Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Bike Parking Remains Lone Issue Outstanding at Lord and Schryver Museum

The Lord & Schryver Conservancy's fall newsletter came out last month, and in it is an update on the "change in use" proceedings to convert the home and garden into a kind of museum.

November 2015 newsletter
Buried in that update is news on the lone "outstanding issue": bike racks!

November 2015 newsletter

Holy Smokes that seems like a crazy disproportion to the actual effect of bike racks. Is this really the bridge on which to make that last stand?

Briefly, here again is why the Conservancy's proposed location is not very good: There's not enough clearance on the alley.

Detail from site plan above; red comments added;
bike parking standards from Portland added as insert

The alley is very tight in places, and bikes and riders
could get clipped - via Gaiety Hollow
It's also of course not within 50 feet of the primary entry.

The reasons for the Conservancy's objection do not seem consistent with modifications at historic places we routinely make. And as we have said before:
[W]e constantly adjust things with non-contributing and non-historical details at historic houses: We permit wheelchair ramps at the Wiggins house, a modern elevator at Bush Barn, and countless wireless communication antennae on historic buildings all around town, like this set on the Livesley building. Compared to these alterations, bike racking hardly seems like a "violation of the historic integrity of the garden and restoration efforts." It would be in the front, anyway, and the business part of the garden is in the back yard.
Bikes and bike racks are no more intrusive as "contemporary equipment" than cars, pickups, mowers, hedgers, power drills, and drip irrigation, all of which are important ingredients in contemporary maintenance and preservation at the museum.

It would be helpful to see a list of exactly what garden features would be harmed by bike racking. At present this is an abstract argument about "historic integrity," and it should at the very least be more specific about likely impacts to actual garden details and the home site.

The foliage on the right of the driveway
 would be cleared for racking
under the first proposal that circulated
But if it turns out that the original proposed site for bike parking would take out some incredibly rare shrub that Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver themselves planted and thought integral to the total garden concept; or if there isn't sufficient clearance at that place either, especially with the passenger side car door zone, - well, it seems like the site is big enough to find a place that is secure, is close to the main entry, and minimally disruptive to the garden grounds.

It can't be that difficult to find a place that works!

I suspect the alarm is more hyberbolic than not, perhaps even a proxy for some other element in a disagreement or dispute. It has, in truth, seemed like the conversion from residence to museum is good evidence for some of the ways our approach to zoning too often hinders interesting and valuable projects.

Back to the matter at hand, high quality bike parking should be automatic now, not a show-stopper and deal-breaker, and it is disappointing to see it a hostage in the development of the museum, house, and garden.

Myrtle Card and Ernestine Levy in Salem, circa 1900
(Detail, Oregon State Library)
More than this, bikes and historic preservation are such natural allies. No one is demolishing historic buildings for bike parking. And bike transport doesn't contribute to greenhouse gases that threaten the natural or planted environment, including gardens.

To set bikes and historic preservation in opposition is a counterproductive stand-off. Hopefully this can get resolved soon!


Jeff Schumacher said...

It seems just as weird that the City would also draw a line in the sand on this issue. Yes, the alley is not ideal for bike parking. But Mission Street has essentially no amenities for bikers! It's like the City wants the Conservancy to make a (reasonable) concession on the bike racks but it won't do anything to help us get to the Conservancy on a bike.

I would certainly agree that modern upgrades don't necessarily degrade historical structures, and too often people get very wrapped up in that minutiae and lose sight of the big picture. Bike racks in the front of the Conservancy would hardly seem out of place. But it is more than a little off putting to have the City mandate something like this when the City itself can't be bothered to do so many other little things that would encourage more biking.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The problem is that the museum's proposed site and configuration doesn't meet several criteria in code (SRC 806.060).

It's more than 50 feet from the "primary building entrance." And it's not "visible" from that entrance.

It doesn't have a four-foot "access aisle" or meet the requirement that each space be 6x2 feet.

In other places the City has been cavalier about insisting that parking meet these requirements, and at this present moment, the City is right to insist. The City really needs to have a habit and baseline of expecting high-quality bike parking that conforms to code. They aren't being weird or drawing an arbitrary line in the sand.

When we want bike corrals downtown, they will also have to go through an historic design review process in the historic district, and the idea of creating a precedent where bike racks are ruled to harm the historic integrity of a designated historic place is a little alarming. It's the effing cars and their parking that harm the historic resource!

(But yeah, I wish the City would do more, as you say, "to help us get to the Conservancy on a bike." And maybe we need to change code so it is more flexible for unusual situations like this one - Bike and Walk Salem was going to have some new bike parking code, but this component seems to have been abandoned.)

Jeff Schumacher said...

Just because the Conservancy's preferred location for the bike rack doesn't meet the SRC should not disqualify it. Putting a bike rack in front of that building would feel ornamental to a large extent, because biking amenities on Mission basically don't exist. Sure, people will bike to the Conservancy on occasion and I'm glad it will have a bike rack - but given the crap route to the Conservancy via bike, I hardly see the significance of putting the bike rack on the alley side. With the bike rack out front, will people be encouraged to actually bike to the Conservancy? I guess people can always point to this issue as a precedent to build on, but I'd rather the City took each issue on a case-by-case basis.

The City's mindset on these land use / transportation issues is hard to understand. It is willing to insist upon the location of a bike rack for the Conservancy, but it is also willing to allow the hospital all the parking it desires while not mandating any improvements for walkers/bikers at Mission & Winter and Mission & Church. It's like the City suddenly cares about a few trees but ignores the forest.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I'm not sure I understand you. (Are we even talking about the same thing!)

At first I too thought access on the alley via High or Church Streets was the most logical because of the poor conditions for biking on Mission. But when I saw the proposal and thought through it, it was clear it didn't work and looked good only as lines on a site plan.

The current proposal for bike parking on the alley is not merely non-compliant with the SRC, it is non-functional and largely ornamental. (Really, look at the drawing.) There's not enough room for a person with a bike safely to maneuver, pack/unpack, lock/unlock.

The reason the bike racks should be near the primary entry is because that's where people look for bike parking. Even if people aren't biking on Mission Street, they'll still be looking to the front entry. That's the current convention. It's also more secure than bike parking on the alley.

So without a super compelling alternative, the argument that the City should rule with an exception to the SRC's requirements is very weak.

It is possible that such a super compelling alternative could be made for alley bike parking. In my mind a super compelling alternative would address the following:

- better security and illumination for use at night (bike thefts are up 30% in Salem), maybe even a shed roof
- sufficient clearance to be used safely on an alley with car traffic
- one or more staple racks on Mission Street in the curb strip between the sidewalk and street for short-term parking

That would make for an installation with obvious benefits over a minimal one to code in the front yard.

Maybe you will think of a different configuration. But in order to argue that it deserves an exception to code, it should also offer an upgrade. But if the bike parking is just going to be the minimum required, then it should fully meet code in a straight-forward way.

Jeff Schumacher said...

I suppose that I find the issue of a bike rack at the Conservancy incredibly minor. Your point of allowing the Conservancy's exception to the SRC only if it were to offer an upgrade is a good one - and the bike rack in the alley would not serve as an upgrade (because, as you say, it wouldn't have enough space to work well). My main point, which I've poorly articulated, is that I'm frustrated with the City's lack of vision in that neighborhood regarding biking/walking traffic. Did any meaningful bike/walk improvements come from the hospital's purchase of the blind school? Are any meaningful bike/walk improvements coming from SAIF's renovations? But hey, there will be a bike rack (to code!) at the Conservancy! I will concede that it is probably the right precedent, but given the lack of more meaningful action it doesn't mean much to me.