Tuesday, February 9, 2016

DAB: Police Station, Union St Bike Lanes; also Victory Club and the Alley

The Downtown Advisory Board meets on Thursday, and while there isn't anything in particular on the agenda this time, the minutes from the last meeting have a couple of items to note.

In discussion of "opportunity sites," there's a note that the City might want to use urban renewal funds for purchasing a Police Station site.

SCV has already commented on this (p.16 on their new position paper), and they are right: Using tax increment financing for a Police Station is a bad idea. At best it would be a terrifically inefficient way to generate new tax revenues and leveraging other redevelopment. But the more likely outcome is that it would fail to generate these. More importantly, there are other places for targeting urban renewal funds that will do much more for raising the property tax base of the district than a publicly owned police station. No one ever says, "Oh, I want to go visit the police station district!" But using urban renewal to assist a reuse/redevelopment of the Belluschi Bank or Marion Car Park sites could very well yield a project that elicits "Let's go to so-and-so!" Using urban renewal to improve streetscape for people on foot and on bike will also do more to generate people traffic and commerce. Using urban renewal for a Police Station is inefficient in the same way that using urban renewal for the Pringle Creek district failed to generate any surplus value that outpaced mere inflation and cost-of-living increases.

An early concept for Union and Commercial from 2014
The discussion of the Union Street project contained at least a hint that it could be going sideways already:
The Mobility Study project was reviewed. This project is funded with federal transportation funds and URA funds . It will include bulbouts, a median on Union St, sharrows, and a separate bicycle signal. All improvements will be in right-of-way. A consultant was chosen last fall, will bid this fall, and construction will start next spring.

The DAB asked for clarification on the traffic pattern going east on Union, and the parking on Union Street where it appears the bike lane is competing.
I don't like this language of "[parking] where...the bike lane is competing."

Marion Parkade at PEAK = 40% full
The Marion Street Parkade is just a block away and is the most underused of the City of Salem parking areas.

There is no scarcity involved with parking spots here. There is great scarcity involved in safe and comfortable facilities downtown for people on bike. To say bike lanes and parking are "competing" is a kind of non sequitur, it's nonsense.

The more interesting question may be why aren't we talking about a harder buffer than mere striping?

The current proposal shows a painted left-hand buffer with right-hand curbside parallel parking. (Update - The City should not be showing this image, as this part is not yet funded and is some ways out in a future phase.)

Current concept east of Commercial shows a left-side buffer
and right-side parallel parking.
 (Update - this is actually far off in the future.)
Even the Feds are moving to embrace fully protected bike lanes. Why aren't we looking more at a curbside bike lane with left-hand protection by parked cars?

Protected bike lane with driveways
FHWA Separated Bike Lane Planning Guide
If we want to make Union Street a fully family-friendly bikeway, merely striping a painted buffer will not go far enough to serve "interested but concerned" riders. Mainly, the intersection project solves a key gap for "casual and somewhat confident" and "experienced and confident" riders, and the striped buffer enhances the rest of the bikeway for these riders. But together they don't do enough for the great bulk of "interested but concerned" riders.

Whom does our Bronze rating actually serve?
(via MassDOT Separated Bike Lane Planning Guide)
On the other hand, if a painted buffer is the only politically acceptable thing at the moment, paint is easy to alter five years down the road. The bigger constraints would be the configuration of the corner bulb-outs.

Schematic for Protected Intersection
Alta, December 2015
Still, while our intersection of Commercial and Union may not yet be ready for a full "protected intersection" treatment, it seems like there are design elements that could be incorporated here to beef up the level of safety and comfort for the Union Street project. It still seems like we are still being timid with our design and instead we should go more boldly!

Other Bits

Phase 2 on the south side, looking northwest
This is tremendously exciting:
Phase II of Southblock just went vertical. Should be complete end of year. 100% occupancy for Phase I with a waiting list
100% full! MOAR DOWNTOWN HOUSING! As other developers see the success, hopefully they will want to invest also. The single most important thing for downtown vitality is not "moar parking" or "wider-faster-streets," instead it's more people living, walking, eating, and shopping downtown.

Not in the minutes, but exciting also is the progress on the alley between Liberty and Commercial.

Vagabond's project looks close to opening.

Like Santiam did when they had the pop-up tasting room called "The Bureau," the Vagabonds also look like they're doing an homage to Salem's beer history.

The Victory Club seems to be the name of their new bar and taproom on the alley behind the Reed Opera House. It's also the name of a beer brewed by the Salem Brewing Assocation about 1938.

Sick's purchased the Salem Brewing Assocation a few years later, but Victory Club would have been brewed at the facility on Commercial and Trade, right where the Sculpture Garden is today.

The brewery at the Conference Center Sculpture Garden site
(Sick's Brewery via Salem Library Historic Photo)
Construction is coming along, and when you sneak a peek through the door, there's lots of wood.

A certain kind of rough paneling, in fact, is a thing now it seems. The New School just did a post about purveyors of cider, and several of them have the paneling.

Speaking of cider, 1859 Cider, the cidery one block north, is coming along also, but it's still in the roughing-in phase, so there's not much yet to see. But between the alley entries for Amadeus, the Victory Club, 1859 Cider, and Urban Alley - there's a pop of energy here, and that's also very exciting.

The Board meets Thursday the 11th, from 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm in the Urban Development Conference Room, 350 Commercial St NE, underneath the Chemeketa Parkade. 


Unknown said...

I'm very green on the DAB and this project was put in motion before my time. I'm not sure who is leading the design. It was presented to us as a progress update. The question regarding Union Street (for me) had to due with the appearance that autos would not be able to head East on Union through the intersection. I don't know if and/or why that would be - there may be a good explanation - I just don't know it.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

re: "the appearance that autos would not be able to head East on Union through the intersection"

Well, in general we should probably discourage auto through-traffic on Union and instead shunt it over to the Marion/Center couplet. If you are leaving the park on Union and want to proceed east, it seems reasonable to ask you to work over to Center Street for the main connection.

There is also the two-phase jug handle transition for southbound bike traffic on Commercial as well as the weave for east-bound bike traffic.

1) South-bound bike traffic starts in the right-hand bike lane and proceeds to the median island, where they have to wait for the Union Street light. East-bound bike traffic is also waiting at the bike box/median.

2) When Commercial is stopped and Union is green, then southbound bike traffic transitions diagonally through the intersection to the left-hand sharrow lane. This path is shown with a dashed line on the plan the City presented. The right hand merge to the bike lane on Union Street also involves a diagonal weave.

3) If east-bound auto traffic is not prohibited here, then there is a dangerous conflict in the mixing zone between people on bike transitioning from right-to-left and people in cars proceeding straight.

I think traffic counts also showed for car traffic a preponderance of right-hand turns onto Commercial and very few full east-bound crossings. It's hard to think there is high demand for that east-bound crossing. (An early concept that was rejected you can see here, and it totally blocked one side of the intersection into a cul-de-sac.) The existing conditions report of the Downtown Mobility Study shows low demand for the crossing, but there's one time of day, the evening rush, when there's a good bit of right-hand turning movements - it may be traffic on the Front Street by-pass turning onto Union to get onto Commercial to get onto the Marion Street Bridge west-bound on the right side lanes for a Wallace Road exit. (The other on-ramp puts you in the left-hand bridge lanes and makes you weave all the way across the traffic if you want to make the Wallace exit on the right.) I can't remember exactly - but it's something like that, I think.

Anonymous said...

During the planning study that included Commercial/Union, all the options you listed (and more) were discussed. It did come down to the design most likely to garner the support necessary to move the project forward.

Another disappointment (for me) was not removing/closing the western portion of the Commercial/Union intersection to vehicular traffic. The reasoning at the time is that it was due to people traveling down Front St and taking Union St to reach Commercial and thus the Marion St Bridge.


atstein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
atstein said...

The "New plan" doesn't look much different than what is already there. There are ways to get both parking and protected bike lanes. However, I am new to bike advocacy here and would like to know more about it.
What if I would like to comment about the plan? And what could busy people do if they would like to comment on the plan, but can't make it to the meetings? If I can make it to the meetings or comment how should I submit alternative ideas? Thanks in advance for any tips you can provide.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Excellent questions!

The plan that is driving the Union Street project is formally known as the Central Salem Mobility Study. (I call it the "downtown mobility study.") It was formally adopted by the City in the summer of 2013. So in a general sense, the project concepts are already baked and there's not really a formal opportunity to comment on them. The primary opportunity for comment is to urge City Council for speedier implementation of the study's recommendations.

That said, if the "overton window" on things can shift, and there is sufficient political support to improve on the details, then it might be possible to alter and improve some of the plans.

So that's why Ray in his comment indicated that parking protected bike lanes had been considered, but ultimately did not attract sufficient support.

On the Union Street project, the shift from no bike lanes and angle parking to buffered bike lanes and parallel parking is a big one.

More than anything is the traffic light at Union and Commercial. Right now Commercial is a very challenging and forbidding crossing, and a traffic light will improve things hugely. It may not look like much change to you, but it's enormous for connectivity to the Union Street Railroad Bridge!

As for specific advocacy opportunities:

1) Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates are leading the charge for a full family-friendly bike boulevard treatment in downtown and north Salem along a Winter-Maple Street alignment. A planning study for that will likely kick off this summer or fall, and there will be lots of opportunities for comment and community advocacy on that comment.

2) This spring, public meetings for another study, the State Street Corridor Study will kick off, and it has the potential to be the most revolutionary and visionary of current studies. It could involve really reshaping State Street between 12th Street and 25th Street. That is definitely one to get involved in.

3) The Commercial-Vista Corridor Study is close to wrapping up and the City later this year will look at formally adopting its findings and plan. There will be opportunities for comment there, and urging Council for speedy implementation of it will also be helpful.

4) The West Salem Business District Action Plan contains an undercrossing that would extend the Union Street Railroad Bridge path on the west side. This is "a mixed blessing" kind of compromise project, insofar as part of the path system will disappear, but the connectivity resulting will be a net gain. That will require public support for funding and construction.

I think those are the major local ones right now above and beyond more general "yay bikes!" kinds of advocacy.

An important statewide advocacy opportunity, and maybe the most timely of the whole bunch, is to comment before Feb 18th on the draft State biking and walking plan. See more here.

As other opportunities arise, we'll be blogging about them!

atstein said...

Thanks for the reply, this was informative!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Update - the buffered bike lane is actually part of a future, unfunded phase. Right now only sharrows are going in on Union Street east of Commercial.

The City isn't communicating very clearly on exactly what details are funded and will be constructed and what is not yet funded and therefore still a "hope." We'll be returning to this, as it is an important project!