Monday, December 3, 2018

Our Salem Open House on the 5th - Too much Spitballing?

Our Salem, the process to update the Comprehensive Plan, has an Open House and Workshop on Wednesday the 5th. (A little after, and overlapping, the ODOT Passenger Rail Open House, do note! Consider attending both.)

The public materials, however, aren't exactly clear. They are overwhelming and underexplained!

We are here! (Nov 5th presentation)
According to a timeline presented to the Advisory Committee "we are here": The consultants have reviewed the existing plans, and now, collectively, we are to choose indicators.

But the materials shuttle between values and metrics, and by being unclear about the difference between things we measure and things we value, and unclear about the way metrics are a tool used to help accomplish or retain things we value, we may end up with a muddle.

(November 5th presentation)

(November 5th presentation)
Right now we have lots of metrics that aren't sufficiently tied to values and to real plans oriented to realizing those values. They just float out there as vague hopes without any serious plan or attempt to attain them.

We aren't serious about any of this (Nov 5th audit memo)
A favorite one is bicycling mode split. In less than two years, in 2020 we are supposed to have doubled bicycling to work in Salem!

At this point that's just talk, just blowing smoke.

An important part of the problem is that we haven't actually decided that bicycling and reducing drive-alone trips is a real value or priority. So mode share is a metric that's not closely enough linked to a value. (All of our talk about and planning for reducing congestion for drive-alone trips is also evidence that we don't link things we measure to things we value.)

Now maybe choosing these indicators, and committing to a scheme that reports on them regularly, will help give visibility to our unseriousness about some of them and help formulate more serious plans to realize them.

But that requires some focus also, and the range of potential indicators is overwhelming. At the last Open House the posters had so many candidates!

And they weren't necessarily consistent, suggesting that we hadn't done enough work on the underlying values.

So many choices! Posters
If we have a positive valence on "parking spaces" and "road miles," we will have a difficult time with increasing "bicycle and pedestrian use." By merely putting stickers next to these, we will not have actually indicated a value.

At this point the whole exercise seems like there is too much spitballing on the wall to see what sticks.

It is possible that the meetings convey additional information that ensures this is not merely spitballing, but if so, the published materials for people who are not able to attend the meetings in-person should be more robust.

At the start of this process, the documentation is sparse, and it's hard to feel like the process will yield something focused and effective.

Scenario Planning

Another slide in the November 5th presentation sure makes it look like we've done an end-run on our MPO. The greenhouse gas assessment looks very much to be conducted under the "Scenario Planning" template. Just five years ago, both the City and MPO were doing everything they could to evade Scenario Planning. This change is important to recognize and even celebrate.

(November 5th presentation)

Back in 2013 the City opposed Scenario Planning

In 2015 SKATS insisted on "voluntary" compliance
as a way to carve room for non-participation
It's also significant that a just-released report from California, "2018 Progress Report on California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act," notes
Even if the share of new car sales that are ZEVs grows nearly 10-fold from today, California would still need to reduce VMT per capita 25 percent to achieve the necessary reductions for 2030.
We have to drive less often and drive fewer miles. Any plan that fails to face this squarely will be a sham.

EVs alone won't do it

Framing our Zoning Regulations

As we think about zoning and housing, it would be helpful to stop talking about zoning for "single-family housing" and instead talk about "apartment bans."

The multiplicity of zones also makes it very difficult to grasp general patterns, and this map from Seattle simplifies in a useful way - though I think the labels and framing is still off.

From Seattle Times (red comments added)
If we are serious about housing, we will want a map that shows where it is impossible to construct a four-plex or other missing middle type (and focuses on that variable alone). We need to talk more about exclusion.

Detail of the "missing middle" kinds of housing
The Open House and Workshop is Wednesday the 5th at the Court Street Christian Church at 1699 Court Street NE, Salem. It runs from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Addendum, December 5th

I see how this is supposed to fit together.

The values we've supposedly already inherited from the Strategic Plan.

"Safe Community," "Good Governance" etc
(from 2018 Progress Report in November)
So the headers under which the potential indicators are clustered, like "Safe, Reliable, and Efficient Infrastructure," are taken directly from the Strategic Plan.

So there's reason apparent there. Still, these "values" were never articulated with enough specificity; they really aren't values yet. They are banal platitudes, really. Who wants "Unsafe, Unreliable, Inefficient Infrastructure" right? This vagueness contributes to the scattershot nature of the potential indicators as metrics.

Addendum 2, December 7th

The City's posted some additional materials and a survey from the Open House on the 5th:


Susann Kaltwasser said...

I attended the November 5th Workshop with the 'stakeholders'. I was not impressed. How can you plan a city based on dots put on charts? I mean I have been to many such workshops and the net results is nothing more than a popularity which about half the people get so bored with that they seldom make the whole rounds of charts before they have run out of dots...and where special interest groups can agree to put all their dots on one or two items in an attempt to get their project at the top of the list.

This is not how I want my future planned!

How you decide how to measure your success (indicators) will determine the outcome. What if the Comprehensive Plan picks the wrong focus? I just read about the Climate Report. They predict that we will have severe water issues in the next 20 years. But if people are focused on bridges, will we be left blindsided?

With the results of the Fairbanks quake, perhaps we need to be focusing on building standards more than density issues.

I think way too much of this work is going to be just walking through a series of steps, checking off boxes, and the community will be no better off than we are now.

I will also be interested in how many of the 180,000 residents will show up on Wednesday night.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

RE: "perhaps we need to be focusing on building standards more than density issues." That's definitely something to discuss more, but there are trade-offs. If we want larger quantities of and lower costs on affordable housing, we may need some flexibility in relaxing certain building standards. At the same time, if we value our historic downtown, we may need to invest more in support for seismic retrofits. Not sure there's a single answer on that.

Separately, I'm not sure when they posted it to the City website, and I may have just missed it, but there are now minutes for the November 5th Advisory Committee meeting. These offer a little more context and explanation for the "spitballing."

In public comment, one person, likely a pro-bridge advocate, worried "We are overestimating the amount of walking people might do." Of course, if we purposefully build the city so that walking is difficult and cars are required to get around, then yes we are likely to overestimate walking. But we can reverse this!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added bit spelling out relation of Strategic Plan to Indicators

Anonymous said...

Regarding the 2015 SKATS agenda item on GHG that is included in this post, it should be noted that the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) staff memo supported the voluntary approach by MPOs.

The current rules regarding metropolitan GHG targets can be found in OAR 660-044-0000, which specifies which metropolitan area are required to do scenario planning.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added links to meetings materials and follow-up survey.