Thursday, November 13, 2014

Underpasses in Salem: Why one with Cars on 2nd at Wallace Road Might be Good

Underpasses look great when you draw them on a map. Connections!

Portland Road Underpass Sidewalk:  Salem Daily Photo Diary
Icky, and a little scary, in truth.
But here in Salem we don't have very many examples of underpasses that feel safe, comfortable, and inviting. Mostly they are pedestrian displacement systems, and gather commensurate amounts of dust, trash, and even poop.

Sunnyview under I-5
I have to say, though, that the underpasses I use most often - even if I don't like them, I do use them - are those that share the way with car traffic. I prefer a bike lane next to zooming auto traffic over a too-separated path without eyeballs and ears. In this case cars seem like a smaller threat than isolated space with no ways out.

13th Street as it passes under Mission
Underpasses devoted solely to non-auto traffic haven't done well at all here.

RR Underpass, 1939 - closed today

Pringle Parkway: Underpass on Mill Race Path from above
So what to make of the draft proposal in the West Salem Business District Action Plan for an underpass along a Second Street - RR Line alignment?

Crucially, it calls for something wide enough to carry two lanes of car traffic in addition to multi-use side paths for people on foot and on bike. I hope that it is safe to assume the car speeds and volumes are those of a "local street" and not those of a "collector street."

Make a car-walk-bike connection along the RR line - 2nd Street
By having an underpass that also carries car traffic, while it will be a little stinkier, I think it will actually be safer and more inviting than an underpass devoted solely to non-auto traffic. The key will be to make sure the sidepaths are more open than the ones on the Portland Road underpass. Basically you need eyeballs and ears, and a person should also have an out - be able to jump the barrier if an actually dangerous troll should appear. Too much channelization and enclosure is going to make a space feel less safe and comfortable.

All along it has seemed like Second Street NW should be a bikeway, and not doing a rails-to-trails transformation of the segment of Salem, Falls City & Western railroad in the middle a huge missed opportunity. It also seemed like an overcrossing or undercrossing along it across Wallace would not include car traffic.

Salem, Falls City & Western Line, 1915 USGS map
The work finished recently on Second also seemed more like overbuilding than improvements.

New Second Street with sidewalks, swales, curbs, and stalls
But if part of the cost of a really good connection across Wallace is a facility that includes car traffic, and if it also is keyed to an increasingly urban redevelopment in this "gateway" area, with a mix of land-uses that truly support lots of different ways to get around, including walking and biking, then that seems like a reasonable trade-off that results in a meaningful net positive overall.

So what do you think?

Update, February 4th, 2015

If you've walked from downtown to Corbett/Lair Hill neighborhood in Portland, you'll know all about the ramp spaghetti for the Ross Island Bridge and how it sliced through the neighborhood and created huge barriers.

Following along Grover Street, a sidewalk and path leads to an underpass, a tunnel really, below SW Naito Parkway just before it transitions into Barbur Boulevard.
Sidewalk and Underpass on SW Barbour/Naito Parkway - Metro
(sorry for the blue shift; the color got off in resizing!)
As Metro is working on updating the plan for Barbur Boulevard, they have a nice piece on the tunnel.

Inside the tunnel: Scary at Night - via Metro
From the piece:
In the 20th century, roadway project after roadway project pushed through Lair Hill: the Ross Island Bridge in 1926, Oregon Highway 99W (of which Naito Parkway is a remnant), Barbur Boulevard in the 1930s, and interstates 5 and 405 in the 1960s.

Each roadway project, along with a massive urban renewal project in the 1960s, further carved up the neighborhood and destroyed blocks of homes and businesses. Little thought was given to the needs of the residents who stayed: how they'd get to former neighbors' houses, or to a favorite corner grocery.

The pedestrian tunnel under Naito was one consolation.

But today, many pedestrians – particularly at night – avoid its darkness in favor of a quick, dangerous dash across those busy lanes of Naito traffic.
This is the design challenge for an underpass connecting Second Street to the Union Street Railroad Bridge under Wallace Road.

Here's another one of the paths under the big Mission Street Overpass between 12th and 17th. This one is along the RR between 13th and 14th.

Multiuse path under Mission along RR alignment
It's also pretty isolated, and I knew few who use it. I don't know that it is dangerous, but it doesn't feel safe and comfortable, either.

An underpass at Wallace really hinges on design. It's crucial.


d. davis said...

I often have a "what if" moment when biking along Hawthorne by Geer Park. Wondering how the neighborhood/park would be different if the tunnel under I-5 was retained for peds/cyclists after the tracks were ripped out.

It probably would have been too long/too dark to be friendly but it would have been an appreciated east-west connector.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Indeed, the Geer line was a huge missed rails-to-trails opportunity!

Imagine a trail from 14th street all the way out to Howell Prairie Road - and to connect with whatever other path systems might be developed sometime.

But with the vacant(ish) land uses from the prison to Geer Park and such, it probably would take some doing for it to feel very friendly and safe after dark.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

updated with a bit on an underpass in Portland and some of the challenges it faces