Monday, July 20, 2020

Proposed Urban Trails Plan at Planning Commission

After sitting out a few years, the City is looking to submit a TGM application for an Urban Trails Plan. On Tuesday the 21st the Planning Commission will consider whether formally to support it with a letter.

From the City's memo to the Planning Commission:
The Public Works Department is preparing to apply for a grant to develop an Urban Trails Implementation Plan for the City of Salem. We are seeking a letter of support for our application from the Salem Planning Commission....

Urban Trails Implementation Plan—Summary of Proposed Project
Public outreach has consistently identified urban trails as a priority in Salem. The City of Salem has adopted plans that call for a significant network of future off-street trails. Off-street paths are included in both the Salem Transportation System Plan and the Comprehensive Parks System Master Plan. A recent code amendment (SRC 800.065(4)) increased the City's ability to require connections to existing or planned paths and trails. This new code language has drawn attention to the need for more clarity in the hierarchy of trails, appropriate design standards, and guidelines for trail alignments. Action items include: differentiating between classifications of trails, similar to the classification of roadways; developing design standards; establishing implementation guidance; and possibly refining code language to support development requirements. The goal is to have a unified urban trail plan with clear priorities and a path toward implementation.
If you read here regularly, you'll know about deep mixed feelings on trails and paths.
  1. Too often they are offered not as a complement to a complete set of on-street bikeways, but are conceived as a substitute for street connectivity, and function as pedestrian and bicycle displacement systems: To get people on foot and on bike out of the way for zooming cars.
  2. Since we have made little headway on housing and homelessless, paths attract camping. Most campers are not threats, but some campers are aggressive, hostile, and criminal. These can make paths unusable or unsafe. Cars are problematic, but other drivers are eyes and ears; paths are sometimes very isolated especially in the dark and in winter and lack eyes and ears.
  3. Maintenance is often not a priority, and unless the creation of new paths has ongoing operational budget attached, brush trimming, sweeping, and pavement maintenance is a problem.
via Twitter
Still, paths can offer pleasant connectivity that wide streets cannot.

Back in 1999 we had a plan for a ring along Keubler and Cordon, a West Salem loop, a bridge on a utility easement at Minto Park, and a route the followed the train tracks in southeast Salem.

The trail system as envisioned in 1999
(black circled segments of particular interest)
The 2013 update continued some of this, abandoned parts, and introduced new segments.

The Proposed Trail System in 2013 Parks Master Plan
So I don't know. It's not like "a unified urban trail plan with clear priorities and a path toward implementation" would be a bad thing. That would be a fine thing!

But we still don't have a full bicycle boulevard on the Winter-Maple route, we don't yet have a formal plan for a second one, and we don't have any new bike lanes downtown.

Rather than starting on a new plan, I wish we would get serious about our existing plans. Writing an urban trail plan could be a shiny distraction from our lack of progress in other areas. It would look like progress even when it's not.

In parallel with more robust implementation of on-street facilities, a trail plan would be terrific, but until then it might just be a distraction.

See all previous notes on trails, paths, and linear parks here.

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