a longtime Oregon political insider who has been influential in utility and transportation issues, has left his post at PacifiCorp to become a vice president at NV Energy, a major western utility based in Las Vegas....

He was a key backer of the Columbia River Crossing.

Ian Greenfield, spokesman for Gov. John Kitzhaber, confirmed Egan's departure, and said Thursday's commission meeting would be the last one he chairs....

A second commissioner, Mary Olson, is leaving for health reasons, said Patrick Cooney, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation.
And a third commissioner, Mark Frohnmayer, appears not to have been reappointed or is leaving and serving out until a new person is appointed.

Term Expired?
So that's 3/5 of the Commission!

If the Legislature can stand firm and kill the CRC in its present incarnation, there's an opportunity for Governor Kitzhaber to continue reshaping the OTC for the 21st century.  Frohnmayer comes from the electric car lobby, and Tammy Baney, a Deschutes County Commissioner is described as "a champion for integrating community health reform into transportation planning."

I don't grok the OTC, however.  It's a staff-driven process with these monumental, gargantuan staff reports, and I have a difficult time seeing how active the commissioners can actually be in setting new policy.  They have to be more rubber-stampers than activists.  I have to think there's an enormously powerful and entrenched inertia in the bureaucracy at ODOT.  At the same time, at least theoretically, they are the board to which ODOT reports, and if five of them decided that carbon really was a problem, and public health really was a problem, and too much driving really was a problem, they could change ODOT's priorities.  

Big sigh.  Not gonna happen.

Still, if there are three new appointees in the works, it's something to watch.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Council Streets and Bridges Committee to Talk Marine Drive Today

At noon today, the 16th, in the Public Works conference room at City Hall, the Council Streets and Bridges Bond Committee* will meet.

On the agenda is an update on the bond generally, an update on design work for Commercial and Kuebler, and most interestingly an update on Marine Drive NW.

Marine Drive expressway along Wallace Park
In the absence of much information there's two ways to look at it.

As part of the ramp spaghetti and expressway leading to a bridge, Marine Drive is a terrible project.

By itself and appropriately downsized, it is at least conceivable that there could be a design for Marine Drive that would offer a superior alternative to Wallace Road for transit, walking, and biking.

2008 Description of Bond Project - $3.6M for ramp spaghetti
and/or Marine Drive
The project in the bond is also ambiguous. Money can go to Marine Drive or to the ramp spaghetti - or some combination of both.

City staff didn't have materials in advance of the meeting, so it's not clear just what is envisioned here at the moment.  Buying right of way for ramp spaghetti seems premature, however, and perhaps money will go only to the Marine Drive bit.

So.  Who knows exactly how to pitch one's attention. For the moment, we should probably be wary, and meeting materials should clarify - at least a little.

* A reasonable question to which I do not know the answer:  Both the Police Station and the Road Bond have Council Subcommittees working on them.  Was the public outreach and process for the selection of the road bond projects significantly more open and public than the level that has characterized the Police Station project?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Who's the Patron Diety of Urbanism?

Ab urbe condita "from the founding of the city [of Rome]."  Our word urban comes from Latin, of course! Is it a dead word, like the language?

Jarrett Walker's been in Salem recently. Cherriots engaged him to do a system analysis, and over at LoveSalem there's a photo and report on an initial discussion with the Cherriots board - plus great quips on the Kroc Center.

N3B also cited one of J. Walker's posts about counting traffic. (It's great to see criticism of LOS analysis gain traction!)

But for the moment, I'm most interested in J. Walker's response to the Atlantic's "Ten Urbanist Buzzwords to Rethink."

The number one word to trash is "urbanism" and J. Walker offers a "vigorous defense"!  He offers a defense of the word as meaning something not easily expressed otherwise - and of course defends the values it expresses.

As J. Walker points out, the operative poles aren't so much rural and urban as suburban and urban - the opposition between the streetcar-era gridded, walkable neighborhoods and the post-war suburbs with heirarchical and disconnected street networks that require a car. The word "urban area" collapses this distinction.

He says,
Does a dull bureaucratic term like urban area really constitute [a] threat to the thriving walkable inner cities? Yes, for this reason: It prevents people who care about dense, gridded, walkable, usually pre-war parts of big cities from saying what they mean. It prevents me, in many reports, from saying urban and forces me to find ways to say "dense, gridded, walkable, usually pre-war parts of big cities" over and over....That's why I like urbanist. It's not just saying what it means, it's helping to fight for the word urban, without which people who care about walkable cities simply can't talk about them, and be understood.
With the word sortof under attack, urbanism perhaps needs a spiritual protector, and I think I know just the one!

Floor mosaic from late Roman bath near Antioch
Dumbarton Oaks
Apolausis might be said to be the patron deity of Urbanism!  Though she's from the eastern empire and Greek, she often appeared in late Roman bathhouses - not the sites of orgies or debauchery, but places for supremely urban and civilized socializing.  In his book The Body and Society, Peter Brown calls apolausis "the shared enjoyment of the good things in life that only a great city ruled by generous families could savor...[it was] more than self-indulgence, it was a precious collective ritual, a celebration of the will to survive" and in Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity he calls it "'good cheer' and 'delight,' sharply distinguished from the deprived conditions of the surrounding countryside."

What do you think?  Maybe too pagan, too rich?  What about saints?  A casual google didn't turn up any saints known for a frank enjoyment of the city.  Maybe that's kinda antithetical to the whole office of the saint - especially considering the vogue for St. Francis and simplicity just now.  Rabbis?

I still like Apolausis, because even if luxury isn't necessarily the goal, interest and pleasure is, both in the process, the walk, and in the destination, the end. It's also a social rather than solitary value.  I mean, isn't that being able to walk or bike from your home to meet friends for drinks or dinner?

Remember Jeff Speck on the "interesting walk"?

Got a better candidate?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

No Ornamental Emptiness at the State Hospital! NEN-SENSA on North Campus Tonight

Tonight the NEN-SESNA neighborhood plan looks at the North Campus of the State Hospital.

McKenzie Hall (pictured), Yaquina, Santiam, and Eola Halls
are low-priority for preservation at the State Hospital
There seems to be some significant interest in keeping the lawn along D Street as a park or ball fields or something.

I hope that's not code for a pretty, low-density campus, thereby keeping out meaningful density and activity across the whole project. I hope it means park + streetcar-scaled development, not park + single-family residences and a small strip mall.

Salem loves Ornamental Emptiness

To swerve a moment, in a nutshell, that code is an important part of what I don't understand about the attachment to the low-density campus that is our Civic Center:

Empty!  No people.  We should probably want less
 of this, not more of it.
And is it really that beautiful? (SCV post)
Fans of Peace Plaza, Mirror Pond, and the Civic Center generally, seem to think that adding more furniture and lipstick will activate the place.

But there's rarely meaningful numbers of people in the space.  I think there is an objective case that the inactivity makes these failed public spaces. They are ornamental emptinesses, and people seem to want more of this.  Salemites, in fact, seem to love ornamental and ornamented emptiness!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Columbia River Crossing Kicks off 2014 Legislative Session in Style

The Legislature is gearing up for the short 2014 session, and the Columbia River Crossing leads the agenda, it seems.

Standard Oil Monopoly, 1904. Detail:   Library of Congress

Blue Skies on Tolling!
What a colossal waste. The Salem River Crossing has blown $7 or $8 million, and the Columbia River Crossing had burned more than an order of magnitude more, approaching $200 million wasted.

The latest is an "investment grade" analysis of tolling prepared by ODOT.  First off, wouldn't an investment grade analysis come from an independent third party in the financial services sector?   Instead we get something rather self-serving from ODOT!

Interestingly, from internal evidence in the report, the Oregonian concludes tolling will depress traffic on the I-5 bridge and create diversion to the untolled I-205 bridge. This will exacerbate friction from Clackamas County.

Additionally, State Treasurer Wheeler is still signalling uncertainty or even scepticism.

So these things run counter to Governor Kitzhaber's public optimism/insanity (you pick).

Tomorrow the Legislature kicks off with a meeting of The Joint Legislative Committee on Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

City Council, January 13th - The Corner Lot at State and Commercial! - Updated

The most interesting item on City Council agenda for Monday is a public sign of movement on the gravel lot on the corner of State and Commercial downtown!

Movement on Empty Lot at State and Commercial!
Not interesting, but possibly very relevant is the annual financial report for the Urban Renewal Agency.  Here's the brief cover note to Council, and the full report.  (Because the city scans a paper copy of the staff reports, the OCR yields some gibberish when you copy and paste, so the url for the financial report itself leads to a 404 error and you have to sortof interpolate the correct characters for the url.)

Conference Center's Operating Loss for 2013
From Urban Renewal Agency Annual Financial Report
Somebody with a good accounting background really ought to review these things!  What does it mean, for example, that the Conference Center carries an operating loss?  Does this matter?  (Maybe there's a reasonable argument for it operating at a loss.) Last year it happened too.

Conference Center Operating Loss from 2012
What else do we get for our Urban Renewal Areas?  Some people think the whole tax-increment financing thing is a boondoggle, others like it a great deal.  The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  But a SWAG here suggested that the property values in the Pringle Creek Urban Renewal Area did not exceed the value of 1970s-era property left alone and simply adjusted for inflation. It's not clear that the new construction after more than a generation was more valuable than doing nothing, especially since the new construction was low-density campus sprawl, more parking lot and park than building. It's my hunch that we use urban renewal too much, but that we would not want to go without it altogether - that we need to use it more wisely and with better assessment metrics.  Someone with real finance chops should be looking into the report.

Portland Road Police Station? Rose Gardens / Epping Parcel still Estimated at $66.1 Million!

It'll be interesting to see how discussion on the possibility of a new Police Station at the Rose Gardens/Epping property goes.

Former Rose Gardens Motel on Portland Road
(See history of motel here and here for a zoning change)
There seems to be a good bit of enthusiasm for it - including a newspaper front-pager today.

Significantly, the City did assess it, and an early estimate was for $57.1 million...but strangely the newspaper's piece omitted this, only very briefly alluding to the site assessement, and not to the costing.

Rose Gardens/Epping Parcel (not latest cost estimate, however)
The latest estimate seems to be $66.1 million. And, as critics of the City point out, this doesn't include a seismic retrofit of the Library.