Sunday, January 25, 2015

City Council, January 26th - Downtown Parking and Uber

Now that the new Councilors are sworn in and there's no competing football game, Monday's Council agenda offers a busy agenda - but not perhaps super meaty.

The lead item, of course, will be an extension of the three-hour parking limit downtown.

Transportation Matters

Staff recommends extending the current downtown parking arrangements out one year, to February 2016, to get through another Holiday season and to give time to negotiate a real solution to the ongoing capital deficits on the parking district and parking garages. (I don't know if there's anything new to say on this, however.)

Nyet: Uber needs Licenses
There's also an update on Uber and the new ride-hailing services. (There is news on this!) The deal had been that as long as Uber wasn't charging for rides, the City wasn't going to penalize them. But early in December the City obtained evidence that Uber had started charging fees and so the City initiated enforcement actions.

On December 5, 2014, Compliance Services obtained evidence that Uber was charging fares for providing transportation. At this point Uber was operating as a vehicle for hire company without the required license. The driver in question was also operating without his required vehicle for hire driver's license.

On December 10, 2014, Compliance Services served an Enforcement Order upon Uber requiring it to cease operation in Salem or obtain the necessary vehicle for hire license under SRC 30.700-30.845. The Enforcement Order also advised Uber that there is a potential maximum penalty of $2000 per day for operating without the required license.

The compliance date for the Enforcement Order was set as January 14, 2015, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.

On December 16, 2014, Compliance Services sent advisory letters to all known Uber drivers in the Salem area. This letter informed the Uber drivers they are required to obtain a vehicle for hire driver's license under SRC 30.700-30.845.

The advisory letter also explained to them there is a potential maximum penalty of $2000 per day for operating without the vehicle for hire driver's license.

The appeal period for the Enforcement Order was set to expire on January 14, 2015. An appeal was received on January 13, 2015. The next step in this process is to present this case to the Hearings Officer. As of the writing of this report a hearing date has not been set.
So there's the appeal, but there are also ongoing negotiations as well as prospective code amendments, tentatively scheduled for March.

Insurance requirements is one of the important matters. For people on foot and on bike, what happens when you are hit by a driver with an Uber fare or other ride-hailing service fare? Because this is driving for business and not incidental to ordinary driving, the driver's regular insurance is not going cover much if anything. So there's a huge coverage gap here. (BikePortland has a longer discussion.)

Something that is interesting, but whose implications I don't understand, is that the City proposes to switch some funding sources on a project in order to exempt the project from NEPA permitting. It's not clear whether this is a dodge of needed environmental protections or a reasonable way to cut some red tape. The City proposes to "use of $320,000 of Streets and Bridges Bond proceeds to fund traffic signal interconnect improvements along Liberty Street NE and Salem Parkway." The Staff Report says
Transferring the federal funds from the Liberty Street NE and Salem Parkway Interconnect project in exchange for the an equal amount of Bond funds from the Brown Road NE project will remove the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) [sic] permitting requirements from the Liberty Street NE and Salem Parkway Interconnect project, while still meeting the local match requirements for the Brown Road NE project....

This could save up to $50,000 and remove one year from the project schedule, allowing construction to occur in 2015.
It seems like an interesting slip that NEPA is parsed in the Staff Report incorrectly as the Environmental Protection Agency rather than the National Environmental Policy Act.

It makes you a little suspicious. But hard to say for sure, since the project is for computers and wiring/wireless technology, and doesn't seem like something very disruptive.

Make a car-walk-bike connection along the RR line - 2nd Street
In the last bit of transportation news, the Urban Renewal Agency looks to allocate a small additional amount to the West Salem Business District Action Plan. The Staff Report specifically calls out that the funding is necessary for the recommendations that include "proposed east-west improvements, under Wallace Road." This is still a little mysterious, too much a vague concept, but it is also exciting, as until now, there has been no serious attempt to forge a connection across Wallace Road from the Union Street Railroad Bridge. At the moment, this looks like a compromise "good enough" solution that is worth strong support.


There's also a chunk of non-transportation planning news at Council.

Phase 2 on the south side, looking northwest
As expected, Pringle Square Phase Two met approval at the Planning Commission. The approval doesn't look to have changed from Staff Recommendation. It looked, properly, like a routine matter.

Not routine, apparently, is the grant program for the Pringle Square North Block development.
Shall the Agency Board authorize the creation of a South Waterfront Urban Renewal Area Project Grant Program as an innovative financial incentive to encourage development and the overall appearance and condition of the South Waterfront Urban Renewal Area?
When the Park Parcel purchase was negotiated, it included provision for a $750,000 "performance grant." Apparently the vehicle for the funding doesn't yet exist and needs to be created.

The North Block, especially the part that includes the proposed nursing home, is the least satisfactory part of the Boise Redevelopment, and I hope that this program will receive extra scrutiny. If there are parts of the project that are worth a greater level of subsidy, the nursing home is not one of them.

(It's also interesting that we see clearly here that folks are "just making stuff up as they go," literally fabricating new subsidies for the project. That makes you suspicious as well.)

The NEN-SESNA "Looking Forward" Neighborhood Plan is at Council for a Public Hearing and prospective adoption. (For previous notes on it see here.)

Finally, there is the question whether to let an additional real estate/developer type on the Planning Commission. (See the Salem Weekly article for more.)

Other Stuff in Passing
  • Should the City expand its no-smoking prohibition to include parks?
  • An update on planning for Earth Day. (It is amusing that the Staff Report talks about the project as a way "to help strengthen the public's image of Salem as an environmentally responsible city" but not necessary as actually making Salem a more environmentally responsible city. There's some greenwash here, and it will be so very nice to see more substantive policy in action some day.)
  • The first round of Legislative positions are out, but there's nothing on transportation see fourth comment below!
  • An update on the Floodplain Management Plan. (The materials got bifurcated into two pdfs - here and here. The second one is also a splice of two different matters.)
  • An update on the Portland Road Action Plan, but there's nothing meaningful or new in it.
  • An update on the North Housing Investment Strategy, but it also is just a rehash of old information.
  • An update on economic and business development, and it is also pretty vague and empty. (Seriously, these last three "updates" are more like paper-pushing than meaningful analysis and updates on progress in City programs.)
  • And a couple of proposed annexations, here and here. The second one, involving 1910 and 1930 Wallace Road, has been at least peripherally involved in tricky questions about sewer easements and it's adjacent to the proposed alignment of Marine Drive and the Third Bridge, and there's a weird cluster of property not in the feels like there's something more to say here, and maybe a reader will know more.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

Talking to some people who work downtown about the parking rule, they make the following observations:

Emplyees that work for 4 hours find the 3 hour limit difficutl to work around;

Customers complainted about the limit as being to short to shop, eat and shop more during the holidays

Customers were upset that the parking lasted until 9 p.m. 6 made more sense because people could come downtown after work and either shop or eat without having to go move their cars.

Everyone hated the idea of meters...

Anonymous said...

Remember, there is free and unlimited parking in the three garages! If three hours is too short, remind people to use the garages!

Susann Kaltwasser said...

The parking garages are a great bargain and I use them all the time. However, if you want to go to a shop that is not near a parking garage, you can find yourself having to walk several blocks. Now some people think this is just fine, but others don't and won't walk that far. I for example have artheritis and can only walk short distances. I park nearest I can get to a store, so that I can spend the limited amount of steps I can take the most effiecient. Salem is an aging town and people are going to want the convenience or they will make other choices. Like me, I do almost 90% of my shopping on line, because that is my reality.

But my point was not about me. It was about what people do. Like many things, there are options that people just will not take. They will do what they want to do, and nothing you can do, will change that behavior.

If customers think that shopping downtown is too much effort, they will opt out. That is a basic fact that needs to be considered.

I worte a note to the City Council asking them not to extend the parking rules for 1 year and spent precious funds, just to study the issue. They need to widen the circle of who they are talking have a public hearing...before spending money on this issue. The merchants that they are talking to on this issue is a small minority.

I do like the idea of reducing the fees for those employees who park in the parking structures, but even at $3 a day that is about $60 out of their paycheck, and for someone making minimum wages or close to that, it is a significant cost.

Anonymous said...

Under Finance and Revenue it does say "Transportation Funding: Seek passage of a comprehensive funding package with a top priority of maintaining and preserving existing infrastructure." The Legislature is very interested in this topic for 2015.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thank you!

Previously as I recall there had been a separate "transportation" heading, and I was looking for this and for more specific details. In any case, this is good to see, especially the emphasis on "maintain" and "preserve," but it is not specific enough to have interesting things to say about it.

See here for notes on the 2015 Legislative session, which include some brief observations about the various proposals being circulated.

And for a digression...I skim the docs. There is simply no reasonable way to read all of them thoroughly. I don't think this is an embarrassing admission.

They are posted on Friday for a Monday meeting. That's a lot of material and not very much time.

But should we expect Councilors to read all of them thoroughly?

I think we have a system structured to bury volunteer Councilors and the interested public in a blizzard of information, not all of it of equal importance. The process is driven by staff, and too often Council must rubber-stamp or respond to public outcry. One is thoughtless, the other reactive, but neither case is a thoughtful response to policy debate.

I would like to see materials posted a week before Council to give the public more time to digest them. And a salary for Councilors also something to consider.

As for parking, there still is nothing new to say. Here's a good summary if new readers are interested.

As expected, Council approved the extension. Since change itself is confusing for visitors and customers, keeping the status quo for another year of analysis and negotiation seems quite reasonable.