Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Take Survey on Update to Geer Park Master Plan

The City's just announced an online Open House for updating the Geer Park Master Plan.

One of the layout possibilities (with comments and Gov. T. T. Geer)
The online materials and associated survey questions are mainly focused on the interior of the park and park facilities.

But the first thing that came to mind is the way there seems to be an implied shift in thinking on Park Avenue. A decade ago when we were updating the Walking and Biking chapters of the Transportation System Plan, Park Avenue had seemed like a logical north-south route between State Street and Silverton Road, perhaps the most nearly continuous lower-traffic route a few blocks west of Hawthorne Avenue.

A decade ago we abandoned Park Ave
I don't remember all the details, and will have to look them up, but about at D Street, the City and planners abandoned Park Avenue going south because we didn't want people using it near the Prison and State Hospital. Park Avenue was quasi-private, mainly to serve the institutions, and not understood as a kind of connection and throughway.

All of the proposed park concepts, however, show parking lots off of Park Avenue, and this implies much more traffic on it.

And that returns us to the question whether Park Avenue would be a good lower-traffic bikeway also.

If we are going to have one or more major entries and lots off of Park Avenue, even if we do decide it should not be a formal greenway, we should make sure we have adequate provision for non-auto travel on it and not just assume that it's only going to handle car traffic.

The Park Plan may also need to give more attention to the Geer Line, especially as it crosses Hawthorne and dead-ends into I-5. The path entry in the elbow on Illinois and Monroe might also need attention.

As for the internal elements, the interesting things are all TBD in some future phase. The three draft concepts for discussion don't really differ that much: They all have a skate park, one or more soccer fields, one or more baseball/softball fields. Mostly it's just shuffling things around in different places rather than different whole concepts for the park. I expected to see discussed more variety in this first pass and survey.

First Bike Bill
February 21st, 1899
We might also consider including transportation history at the Park.

Governor Geer bicycled some, most famously from Salem to Champoeg in 1900, and signed a sidepath law that was visionary, albeit unsuccessful and abandoned after a few years. There is the rail history of the Geer Line also. The proximity to I-5 also suggests more on the neighborhoods destroyed and altered by the highway construction.

Even if the site itself is not an historically significant transportation hub, in both metaphorical and physical ways it is adjacent to moments in transportation history. Some of them ended or failed, like the sidepath law and Geer Line railroad. But even in their failure, they might remind us that the current autoist order is unlikely to be permanent.

We default to a triumphalist narrative:
"graduated from the bicycle business"
January 1st, 1919
Reductions on Geer Line
April 13th, 1924
In land use and the history of the city, the area is also a little interesting. At one time the Prison and Asylum were in a band of State institutions on rural lands ringing the edge of the the city, just on the city limits at the ends of streetcar lines. Development leapfrogged them, and now the band of institutional land is an interruption to the urban fabric, intensified also by I-5, and altogether spacing things at more auto-dependent distances. Neighborhoods in Northgate, around Waldo Middle School and Hoover Elementary are all hemmed in between I-5 and this band starting at about 25th.

Geer Park was just outside the city circa 1920
Old city limits and modern features highlighted also
1917 Salem and 1925 Stayton USGS maps
As the City expands the utility wrap project and public art, Geer Park has seemed like an especially good place to consider one or more interpretive pieces on the Geer family, Salem, and transportation. More specifically there is potential to decenter the prevailing autoist triumphalism and show ways we have had a richer transportation ecosystem and might once more have greater variety.

Interpretive signage at the Train Depot (2019)
But is this the best way to offer historical information?
At the same time, we might also ask whether the text + image bundle on a waist-high sign or on a larger utility vault wrap is the best way to deliver historical information and attract meaningful engagement. We might recall the note just a few days ago about the Jason Lee sign across the street from Boon's and the lot owner saying "he had no idea the Jason Lee House was built where the parking lot for his building is today." More dynamic public art installations might actually deliver history content better than interpretive signage.

Utility vault wrapper:
"Salem's Theatrical History" at High and Court
(also 2019)

One of several interpretive signs at Bush Park (2017)
So, there is much to consider here, and perhaps any history angle is too much of a niche interest and takes things too far away from the fundamental recreational focus of a park. But if Salemites wanted more of a history of place, there are themes to take up and things that could be done here.

Check out the Open House and take the survey.


Rich T said...

I agree that Park would be a great place for bike lanes. I regularly bike on Park to go up to Geer park and I think it would be great to have a paved path off of Park connecting to the path in the park. That would allow bikes to avoid the intersection with Geer Dr.

Nancy McDaniel said...

Unfortunately, Park is private through this area. As I remember, the connection between State and Center was built when the State Hospital went through its big renovation/rebuild. The city allowed it to be a private street; I don’t know why because there is no north/south connectivity in that area. The whole issue needs to be resolved for any growth at Geer Park.