Saturday, August 16, 2014

Construction on Glen Creek at Wallace Road and Wallace Park Show Incoherence

At this point there's nothing useful to say about the construction at Wallace and Glen Creek - but holy smokes, have you walked the intersection lately?

On Glen Creek looking west, up the hill
It's so big. It's a highway, it's a canyon: Depending on how you count, as many as seven or eight lanes wide.

It's just insane. That's all.

The plan from 2011
A few blocks down the street on the edge of Wallace Marine Park, the connecting path between the Union Street Railroad Bridge trestle and Glen Creek Road is finally underway.

Concrete and grading on the Glen Creek Path
It's interesting to see the way the final design deviates from the desire path already well-established.

Grading crosses the straighter, more direct path
Earlier, published plan views clearly showed the deviations and deflections, but it's still a little moving, actually, to see an instance of "planning" bulldozing over a solution arrived at by custom and the accumulated gestures of thousands of individual people. We might say there was a "market" here, and the "invisible hand" described an optimal solution. The plan may be a sub-optimal solution.

Path zig-zags across existing desire trail
(click to enlarge)
Maybe that's a throw-away. It would not be good to try to squeeze too much meaning here: After all, autoism is the solution arrived at by custom and the accumulated gestures of millions, and that's certainly a spectacular market failure in so many ways. (But maybe if there wasn't so much subsidy and externalized cost, maybe then the market would do a better job.)

In the form of Marine Drive and the OR-22 connector, that same autoism threatens to obliterate or hide the path with a fly-over ramp. There's a sense in which the shiny wonderfulness of the new path will be short-lived and futile. It also exemplifies the lousy trade-offs in the Third Bridge and other large road planning: By our road widening and intersection hypertrophy, we profoundly degrade connections for people who walk and bike. We compensate for this with ornament. The path will be nice, of course, but it doesn't complete a missing connection, and cannot compensate for the way getting from West Salem neighborhoods to the bridge will be even more difficult. It is not non-functional ornament, but it is only partially functional. Mostly it's shiny.

The path project is also interesting because I think it is the last of the projects being funded with "stimulus" funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In a way it is WPA-style make-work. Because it met the "shovel-ready" requirements it, and not more valuable projects, was able to get funded.

But just think what we might have been able to accomplish if our national politics had enabled a more substantial WPA-style program of capital investment. There's a lot of 1930s construction here, construction we look at today with great fondness and admiration, that was funded by one or more programs in the New Deal. We might not have got a new Capitol after the 1935 fire without that Federal money, for example.

Anyway, these two projects form an interesting and illuminating pair, and they are worth walking by. They also suggest ways that our transportation toolbox might need both more free-market, libertarian impulse at the micro-level and more big-government investment at the macro-level. (But that's a big topic for another day.)


Susann Kaltwasser said...

Totally agree with you about Wallace Road and Glen Creek. What could taxpayers have gotten for the $10 millions that would have been a better use?

Not sure what they were fixing. I drive that road several times a week and I just don't see the benefit.

Mike D said...

Before the construction started I wrote apiece in the S-J. I asked why were we spending millions on this "fix" that will do nothing to create place or value just to save people a few minutes because they can't adjust their travel modes or times And the time savings will evaporate as it become less pedestrian and bike friendly.

I got a couple of replays, including one gem-"because I live in West Salem". Which of course is a total lack of response to my points.