Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Access and Connectivity: Riverfront Park Open House 2 and Union St Bikeway at DAB

The Riverfront Park Plan has its second Open House and the Downtown Advisory Board meets tomorrow, Thursday the 22nd. Union Street figures in both of them, with the Riverfront process working with access across the railroad and Front Street, and with DAB considering funding and design for the second phase of the Union Street Bikeway.

Riverfront Park Plan Open House

The second Open House for the Riverfront Park planning process, "Community Meeting #2," is tomorrow at 6pm.

The City has published the summary from the first Open House, and it might be worth a few passing comments. First, though, from here anyway, there's a real contrast with the Downtown Streetscape project. Reading through the comments and tentative summary conclusions on the park report, everything seemed so reasonable. It seemed like the process was going to land on a reasonable compromise, one in which most people would find some things they liked, some things they didn't like so much, but something broadly very nice. Maybe not magnificent or visionary, but solid.

By contrast, the Streetscape project is already hamstrung, already hobbled and defective.

Maybe you know of some fatal compromise or defect already baked into the Riverfront Park process, and maybe the difference is merely a consequence of the fact that this is a transportation blog, not a parks blog, and so we're much more picky about sidewalks and streets than about parks. But on the whole, the Park process looks reasonable and promising.

Here are a few observations - including a few details to pick at! Most of them are about transportation and connections, naturally.

When will the path between Mirror Pond
and the Park be done?!
It was great to see that one of the most consistent questions and interests was "when will that darn path between Mirror Pond and the park be done?" That's a central matter for the City and for the Park, and it has been neglected in the sequencing and staging of the whole Boise project.
"Turn 3.8 acres into parking lot" but "don't overfill the park"
But in aggregate, people may not have a consistent sense for what they want in the park. There are reasons to worry a little about coherence:
  • At one station, "Most people visiting this station ranked attending a public event at the park as very important, while attending a private event was not important...most people were less than satisfied with existing event amenities and event space."
  • But at another station, "Perhaps the biggest area of agreement at the active recreation station focused on kayak launching and river access. Many participants were concerned with overcrowding of facilities in the park."
  • And on one comment card, a person wanted lots more parking, for the entire new Boise park parcel to be parking lot, but fretted about "overfilling" the park and asked that the band shell be removable for the view. Somehow the view of a vast parking lot was not objectionable, less so anyway than the architectural form of a band shell and stage.
The Parking and Access Station was of great interest. People applied colored dots to mark important sites or actions on the map. This confirmed the centrality of the State Street entry.

State Street is the main entry and focus
Need new entry at Boise, along Pringle Creek
From the summary:
The first wave of folks at the station very much wanted more parking. As we were able to talk to them more, particularly about the availability of parking in garages off-site, more people spoke to that as a reasonable option, which led to ideas about wayfinding, safe crossings, etc.... As to parking, people really liked the grass treatment (eco lots) [with grass pavers] concept for providing parking (if necessary) creating an opportunity to use the space for park events, etc. (not just parking).

In response to how people currently enter the park there were three main entrances identified leading with the State Street crossing of Front Street (to Carousel House); followed by the Court Street crossing of Front Street (to water play area) and then at the terminus of the Union Street Railroad Bridge. In response to “where should the entrance to the park be located these three locations were repeated in sequence with the addition (highly ranked) of an access point from the Pringle Creek Trail at the north end of the park.

...most people reported they do not “park” their bikes at the park; they ride through the park. People with kids were the exception to this comment. Also, South Salem residents were interested in access to the park with a more direct route to the Minto-Brown Island Bridge. One participant from the Grant neighborhood (north neighborhood) said that if the meeting had been held in their neighborhood, the preferred entrance would be on Water Street.
That people do not ride bikes to the park and "park" their bikes says something about how difficult the park is to reach from neighborhoods. Wallace Road on the west and the railroad/Front/Commercial street combo on the east are formidable barriers, especially to families. Our streetgrid adjacent to the park does not provide adequate connectivity for most people.

It might have been useful to gather more information about bike trip origin: Do they unload bikes from the car in the parking lot? Do they ride a bike from a distance? These are two very different user groups. And if we are going formally to encourage bicycling in the park, we should understand more about the differences, not flattening everything into a monolithic and mythical "the bicycle community."

While those at the station talked up the parkades - "As we were able to talk to them more, particularly about the availability of parking in garages off-site, more people spoke to that as a reasonable option..." - they may not have given adequate attention to the actual characteristics of the walk itself, focusing instead on the theoretical walk as a line on a map.

Only 1000 feet from Liberty Parkade to the Park!
In the opening "context board" for the project, they show a route from the Liberty Parkade to the park.

On the one hand, Salem has an excess of parking in our parking garages, and we should be asking people to use the garages and to walk one, two, or three blocks to a destination.

But on the other hand, this here is just "drawing lines on a map" and ignores the actual, street-level facts. Ferry Street is terrible for walking right there! It's a State Highway, part of OR-22. This map blows it in two ways: A better walking route is north on Liberty for one block, then west on State Street for two blocks; on State and Front, the crosswalk is on the north side of the intersection, not the south side indicated by the purple arrow, so it's actually a three-stage crossing from the south side of State Street.

Equally, the walk from Marion Parkade goes by Marion Square, and while Union Street has much less traffic, the park and parking lots across the street do not have sufficient street-level variety to invite people to walk. Between kids skating in the bowl and the homeless camps, even if there is little actual threat, families may not find that a very inviting walk to the park from the Marion Parkade. Again, the process may not have been sufficiently attentive to the actual characteristics of the walk.

Chemeketa Parkade is really the only one that offers a decent walk to the park. (Once 245 Court Street is finished, it will be an even better walk!)

It is interesting also that there are no technical, supporting memos posted yet. If we are going to ask a self-selected bunch about where they park and access, wouldn't it be good to have actual parking lot counts and driveway hose counts? The survey information is useful, but broader empirical data would also be helpful. If it exists, the City and project team should publish it and show how they interpret it.

The walking and biking count data from the Minto and Union Street Bridges doesn't seem to be folded into things either. So there is still room for more robust reporting and sharing of the underlying information that will inform the plan.

The second Open House is at 6pm on Thursday the 22nd, in Pringle Hall, 606 Church Street SE.

Downtown Advisory Board

The connection from the Marion Parkade to the park is a good way to transition to the Downtown Advisory Board, which also meets on Thursday the 22nd.

Is funding for the next phase
of the Union St Bikeway in doubt?
In the meeting packet there's a "Union Street Family-Friendly Bikeway Budget Request" from Public Works to the DAB. It had seemed like $1.5 million was already budgeted and secure for this, but this "request" now suggests some uncertainty.

But there is also uncertainty in the design, and this uncertainty is promising! Or, at any rate, there is an opening to improve the design. "Design details, including discussion of some of the inherenet trade-offs, will be developed with public input once the design process is launched later in 2018."

From the memo:
  • Commercial Street NE to High Street NE (two blocks): This section has a relatively wide pavement width that presents the opportunity to explore a couple of different facility types, including the possibility of cycle tracks or buffered bike lanes with a landscaped median to help calm traffic. This is the only section with these opportunities. In addition, a new traffic signal and curb extensions are proposed for the intersection of Union and Liberty Streets NE.
  • High Street NE to Summer Street NE (four blocks): This section is much narrower, resulting in trade-offs between bicycle facilities, parking, and existing street trees. The budget for this section assumes construction of up to eight parking pockets, each designed to accmodate four cars.
  • Summer Street NE to the intersection of 12th and Marion Streets NE (approximately three blocks): This section includes a two-way cycle track on the south side of the road ending at the intersection of 12th and Marion Streets NE, providing a connection to the 12th Street Pedestrian Promenade. The intersection of Union and Summer Streets NE will need to be modified to cross bicyclists to the new two-way cycle track.
This was the latest plan view just before construction:

From 2016 or 2017:
Sharrows only between Commercial and High (right side)
But a much earlier version showed that landscaped median and buffered bike lanes:

From 2013 or so:
Landscaped median and buffered bike lane (right side again)
We may not be able - or even want - to revert straight up to this earlier version from 2013, but there might be several elements we want to retrieve and restore.

Having a route mostly designated by sharrows here will not meet a full family-friendly standard. So if we are serious about wanting to meet that standard, we will need to employ other kinds of treatments, and will need to be willing to give on the amount and kind of on-street parking. Unfortunately, the curb extension configuration means that it would be more difficult to have a parking protected bike lane instead of a door-zone buffered bike lane. But that's something still to think about more. The more robust the protection, the more fully the bikeway will attain a real family-friendly standard.

In the project application for the Federal funding (from 2016), you can see the median again (upper detail of the picture just below). It is interesting that the memo now describes "a new traffic signal and curb extensions...for the intersection of Union and Liberty Streets NE." As you can see from the detail image, previous iterations have not included a traffic signal at Liberty Street. This is a substantial, new addition to the project, perhaps occasioned by the new Police Station. But since previous budgeting has not included it, if the total project amount has not been bumped up, it is possible that the traffic signal could be taking funds away from other elements elsewhere. This deserves more explicit discussion.

Union St Bikeway: From Commercial to 12th
In the lower detail there is a transition at Summer Street to the two-way path segment around the elbow from Union to 12th.

Here is the end of the two-way path segment that connects to the crosswalk on 12th at Marion Street.

Two-way separated path in the Union/12th Elbow at Marion
Not discussed in the memo at all is Winter Street.

Apparently work on the intersection of Winter and Union is going to be part of the Winter-Maple Bikeway rather than part of the Union Street Bikeway.

But the mesh between the designs of the two bikeways might need more attention. It is possible that decisions on one could constrain decisions on the other, and more coordination might be helpful in achieving an outcome as close to optimal as possible.

On the other hand, if City Staff really think that it is best to wait for one before the other, it would be good to have an explicit plan for ways that the design of one and any assessment of it would inform then the following bikeway design.

At least in the published materials on Winter and Union, the connection and coordination looks more random and haphazard than intentionally planned.

The DAB meeting also includes a budget, and there are additional comments on some of the line items here on the meeting just last week. It's not immediately clear why there is a second meeting following last week's so closely.

The Downtown Advisory Board meets Thursday the 22nd, from 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm in the Urban Development Conference Room, 350 Commercial St NE, underneath the Chemeketa Parkade.  

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

CANDO reports that the February 15th meeting of DAB was cancelled! So the meeting on the 22nd was a rescheduled one.

They also comment that

"Among the other budget items slated for consideration at that meeting [the 15th] was $500,000 for 'ARCHES/Sobering Center.' Interestingly, that item was dropped from the revised February 22 agenda, perhaps because someone realized that a sobering center isn't really what most people would consider urban renewal?"