Thursday, May 9, 2019

Downtown Parklets Pilot is Underwhelming

Have you had a chance to check out the two pair of parklets downtown?

On Liberty Street, exactly the size of a parking stall
It's great to see the City employ a "tactical urbanism" approach to pilot a concept for which there had been some hesitation during the Sidewalk Study.

On Commercial street, four stalls worth
Even so, over on FB a note about the parklets occasioned nearly 100 comments and lots of emotion.

We have a climate crisis, we have a City budget deficit, we will have an algae problem in water supply again, and in a classic expression of "the color of the bike shed" what really gets people worked up is the temporary loss of 6 parking stalls on low-demand block faces.

So many feelings
"Parking" here carries enormous symbolic freight, far beyond the objective denotation of "6 curbside parking stalls on low demand block faces." (This is why more general critiques of autoism have seemed necessary; when you leave the autoist system intact, and just peck away at the edges, there's no defense against the rallying cry of "don't take my parking." Cherriots has a request to remove parking for ADA access at bus stops, and these will apparently go before CATC in five-stall increments. It will be interesting to follow that project.)

The parklets themselves are pretty underwhelming. It's a "tactical" and temporary project, something that's supposed to be iterated on and maybe this is to be too critical. But it seems like even as temporary installations they could do more.

Since the City chose space already slack for the pilot, presumably to minimize pushback, and since they conform to the size of a parked car, and do not actually "narrow" the street any more than a row of parked cars do, it is not easy to see what we gain by them. Like with too many of the public art installations, we decorate slack space rather than creating excellent space people want to visit or to linger in.

Does this approach to art help lease up the space?
We took out benches and bike racks for this.
On the West side of Liberty, some people ate pizza near that parklet (see City photo of that one here), and having a cafe table facing a parklet instead of a parked car could be a real improvement for enjoying the sidewalk. It will be interesting to hear if that one is singled out for more praise.

My first take is that we should have installed the parklets on more active block faces, streets where merchants might experience a real trade-off between parking immediately in front of their business and the improved sidewalk seating experience for restaurant customers. At alley entries, also, they might have shortened mid-block crossing distance for people on foot.

In the sites the City chose, they're just ornamental emptiness.

In the study, both varieties, the parklet and midblock landscape pocket, were deferred for "future study." (The alley entries were not deferred and are a central part of the adopted plan.) Instead of boldly venturing, the City here implemented a timid, tepid example, and they may not be compelling enough to generate meaningful support. As with the FB comments, they may be lightning rods for criticism rather than visions for creativity and praise and real change.

Parklets: Punted!

Midblock planting areas: Punted!
As a footnote, it's important to remember that these parklet extensions would make it more difficult to install protected bike lanes when we finally decide to get serious about bicycling, scooters, and other micromobility downtown.

If we convert sharrows to a protected micromoblity lane,
the extensions are a problem.
What we need is a curbside lane for micromobility and to shift the car parking to the center, one lane over.

The parklets impede our ability to reallocate street space. This is a real downside to them, and they remain fundamentally autoist in important ways. They are decoration that do not disturb the autoist system. This may be more a criticism of the Sidewalk Study than of the implementation of these particular parklets, but it's an important perspective.

The City has a survey out, and once you've been by the parklets, fill it out!

Update, May 10th

Even though they are totally in-line with the parking stalls, drivers can't seem to miss them! Maybe the extent to which these are vulnerable will underscore the vulnerability of people on foot and on bike. Cars are dangerous, full stop.

via FB


Mike said...

Cherriots wants to eliminate on-street parking on Winter Street from D to market at bus stops so handicapped folks can more easily board the bus. Not a bad intention. But instead of doing it the way they have planned (Cherriots has already laid down a concrete pad in the median at the stops), they could have taken the opportunity to bump out the median into the street at the intersections, which would have moved the people waiting to board out past the parking line and narrowed the street crossing for pedestrians. Winter Street is very wide and people drive too fast. This is especially problematic as there's an elementary school on the north end and state offices on the south end so there are a lot of pedestrians.

Once again a lost opportunity by the city.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

That is interesting detail. Here's an opportunity for the City with actions consistent on both the Maple-Winter Greenway and on the Public Transit Committee recommendations, and the early reports are, as you say, "missed opportunity."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

From the October 31st City Manager's Update:

"The State Street Streetscape is scheduled for final design in March 2020, with construction in June 2020. The schedule for two-waying of State Street between Liberty and 12th Street NE will be in final design February 2020 and construction in June 2020."

There might be more to say in a separate post later...