Thursday, January 9, 2014

West Salem Business District Study to Kick off Later this Month?

Things are sortof in a lull right now on the giant bridge and highway, AKA "Third Bridge." Burbling along, though, mostly unnoticed is the prospect of another study - and its costs.

Yesterday the West Salem Redevelopment Advisory Board met, and one of the items was an update on the West Salem Business District Study.  Sounds innocent, right?

Announcement from Winter Urban Development Newsletter
In another instance of Third Bridge planning cost us money (up to a quarter million) that could be better allocated supporting other projects, the West Salem Urban Renewal Area is going to fund a study of how to accommodate the Despoliation of Edgewater.

Instead of resisting the despoliation, arguing for higher good things, the study (see details in packet for September 4th meeting) will yield to bad policy and accept the trashing as a given:
This work may lead to different uses in distinct nodes within the business district and lead to the phased (near‐term, longer‐term) public investment strategy to incent or spur catalyst private development that reflects and is informed by the unique mix of uses, heritage and character of the business district. If successful, the West Salem Business District Development Plan would lead to:
  • Preservation of the valuable jobs to the Salem area economy, ensuring these uses are compatible with the mix of desired future uses for the area
  • Enhanced retail character of the district
  • Targeted possible areas for opportunity acquisition, with clearly defined purpose, as potential catalyst locations for redevelopment
  • Development of incentives to promote private property redevelopment
  • Phased plan for public investments (within the context of larger looming projects planned for the area)
The Board expects vehicular circulation in and around the Urban Renewal Area and the West Salem Business District to change, based on the selection of a Salem River Crossing Preferred Alternative....  [italics added]
There are several things at least mildly amusing about the study.

Principally, of course, there is the way it talks around the giant bridge and highway.  Understandably since this is a politically hot issue, City Staff haven't been willing to comment beyond the official project documents.  As an instance of City transparency - well, on the one hand you've got the documents, but on the other hand, their meaning looks rather buried under the bureaucratic obfuscation and jargon!

In addition, as we have seen in recent newspaper articles, West Salem as a whole is the most wealthy part of Salem.  Yet it superficially it seems plausible for the study to wonder about the market:
Residents of West Salem and adjoining communities to the west and north, travel across these bridges for goods and services such as entertainment, dining, clothing, etc. Residents are interested in being able to access these types of services in West Salem’s business district. It is unclear whether the market is the primary barrier to provision of these services in West Salem’s business district or whether the uncertainty around the Salem River Crossing is contributing to or constraining development in the area.
Fundamentally it's because you can't walk to anything!  It's because we keep shoving low-density, car-dependent development out on the edges of the city limits!  There's plenty of money in West Salem, but everybody has to drive places, and it's just as easy to cross the river as not.

West Salem's gloriously walkable business district
full of congestion
In fact, that there is a question about this is more evidence that "congestion" on the Marion and Center Street bridges is not so very bad after all.

If "congestion" were a real problem, there would be a much greater demand for goods and services on the west side of the river, as people would seek to avoid crossing the bridge as much as possible.  It's what people do, not what they say that's relevant here - and only in the grumbling is "congestion" a problem. Since the demand for west-side goods and services has seemed slack, there is good reason to think that crossing the river is not so difficult after all.

Still, it's probably also true that the bridge talk has put a cloud over the area as well.
a 2005‐06 Transportation Growth Management (TGM) funded study...resulted in the “Fifth Alternative” vision for commercial development in the area. The study was never adopted by Council due to uncertainty around the Salem River Crossing (third Willamette River bridge) and future Marine Drive alignment.[italics added]
Why this study is the wrong approach

Let's suppose that arguments about declining driving and everything else fail to be persuasive right now, and folks decide that planning for a giant bridge and highway is exactly what need.  And let's suppose that in 10, 20 years, driving indeed declines, climate change worsens, and people come around to the idea that spending a couple billion dollars on a giant bridge and highway is not a wise thing to do. (Or maybe we're just broke enough that we can't afford to do it.)

Now we've planned west Salem redevelopment around a highway alignment that isn't going to happen.  Talk about a suboptimal outcome!

Why instead don't we just plan for the optimal development - and see if in fact that includes a giant bridge and highway?

Here, as in the whole Salem River Crossing process, we are reasoning backwards from the conclusion.  Even though ostensibly we are studying whether we need a giant bridge and highway, this is already the conclusion and we're just trying to backfill a whole lot of rationalization.

If you think the Despoliation of Edgewater is inevitable, it makes sense to plan for mitigation.

On the other hand, if you don't think it is inevitable and necessary, why capitulate now?
None of the Edgewater Action Plan's Vision and Main Street Concept
is compatible with the devastation wrought
by the ramps and viaducts of a 3rd Bridge
More Details on Study and a Caveat

In the info packet for Wednesday's meeting, the latest "study description" actually omits the bridge, though it does mention "transportation system" and "land use":
The FY 13-14 West Salem Urban Renewal Area (URA) budget includes up to $250,000 to complete the West Salem Business District Study (Study). The Study aims to develop a multi-year approach to planning redevelopment of the commercial nodes adjacent to Edgewater Street and Wallace Road, including by analysis of the market, transportation system, utilities, and land use, needed to support redevelopment. In January 2014 Leland consulting was recommended through a Request for Proposals process to complete the Study....Final Study recommendations are not anticipated until June 2014....
Only one other point. The Leland group wrote the preliminary study for the State Hospital North Campus redevelopment, and I had one beef with it:

Streetcar-scaled and walkable retail
doesn't have to mean convenience stores
I didn't like how it settled for convenience stores on the periphery, and how it missed the significance of the barriers of I-5 and major arterials, and how it minimized walkable essential business services.

I worry that the consultant group might have an institutional car-centric bias that will blind them to the ways that Wallace is a total Charlie Foxtrot for people not in cars, and blind them to the promise of Edgewater, especially the promise that is threatened by a giant bridge and highway.

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