Saturday, December 16, 2017

2017 in Review: LUBA and the Legislature

The beginning of 2017 brought lots of "dumpster fire" memes on social media. By year's end, the meme was exhausted and 2017 sometimes seemed too perilous for jokes and memes.

So it seems appropriate in a way that the two most important moments in 2017 here involved civic/political institutions and the law they generated.

LUBA decision on the SRC
The appeal and subsequent decision on the Salem River Crossing by the Land Use Board of Appeals brought a slow down on the Salem River Crossing - though SRC fan fiction insists that it is not on hiatus, but it is very murky how a final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision happens without the Land Use matters being settled.

Mid-November update to SKATS
The disagreeable matter of a rogue and intemperate City Councilor was resolved with a resignation and the new election of Councilor Hoy for Ward 6, and his position was key in a 5-4 bloc against immediately revisiting the contested Land Use matters. Instead, Council created a new Task Force to look at near-term actions on congestion by the bridges.

Omnibus Transportation House Bill 2017
At the Legislature, House Bill 2017 provided funding for the seismic retrofit of the Center Street Bridge and new transit funding that Cherriots will be able to use finally for an expansion with weekend and evening service. (The legislation also includes a $15 excise tax on bicycles, but while annoying and dumb, it did not seem like a game-changer in the way funding for transit was or as big a deal as the seismic retrofit. As we get serious about greenhouse gas pollution and wanting to align incentives with outcomes, taxing bikes should be increasingly obvious as counter-productive. Fingers crossed, anyway!)

I can't decide which of these was bigger. For me it hinges on the future trajectory of the SRC. If in the next year or two the SRC can finally be killed or totally redirected, then the LUBA decision and those who filed it will be the biggest story. If the SRC remains more of a zombie, then the transportation bill and expansion of Cherriots service will be the biggest.

For the moment, they seem to me tied as the year's biggest transportation stories.

Fun Things & Connections

The Eclipse wasn't really an accomplishment or that much of a transportation story, though there was a traffic jam afterwards; it was, rather, this rare celestial thing to which we all responded. It doesn't really fit a list like this. But still, wasn't it the best, most wonderful event in public this year?!

Even with all the expectation for the Minto Bridge (just below on that!), the Eclipse was more purely amazing.

Two public works projects were of special significance. After more than a generation of talk, the Minto Bridge finally came to be.  Even once the novelty wore off, a few thousand people a day used it. It's a real asset.

Minto Bridge and Dedication Plaque - City of Salem
An important gap in connections to the Union Street Railroad Bridge was also mended a little.

The area near the Union Street Bridge started a big transformation, and it will be interesting to see if become more vital or if the concentration of social services and people in crises leads to stagnation.

With Arches, a new site for the Union Gospel Mission, and the new Police Station (more at bottom on that) all within a couple of blocks of the bridge, it will require attention to ensure that there is not a monoculture here of people in crisis. This potential concentration and even warehousing may sap the district of vitality and ward off other uses and activities.

Aerial composite of Geer Park Pump Track - via SATA
Salem Area Trail Alliance successfully constructed a Pump Track at Geer Park. Next year it should be greener, with the landscaping and irrigation completed!

The role of the work party has been interesting to watch, also. Trail building and trail maintenance can be done by volunteers, and this engagement gives people a chance to "do something" and see a very tangible, direct result. Real chunks of meaningful work can also be done by increments of $10k in grant money. Sidewalks and bike lanes on urban streets cost at least an order of magnitude more, with a basic increment of $100k or more it seems. There is no equivalent mechanism for volunteer "bike lane striping" or "sidewalk pouring" parties on urban streets. The different role of volunteerism and cost differentials are together important factors making for more advocacy energy on off-road trails than on our streets at this moment in Salem.

Other Things Seem Stalled or Tepid

So there remains this hump we don't seem to be able to get over.

Dan Burden's visit in May disappeared into the mists with crickets, and there was little talk the rest of the year about progress on the Winter-Maple Bicycle Boulevard project. (But see update below!) In the transition from summer to fall, Sunday Streets was revived on Saturday as Open Streets Salem, but most of the activity seemed to be of the "stand-and-watch" sort at the activity hubs rather than walking and biking and exploring along the routes. The published estimate of 1000 participants seemed awfully high in comparison with photos from the event.

Lessons on Induced Demand aren't yet fully absorbed
via Twitter
The group working on Bike share also postponed a launch, and just a few days ago they announced the intent for late April of next year. No details on station locations have been announced. They are using a business model with docks, but meanwhile dockless bike share is growing, and it is possible that they have already committed to an obsolete model. At the same time, it is difficult to see a network of streets in high demand locations around Salem that will be sufficiently bike-friendly to lure new users into regular use. Bike share remains an uncertain prospect here.

The City's planning studies also seem a little stalled or timid. The State Street Corridor Study was too timid and refused to embrace a full 4/3 safety conversion. Neighbors also created static on proposed building heights. A Pedestrian Safety Study called for a revival of jaywalking laws and totally ignored speed as a factor in deaths and crashes. (In general, during the whole year there was also too much talk about distracted driving and a new distracted driving law, and not enough about the basic lethality of lawful speeds.) The City Strategic Plan seemed too broadly agreeable to help Council discern and make the hard decisions. Some are more optimistic about parts of it, like its call for an Environmental/Climate Action Plan, for example. Much will be in the hands of Council - whether they lean into a strong/active interpretation of it or are happy with a weak/passive one. Finally, the Downtown Streetscape Study kicked off (it'll be more of a 2018 thing, than one for 2017 anyway), but it already limited itself to decorative elements and shuffling around the sidewalk furniture rather than contemplating structural changes to the street system.

Mixed-bag Items: Shiny, but maybe not so Great

The Mayor's big transportation priority was to alter the taxi regulations to support ride-hailing software. Regulations for Transportation Network Companies were duly amended. There has been no formal public City follow-up on numbers of new TNC rides, on actual impacts to Taxi companies, on impacts to total mileage and trips in the city (affect on VMT), and on impacts to bar and restaurant business. It's not yet known how significant a change this has been - crucially, whether the City and its citizens have really benefited from the change.

One of several new warehouses at Mill Creek Corporate Center
Isolated from most everything - via the SJ
Amazon announced a new warehouse and separately nearby some spec buildings were going up in and around the Mill Creek Corporate Center. The addition of warehouse jobs is very ambiguous: They don't always offer a living wage, it is likely that robots will eliminate many of them soon, and the City has given out property tax abatements for an uncertain return. This new cluster of jobs is also in an isolated area: It is poorly served by transit, is not bikeable (with very high-stress connections-in-name-only), is not walkable at all, and is a little remote from housing. It's totally car-dependent, and does not show any integration of land use and transportation. As flight from the central city, this seems increasingly problematic and unwise.

And a few Footnotes towards 2018

After a decade or more of one-at-a-time projects like Waterplace, Broadway Commons, the clinic in West Salem, and South Block on the Boise parcel, this past year and for the next year or two, CB|Two is really making a mark with a cluster of significant projects. Especially with the Police Station, and the way it does or does not honor, and even reshape, the sidewalks and other public space, CB|Two has a chance to make a real statement about our urban fabric. Will they build on the success of Broadway Commons and take the next step?
Also downtown, the Belluschi Bank was finally demolished. Breitenbush Hall at the State Hospital was also demolished, and the Statesman Plan is at risk in a redevelopment. That's a serious dent in the architectural legacy of Pietro Belluschi in Salem.

Fans of a Third Bridge formed an autoist advocacy group. Their first act was a hostile takeover of the West Salem Neighborhood Association. It will be interesting to see if this has any strategic value, or if it was a tactical win only. 2018 may bring more bikelash. "You want to force us all to ride bikes!" is a frequent deflection and strawman that has seemed to resonate with some people.

Between the Council Task Force on bridgehead congestion, the prospect of an actual property sale and movement on redeveloping the North Campus of the State Hospital, and a citywide project to update the Comprehensive Plan, Salem may have several openings to talk in more detail about links in land use and transportation. There will be opportunities, but they must be seized.

The Safe Routes to School Partnership should also announce the hire of an advocate in Eugene and Salem, and this will institutionalize a role that has been loose, fragmented, and mostly volunteer. Maybe this will also spur more decisive action by the City and other agencies. Details, and then the vote, on the schools bond will be interesting, but at the moment it does not seem very promising for enhanced bike parking or other walk and bike facilities.

One of these years, surely, we'll finally get over the hump and make real change. Maybe 2018 will be the year. (And statewide, maybe it'll be the year for a "Cap & Invest" Clean Energy Jobs Act at the Legislature.)

And was there a different transportation-related story in 2017, not mentioned here, that seemed especially important to you?

See previous installments of the "Year in Review" here

Update, December 18th

Look, it's a final draft of the Winter-Maple Bikeway Plan! A full review later this week or next. (Update 2 - Review here, "Final Winter-Maple Bikeway Plan Envisions Sluggish Implementation," so really another instance of the stall/timid theme.)

final draft of Winter Maple Bikeway Plan


Jim Scheppke said...

This is a great review! Much better than we will get from the SJ, I'm sure. Thanks.

As one of the petitioners on the LUBA appeal of the 3rd Bridge land use actions, I am proud that you selected our appeal as one of the top events of the year. I happen to believe that the outcome of our actions will be the death of the SRC. The Council majority that was elected to stop the 3rd Bridge (among other things) is solid. The "Build it Now" fantasists are fantasizing about flipping Council seats. What a laugh! They think the folks in my ward ( Ward 2) want to replace Tom Andersen with a pro-Bridge supporter. Or Chris Hoy in Ward 6? Dream on.

SRC: put a fork in it!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Catastrophe and Loss: Here's a terrible thing to add. This morning you'll probably already have seen, on the very first day of service on the new tracks south of Seattle, and on the first day of Tacoma's new Train Station, the new south-bound Cascades train 501 derailed at speed over I-5, and at least six people have died. Reports suggest nearly 80 people are also being treated at area hospitals for injuries of various severity. Even though it's not a Salem story, it certainly is one that will have consequences for our Amtrak service on the I-5 corridor during the holidays, as well has our future hopes for upgrading service. And it is a despairingly sad story, with loss for family and friends.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

In happier news, added a brief update on the Winter-Maple bikeway. More to come on that later this month.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Update on Cascades 501: Only three people died, not six. Transit Sleuth was on it, and has a lengthy post on the trip and aftermath. Also followed up with more rail analysis after that post. The blog is worth a read, and the posts have links to other rail analysis.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added link to review of Winter-Maple bikeway plan)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The City published a summary of Mayor Bennett's "State of the City" speech given a little over a week ago.

It's worth quoting here because it discusses things more broadly, and also, even if there might be things to quibble on, in particular a sense of success on homelessness, some of the big picture and positive sentiments are grounded in reality:

"[The Mayor] discussed what the City has accomplished in addressing homelessness and affordable housing in Salem and highlighted the success of the Homeless Rental Assistance Program, the largest housing first program in Oregon.

Referring to the more than 550 building permits issued in the past year, valued at $371 million dollars, Mayor Bennett also emphasized Salem's accelerating economy saying, 'The recession is over. We are really booming along here in Salem.' Of the permits issued 125 were new commercial and industrial building permits with a total value of more than $203 million. He also touched on the Strategic Plan placing priority on supporting the growth of business start-ups, and that the City will focus on Salem's technology sector. Mayor Bennett also thanked the City Council for more than $2 million invested in the Salem-Keizer School District's Career and Technical Education Center on Portland Road.

Looking forward to future City initiatives, Mayor Bennett discussed the upcoming update of the Salem Airport's business plan, the continued exploration of a food incubator in the Portland Road area, and streetscape improvement projects in North Gateway, and in downtown Salem.

One the subject of public safety, Mayor Bennett thanked residents for passage of two bond measures in 2017 that pay for the construction of the new police station, and critical seismic and other infrastructure improvements in the Salem Public Library. He also talked about reopening First Station 11 in West Salem, which will add a full engine company to the City's fire and emergency services.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Just as a postscript, CB|Two has added the YMCA remodel to their list and cluster of big projects downtown.