Wednesday, June 1, 2016

For Tonight's Work Session, Thoughts on Parking

Council meets tonight, June 1st, for a work session on the Police Station, and the City continues to do a lousy job of proving its case!

Too Often the City Asserts, but does not Prove

Former City Councilor and chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee, TJ Sullivan, said on Facebook:
The State Police Facility is a different animal and the cost per square foot is also less than police departments that have been built in other cities across Oregon. It has nothing to do with local architects or contractors, or the fact that it is a design build, or value engineered. It has to do with how the needs of city police department differ from the State Police and how that impacts the final cost.

Chief Moore is a very reasonable person and I have never known him to want anything that is extravagant. As I have talked through the new facility with him it is clear that his understanding of what the Salem Police Department needs now, and what they will need in the future is the best insight that we have. I would encourage you to trust his judgement as well...

My original point is that people knew that the State Police Facility differs in need and therefore design from the City's Police Facility and yet it was offered that the State Police Facility was built for a lot less and therefore the City's Facility could also be built for a lot less. What was inconveniently left out is that State Police Facility wouldn't meet the needs of the City. [italics added]
If the needs of a city police force are so different from those of the State Police, it should be easy to enumerate and prove these in a few paragraphs, or perhaps a short memo.  But over and over the City cannot seem to do this, or refuses to do this.

What is "left out" is proof that Salem cannot meet its need in less expensive ways. Over and over this is asserted, but over and over it has never been argued in a serious way, at least in public.

This is a consistent pattern with the City.

The difference between ODOT's 2005 projections
and the new FHWA 2014 projections
Bridge traffic has been flat for a decade; Washington State forecasted an actual decrease in travel; the Feds halved their rate and adopted a forecast of 1% instead of 2% - but the City and ODOT continue to insist, without any argument or detail, that 2% growth remains the right number for planning a billion dollar infrastructure project.

The southside path along Pringle Creek
at Commercial was closed to public.
A gate operates for residents now.
There hasn't yet been a satisfactory public explanation for why the City didn't insist on or was unable to negotiate an easement for the public path on the south side of Pringle Creek along the South Block apartments to connect with the path under the new Commercial Street Bridge.

The City says it wants better communication, but when it has the opportunity to communicate in detail and with an actual argument, too often it refuses.

Over at SCV they'll doubtless have more discussion over the weekend. (If you want to discuss the general terms or other specific details of the police station proposal - head on over there; they will be a better place for it. Here I just want to talk about parking and transportation.)

Autoism as Unexamined Background Noise

Let's turn our attention to the way that the debate is so thoroughly blind to its own autoism.

The way we talk about parking in late 20th century terms is getting increasingly risible. Between three rapidly developing technologies:
  • Ride-hailing services, the new alt-taxi sector
  • Electric cars
  • Robot, self-driving cars
Things are going to change a lot.

While the face-to-face nature of policing, that human aspect, will stay more constant in the next few decades, transportation is in flux, and planning out even on just a 20 year horizon is fraught with uncertainty!

From the Staff Report for the June 1st work session (citation throughout in italics):
Parking Need. Following the April 4, 2016 Work Session, staff per formed a detailed study of current parking needs. The parking need is complex and varies dramatically throughout each day. The peak parking demand for employee and fleet parking occurs between 3:30 PM and 4:30 PM when eleven work shifts overlap. The addition of the 9-1-1 call center would increase the number of overlapping shifts to fourteen during peak demand.
Framing it as "need" is overly restrictive. While Police commuting almost certainly has some differences from other commuting, with many police choosing for security reasons to live outside of the communities they serve, this pattern of long commutes also increases disconnection from the community, and this gives us more reason to talk about commuting patterns and investment in community. This also is a clear sign that there is a "Transportation Demand Management" opportunity with the Police for more transit, bicycling, and car-pooling.

Why don't we seek to reduce the amount of superfluous drive-alone trips rather than seek to accommodate more of them in a costly parking structure?
The need for parking is larger than might be expected due to the nature of the Police Department's shift work. For example, during a shift change for one patrol position, three parking spaces are needed: one for the employee on duty, one for the patrol vehicle when that employee returns at the end of the shift, and one for the employee reporting for duty. Planning for the new facility includes parking for many police vehicles currently parked elsewhere due to limitations at the Civic Center.

The demand for public parking at the facility can also vary greatly. The Department hosts several events each month that bring 10-20 individuals to the Police Department, in addition to those parking spaces needed for public access to the Department for daily business. With the inclusion of a community meeting room in the new facility, the number of these types of events is likely to grow over time.
An important reason for a downtown facility is to make it more accessible to transit! That should obviate at least some of the "need" for car parking.
To meet the parking requirement on-site, a parking structure is required.

The recommended program concept includes a 163 space, one-level parking structure to meet the parking need of the building when it is initially constructed. The structure combined with onsite surface parking will provide a total of 378 parking spaces (40 public and 338 for fleet and staff), exceeding code requirements of 296 spaces and the current demand of 355 spaces.

The reduced program allows for a smaller 123 space parking structure, providing a total of 338 spaces onsite. Parking available on-site will exceed minimum code requirements and the current demand of 328 spaces, without the 9-1-1 call center. Other options, such as shared parking arrangements with neighboring properties or use of spaces at the Marion Parkade will have to be explored to meet the anticipated long-term parking demand as the community and its Police Department grow over time.
Marion, Chemeketa, Pringle all operate ≤ 50% full
Remember, the Marion Parkade operates no more than 40% full:
Parking Alternatives. At the April 4, 2016 Work Session, there was discussion of allocating some of the parking spaces at the Marion Parkade for Police use. The Marion Parkade contains 1,063 parking spaces, which are included in Salem’s Downtown Parking District. Salem’s Downtown Parking District was established in 1976 in Salem Revised Code Chapter 102. Under the current framework, employers within the Parking District are assessed an annual fee, based on their total square footage and an estimate of traffic generated by type of use, to retain the free customer spaces. In the Marion Parkade, 628 of the spaces are designated for free customer parking. Employees in the downtown area are encouraged to purchase annual permits for spaces in the Parkades within the Parking District. Of the remaining spaces, 450 are designated for permit parking, leaving 45 spaces available.
Since the garage operates at 40% peak occupancy, to say there are only "45 spaces available" is so highly misleading that it is close to an outright falsehood.

This last part that follows is interesting, and the City should unpack it in more detail - and ground it more empirically in actual data instead of asserting only as "anecdotally" - as it is relevant to many other subtopics in downtown redevelopment. We know structured parking is insanely expensive. But why are we letting that limit us? Shouldn't we adopt aggressive strategies that obviate the perceived "need" for parking? It seems like that's a clear-cut case for investing in better transit, walking, and biking. That's also an argument to revisit the notion, however unpopular it may be, of meters in the core downtown area that does experience 90% use during peak hours. Without pricing signals, there is no way to match supply and demand.

Finally, maybe the problem isn't that developers feel parking is necessary for their development - maybe the problem is the excess of parking the City requires in our development code.
Anecdotally, developers interested in downtown properties suggest the cost of building parking necessary to attract new development, such as grocery stores or residential units, does not pencil out in comparison to the market rate for rents. Several developers have viewed the capacity at the Marion Parkade as a possible method to defray the cost of building parking to serve their proposed developments.
You might think that planning for a new Police Station wouldn't have much to do with our autoism, but it does. Thinking more critically and strategically about managing parking downtown will have cascading benefits on other projects.

Just as we saw at the Blind School redevelopment, our institutionalized mania for free and plentiful parking exacts other costs, and hinders our pursuit of more valuable goods.

Addedum and Footnote on a Side Matter (June 2nd)

See comment thread below for main discussion. The question is whether public access on the south side of Pringle Creek in the Boise redevelopment project has been formally envisioned.

In a March 2016 update to Council, it did not appear that public access on the south side had actually been arranged.

March 2016 update from City appears to show
intent for connection only on the north side
This is consistent with the 2014 conditions of approval on the original South Block development, which required connectivity only on the north bank and exempted the south bank. (Here's the full approval decision.)

I don't's true there's a non-zero chance this is wrong, but it sure doesn't look like public access on the south side has been planned.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the insightful comments SBOB. I agree that a change in our attitude toward parking downtown is needed. We can't seem to move past our free street parking mindset.

The gate at South Block Apartments is meant to be temporary. Until an agreement with the railroad can be reached, there is no connection to the park or any other public space. Did you ask the City or the developer why it was there?

To address Marion Parking Structure - the 628 spaces that are designated as "free customer parking" are paid for by businesses nearby as part of the downtown parking district. While they sit empty most of the year - they are spoken for so to speak. This is frustrating, but would necessitate a change in agreements with businesses - I believe.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The gate itself is not a problem per se - it is, as you suggest, reasonable for a gate to be installed at present since there is no path connection. The chain link fence on the north side serves some of the same function. What is disappointing is that the City has only made arrangements for an easement on the north bank, not on the south bank.

From the city:

"In March 2015, the Agency purchased a pedestrian access easement (Easement) for $57,600 from the property owner along the northern 20 feet of the Creek Parcel for use as a pedestrian connection between the recently completed pedestrian improvements under the Commercial Street bridge to the east and the BNSF railroad trestle to the west."

There has been no public statement about an intent to purchase an easement for the south side, and no mention about why they didn't in March 2015 purchase easements on both sides - which has always seemed most consistent with both the "boardwalk" renderings in the original master plan as well as the City-owned path connections under the bridge itself. Path connections on both sides always seemed like "the plan." but the City has never addressed reasons for not doing this.

And even if the locked gate on the south side is meant to be temporary, as you say, in order for the public to enjoy passage, the City will still need to purchase an easement.

There's just too much mystery about some parts of the project!

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Do the parking needs outlined by the City include the 72 police officers who do not exist and won't exist for decades?

Unknown said...

There is no easement on the South side because the conditions of approval require that the developer provide public access.

There is a lot of mystery. I think that is because of the many layers of approvals required. No one knows what will be approved by the EPA, FEMA, ODFW, Army Corps of Engineers, and BNSF; to name a few. I believe it will happen, but it will take longer than any of us would like.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Edit: Inserted Addendum with a couple of images above.)

From that same City report:

"Alternatively, if a pedestrian connection to Riverfront Park along the north bank proves unfeasible via an undercrossing of the railroad trestle, an opportunity may exist for a connection along the south bank using an existing undercrossing of the railroad trestle. This option would involve acquiring an easement from the owner of the South Block and Slough Parcel as well as constructing a pedestrian bridge over the mouth of Pringle Creek between the Slough Parcel and Riverfront Park."

I read this to mean that this at present no plan for public access on the south side of the creek.

In the event that the north side path is not feasible, then the City may pursue a south side path, which would require purchasing a second easement.

If this is no longer true, the City has not formally communicated this to Council/URA.

As for the approval conditions requiring public access, as I read them, they require access on the north side only. (More links may be tedious, but here's the discussion two years ago at that time of approval.)

If those things together actually mean that the City and South Block both intend for public access on the south side - how do you get there from these documents and quotes? (Not ready to say for sure you are wrong, but it sure seems easier to read those documents this way, not your way! But perhaps they are more ambiguous than initially they seemed.)

Unknown said...

The quote regarding the Slough Parcel refers to the possibility of no agreement with BNSF on the North side of the creek. The alternative crossing under the trestle WOULD require an easement through the "Slough Parcel." That's an entirely different piece of property - thus the requirement for an easement. No easement is required on South Block either way because of condition number 3.

Here's a link to the conditions of approval.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(For clarity's sake, the link you provided if for Phase 2 of the South Block apartments. The approval conditions for phase 1, are linked in the second picture in the Addendum above.)

The conditions of approval on phase 2 also say,

"An easement or public dedication shall be provided promoting connectivity for non-vehicular traffic along the north bank of Pringle Creek. The connection shall be accessible from the sidewalk along Commercial Street, and shall connect to Riverfront Park.

Finding: The subject property is not located along the north bank of Pringle Creek. This design review guideline is therefore not applicable to the proposed development

Look at the picture from the March 2016 Staff Report (in the addendum above) - it does not show any public access on the south side of the creek, whether on the Slough Parcel or on the South Block parcel. If no easement on the south side were necessary within the south block parcel, the map would be drawn differently, and would show need for an easement on the south side only in the Slough Parcel.

It is not clear that there has been a plan or intent for a public path on the south side of the creek within the boundaries of the South Block parcel (distinct from the Slough Block).

Without more explicit language guaranteeing public access on the south bank inside the South Block parcel, your argument is not persuasive!

Unknown said...

Sorry - I'm not trying to persuade. I'm just relaying what was agreed to between the City and the developer.

The finding from Section 9E relates to providing a stair linking Commercial Street with the pedestrian connection. That requirement only applies the the "North Block" parcel.

I don't presume to know it all. There's a lot here that I'm unclear on as well. I'm not disputing anything other than the idea that somehow the City is purposefully being mysterious.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The City updated their FAQ on May 26th, and it has the outline of some answers, though still in thin detail:

"Why is the recommended size larger than what was previously discussed? Previous recommendations brought forward by City staff were not the result of an in‐depth, on‐site study by architects that specialize in public safety facilities. In 2014, community discussions took place around a 75,000 square foot facility. This number was developed by significantly reducing the recommendation of a 2007 study in order to site the facility on city ‐ owned property to the north of the current City Hall complex. During the Blue Ribbon Task Force meetings, two separate architectural firms stated that 75,000 square feet would be insufficient for the operations of the Salem Police Department.

What is this I am hearing about a $30 million police facility? The City’s professional architects estimate that for $30 million the City would not be able to construct a facility to fit the current size of police and 9 ‐ 1 ‐ 1 operations. A 75,000 square foot facility would cost closer to $45 million and would be too small to meet the department’s current space needs, much less provide for growth.

The new, privately constructed Oregon State Police Headquarters office building on 11 acres near Kuebler serves a statewide mission with about forty local patrol officers. Salem Police Department's proposed building houses 190 sworn officers and specialized (and more expensive to construct) functions to serve our community’s local and diverse public safety needs. Oregon State Police is leasing the building. Because Salem is building on a smaller, four acre site that the City will own, the proposal includes funds to acquire the property, pay prevailing wage for construction labor, and construct a parking structure to meet requirements. The Blue Ribbon Task Force looked at financing methods in December 2014, and agreed that financing the construction through a lease would result in cuts to City services that would not be palatable to the community."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Dang. Last after the Public Hearing, Council went 8-0 for the maximum size and cost.