Thursday, May 20, 2021

City Council, May 24th - Geer Park

Council convenes on Monday and they look to adopt a new Master Plan for Geer Park.

Park Ave is private, so no changes there
But a new parking strip at no. 13

One neighbor echoes and extends criticism of the overreliance on car parking and insufficient attention for bicycling - even though there is a big bike park right there and the park named for our original bicycling Governor! (Previous notes on history; and on the master plan, with a little more.)

Gov. Geer bikes to Champoeg
Fifty Years in Oregon (1912)

The City's really missing an opportunity to focus the park on bicycling, not just for play, but for transport also.

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

But with the new State Hospital facility, and the existing prison and juvenile facilities, Park Avenue remained a private street and bicycling on it discouraged. The formal amendments to the TSP shifted the preferred bike route a few blocks east onto Illinois.

Now, apparently, there is at least a little change of heart, and the City proposes to site a large strip of parking lot and curbside drop-off areas (nos. 13 and 14 on the map at top) just off Park Avenue, and says it can be used for access.

But the City does not propose any covered bike parking or suggest any changes to Park Avenue with bike lanes or other formal invitation to bicycling.

A neighbor submitted critical comment to the March Parks and Recreation Board meeting. (The letter is included to Council.) The minutes from March show discussion touched on these matters, but show ways that even the Parks Board is still dominated by autoist thinking, perhaps a little dismissive of or condescending to bicycling.

[A neighbor] urged the board to join her in recommending changes to the Geer Park Master Plan because it seemed to prioritize automobiles over pedestrians or cyclists. She also asked that covered bike parking be added to the plan instead of the vehicle parking spots and a walking path or sidewalk along the west side of the park.

It is her opinion that the additional 94 parking spaces (to the existing 221 spaces) on the plan goes against the City Council’s plan to reduce greenhouse gases by reducing vehicles on the road. She suggested alternatives to create street parking in partnering with the State along Park Avenue so more of the park footprint would be dedicated to recreation.


Member Varney asked [the neighbor] if she attended public meetings to voice her concerns. She had gone to meetings and expressed her opinion and the Parks staff are aware of her opinions....

Chair McDowell asked if covered bike parking like Laura suggested would be feasible. Rob Romanek said that it is City code that bike parking is required in any park but covers are not required and the cost of this option would have to be considered in the plan. This would most likely be a final detail in a future design process....

Member Fridenmaker asked if there was bike access to the site and amenities within the park for those that want to travel through the park and not just be transported by car into the park. The City Standard for paths through parks is to build 10-foot wide shared-use path in parks to allow both pedestrians and bikes to use the same paths.

There are bike connections on all sides to access the paths in the park; the private Park Avenue can also be used for access to the park....

Chair McDowell asked about parking spaces and whether more were actually needed. Mr. Romanek said that the park can be used for tournaments since they are the only dedicated baseball fields in Salem on City property. They are reservable. Becky George also said that Geer Park has the only two full size soccer fields in this area of town and when there are tournaments going on, the parking area is heavily used. When the tournaments are hosting out-of-town guests, they don’t have the option to walk or bike to the park so the proposed additional parking on Park Avenue is necessary.

Member Alexander asked about the long-term lease the City has with the State and that the State is okay with the changes being proposed. Mr. Romanek said that he is coordinating with DAS on the park master plan.

Member Alexander also asked about street parking on Park Avenue. He noted that if the park is built to attract tournaments, it can in turn increase tourism and provide economic benefits to the community. Bidding on tournaments is determined by the amenities the City can offer so having more sports space makes sense. He also asked if there was a plan to extend Geer Drive to Hawthorne. Mr. Romanek said that is part of the Salem Transportation System Plan; not part of the park expansion.

Member Rice said that he was sympathetic to [the neighbor's] stand on the environmental impact of more parking, but he feels that the new section may be more oriented to family and realistically the planned parking section is necessary to allow safe access to park amenities.

Member Varney commented that she liked all that was being offered in the plan, but parking seems limited. Since Park Avenue is a private street there is no on-street parking in place but there are no signs to prevent it either. There was some thought about this option, but traffic engineers had some concerns about safety and accessibility in that instance....

It's like the only "safe access" that counts is access by car.

Still, the fact the Park Avenue is a private street really complicates things, and since the City conceives of the park as serving a much larger recreation shed, even with a regional draw, than just the neighborhood, there will be many visitors to it from beyond an easy bike ride, and they are certain to travel by car in the near term.

But the City could have shifted the emphasis and center of the plan a little more towards non-auto travel. Did we publish two greenhouse gas inventories that show the proportion of emissions caused by driving? Do we have a current process for a Climate Action Plan? You wouldn't know from the park planning process the answers are "yes." These parallel planning processes haven't caught up, and instead proceed independently with the old autoist assumptions that we can ignore emissions. Why aren't we coordinating better?

One idea that has been suggested and deserves more attention is that all new parks and other municipal destinations should have a Transportation Demand Management component. Instead of mindlessly building more free parking, why don't we study what it will take to satisfy new demand with walking, biking, wheeling, and transit?

And then actually do it, so that we don't keep building new parking lots or continue to subsidize free parking.

The abandoned rail line along the park already testifies to a big transition in transportation. Why not start testifying in action, not just words, to our next big transition?

Abandoning passenger service
April 13th, 1924

(Other items on Council agenda will be in a second post.)

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