Friday, January 22, 2016

Slightly Revised Report on Walking Crash Deaths at Council Monday

At the last Council meeting, it wasn't until about 10:15pm that the pedestrian crash report was up for discussion, and Councilor Andersen moved to postpone it to the meeting of the 25th. Council approved the postponement.

Does he need bright clothing?
Should we shame him for dark clothing?
(Note on Basic Rule added)
The report has been revised silently. In the new version you'll note that details on the Storms have been corrected and the details on Travis Lane inserted new. Maybe there are other edits as well. Unfortunately, staff didn't seize the opportunity to revise the tone of the report. It still seems victim-blamey and impersonal, minimizing the actual human cost of death. (Previous notes here.)

Crosslands, David McGregor, Travis Lane deaths
Most damning is the clear recipe for consequence-free homicide: If you want to kill someone, just make sure you're in a car, you aren't drunk, and they're wearing dark clothing.

from 2011 - nothing's changed
That's ridiculous, right? But really, the way things are structured there's no real penalty for killing a person on foot, and not enough incentive to design to protect people on foot.

Apart from the legal and enforcement environment, in our road engineering, the way things are structured in the roadways and our habits of using them, by design and structure, we create the conditions for more deaths than are truly "accidental."
Until we are willing to look at structural change and not merely at a veneer of "spot safety counter-measures," we will struggle with preventable, non-accidental carnage on our roads.

Pembrook Apartments

The hearing on the Pembrook apartments has been continued. Public testimony, which was overwhelmingly in opposition to the apartments, is closed, and now Council will decide. (See previous discussion here and here.)

The matters, I see, are a little more complicated and substantive. Some business owners want the property developed as commercial retail not apartments. They suggest
the southwest region of Salem is definitely an underserved residential area...many have expressed a need for more shops and services.
That's a reasonable stance, but if apartments are also an allowable use for CR zoned property, it may not hold weight as a legal reason.

From the City's Zoning Map
A lot of the other complaints remain NIMBY-style. One neighbor calls the proposed three-story blocks "watch towers" looking into their homes and back yards. There's a tension in the approach to personal security and privacy. On the one hand, for some too many neighborly eyes threatens with the prospect of a kind of surveillance. And yet, on the other hand, too much isolation provides hidey holes and blank spaces for unsavory activity. Too often we confuse quiet with safe.

In any case much of the rhetoric is overwrought or based on misunderstanding. But there are real issues involved, too.

The neighborhood association calls on the City to increase
the number of parking spaces for residents from the outdated 'minimum' of 1.5 per unit to a more current value (1.9 vehicles per household per the US Department of Transportation) and creating a 'reasonable number of visitor parking spaces.
Over and over, this really represents a great failure by the City to communicate just how detrimental surface parking is to city vitality. Parking is a self-consuming cancer, and until we can articulate a consistent critique of parking and the way it hollows out urban space, we will struggle with things like this.

According to the proposal, the actual amount would be in a ratio of 1.75 stalls per unit.

In addition to homeowners being worried about how the proximity of an apartment complex will affect property values, business owners fret, and a nearby clinic owner writes:
the patient perception of this business will undoubtedly lower with a large complex being located very close to our practice
"There goes the neighborhood," as they say. In a piece at The Atlantic, Daniel Hertz of City Observatory discusses a fundamental contradiction in our housing policy, which is surfacing here:
The first essentially says, “Use housing policy to keep home prices down”; the second says, “Use housing policy to keep home prices up.”
Probably we need more explicit discussion and debate on this, as it also haunts our discussions on the State Hospital property. The need for affordable housing smacks into our need to preserve household wealth tied up in home values. This is a very real tension and deserves explicit analysis.

It important to note also that design is a huge part of the problem here. It's a pretty cookie-cutter set of buildings proposed, and the potential for ticky-tack is hard to defend. It's hard to be passionate about the average or mediocre. Even with the same housing density, better design could eliminate the perception of many of the "problems" and even create broad agreement - or at least acceptance - about the creation of a neighborhood asset.

Salem desperately needs better architecture, and design is not just a matter of ornament, finish material, and surface decoration.

It will be interesting to see if Council will be swayed by the populism and what they decide. I'm not sure there's an obviously wrong answer here. On the merits, I'm not sure the apartment complex actually is wrong, and I would think the Hearings Officer's denial will be overturned. But if we get to speculate about a "better" development, well, there are any number of ways this proposal could be improved, either as apartments or as commercial retail. It's hard to be very enthusiastic about it. And if Council decides to sustain the denial, then a better proposal for the property might ensue.

Other Things

Prior to last night's work session - but consistent with the discussion and outcome from the work session - Councilor Andersen proposes a public hearing on two police station sites, eliminating Windows on the West and the Downtown Storage sites.

There's a bunch of Council subcommittee appointments by the Mayor and one interesting thing is that if Mayor Peterson is on her way out, why does she stay on so many committees? It seems like continuity would be better served by having Councilors on them who are reasonably anticipated to stay in office past the next election. If you have publicly announced you're leaving office, maybe you should yield to someone who is staying? Not sure about this, but it seems interesting.

The TSP amendments will get a first reading and Council can set a hearing or move forward with enactment. (See previous notes here.)

Negotiations for property on the 25th and Madrona widening project have bogged down in a couple of cases, and the City is initiating "eminent domain" proceedings in order to be able to use that if things reach that point.

Finally, a report on the oaks in Bush Park and the impact of the Art Fair. It notes that the primary cause of soil compaction is auto traffic, not foot traffic. Others will have more to say on it probably.

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