Thursday, July 8, 2021

City Council, July 12th - Report on Opening Union and Winter Streets for Saturday Market

Back in April Councilor Stapleton asked for a report on opening parts of Union and Winter Streets to those who might wish to walk, bike, or otherwise roll to the Saturday Market.

Two barricades (green added)

After some delay, the report will be presented Council on Monday the 12th.

City Staff are presenting two basic options, a "soft" and "hard" redirect to drivers and their cars.

Option #1 is a Soft Closure, in which signage and small barricades are used to discourage through-vehicle traffic on Union Street NE and Winter Street NE. Option #2 is a Hard Closure that employs large barricades and signs to prevent vehicles from entering closed street segments.

But did it have to take three months to develop this? The detail here is not something that should have taken three months. It's not rocket science!

Moreover, as part of a "feasibility study," the City did not conduct any outreach to businesses or residents along Union and Winter. They write:

8. Potentially impacted businesses and residences

§ There are 11 businesses that only have access to Union Street NE or Winter Street NE. It is unclear how many are open on Saturdays.

§ There are 63 residences that only have access to Union Street NE or Winter Street NE.

Maybe talking to businesses risks generating premature push-back, but it also leaves another layer of process yet to complete. Even having taken three months to generate this report, City Staff have left many other details undone. Council will not have a very good sense for actual "feasibility" from this report.

This is an old aerial view (note added)

In the proposed cone and barricade plans, the City also used an old aerial shot. For some segments of the concept this doesn't matter, but at Commercial and Liberty, there are important existing conditions the map hasn't caught up to: There is a light and median at Commercial and Union (2017), and the two-way section of Liberty for the new Police Station.

By using an old aerial view, it is harder to visualize how the plan would actually impact drivers in cars and those not in cars. This seems like a disservice to Council.

The plan also may not give sufficient attention to the problem of crossing Liberty along Union. To be useful, opening Union Street can't just happen between intersections on each block face, but also has to happen across intersections. Liberty likely remains a barrier in this plan. There may be too much of a focus on atomized "street segments," on parts, and not enough on a continuous way for people on foot and on bike, on the whole.

All in all, the plan does not look like it received great care and attention. It looks a little like a perfunctory pass at a plan, put together at the last minute.

After Councilor Stapleton's April motion, the City could have instead moved quickly to implement a "soft" option in a pop-up mode to trial it for a couple of weeks or a month even. This could have been done in May and June.

Then, either the soft option would be adequate, or if non-compliance or bad behavior by drivers was a bigger problem, a more robust set of barriers and greater staffing might be necessary, and a "hard" option could be put into place. Other improvements, like for the problem with crossing Liberty, could be iterated. It was not necessary to land on "the solution" all at once and the very first time.

By now, by July, the City could have had an empirically tested plan that used the least intervention necessary to achieve the desired result.

Instead, City Staff are presenting two options to Council asking them to know which one is best, with potentially not enough time to work out the kinks and to let Salemites figure out new patterns of commuting to the market and playing in the street.

It's not too late to try out the concept, but it does not now seem like it will be positioned for maximum success. It's hard not to think City Staff are slow-walking the project.

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