Tuesday, March 4, 2014

West Salem Urban Renewal Board to see Bond Sidewalk Project

The West Salem Urban Renewal Area advisory board meets tomorrow and one of the items is an update on a bond project for "missing sidewalks and bike lanes to schools and parks."

Gerth at 8th St NW, looking towards 9th and the Boys and Girls Club
Formally titled the West Salem Redevelopment Advisory Board, WSRAB will see concept details on a part of Gerth Street NW.

This section of Gerth Street NW lacks sidewalks and connects to the Boys and Girls Club building adjacent to Walker Middle School. (The club can be seen behind the pickup on the left side of the street above.)

Plan view of sidewalk, curbs, and storm drains on Gerth at 8th
(click to enlarge or see meeting packet)
I don't know anything about the local conditions, but this is interesting because Gerth dead-ends here, and it's hard to see that through-traffic on the street would be much of a problem. This looks like traffic is already calmed and the kind of street it's just fine to walk in - so does it really need this tiny segment of full sidewalks? Or is this a problem area during the very narrow window of drop-off and pick-up before and after school.  Is this a partial solution to what is really a parental auto queuing mess?

It's also interesting as a dinky, one-block segment, orphaned from other connections.

In a $100 million bond, sidewalks and bike lanes = 1%
The good thing about the 1971 Oregon Bike Bill is that 1% must go to bike lanes and sidewalks.  The bad news is that too often this sets expectations for an appropriate level of spending.  The total for bike/ped stuff in the 2008 bond is somewhat more than 1%.  City staff will argue for a maximalist interpretation, citing all the bike lanes in the widening projects that the law requires them to install.  From here, these remain fundamentally widening of busy roads, and the bike lanes on them will serve only a narrow proportion of confident cyclists; the interpretation here is for a much smaller proportion of truly family-friendly bike/ped projects. Either way, the fact is there's not very much directly allocated for 21st century bike/ped projects as opposed to incidental spill-over on big widening projects with bike lanes built to 1980s standards.  So the projects selected for this "bike lanes and sidewalks to schools and parks" budget line-item are mostly small and fragmented.  

In this context, the important point is not retrospective, but oriented towards the next bond or other collection and prioritization of projects: If we want to be serious about an 8 to 80 City, we have to think about not just dinky little segments of sidewalk and bike lanes, but about whole systems, about funding and creating entire lengths of family-friendly bikeway, and about creating a complete lattice of quiet streets that don't have those annoying, show-stopping gaps.

In the next bond or however it is that we fund a large package of transportation projects, instead of spending $15 million on widening Wallace and Glen Creek for cars, we should spend $15 million on sidewalks and bikeways in West Salem for people to feel comfortable, safe, and able not to make drive-alone trips. And so on.

Finally, the project illustrates the contrast with the big, sexy investments at Chapman Corner, near Orchard Heights and Doaks Ferry up on the hill:  West Salem High School, Straub Middle School, Kalapuya Elementary School, and Chapman Hill Elementary School. There are real questions about equity here and investment in the flat, gridded portion of West Salem has lagged behind investment in the hills.

Also on the agenda is the budget for urban renewal funds. It looks like $1.25 million is available:

Proposed budget for West Salem URA funds
(click to enlarge or see meeting packet)
There aren't enough details on the redevelopment grant program or the implementation of the Edgewater-Second Street Action plan to have much to say just now.  But the great majority of these funds is being used to invest in this somewhat neglected neighborhood.

WSRAB meets Wednesday, March 5th from 7:30 AM – 9:00 AM in the West Salem Public Library, 395 Glen Creek Road NW.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The more I think about this project and design, the more I'm scratching my head. It looks like the primary beneficiaries are driving parents in the drop-off/pick-up queue. The project will get kids "out of the way" of those in cars.

Since it's not a complete route, or a key intersection on a busy or difficult crossing, the project doesn't seem like it's really going to help kids walk and bike to school.

The staff report on the project selection (blog post here, staff report here) doesn't have anything on the reasons for selection.

The Bike & Walk Salem Memorandum #9 – Safe Routes to School Solutions does, however, have some information. It makes six primary recommendations:
1 Pathway connection between school grounds and Glen Creek Road
2 Sidewalk repair and family friendly bikeway on 8th Street
3 Sidewalk infill and repair on Gerth Street
4 Sidewalk repair on 7th Street
5 Updated bike racks
6 Patterson Street bikeway improvements

And in a note it clarifies: "The City should repair existing sidewalks on Gerth Street and complete the sidewalk north to the street’s terminus. The goal of this solution is to provide a complete and accessible walking facility for students walking to school and attending after-school activities at the Boys and Girls Club".

Gerth has sidewalks from Edgewater to 8th, but then they crap out. So this will make for a stretch of sidewalk complete from Edgewater to the Boys and Girls Club.

In the context of all six recommendations, this project makes sense, but by itself I have a hard time seeing it will make for a meaningful increase in kids walking and biking to Walker and/or the Boys and Girls Club.

(If you have kids who attend Walker, or if you live in the neighborhood, would love to hear your thoughts!)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

And perhaps should have added that in the adopted pedestrian chapter of the transportation system plan - the Pedestrian System Element - this segment of sidewalk didn't rank at all in tiers 1, 2, or 3.

So it kinda looks like it jumped the queue somewhere along the line.