Friday, December 28, 2018

2018 in Review: In Between

What to say about 2018? I want to think it is a pivot, a transitional year. I'm not sure that there was a whole lot big and new, and maybe even nothing truly decisive, but there were concluding actions, things ending, and also things gathering and starting. Maybe this will be a mistake, and the year will turn out to be very insignificant. The wish is always to be able to place the year's events in some kind of narrative, to find shape and pattern - and progress. But as we have seen, a Whiggish attachment to Progress is very often just fiction, and history has no such teleology. Maybe 2018 is just a random splatter of events.

In any case, I see 2018 like the Police Station: Last year there was the vote. That was big. In a couple of years there will be the grand opening and dedication, and that will be big. This year was transitional: There was demolition, ground-clearing and preparation, the archeology, the ceremony of ground-breaking, and finally the beginning of construction.

The City's banner on the Police Station site in late March 2018
2018 feels like that, very in-between. It was the intermediacy of breaking ground on a project, the state after the plans have been settled on, but before the project is done, that seemed to characterize the year.

Three Processes and Committees

If that kind of transitionalness is right, a trio of three processes, which themselves did not yield direct action, but which laid the groundwork for future action, seem like the most important thing in 2018. Discrete projects, like the Minto Bridge, are great, but maybe we are in a position to change the entire conversation finally and focus on systems more than on individual projects.

15 out of the 17 short-term recommendations
The Congestion Relief Task Force and the Public Transit Committee both published final reports and made recommendations. The mere facts of the recommendations themselves don't necessarily count for much. But if Council in the next couple of years firmly grasps them and passionately commits to executing on them, then they will have made a significant difference in the way we conceive transportation here.

Our Salem, combining a greenhouse gas inventory and starting the update to the Comprehensive Plan will be bigger, but that's just starting, and we don't know yet how effective it will be.

But taken together, the three of them point the way - if we choose! - to a course-correction on transportation, land-use, and our response to climate disruption. In 50 years, we might be able to look back and see in this moment a real fork in the road, and for those young enough to see, it will be interesting which choice we made.

(In a smaller way, the Safer Crossings Committee might also contribute to this course-correction, prioritizing safety for all road users over speed for car users.)

At the same time, other processes seemed to stall or be diminished:
People and Generational Change at the Bike Shops and Wider Bikey World

The biggest news was the passing of Joe Dobson, founder of the Bike Peddler. Michael Wolfe also closed his shop, South Salem Cycleworks. Scott's is in the midst of a generational family transition also.

Joe working on a bike
at a Pringle Creek Community event
in the early 2010s
Meanwhile the Mayor honored the Hub with a Mayor's Merit Award at the recent volunteer recogition, and Safe Routes hired an advocate for the southern half of the Willamette Valley. And the Salem Area Trail Alliance fully turned over their board from the founding members and passed this first institutional test.

These things together point to 2018 as a transitional moment in the history of our bike shop and bike culture ecosystem. This also makes me think of 2018 as pivot.

Ratings, Decline and Progress

This year Salem fell out of Bicycling Magazine top 50 cities for bicycling. This was recognition of the ways we have been standing still while other communities have invested and built. Places for Bikes also released their ratings, and they scored Salem 1.5/5 - that's a 30% rating!

The minor progress on the Winter-Maple Greenway perfectly expresses this: We installed some stop signs, made provisions for speed humps near the school, but still don't have a plan for the section south of D Street and into downtown. Nor do we have a public plan for the next Greenway. There was progress, but it was limited.

Open Streets Salem last year reported 1000 people attended, and this year they reported only 800. These are likely optimistic counts, but still there is the question of why a decline. It will be interesting to see how it develops in 2019.

In another in-between kind of moment, Council ratified the contract for a Public Bike system, so next spring we will have that to look forward to. But it's not clear how truly useful will be the system, and whether it is positioned to grow.

City Council took a strong stand on including greenhouse gases in the RTSP, but so far that has yielded a stand-off at the MPO as reactionary forces, led by the County, continue to deny climate disruption and any responsibility to mitigate it.

Two Building Projects

The Baggage Depot renovation opened, but the area is still far from a real multi-modal hub.

245 Court Street was nearing completion, and that will be a nice addition to downtown housing. Other projects may join it in 2019 (see below!).

To 2019?

And in the most in-between action of all, Council deferred a showdown on the SRC and punted to a 2019 work session. Maybe 2019 will be the year we finally terminate that misguided project and refocus on what the 21st century truly needs.

2019 could also bring finally a statewide greenhouse gas bill and perhaps a bill for missing middle housing and an end to the exclusionary apartment ban in single-family zoning. Both of these would be very helpful to support walking, biking, and transit.

A project at 260 State Street didn't much move publicly in 2018, but Historic Design Review was just announced for the start of 2019.

The Amazon warehouse will take form, maybe even open, and perhaps the Costco development will resolve or become clearer, especially if LUBA issues a decision in 2019. This big box retailing will be interesting to watch.

Developments at both Fairview and the North Campus of the State Hospital appear headed towards more conventional autoist patterns now, and we may have missed the window for more walkable forms and innovation/revival.

Cherriots hopes to launch weekend and evening service late in 2019, and that will be a real milestone.

But the most important things could be the way we fully embrace and implement the recommendations from the Congestion Relief Task Force, Public Transit Committee, Greenhouse Gas Assessment, and Comprehensive Plan update. If we choose strong interpretations of them, many other actions and policies will follow. But we could choose weak interpretations also, and do more greenwash or dithering.

See previous installments of the "Year in Review" here.


Jim Scheppke said...

Thanks, as always, for your wise observations. The work session on the SRC will hopefully inform a few members of the public who are actually paying attention and willing to listen on what a really crazy, terrible, destructive, and unaffordable plan it is. One Councilor has asked for pictures! That alone may persuade a few people who are on the fence. But after that, it's dead. Councilor Lewis' motion to restart the EIS process goes down on a 6-3 vote. You can bet money on that.

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I would like to see a group of citizens pick one or two of the recommendations from recent city committees and begin to work them more aggressively towards completion. If we wait for staff to take leadership, then it is not Our is same ole same ole stuff.

Can BOBB suggest something people can get behind? Some thing specific to ask for in the budget or to urge Council to do?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Recommendations? As it happens, the "featured post" on the sidebar is just this! See "Parking Reform Should Lead Congestion Task Force Recommendations."

A problem is that the easy recommendations are the ones most likely to be garnish and decoration, and it's the less popular ones that need to be in the center of the plate:

#1 Parking Reform! End parking minimums, and let the market and individual developers decide how big a parking lot they need on a case-by-case basis. Install meters downtown and consider meters in close-in neighborhoods, and other places also as needed, with local benefit districts so the money stays in the neighborhood and neighbors can prioritize associated investments/improvements.

#2 Support Speaker Kotek's initiative to end the exclusionary ban on missing middle housing forms in areas of single-family zoning. Align "Our Salem" with this.

And longer-term...

#3 Work to build support for decongestion pricing.