Friday, February 15, 2019

City Council, February 19th - Our Dull Downtown Sidewalk Plan

Because of the holiday, Council meets on Tuesday for a couple of work sessions. One of them is on the downtown sidewalk plan, the so-called "Streetscape Plan."

After an odd period of quiet, it's out for the public again.

It's about sidewalks, not streets
There's nothing about streets in it, however, and it is more accurate to call it a sidewalk plan.

At this point, it's been ground down to be a style book. It's the Chicago Manual of Style for sidewalks! It's a bunch of guidelines for what to do, where to do it, and what it should look like. It's useful, and it will make things nicer, but it's nothing visionary or transformative.

All the interesting things are punted down the road. Our autoism and mania for free car storage has interfered with many of the ideas.

Parklets: Punted!

Midblock planting areas: Punted! (Detailed comment here)

Improved Crosswalk: Punted!
I don't think there's anything new or very interesting to say about it at this point, alas. See previous notes here. The project is "just fine," deserves support, but it's hard to be very passionate about it.

The Staff Report is an excellent example of hype and a disconnect with reality. The City is badly over-selling the project:
Goals of this Plan and the resulting improvements for downtown:
• Transform downtown public realm
• Make improvements consistent, cohesive, unique
• Benefit downtown businesses and properties
• Attract tourism
• Create a world-class urban environment
• Create a more livable Salem
Sure, it works on "consistency" and "cohesiveness," but it does not "transform" and in no universe is it anything close to "world-class."

If the City would stop exaggerating claims, we would all be better served by realistic expectations that are grounded in real-world data and experience.

This sidewalk study is a plan for modest, incremental improvements, not for transformation and world-class attainments.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

Carole Smith was on the 'pre-planning' committee for this project. She came back from the first meeting and said, it was going to be a dud. Peter Fernandez had made it clear that no street work would be allowed. From then it was just putting flowers on the grave of 'streetscape' ideas.

In my opinion one of the best things that could happen downtown to improve the view would be to power wash the buildings, replace some dingy awnings and paint some facades with bright colors!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

On FB a tree and parks advocate writes more positively about the total plan, but also drills into problems with the recommended tree list:

"The proposed list of trees on page 44 needs considerable revision. Five of the 17 proposed trees are maples....Currently, urban foresters are recommending that any single genus, such as maple, make up no more than 10% of a City’s urban forest....

Secondly, the list includes to two species—a Jacquemonti birch and a mountain ash—that are susceptible to the emerald ash borer....

We should not include maples I this plan because they are over-represented in our street tree inventory and we should not include any species that are susceptible to the emerald ash borer.