Thursday, July 27, 2023

At more than $45 Million per Mile, new Streetcar looks Expensive

The bill for a study on a Salem streetcar, HB 3224, has enjoyed a strange enthusiasm. 

Tonight the Cherriots Board will get a review of the Legislative Session from their Lobbyist.

HB 3224 was stuffed into a "Christmas Tree" bill!

I had thought the bill for a Streetcar Study had died, and it had, but the provisions of the bill were stuffed into one of those end-of-session omnibus "Christmas Tree" bills.

So now we'll want to watch the study with great scrutiny, to see if it is a sober and level-headed analysis, or if it is lofted with hot air and enthusiasm.

Study of Portland Streetcar

A Federal study of the Portland Streetcar had said its "aggregate unit cost" was $45 million per mile in 2016. Given the current environment of cost escalation, that could easily double to $100 million per mile today.

The annual budget for Cherriots appears to be about $50 million.

People are currently upset over the McGilchrist project at a little over $50 million.

Budget from May 25th meeting

So it is very strange to consider the circumstances under which a streetcar would represent a good value.

Even at $45 million, a mile of streetcar could get you a lot of new buses and a lot of frequent service! 

Additionally there is a threat a streetcar poses to cannibalize the Union Street Bridge and the dangers it poses to ordinary bicycling travel when wheels get caught on the rails. There are ways a new streetcar could degrade walking and biking.

A good study will be clear-headed about trade-offs and costs and not merely try to whip up enthusiasm.

Previously and elsewhere see:

Update, July 30th

Here it is in the paper. It's nice to see leaning into the history a little.

In today's paper

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Fancier Street Art by the Union St. Bridge? Repealing the Mandatory Sidepath Law? Pleasant Bits

Buried a little in the packet for the Public Art Commission this month, last month's minutes have a discussion of what could be a terrific street painting, a super-mural, as it were.

PGE substation on Union and Water Streets (2017)

From the minutes to June 14th.

[Staff Liaison] Keith discusses the recent efforts to submit an application for the Bloomberg Asphalt Art Grant with the assistance of Zach and Chris. The grant offers $25,000 for temporary asphalt art installations and is a smaller version of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Art for Cities grant. Keith had to find a suitable location for the project, considering criteria such as adjacency to transportation and safety concerns. Ultimately, they chose a site near the Gilbert House, specifically the Water Avenue entrance to Riverfront Park, which crosses a busy roadway with significant foot traffic.

The main goal of the project is to use artistic interventions to slow down traffic and improve safety in the area. Keith shared a presentation highlighting the designated area, which includes a PGE substation with an atomic symbol imprint and existing vinyl adherence murals on the wall facing the Gilbert House. Potential partners for the project include PGE, Gilbert House, and ODOT.

The timeline for the project involves obtaining the grant in the fall, with a budget of $40,000. The budget allocates 18% for artists and design fees, while the remaining funds cover preparations such as concrete work, painting, and epoxy. In-kind support from volunteers is expected, and engineers and traffic control personnel will handle the costs of rerouting traffic during the painting event. The selection of artists and contract oversight will be managed by SPAC.

Keith expresses excitement for the project and looks forward to its implementation. They also mention the possibility of incorporating vertical art into the project. The project is called “Water Street Welcome: A Collaborative Community Canvas" and aims to enhance the area while engaging the community. [link to the Bloomberg program added]

This will be something to watch, and hopefully the application is a strong one! 

Sidepath Law

Getting to the Library on bike is way more difficult than it ought to be. Because the Library is in the middle of the Liberty/Commercial couplet, essentially on a very large highway median, our right-hand bike lanes don't make a direct connection.

Bike lanes don't connect to the Library

Depending on traffic conditions, if you are a confident and skilled cyclist, you might be able to start a block or two or three in advance and merge left, one lane at a time, finally to make the left hand turn. Otherwise you have to get up onto the sidewalk and use the crosswalk, or take a very roundabout route to use the path under the Liberty St. Bridge.

The maneuver to take the lanes and then turn left might be problematic under Oregon's mandatory sidepath law.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Disconnecting the Dots Still on Climate

Earlier this month there was the big announcement at the airport. The paper also had some climate stories.

Front page and interior, July 14th

Here are other climate headlines from just that week.

Extreme heat worldwide and here in US

Flooding in Northeast

The climate coverage has actually been persistent and much stronger this summer than in years past. Here are more recent stories, several of them. There is a real cumulative density of coverage.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

How to add Aumsville: At the MPO

The Policy Committee for our local Metropolitan Planning Organization meets on Tuesday the 25th, and how to add Aumsville to the MPO is generating a good bit of interest, discussion, and debate. 

In preliminary discussion last month, rural and suburban interests wanted to keep things the way they are.

Commissioner Cameron spoke about “the big picture”, which he needs to do as a county commissioner. When he looks at projects (using State Street as an example that is partly in the city of Salem and partly in Marion County), he approaches them as a whole, working to improve the whole SKATS area. When the committee starts to focus on this area or that area and which has more citizens (and moving to a weighted representation) a committee begins to lose the big picture. Commissioner Cameron feels that the committee has approached things in this wholistic [sic] way and should continue to do so. His belief is to not waste time and money on a facilitator, keep things simple and add Aumsville with the current voting structure, but that would be up to the group. Commissioner Mordhorst took up the discussion from Commissioner Cameron and spoke about SKATS being “most likely the most successful board within the Willamette Valley because of having the big picture vision, understanding each other’s unique needs, and prioritizing needs”. He feels that if the policy committee moves to a weighted population basis that things will change and members could feel left out.

The idea that urban residents might be left out, unrepresented, or underrepresented did not seem to register in any notion of a "big picture."

Population disproportion in 2021

Marion County also asked why the School District is a member, and seemed to want to muddy the debate.

Commissioner Cameron asked further, if we are considering transportation entities, then do we invite the school district [for Aumsville] or the transportation provider? The Cascade School District contracts out their bussing system.

Cherriots seemed interested in a more proportional allocation of representation. In fact, Cherriots saw that there might be a regular review process that was being short-changed.

Director Carney noted that this agreement was proposed for revision every 5 years and the committee has not held to that. She feels this is the opportunity for a comprehensive look at the agreement and the proper time to make significant revisions. She informed the PC that the SAMTD board voted unanimously last week to support a facilitated process to update the Cooperative Agreement and Bylaws....Director Carney shared that the transit board reviewed the population break-down that was shared by SKATS staff and there was concern that some areas that are representing very few people were speaking with as loud a voice as areas where entities that were representing the vast majority of the population within the metropolitan planning area.

The City of Salem echoed this.

Virginia Stapleton [alternate for Councilor Phillips] described that Trevor Phillips asked her to come and represent his views, which were that he was likewise in agreement with the recommendation listed on the agenda to have a facilitator for the process. She could not elaborate as to why he has reached that conclusion, but he has talked about it and holds the same view of it being “population based” for representation and voting purposes.

So it looks like there will be robust debate and perhaps real disagreement as small cities and rural interests try to preserve disproportionate representation - more like the US Senate than the House.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

City Wins Funding for Important Path Connections along Pringle Creek and over Highway 22

Back in January the City submitted two applications for funding under the Oregon Community Paths program.

ODOT announced today the City won on both.

Second half of Pringle Creek path funding

Funding for an overcrossing Refinement Plan

One application was for the other half of funding for the path along Pringle Creek between the Civic Center and Riverfront Park. The recently passed bond provided the first half of funding.

Pringle Creek Concept, January 2021

Now the only barrier is the Railroad, who has seemed unwilling to allow a path under the trestle.

City Council, July 24th - Salem Heights Ave and 12 Foot Lanes

On Monday Council will see the refinement plan for Salem Heights Avenue, a collector street that during the Wren Heights approvals process had generated a great deal of criticism and concern with speeding and safety. The street lacks sidewalks and bike lanes and does not meet current standards.

With interest in preserving existing trees, it is not surprising a multi-use path rather than bike lanes and sidewalks were preferred.

Multi-use path is preferred

As a collector street Salem Heights serves few apartments and mainly serves people living in single detached houses. The average daily traffic is more like a local street than a collector. 

Count range for collector streets

Traffic counts have it at about 1,500 car trips, and the City gives the range of collector streets at 1,600 to 10,000. 

It's really going to serve local travel mainly, and whatever local residents think is best seems right.

Problem of speeding (red, yellow added)

There is also a speeding problem, and the Refinement Plan addresses only the problem of walking and rolling. It does not contemplate any changes to the road for traffic calming.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Block 50 Announcement Suggests Learning from Fairview Discussion 20 Years Ago

With the City's press release about soliciting proposals on Block 50 downtown, the former site of the Union Gospel Mission, Saffron Supply, and the remnant first floor of the State Insurance Building, and with Fairview on the mind, it seemed interesting to look at how the Fairview concepts were first received about 20 years ago as the winning proposal took shape.

Block 50 (1892 Map of Salem, OHS)

Recent projects downtown — Boise Cascade to South Block apartments, a gravel lot to the Nishioka Building, the Marion Car Park to New Holman Hotel, and the Nordstrom to apartments construction in progress — are meaningfully different from the redevelopment on former State institutions outside of downtown like the north campus of the State Hospital and Fairview. Mentioning "Block 50," then, is merely a prompt! I do not mean here to make any comparison or draw any comparative inferences.

January 16th, 2002

An early editorial from 2002 called the project a "proving ground" and "testing ground" for "balancing the needs of the community, the environment and the economy."

A news piece from 2003 talked about the "village center."

Friday, July 14, 2023

Village Center Concept mostly Abandoned at Fairview; Finally some Smallplexes; Park Update

A recent walk on a lovely evening through the Fairview project seemed to bring confirmation that it was doomed to be very auto-dependent and that the "village center" concept for a neighborhood commercial hub was essentially dead.

On one of the corners of the village center was a sign for a church.

A church on the "Village Center" of Fairview

The "Acts Center" appears to be a direct reference to the Acts of the Apostles in the Christian Bible. 

Its full name would be the Acts Center for Global Evangelism, and focus on "Evangelist Equipping," "Pastor Equipping," and "Church Mobilization."

Site aerial, keyed to comments here

While fundraising for the Acts Center seems still very much in early stages, and not necessarily any sure thing, this would be a significant deviation from the original village center and main street concept for this area. It will be very much a drive-to, even regional, destination, and not any kind of walk-to neighborhood retail, restaurant, or other service.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

New Maintenance Fee from Railroad Burdens City and Cancels Crosswalk at Amtrak

The railroads seem bound and determined to make us loathe them!

We desperately need better passenger rail and the more freight we can put on rail the fewer big semis we have on the roads.

But the railroads do not prompt sympathy and affection.

Recently there was the great national struggle for paid sick days.

The latest insult, albeit on a much smaller scale, is a proposed TIP amendment at SKATS. The railroad seems to see safe urban crossings not as a cost of business, but as an amenity, and extra, that others can be billed for. This is likely another legacy of the antiquated 19th century legal framework the railroads enjoy.

To cancel a needed connection to Amtrak

The amendment:

Cancel project due to Union Pacific railroad imposing new annual maintenance fee on updated rail crossings and scope expansion. Note, the new maintenance fee was estimated at $20k to $25k annually. UPRR requested upgrade to signaling equipment for all level crossings in quiet zone.

Project Description: Install raised medians and a marked crosswalk connecting the AMTRAK Station to the Salem Promenade, add additional and updated railroad equipment, and improve the roadway condition and approaches for safer vehicular operation and enhanced design features to better meet the ADA guidelines

This had already been delayed multiple times from 2020 to 2024, and now it looks to be deleted altogether.

Here's the latest design I had, from 2017.

A serpentine three-stage crossing on Mill St.
(White text, black text, black arrows added)

The connection between Promenade and Depot is lousy. Between the medians and coarse crushed rock and gravel, the best way might seem to be straight down the middle of the tracks - which of course is highly discouraged. Crossing Mill there in any way is difficult for people on bike, and nearly impossible for those in wheelchairs and scooters. It's anti-ADA compliant!

So cancelling this project would be a meaningful loss.

I don't know what the alternatives are, or who initiated the cancellation amendment. Maybe there will be more to say later.

Comments can be submitted through noon on July 25th to Steve Dobrinich, via email at, though from here it's very hard to say what a constructive form of comment or critique might look like. (Tell the railroad to play nice? Right.)

See previously:

Separately, with the new website, and perhaps other factors also, SKATS is publishing meeting notices for the Safety Action Plan Steering Committee. They meet on Thursday the 13th at 3:30pm. There is no agenda or meeting packet.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

OTC looks to adopt new Oregon Transportation Plan on Thursday

The Oregon Transportation Commission meets Thursday the 13th, and they look to adopt a new Oregon Transportation Plan.

New Oregon Transportation Plan cover

I guess it's progress. It has more language on climate and safety and non-auto travel.

But it is rather incremental, and sometimes seems half-hearted. It definitely has internal tensions and even contradictions.

On climate it proposes to commit to reducing "passenger VMT per capita by 20 percent by 2050." But what we need is an aggregate reduction of 20% in the total VMT, not per capita VMT.

Comment summary on climate topics

On safety it leaves a big loophole. It proposes to "give primacy to safety solutions....while not increasing vehicle emissions, except when no other safety countermeasure is determined to be effective."

What the heck does that mean?

On safety

I don't know that drilling into more detail is important. I think those two items adequately symbolize the scope of progress and the unwillingness to commit to less driving and more thorough solutions. It's still a lot of EV mania and is superficial in some ways.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Our Land Use Policy and Zoning is often too Theoretical: On CFAs and Overlay Zones

In thinking more about the debate on overlay zones, a new memo for the Climate Friendly Areas turned up, and it suggested a more general frame for thinking about our land use and development policy. Our debates would be aided by more empirically grounded analyses.

The recently published memo, "Background and Summary of Technical Process," finally made explicit the fact that the designation of Climate Friendly Areas here is literally fantastical.

Stress on theoretical "capacity"
CFA Overview Memo

It is based on a theoretical "built out" condition to full "capacity." It includes no consideration of "if or when it will be built." It's a paper exercise, a pie in the sky, an exercise in fantasy and wishcasting, generally untethered from empirical data and probability.

In a way it's like a video game simulation - a real world instance of playing a SimCity!

At Council tonight, you may recall, there is a request for Council to authorize a letter in support of a grant to hire "a consultant to help develop a Housing Production Strategy."

Developing a HPS [Housing Production Strategy] is the next step in helping meet Salem’s housing needs, as it focuses on strategies to promote the production of housing. Strategies can include financial incentives, regulatory changes, partnerships, land acquisition, and other actions. For each strategy, an HPS outlines a timeline for implementation as well as an estimated magnitude of impact.

A "timeline" and "estimated magnitude of impact" are generally not anything we include in our debate and analyses of zoning changes. We don't talk much about likely outcomes, about realizing intended results from zoning change. Our zoning conversation remains too often theoretical, focused on process and procedure rather than on result. When it does talk outcomes, it is often by opponents who conjure up some kind of worst-case scenario that is also untethered.

Reality is often so much slower and duller. A couple months ago you may recall a new car dealership for some newly MU-III zoned property. Now we have a medical clinic for MU-I property. One true mixed-use block with 45 small apartments is proposed for one block south of it also on MU-I property. In the five years since the State Street project, little has happened. Right out of the gate, the new mixed-use zoning is prompting more of the same kind of single-use and not any new mixed-use configurations. (Other projects in the area might be slow also. The single detached cottage on Saginaw demolished late last summer is still an empty lot; the fourplex construction hasn't commenced.)

If our new MU zoning designations are not prompting enough new mixed use buildings, we might need to iterate on the zoning and other policy.

Another kind of analysis, which has seemed thin but which might be refined, is the ratio of building value to land value. We've seen a few instances of this in economic analysis from the last decade. Ones from the Commercial-Vista Corridor Study, the Portland Road Corridor Study, and the State Street Corridor Study come to mind. There may be a few others, but the City and its consultants do not seem to employ them very often, and don't much talk about them.

Building/land value ratios
(Commercial-Vista Corridor Study, 2015)

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Medical Clinic proposed for former Kwan's Site

The City's published Notice for a proposed medical clinic, principally dental offices, for the corner of Kearney and Commercial, which includes the former Kwan's site.

Clinic building proposed for former Kwans site

The lot's been scraped and largely cleared now. 

The site scraped (last week)

The proposed building would be three stories and fill about a quarter of the total site. Parking and a bit of landscaping would fill the rest.

Front Page Story on Cherriots is Odd

The front page piece today on Cherriots is very weird. Its subject is totally legit: An increase in disorderly rider behavior and even outright assault on drivers and other employees.

Front page today

But it starts by dragging a person through the mud, focusing on personal despair and decline in a lead anecdote: "she grew despondent after leaving her job and drank heavily. Six months later...she was dead."

Rather than discussing the Pandemic (only briefly alluding to security work group paused during the Pandemic), our housing crisis, the surge of anger in right-wing extremism, a whole stew of things that might intensify or bring on despair, things that also have degraded our public spaces and public goods, it points to the change from an elected to a Governor-appointed Board.

And it talks about bus stops being unsafe.

It starts with a legitimate problem for analysis, and some of the things it mentions might indeed be ingredients in a problem, but overall it seems more interested in developing a case against transit and against Cherriots. Its total shape makes it a kind of a hit piece, aimed at discouraging people from using transit. Its pretty autoist. Just very weird.

We'll probably come back to it later.  It will be interesting to read how others respond to the piece and what elements and details in it seem important or not.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Brush College Park nears 100 Years Old

A tantalizing note in a 1923 paper suggested Brush College Park might be 100 years old this year.

Brush College Park

A City of Salem park, it sits across from Brush College School and alongside Gibson Creek at its confluence with Wilark Brook. In winter it's pretty wet and muddy. The 2013 Parks Master Plan doesn't have any information on the history of the park.

A piece from July 5th, 1923 suggested the land was formally donated to the public.

July 5th, 1923

From the piece:

When Mr. and Mrs. B W. Harritt bought their farm over at Brush College, in Polk county, 40 years ago, there was one little timbered tract of about six acres lying across the road from the house. Mr. Harritt said to his wife: "You can have that six acres for a picnic ground for the community and deed it to them for their use forever."

Mr. Harritt finally came to the end a long and worthy life with the deed of gift still unsigned, but with the understanding that had stood for 40 years that this beautiful bit of woodland, with a wonderful living spring and with shade for thousands of people, would eventually go to the public. Mrs. Cornelia Harritt took that six acres, as part of her share of the estate, and is having it surveyed and a deed prepared to give it to the public as a memorial.

They planned at one time to give it to the school district but then figured that if the schoolhouse should be moved, the property, being in the name of the district, might be sold and alienated from the public. Now, it is to be deeded to the Polk County court for the specific public purpose, and it can't ever get away.

It is a delightful memorial, one of the finest camping and picnic grounds in the valley. It is a fitting perpetuation of a most worthy pioneer name. Old Jesse Harritt, father of B. W. Harritt, who with his wife leaves this memorial, came to the valley in 1847. They have always lived near there. He helped build the original, first schoolhouse there, and four generations of Harritts have served on the school board or attended school there. The neighbors gave their services to build the first school. There was no taxing power to raise school funds, so they gave directly. The first school was a subscription affair. An Itinerant teacher would drift in, canvass the neighborhood for pupils, and if he got a contract that totalled $25 or more, he would run the school.

The name "Brush College" came from one of these subscription schools. One year there were eight big boys in the school, and no girls or little fellers. They thought they ought to have some better name than merely a district name. They thought of calling it "Coon Run College," because of the incredibly large number of raccoons that were found along the creek, but finally they hit on the name "Brush College" and it's that today.

In the paper the evidence is a little mushy, though, and suggests 1925 is a better year to mark its creation. A piece from 1956 says it was donated in 1925.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

City Council, July 10th - To Revisit Overlay Zones

In an unsurprising move, a City Councilor will ask to reconsider the defeat of the proposal to remove the overlay zones on lower south Commercial Street.

Council meets on Monday, and Councilor Phillips will offer a motion

to reconsider City Council’s decision to reject the proposed zone change and code amendment to repeal overlay zones in the SCAN neighborhood.

He explains

City Council Rule 11 provides for a motion to reconsider any action taken by the Council. The motion must be made no later than the close of the next following regular meeting of the Council, and must be made by one of the prevailing side, but may be seconded by any member.

I, Councilor Phillips, voted with the prevailing side on June 26th and therefore may make a motion to reconsider on this matter.

If the motion to reconsider passes, I intend to make a second motion to delay Council deliberation on the proposed zone change and code amendment to a future City Council meeting. Further, if the motion to reconsider is passed, I request that notice of the deliberations on the matter be provided to SCAN and each person that submitted testimony.

It's interesting he doesn't have a specific amended motion to propose, but instead will argue for delay. Maybe there's a compromise that is still being negotiated and needs time to mature?

This will be interesting to watch unfold.

If we want to keep protecting farmland and forest with our Urban Growth Boundaries, we will have to do more urban infill, and things like the overlay zones hinder that.

In the paper today

Willamette Week on Housing and UGB expansion

Related, the City is applying for a grant to support housing production and needs Council to authorize a letter of support.

The City of Salem is applying for a Housing Planning Assistance Grant to help develop a Housing Production Strategy (HPS), which will lay the roadmap for actions the City would take to help promote the production of housing. Specifically, the City is requesting a DLCD-provided consultant to help City staff develop the HPS. The City is required by State rules to adopt a HPS by December 31, 2025.

Grant applications are due July 31, 2023. Applications must include a letter of support from the governing body of the city or county applying for the grant. A draft letter of support is included...

Getting the whole city on board with housing production, and not carving out special exceptions for "neighborhood character" and for "incumbency privilege" will a real part of the project.

Planning Commissioner Slater's great idea for a large solar installation at the airport will be presented as an information report.

Alas, it is not any action item, and it's not clear from the agenda item what next step, if any, is actually being considered.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Bans on Burning and Fireworks are also a Climate Story

Today's front page stories about the burn ban, fireworks ban, and red flag warning fail to place the events in our ongoing climate crisis.

Front page today

They frame the increased fire danger and subsequent bans as some mysterious thing, contrary to the trend from winter and early spring, and perplexing.

The upgrades [in fire danger forecast] follow an extremely hot and dry late spring and early summer across the state, with long-term forecasts predicting more of the same for the rest of the summer and into autumn.

Despite a snowy winter — and some signs of a moderate start to fire season — the excess moisture has quickly dried up.

Who could have predicted it?!

July 3rd

Well, the paper has been full of stories, albeit buried on interior pages and supplement pages.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

President Harding visited Oregon, told Apocryphal Story about Marcus Whitman: 100 Years Ago

100 years ago President Harding visited Oregon as part of his "Voyage of Understanding." In addition to cuing up a run for reelection, he was also in part fleeing political scandals and marital scandals. Though he and his contemporaries did not know it, he was also at the end of his life. He would die a month later, on August 2nd, 1923.

Governor Pierce, President Harding, and First Lady
Meacham, Oregon, July 3rd, 1923
Oregon Historical Society

Harding made two stops in Oregon, one in Meacham for observances on the Oregon Trail and one in Portland.

June 21st, 1923

Governor Pierce expanded the Fourth of July holiday to include the third of July.

June 30th, 1923

The railroad advertised special excursion rates to Portland on the Fourth.