Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 in Review: Our Reactionary Moment

Maybe it is the pessimissm and worry about our reactionary moment, or the loss of cultural giants like Bowie and Prince, but it's hard to see much to praise or to see positive patterns in 2016.

(Maybe you see something more optimistically?)

And much more than policy and ideas, which seemed especially insignificant this time, the year was about people and politics.


Although there is little to say here, the most important transportation stories of 2016 arise out of the National election in November and the City Council elections settled in May. The further resignation of another Councilor in November and the subsequent March 2017 election could decisively shape Council. Things seem likely to change on both local and national levels. If the Legislature can manage, 2017 might also bring a new funding package.

Councilors-elect Cara Kaser, Matt Ausec, and Sally Cook
join Councilor Tom Andersen in May
(Tom Andersen's public Council Facebook)
Also in Elections, there was the defeat of the bloated ballot measure for a new over-sized Police Station.

Hopefully we can "right-size" things in 2017.

Missed Opportunities

City report on walking deaths
You may remember from back in January the City report on walking deaths (here and here). Since then drivers have struck and killed several more Salemites:
As with the SRC's part-whole problem, on walking safety while we mourn individual deaths, we do not look at the system and seek ways to curb our autoism and the deaths that result from it. We rationalize crashes as the result of bad actors or bad choices, but do not look at the ways our system increases the probability of catastrophe. The January City report was shelved, and did not create any policy reform.

The City and volunteer organizers cancelled Sunday Streets for 2016, and it is not clear what its prospects really are for 2017.

The City and property owner missed an opportunity to redevelop the downtown Barrick Funeral Home in an interesting way, and instead let it become a drive-through coffee shack. (Here, here, and here.) Instead of being developed to its highest use (or even just a higher use), the lot was redeveloped to just about the lowest possible use, hardly better than a surface parking lot.


Buffers, Plastic Wand, "Yield to Bikes" at Church & State
There were a few bits of new bike lane or other facility to celebrate:
None of these were game changers, but most of them were real improvements.

Planning in Process

Several studies percolated and could promise good things in the future. But they were far from finished or guaranteed.
But of course there was also the giantness of the decision to expand the Urban Growth Boundary to accommodate the 1950s style solution of the Salem River Crossing. The magnitude of that project threatens to undo all the progress elsewhere in town. There is a real sense that this is a zero-sum game, with the SRC depleting and degrading progress elsewhere in town. It draws down advocacy energy that could be harnessed for saying "yes" to good projects instead of "no" to this terrible one, it will impact and deplete funding sources for good projects, and its infrastructure will multiply barriers that ordinary bike lanes and sidewalks will not be able to connect across.

Programming and Development

Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns came to visit in October, and more than any other walking/planning/health advocacy visit and talk in recent memory, it seemed to have some traction and to engage a wider group of people. It left a deposit of useful concepts to which citizens return on issue after issue.

Northwest Hub continued to build out its programming, and that was great to see.

Salem Area Trail Alliance unveiled the Catamount Trail this Spring at Silver Falls, and it may be that SATA is the most vibrant bike project in Salem at the moment. (It's great to see, of course, but that recreational focus also might be a sign of how much we are lagging in projects for urban and utility cycling.)

Just Walk Salem won some awards, and it will be interesting to watch its advocacy efforts grow in 2017.

Travel Salem revised its bike maps (but still needs work) and is working on a better understanding of and marketing for bike tourism.

Greenbaum's Quilted Forest closed (here and here), and the Salem Summit Shop purchased the building. At one generational transition many years ago, Greenbaum's had successfully resisted becoming a parking lot or parking structure, and it was good to see the building navigate another generational transition, staying local, and the storefront reborn with an outdoorsy, fitness focus.

The 245 Court Street apartments (and here) will juice a quiet segment of Court Street and provide more downtown housing, so it will be great to see that project go up in 2017.

The LAB also didn't announce any renewal for Salem in the fall 2016 round of "bicycle-friendly communities" and that's just something to register for the moment. That should have been our cycle for recertification. Salem did fall again in the Bicycling Magazine rankings. Rankings have their limits, of course, but in a very general way they confirm the lack of progress or of urgency on biking in Salem.

That's what strikes me. There wasn't an obvious "top 10" list or anything. 2016 was not a year for inspiration or to observe a neat or insightful theme. In the public realm, it provided more occasion for grief and sorrow than wonder, delight, or confidence.

Did you have a meaningfully different read on 2016? See a pattern that snaps everything into a different light?

(See previous "year in review" posts.)


Here's a large-scale structural element that probably belongs in a year-end round up: Cheap Gas. Cherriots boardings were down, and driving is trending up again.

Driving (blue) goes up when gas (red) goes down! 2000-2016
(See discussion on Cherriots and at City Observatory)


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Edit: Added note about cheap gas.)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Our alley revival! That's something positive to add. The new businesses downtown like 1859 Cider and Victory Club located on the alley between Liberty and Commercial, as well as the alley garages out at the Fairview Addition.

Jim Scheppke said...

Thanks for reposting the terrific photo from Tom Andersen's Facebook page. The election of Sally, Cara and Matt in May was clearly the best thing that happened to Salem in 2016. Sally and Cara's victories were blowouts, signaling the desire for progressive change in much of Salem. Now with the open seat in Ward 6 there is the opportunity for a progressive majority on the Salem City Council for the first time in 14 years. I'm really excited about that. For me it cancels out a lot of the depressing news that you report here, not to mention what is going on nationally.

Anonymous said...

Online the Statesman has a piece about development downtown and lists "Properties sold in 2016":

615 Liberty St. NE
340 Division ST NE
663 - 695 Liberty St. NE
622 Liberty St. NE
660 Liberty St. NE
240 Commercial St. NE
145 - 147 Liberty St. NE
280 Liberty St. NE
156 Front St. NE
255 High St. NE
277 - 287 High St. NE
156 Front St. NE

They're a bit breathless on with the headline, though, "Developers bet big on downtown Salem." A realtor cited in the piece says the pace is still about half of what is normal.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

We saw an increased effort to get more citizens involved in decision making at the city level. Hopefully more of this will continue into 2017. Two places where efforts can be made are filling the 3 Salem Keizer Mass Transit positions that will become open in June with strong leaders and also to get people out to the City of Salem's planning open house on January 31st at the Broadway Common from 5-6:30 p.m.

"New Date: January 31, 5­6:30 p.m.
Location: Broadway Commons, Grant Room, 1300 Broadway St NE
The City of Salem is undertaking a strategic plan to articulate the mission, vision, values, and goals for the organization to help the City sustain delivery of core services as the community and the organization grow and change."

Citizens can't expect that their elected representatives will do what they want unless they are talking to them and holding the accountable for the decisions they make. So, we need to work harder at getting people informed and out to meetings.