Monday, December 22, 2014

2014 in Review: Boise and the Riverfront Finally Come Together

This is the sixth year-end review on the blog. If there's one thing that's become clear from them, it's that each time momentum seems to gather for real change, things stall and revert back to 20th century norms.

Remember when the Mayor
Rode an e-bike over the bridge?
It all seemed so promising then!
For every new bike lane, there's a giant intersection widening. A few sharrows are spattered around town, but we never build on them to develop the next step in a bikeway. We don't leverage them to make new connections, and we don't upgrade existing bike lanes to protected bike lanes or cycle tracks. In all things we are better at funding and writing plans than at funding and executing those plans.

If last year was dominated by debate and argument about parking, this year doesn't seem to offer a single neat narrative. (Maybe you will see a theme that ties them all together, or have a very different ranking?) This year's review will meander and scatter a good bit: Like our policy choices, this post will be incoherent.

Boise and the Bridges: Connections to the Park
Wallace and Glen Creek: Barriers to the Park

From here, though, it seemed like completing some huge pieces of the jigsaw puzzle on the Boise Redevelopment, Riverfront Park, and the Courtney Minto Bridge was the biggest, most important story of the year.

Developers broke ground on Boise, the City agreed to buy the Park Parcel, final funding and permits came together for the Courtney Minto Bridge. There were a lot of positive developments on an important part of the larger project to connect downtown to the riverfront.
Pringle Square Apartments - via CB|Two
(More on Boise here, and the Courtney Bridge here. The path system under and around the new Commercial Street Bridge is also part of the story.)

December, 2013 - Paths almost done!
A close second, and not such a happy story, one in fact that exemplified the push-me-pull-me dynamic in our facilities, was the simultaneous small-scale ARRA make-work of the connector path between the Union Street Railroad Bridge and Glen Creek Road while at the same time the City and ODOT undertook a massive degradation in the walking and biking environment by widening the intersection of Wallace and Glen Creek.

The incoherence is Salem in a nutshell.

Traffic canyon on Glen Creek looking west, up the hill, Fall 2014
Path connections in Wallace Park are also likely to be degraded further by Marine Drive's encroachment on the park.

If the Boise project knit the river closer to the city, Wallace widening projects drive the city away from the river. (Read more on Wallace and Glen Creek here.)

Rest of the top stories
    1. Free, unlimited parking downtown failed spectacularly. As a temporary measure City Council reinstated time limits, this time with 3 hour limits for the holidays. A longer-term solution is still needed that balances merchant needs for turn-over, customer needs for convenient and available spots, and the City's legitimate capital funding need for the parking garages. (More on the parking saga here.)
    2. New technology. Even more than Cherriots' system change, which is a significant story on its own, "ride sharing" or "new-taxi" services like Uber and Lyft, as well as a Cherriots expiriment with more on-demand models like "flexible transit" point to substantial changes in the way we configure and serve mobility. It's only beginning! Semi-autonomous cars will point to the development of the fully driverless robot car and bus. Additionally, cars will increasingly participate in the "internet of things," connecting with our communication devices, and potentially creating a lot more distraction for drivers, but also creating a data stream about us that will be monetized. (Just wait 'til Facebook starts using all our driving data.) This is an emergent story, and there's a lot we don't know about how it's going to end. (More on Cherriots here. City staff are also working on recommendations for Uber, and I'm sure they'll be watching Portland's task force and the resulting new regulations closely.)
    3. Failure at the Blind School and Howard Hall. The difference between the Boise Redevelopment and the Blind School project is interesting, and also disappointing. Even though the redevelopment at Boise has lurched along at times, and had (and yet might have more) debate and disagreement, it still meaningfully zigged and zagged and it looks on the surface like some kind of useful compromise is going to emerge in the completed projects. It may not quite attain "excellence" and it won't please everyone, but at the moment it's impossible to see it as a failure. It was a lot harder to see a spirit of compromise at the Blind School redevelopment. The Hospital's plan at the Blind School is neither interesting nor very civic-minded. The Boise project fills an urban void, and the Hospital's creates one. (More on the blind school project here.)
    Smaller Stories 

    There's more of that push-me-pull-me here...
    • Sunday streets has a second year, but it shrinks and looks a little marginalized by the City. (More on Sunday Streets here.)
    • Some small wins: Things like the bike repair station at Riverfront Park and the bike locker map.  
    • A community cycling center is born: Northwest Hub 
    • New crowdfunding concepts: But is Salem ready to embrace the projects? Fundraising for Salem Area Trail Alliance, Northwest Hub, and the downtown BikeTaxi seemed to go slowly.
    • Funding looked to come together for the light at union and commercial to connect with the Union Street RR Bridge (I'm not sure I have a good summary on this. This old note might be the best. Construction, though, looks to be out to 2018 or so.) Still no plans for the longer Union Street family-friendly bikeway, though.
    • Keizer and Salem buttoned up funding for sidewalks and bike lanes for Brown Road.
    • We had some great Lecturers visit - but crickets afterwards? Gil Penalosa and James Sallis gave talks about the city planning + walking and biking nexus, but there seemed to be no lasting effects, planning, or enthusiasm. One question is whether these talks get shaped too much around preaching to the choir and don't instead venture out to the Chamber of Commerce or other places where sceptics abound and conversion might be possible. (Is there a different metaphor than evangelism that gets at the nub of the task in persuasion? Using a religious trope here doesn't seem like the best idea...)
    • McGilchrist Roth renovation opened. New stores and new apartments will help draw new activity downtown. Same for the Salem Arts Building. Several new restaurants opened. From this angle, downtown looks like things are happening.
    And then some deeper background noise
    • The "preferred alternative" called "the Salem Alternative" actually morphed in design and lost some support on City Council. Three votes are known publicly to be skeptical. But needing five for Council action, can Councilors pick up two more votes to do anything meaningful? This year's election didn't really look to change the balance of power or voting blocs on Council. It looks like Salem River Crossing activity in 2015 will be more intense with hearings on a proposed Urban Growth Boundary expansion. The funding plan turns out to be risible, and we will get a cocktail napkin version only in the Final Environmental Impact Statement. (The whole epic saga here. N3B is also indispensable.)
    • A State Street study for late 2015 or early 2016 emerged out of the NEN-SESNA "Looking Forward" neighborhood plan.
    • A study on "Middle Commercial," the Commercial Vista Corridor study kicked off.
    • Portland Road is going to get some study.
    • Redevelopment prospects on the north parcel at the State Hospital slowed way down, maybe even on a hiatus.
    • The Blue Ribbon Task force assembled and will have more talk about a new Police Station and Civic Center seismic work.
    • Jockeying for the transportation package at the 2015 Legislature commenced in earnest.
    These will be bigger stories in 2015 and 2016, I'm sure.
    Finally, two things that really aren't significant for transportation, aren't very significant in the urban fabric, but which seem important public spaces to note nonetheless. Both the Columbarium at the State Hospital and the World War II memorials were completed.

    So what's missing? Do you rank things differently? Maybe you see an actual narrative thread and set of themes!


    Anonymous said...

    While it's not a local story at all, surely one of the biggest transportation stories is the price of gas! Cheap gas isn't on your agenda, clearly, but nevertheless that's a pretty significant development this year in transportation.

    Jim Scheppke said...

    Thanks for this review and for all your insightful analysis in 2014. I wanted to say that there is reason for optimism that 2015 could be the year that the Salem River Crossing project comes to an end. First, you may underestimate the influence that City Councilor-elect Tom Andersen may have. He credits his opposition to the 3rd Bridge as one of the main things that got him elected. He is going to be outspoken on the issue. Also, Dan Clem, who was far and away the #1 champion for the 3rd Bridge is gone. His successor on the Council, Jim Lewis, will be nowhere near as influential. We have heard very strong criticism of the latest designs from Councilor Chuck Bennett lately. He can have a great deal of influence with the Mayor and others if he will use it. Finally, the DLCD has indicated several times that they are not inclined to allow expansion of our UGB and grant exceptions to state land use laws to build a 3rd Bridge. Their strong opposition could also prove fatal in 2015.

    Anonymous said...

    Yestereday's "2014 top environmental stories in Salem" actually had only one real Salem story: the possible cancer cluster in West Salem.

    The other stories were much larger in scope:
    - Fukushima Radiation on the coast,
    - The statewide GMO vote and associated politicking before and after,
    - Bee deaths in other communities and the state-level Task Force on pesticides, and
    - Drought in other counties

    There was very little on Salem-area polluters, on the relation between development and environment in Salem, on the Third Bridge and transportation as an environmental issue - etc

    It seems like there's a real opening for a much more focused and local approach to environmental issues in Salem.

    Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

    Agreed, Anon1 and Anon2. Additionally, here's some skepticism that cheap gas will much more driving.

    I hope you're right on both counts, Jim - that Councilor-elect Andersen will be more influential, and that the Bridge will finally meet an immovable road block!