Thursday, February 25, 2016

State Street Study Announces Meetings and Memos

Here it is! The State Street Study is finally cranking up. If you're on the mailing list, you will already know about the first open house on March 8th. (The Advisory Committee is also meeting formally on the 29th.)

But not in the recent email is news about a passel of reports the City just posted to the project website.

I know, your eyes glaze over. They're still worth a look, because they're pretty good and they're interesting.

In addition to some more technical memos, there's a booklet that looks like it is meant to be the primary overview for the public.

The "Problem Statement" (almost like science!)
Land Use and Transportation Booklet
So that's probably the place to start and the core of any "homework" you might do before the Open House.

But if you want to dive in for more, they offer some meaty and fine-grained detail on the ways a district works or doesn't work.

Here's an extended bit from the Land Use and Zoning Memo that suggests some of the detail and, maybe more crucially, tone on the project:
State Street is a transportation corridor that emphasizes auto-mobility at the regional scale at the expense of the immediate neighborhoods. Pedestrian crosswalks do not occur at every intersection along State Street. Even where crosswalks occur, such as at 13th Street and State Street, sweeping curb radii favor free-flowing vehicular traffic rather than supporting pedestrian safety and convenience. The lack of north-south crosswalks discourages movement between the two neighborhoods because pedestrians must travel out of direction and wait at a signalized intersection before crossing to reach their local destinations or transit stops.

Lack of connectivity reduces the market capture of State Street businesses and encourages them to market primarily to the regional commuters who use the corridor, rather than to nearby residents. The lack of connectivity also diminishes the ability of NEN and SENSA residents to support local-serving retail on State Street through walk or bike trips.

Without frequent (300 feet or so) and well-designed crossings, State Street will continue to function as the division between two neighborhoods, rather than a shared economic, social, and cultural resource that provides access to shopping, jobs, and abundant transit....

According to Salem’s 2014 Transportation System Plan (TSP) 10 , State Street is classified as a Major Arterial. The Typical Street Design Cross Section for a Major Arterial is a 96-foot right-of-way...

The current right-of-way is much narrower... State Street varies from 56 feet to 100 feet along its length from 12th Street SE to 25th Street SE. The narrowest segment, between 18th Street and 21st Street, is constrained by the width of the bridge across the Mill Creek.

Further, sidewalk zones within the Study Area are [also] substandard....

Even if it were achievable, the TSP standard might conflict with the city’s goals under this corridor plan. Developing the street to this consistent right of way would not only be expensive, but would impact much of the existing development and reduce lot sizes in the commercial and multifamily zones to the point that redevelopment would be even more difficult.

Further, while the TSP does not specify vehicle speeds for Major Arterials or other streets, State Street is posted at 35 miles per hour. The standards set forth in the TSP for major arterial would likely result in a similar or faster posted speed. In contrast, desired speeds for a safe and attractive pedestrian-oriented business district with successful mixed-use development are much lower (25 miles per hour or less)....

At one time in its history, State Street was a walkable street with urban character, so the desire for a walkable urban land use pattern is a matter of rediscovery, rather than radical change.
I think there is a lot to be excited about here! The last bit is worth highlighting: This isn't some utopian scheme, this isn't some radical progressivism - it is in fact fundamentally a conservative project. It's about rediscovery and retrieval, saving and recovering the best of the past and bringing it into the future.

Commercial Property Ownership
detail from Economic Analysis
One bit that is fascinating and unusual - unprecedented is even possible, though proving that seems nearly impossible - is something that hopefully won't seem too gossipy or intrusive.

It's a map of ownership for (mainly) commercial parcels and buildings lining the street. In several studies that we've followed here, that data has never actually been compiled in any of the public memos.

One notable family name? Bednarz. It may be that Councilor Bednarz is a key influencer and swing vote on this project. Oh, he might have to abstain formally on some votes, but he will have an opinion and could work behind the scenes to tank or modify plans. Get him enthusiastically on board, and other dominos may follow. The Mayor and Councilors Andersen and Bennett are on the Advisory Committee, but if this is right, Councilor Bednarz will be a key "shadow" member.

This underscores how important it will be to generate strong public support and enthusiasm for the vision, and to persuade individual property owners that the vision also works to their advantage - that there is not just adequate, but robust, public and private benefit here.

The goal here, it has to be said, is a kind of controlled or managed gentrification - gentrification without unjust displacement. This is something with wins for property owners and wins for the public, and the balance has to be right. We will also have to account for the fact that owners and developers will need to profit or see prospects for profit if change is going to happen.

So get involved! Make sure the project stays fizzy and exciting and doesn't go flat. Save the date of March 8th.

Back to details, the Transportation Analysis contains a multi-modal level of service assessment. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't grade out very well. Confirming this, a bike count offered low numbers.

from the Transportation Analysis Memo
It will take a bit to read and absorb the reports, but on a skim, they look like they might be a real advance on what was done recently in things like the Commercial-Vista Corridor Study and the Downtown Mobility Study.
Talk is cheap, of course, but at this point, at the beginning, when everything is full of possibility, this looks like an auspicious start and it's easy to be optimistic about things. (Are you more intimately involved? If you know of problems already, it would be good to hear about them.)

But if there is one item that might repay more attention, it is this: Water. I'm not sure that Mill Creek and the regular prospect of high water quite gets enough attention. It's a hazard, to be sure, but perhaps also an opportunity for creative design that works with the natural order not against it. As I read instead of skim, this seems like something to watch.

The Advisory Committee meeting will be before the big Police Station Hearing on the 29th. The Open House is Tuesday, March 8th, from 5-7 p.m. at Court Street Christian Church, 1699 Court Street NE.


Anonymous said...

I was encouraged by the depth, breadth and tone of these documents as well. Though all the conditions form the passge you highlighted also exist on the miserable hellscape known as S. Commercial (lack of connectivity, crosswalks, out of direction travel, etc.). But the tone of that report was "everything is awesome!" I also was encouraged by the number of surveys returned (over 600 IIRC). Not sure about the "controlled gentrification" though. These properties are mostly underdeveloped. There's not much there to displace.

Anonymous said...

Overall, the discussion is quite positive. However, it is difficult to get past the statement that crosswalks do not occur at every intersection. In fact, there are crosswalks at each intersection, regardless of whether the city has marked them or not. And, "occur," as if crosswalks suddenly appear on their own. No! The autoists in the Salem Public Works Department have chosen not to mark the crosswalks. Though the motor vehicle speeds on State Street probably endanger any pedestrian venturing into the street, even at one of the few signalized intersections. To the author's credit, the report does accurately describe State Street as a barrier, just as all other other motor vehicle arterials are.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The notes from the first Advisory Committee meeting are posted.

From the 650 survey responses:
"the top five priorities for the corridor were the following:
1) More attractive streetscape,
2) Added bicycle facilities,
3) More storefront retail businesses,
4) Development of vacant lots, and
5) Safer sidewalks

Re: Gentrification - it seems like there some concern on the Advisory Committee as well:

"There is transitional living on State Street. With this project, maybe those places will go away, but they are a part of Salem, and we need to address the issue. The diversity of the neighborhood is a strength. Maybe this type of transitional living should be dispersed throughout the city, as opposed to be concentrated in one area. The City should deal with that issue separate of this project, but gentrification should be addressed.

If higher income housing is developed, other people will be pushed elsewhere. There is already crime in the area. With higher incomes coming in, there is more temptation for crime. The corridor needs more people and more housing. Millennials and seniors are looking for urban living. A lot will be up to market forces, but the City creates the environment through zoning.