Wednesday, February 28, 2024

From Breyman House to Gas Station to Social Service Hub: The Corner of Church and Court

Salem Reporter has a story this morning about a proposal for the former Statesman annex building, a printing plant I think, on the corner of Church and Court.

The proposal is for a combination of rental storage units and social service hub. Senator Patterson and Representative Andersen are chief sponsors of a bill, SB 1570, that would help the YMCA with some funding for it.

The corner also has an interesting history of redevelopment.

Ben Taylor at the Breyman House
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

You might have seen this late 1880s or 1890s photo of postman Ben Taylor on his high wheel, riding east on the sidewalk of Court Street. The Eugene Breyman house was on the corner of Church and Court. (1903 obituaries of Breyman in the Oregonian and Daily Journal.)

In 1930 the house was moved to a new site on the west side of Summer Street along the south side bank of Mill Creek.

March 2nd, 1930

Breyman House moved to Summer Street
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

Texaco built a gas station in its place.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Dysfunction Junction of South Commercial and Liberty to get a Signalized Crossing

The City's announced the start of construction on a significant walking and biking project from the Commercial-Vista Corridor Study.

A bike signal to cross Liberty southbound at the Y

Mostly it's great. But it appears the City has quietly reduced the project scope. Here's the first version from 2017.

From the 2018 - 2023 SKATS TIP

From the City yesterday:

Beginning in March 2024, Salem will improve bike and pedestrian infrastructure along Commercial Street SE from Oxford Street SE to Madrona Avenue SE. The project includes installing new high-visibility bike lanes, a bicycle signal to cross Liberty Road S, and a rapid flashing beacon on Commercial Street SE at Triangle Drive SE to provide added awareness and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Key Upgrades:

  • Bicycle Crossing Signal: A bike signal on Liberty Road S at Commercial St SE to create added visibility for cyclists continuing south on Commercial.
  • Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon: A flashing beacon sign will be installed at Triangle Drive SE to provide extra visibility for both cyclists and pedestrians at the intersection.
  • High-visibility Bike Lanes: Restriping of bike lanes to include high-visibility green markings will provide dedicated space for cyclists, reducing potential conflicts between cyclists and motor vehicles. 


  • Phase 1 (Starting March 4, 2024) This phase will include the installation of a bicycle signal on Liberty Road S and a flashing beacon on Commercial Street SE at Triangle Drive SE. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers should use caution and expect some lane closures and delays.
    During Phase 1, pedestrian access may be restricted within the work areas and temporary pedestrian routes will be identified around the work zone.
  • Phase 2 (Starting in summer 2024) This phase will include restriping lane lines of Commercial Street SE to install dedicated bike lanes with high-visibility green markings.
    During Phase 2, work is expected to occur in the overnight hours (9 p.m. to 6 a.m.) Temporary traffic control will include lane closures, limited sidewalk access, and delays along Commercial Street SE from Oxford Street SE to Madrona Avenue SE.

This project was originally identified in the Bike & Walk Salem update to the Salem Transportation Plan 2013. This plan identifies enhanced bike facilities along Commercial Street. In 2018, we were awarded funds from the Oregon Department of Transportation's (ODOT) All Roads Transportation Safety (ARTS) Program to design and install buffered bike lanes on Commercial Street and improve bicycle and pedestrian crossings in the area.

It's interesting the City release is silent on the Commercial-Vista Corridor Study, preferring to mention Bike & Walk Salem.

Did we lose the median at Triangle?

It's also silent on pedestrian refuge medians. In fact, it's totally silent on the crossing at Waldo Avenue. The City never did say explicitly that this crossing had been deleted. The deletion was buried in an agenda item at SKATS a few years ago. The current press release mentions only the beacon at Triangle Drive. Is there no median? In 2015 a median was called out with the beacon, but already in 2017 it's missing and maybe deleted. Without a median at Triangle Drive, that is still a full five auto travel lanes, plus bike lanes, to cross. That's a big street!

Monday, February 26, 2024

New Zoning for the Former Reform School and Prison Annex Site

On Tuesday the Planning Commission will consider a proposal to rezone the site of the former Reform School and then Prison Annex. The matter's been postponed at least twice since the original Hearing date in November. The developer representative wanted more time as the Staff proposed conditions of approval seemed more than the developer team was prepared for. Staff have also revised the proposed conditions, and it seems very likely the Hearing will be continued and for more discussion and analysis, as the project is not simple and land conditions are complicated. The project also might need some additional refinement.

New zoning proposed

Development concept

Since then, even with two supplemental Staff Reports (original in November, then January and February), the project remains a little slippery.

MU-I or MU-III? Not consistent with map

For one, the map calls out an area for MU-III zoning, and the text of the first Staff Report says MU-I.

MU-III is more commercially oriented than MU-I, and that's a significant difference.

House lots and apartment block deployment
Phases C, D, and E

At least some of the project concept looks like traditional single standalone housing and an apartment complex.

Safe Routes to Schools and Incoherence on Safety: At the MPO

The Policy Committee for the Metropolitan Planning Organization meets on Tuesday the 27th, and Mayor Hoy will be a special guest as they talk about the lack of proportional representation at the MPO and how to incorporate Ausmville.

There's not really much new to say on that, and it is more interesting to consider a program that reports up into the same org chart as the MPO staff. It is formally separate, but very related.

In the paper yesterday was a nice feature on Safe Routes to School.

Yesterday's paper.

It's great to see more visibility for the Safe Routes to School program, which has struggled for traction here over the years.

It is important to teach kids how to walk and how to bike. Especially if they do not have parents modeling walking and biking, how will they learn? We might think of walking as some "natural" activity, and it is that, but there are also a number of conventions for the urban environment that need to be learned and are usefully taught. An anthropologist from Mars who happens to be bipedal would need to learn quite a bit for walking in a city.

Of course, the piece has some limits from genre constraints. Formally it's a feature on a person, not an analysis of a system.

Even so, the profile's frame also perfectly encapsulates what is wrong about so much of our conversation and approach to safety. Its balance is really off.

On Feb. 8, a Parrish Middle School student was hit by a car in a crosswalk outside the school, near where a student had been hit 10 months earlier.

A week later, Beth Schmidt was at the same intersection handing out safety bracelets to students.

This lede not only erases the driver in the "hit by car" trope, but also draws a problematic relation between cause and solution: A driver hits a student in a crosswalk, and the solution is to hand out safety bracelets to students. Who is the problem here? This mismatch characterizes so much of our safety conversation and analysis.

Friday, February 23, 2024

City Council, February 26th - Union Street Bikeway and Airport

The main items of interest on the agenda for Monday's Council meeting were the former UGM site announcement and Front Street study. There are also some smaller transportation items of minor interest.

Buried in the administrative purchases are a couple of change orders on the Union Street Bikeway.

  • Change Order No. 1 for $90,213 makes a conceptual change for the easterly end of the project that reconfigures the bikeway and how it interfaces with the roadway. 
  • Change Order No. 2 adds $60,856 for an increase in project management.
Detail on curve showing buffered bike lanes only
(October 2023 Bond Committee meeting)

The change to the "easterly end," which I understand to mean the elbow curve down to Marion Street and the intersection of Marion and 12th, will be interesting to learn more about. Drawings shown to the Bond Committee in October seemed to show merely a buffered bike lane on the curve, and this did not seem adequate to meet any "family-friendly" standard, as drivers routinely go too fast on curves and cross over into bike lanes. I am hopeful the City is upgrading this.

There is a cluster of three airport items, including a request for $23,800 in subsidy from the City.

Avelo Airlines indicated that the first three months of operations in Salem were successful. However, the airline has requested $23,800 in funds from the $1.2 million Minimum Revenue Guarantee Fund for this period.

Asking for City subsidy seems ipso facto proof the first three months of operations were not wholly successful! Shouldn't we define success as not needing City subsidy? Adding the new flight to Sonoma sounds great, but the request for revenue guarantee funding deserves more attention. (And of course reviving commercial passenger service still deserves a climate analysis on emissions, but Council is just ignoring that.)

Thursday, February 22, 2024

City Names Developers for Former UGM/Saffron Site, Shares more on Front Street Study

At City Council for Monday is Big Block 50 news, the former UGM/Saffron site. As Urban Renewal Agency, the City has selected developers and looks to approve a Memorandum of Understanding to kick things off.

There are two of them, one based in Portland, the other with a trio of offices in Boise, Bend, and Eugene. 

Edlin & Co. is the successor firm to Gerding Edlin, which did a lot of the Pearl District in Portland, starting with the Brewery Blocks, the redevelopment of the old Weinhard Brewery and nearby area. This included a grocery store, Whole Foods, in an Art Deco-y building one block west of Powell's. They've done a lot of LEED certified buildings, and recent work includes an apartment block to Passive House standards. They've also done affordable housing projects. (And they've done lots of towers too, both in the Pearl and the South Waterfront, but it's the midrise examples that seem most relevant here.)

Brewhouse (l) and Whole Foods (r)
NW 12th & Couch, Portland

The Kiln, 19 apartments to Passive House standards

The other firm, deChase Miksis is working on redeveloping the former EWEB Steam Plant on the Eugene riverfront, and successfully redeveloped a mid-century furniture warehouse on Willamette Street, where Claim 52 has a pub now. 

Claim 52 on a summer evening

Both firms have shown a genuine interest in reuse of older buildings, and even though the City scraped the site and reuse is not in play here, this interest is a very good sign that they will develop sensitively and appropriately.

The choice for the two firms on the surface certainly looks appropriate, with a very good chance to be more than that — to be terrific. This is exciting stuff.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Governor Geer, Commemorated by Geer Park, Died 100 Years Ago

Back in 2006 Council named Geer Park for the "pioneer Geer family."

Gov. T.T. Geer, 1899-1903
(State Library of Oregon)

This includes Ralph Carey Geer, whose farm has recently been operated as Geercrest, out on the end of Sunnyview Road at the t-intersection with Cascade Highway.

March 28th, 2006

Here we have a very special fondness for Governor T. T. Geer, nephew of Ralph. He rode a bicycle and signed the first bicycle path legislation in 1899.

Geer died 100 years ago today.

February 22nd, 1924

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Which George Williams was Mayor and Banker here?

One of the lingering questions about the Williams & England block and Williams & England bank has been the identity of George Williams.

July 10th, 1910

Was he the more famous one, Territorial Judge, United States Senator, and then Attorney General for President Grant, George H. Williams

He was not.

November 26th, 1888

Even contemporary sources sometimes were confused! A note about the upcoming election for Salem Mayor in 1888 slips between George H. Williams and Major George Williams.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Stories on Fire and Snow omit Essential Climate Context

The front page story yesterday about the cause of the Liberty Fire from last summer talks about fossil fuel in the micro-scale, about a spark from an ATV igniting the fire, but does not make any connection to our fossil fuel use in the macro-scale, about greenhouse gas emissions, our warming climate, and increasing probability here of wildfires on the urban fringe and even interior.

Front page story yesterday

The paper, in fact, whether from writerly preference or from editorial direction above, consistently slides over, even erases, climate and fossil fuel use in local stories.

Here's one on our weather year that implies a homeostatic notion of reversion to normal, as if we could still talk reassuringly about a stable normal to which we might return. But we now have a rolling, changing average, and it is rarely useful now to talk about a "normal" any more. Today's "abnormally" hot summer is tomorrow's cool summer bathed in nostalgia.

Front page, earlier this month

It doesn't have to be this way.

Here's a piece from yesterday's Seattle Times that specifically calls out climate change.

Seattle Times, front page yesterday

Here's a national piece distributed from USA Today HQ in January. The headline is pretty clear.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Story on Data Centers shows Limit to our Climate Plans

The Oregonian today has a front page piece about the ravenous appetite for electricity and the corresponding emissions from our online habits and data centers.

Oregonian, front page today

It focuses on the emissions as

a byproduct of Oregon tax policy and represent a profound setback for the state's energy aspirations...hundreds of millions of dollars in local tax breaks to subsidize a constellation of enormous, power-hungry data centers...where the regional power grid has little access to renewable energy.
A critic says

Oregon regulators and lawmakers haven't created policies and incentives that encourage economic growth powered by renewable energy.
Among other things it is a failure of our climate action goals to be applied to new situations.

More locally, earlier this month the City formally wrote to the Legislature in support of SB 1572, for a study of expanding rail to Salem on the old Oregon Electric line.

City support for SB 1572

The City says it

is taking action to respond to climate change with a Climate Action Plan...[our reduction goals], adopted by City Council in October of 2020, can only be achieved with the collective action of everyone in our community.

Where was this spirit when Council was looking at the airport expansion?!

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Village Center at Fairview finally has a Store Proposed

The Village Center has a proposal for a store!

One-story retail store building at Fairview crossroad

Earlier this month developers started a file at the City for a low one-story building with two storefronts on a key corner in the Fairview redevelopment.

The "anchor" will be a Stop n' Save convenience store it appears. Sure the parking lot is in back, and in that way it is more walkable, but its basic form is still more like a strip mall in a sprawly setting.

Convenience store for the Village Center

Site plan at the crossroads

So it's a little underwhelming in that sense. The original concept for the Village Center was more lively with midrise and vertical mixed-use, with much more stress on walking and much less stress on parking lots. It was intended to be more of a commercial district and hub, the highest intensity part of the project.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

PR and Messaging over Substance: City Response to Advocacy Dismays

One of the criticisms we've made over the past few years is that the City seems to prefer to see action on climate and on safety for vulnerable users of the roads as a messaging problem rather than anything that calls for concrete action. The City has seemed to say, "We're doing great! The problem is the citizenry just doesn't understand."

You may recall this "But we're misunderstood" theme from very early in preparation for the Climate Action Plan: "The Salem community is mostly unaware of the overall progress."

" mostly unaware of the overall progress"

Other communications have also generally shown what here has seemed an unserious approach that focuses on appearance and signalling rather than on substantive action.

So it was interesting in December to learn about a "show and tell" with advocates.

Our new Public Works Director, Brian Martin, would like gather bike advocacy groups in Salem to discuss active transportation in our City.  He would like to learn more about what is working and what isn’t working in the community.  He would also like to share information on projects the City is completing to improve biking in our community. 

We are looking at holding a 2- 3 hour meeting....We plan to allow each group 10-15 minutes to discuss their goals, vision, projects, and events for biking in the community.

It was a little weird. The invite did not come from Martin, and it also gave a lot of stress to the idea of "sharing information on projects the City is completing," on talking rather than listening. The "But we're misunderstood"/"Salem community is mostly unaware" theme was a bit of a red flag. Similarly, the show-and-tell aspect in a group meeting was also odd. The meeting concept did not give off a good vibe.

It was rescheduled for this spring, and it's actually weirder.

Administrative purchases September 2023

One of the people involved, who looks even like the real organizer of the meeting, is a principal of a Portland PR firm, Parachute Strategies. It turns out in September the City Manager's Office signed a not-to-exceed contract for $350,000 in PR services. It was a mistake not to look into this in December.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Parrish Junior High named 100 Years Ago

100 years ago Parrish Junior High got its name.

February 9th, 1924

By our standards today, the process was pretty quick. They announced the site in September of 1923.

September 11th, 1923

Immediately its proximity to what was then a highway was concerning.

Sept. 13th, 1923

Nevertheless they went ahead with a vote, and voters approved.

Oct. 10th and Nov. 14th, 1923

There was some jockeying for the design contract, but the School District finally settled on William C. Knighton, who had done some earlier work for the District that was not built and the district maybe owed him a little.

December 12th, 1923

With President Harding's recent death in office, his name was popular and there were multiple straw votes taken. A name nodding to the highway and street was also popular.

January 27th and February 5th, 1924

We know how it turned out.

February 13th, 1924

It was, I think, the first time a school here had been named for someone local.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Thinking about Greenhouse Gas Performance Measures: At the MPO

Tuesday the 13th the technical committee for our Metropolitan Planning Organization meets, and there are a number of items of interest.

at the Oregonian

The Oregonian has a very interesting piece on No More Freeways formal letter to DLCD calling for revisions to Metro's Regional Transportation Plan. Metro is the Portland-area MPO and their plans and processes are similar to — but not identical with — many of the plans and processes here at SKATS.

The critique No More Freeways makes about the failures and even fakery at the MPO to do what they say they are going to do on climate and emissions reductions is essentially one we can also make here. Some of the details will be different, but in broad terms the MPO here is engaging in the same lipservice to emissions reduction, but is still planning on capacity increases and road widening, which will increase emissions.

Just look at the fantasia for OR-22/OR-51. It's an ODOT project, but the MPO is boosting it. It's framed up as for safety, but it's not about slowing cars and safer cars. It's about speeding up and flow. It's about induced demand and more cars. It's anti-climate.

Front page on Sunday

Previously on the OR-22/OR-51 project:

I don't know if the Oregonian article will disappear behind the paywall, but it is very much worth reading.

Black Pioneer Mary Jane Holmes Shipley Drake as seen in 1924

100 years ago the morning paper published a feature on Mary Jane Shipley Drake.

February 10th, 1924

It's weird. By our standards now it's racist. In its time, maybe it was progressive. It's hard to say.

The Advocate seemed to praise the piece as it appeared in the Oregonian.

February 2nd, 1924

But, again, reading it today, as it seems to aspire to an even-handed scholarship, a kind of ethnographic tone, it is not neutral, and is shot through with normative whiteness and an irenic, harmonizing interpretation of slavery.

Right off, the headline reads "A Slave in Oregon Now Living Free." And the first sentence, as if readers might not have understood the significance of the word "slave" in the headline, is to racialize Drake with tag, "Mary Jane Shipley Drake (Colored)." It keeps pointing this out, tagging people in the piece as they first appear. Especially with the headline establishing the topic, the relentlessness in underscoring Blackness is weird. They are Black first, people second.

It is also completely silent on Holmes v. Ford, an important and relevant court case (see link below).

Today we would give more stress to this, that "speaking from experience, she would not favorably compare slavery with freedom." Like how much doubt is there?

Its author, an important professor at what became OSU, may not deserve extra criticism, but as an artifact of its time the piece is telling.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

City Council, February 12th - Deleting Vacant Positions

Council meets on Monday and the main item of interest here was Councilor Stapleton's proposal for a downtown safety study.

On the rest of it, the lead item for most people was not the safety study but will be the conversation about the City budget. In the near term simply eliminating vacant positions is a reasonable move. But within that there are distinctions to make. One is that the Library is suffering a disproportionate burden.

via FB

Over on FB, Jim Scheppke's on-going series, with installments on Salem's decline from past service levels and under-investment in comparison to Oregon peer cities, has been illuminating.

Councilor Nishioka has an idea about relaxing mural requirements and making provision for time-limited public art to be deployed for less than the current minimum of seven years. This looks like a helpful attempt to simplify some red tape. The discussion in the agenda item remains a little opaque and testifies to our cumbersome regulatory scheme for murals and public art:

Art displayed publicly meets the definition of a “sign,” under the City’s sign code. "Sign” is defined as a thing that is designed, used, or intended to attract the attention of the public. SRC 900.015(f) exempts public art and murals that are owned by the City. For murals, the City obtains an easement agreement for a seven-year period. This motion directs staff to investigate ways to allow for a shorter time period to allow murals and other artworks to be publicly displayed.

There are grant opportunities for temporary art projects. Temporary art projects will increase cultural and community involvement in art projects within our neighborhoods and parks. A thriving arts scene can stimulate economic growth by attracting tourists, supporting local businesses, and creating job opportunities. Community art projects provide opportunities for relaxation, stress relief, and emotional expression, contributing to overall wellness and quality of life.

Hopefully there will be a way for this to move forward. More art should be understood as ephemeral, as existing in time with an end, and we should have a better City legal framework for this and a greater general cultural acceptance of non-permanent art.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Metropolitan Transportation Safety Action Plan should focus more on Speed

At the MPO, after all of 2023 in quiet activity, in the last month or so they finally created a page and then published materials for the Metropolitan Transportation Safety Action Plan. This is great to see finally. 

And in light of Councilor Stapleton's motion for a much smaller downtown safety study, it is interesting to check in on the MPO's discussion of downtown sites as well as a little about its overarching themes and emphases.

October 2023

The the plan has committed to a "safe system approach," which starts in some helpful directions, but the balance does not seem right yet, and is too caught up in false equivalence and both-sidesing. To be very successful in actual results, it needs adjustment in emphasis and proportion.

It says we must "accommodate certain types of human errors" and that "responsibility is shared" with "every individual play[ing] an important role."

You may recall at Strong Towns "The Twelve Days of Safety Myths":

A child, all of 100 pounds, is mowed down by a person driving a 4,500-pound pickup truck. What will you likely hear from police officers, highway safety engineers, Governors Highway Safety Association, and state DOTs? “Now, remember, children, safety is a shared responsibility!”

Bull pucky. Shared responsibility on the road isn’t a valid expectation of people who walk and bike until they are given equal consideration in road design and equal opportunity to move safely throughout the system.

In an October "Safety Analysis and Solutions" memo there is still too much weight on shared responsibility, on forgiving driver error, and not enough on forgiving walking and biking error.

In a review note at the Vision Zero Network, "What We’re Getting Wrong about Vision Zero & Lessons for 2024: 'Why is Vision Zero failing in the U.S.?'" they center speed by drivers, and place that in the context of a safe system approach:

Minding the realities of physics to advance Vision Zero means recognizing the frailty of the human body and re-designing our transportation system to respect these inalienable physical vulnerabilities. Our most promising way of reducing the frequency and severity of crashes is by reducing speeds, especially where there are a mix of people traveling both inside and outside motor vehicles. As the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) states in its 2023 report, Safe System Approach for Speed Management: “To achieve safer speeds, [t]he Department believes it is important to prioritize safety and moving individuals at safe speeds over focusing exclusively on the throughput of motor vehicles.”

For a community serious about advancing Vision Zero, it starts with recognizing the physics: Vehicle speed at the time of impact correlates directly to whether a person will live or die....

Moving past a piecemeal approach to safety requires applying the physics of safe mobility – prioritizing safety over speed – not just in a few token places but holistically.

While there is value, especially initially, in focusing Vision Zero efforts swiftly and pointedly on the most problematic injury locations, this “spot treatment” is only a starting place. Comprehensive change – reducing speed limits and designing Complete Streets fully, community-wide – is needed in all places where people are moving by a combination of walking, driving, biking, etc. This means moving from a project-by-project approach to one that makes wholesale change.

The consultant at an April meeting even highlighted those outside of cars in themes from public comment.

Those outside of cars worry (April 2023)

It's the cars and drivers and speed. Always this should be centered.

Driver Strikes and Kills Person Walking on Mission Street near I-5

On Thursday evening a driver struck and killed a person on Mission Street (Highway 22) between Hawthorne and the I-5 interchange.

In a crash at 50mph here on Mission St, you are dead
(from ODOT's OR-22 East Facility Plan, 2017 )

From Salem Police on Thursday night:

At approximately 6:15 p.m. this evening, emergency responders were called to the area of Mission ST and Hawthorne AV SE on the report of a pedestrian struck by a car east of the intersection. The caller also reported the driver had left the scene.

Responding firefighters pronounced the male pedestrian deceased. 

Although the call was initially reported as a hit-and-run, the involved driver stopped and called police a few blocks from site of the collision. The driver, identified as Daniel Carmona, age 69, is cooperating with the investigation.

The pedestrian, a 51-year-old man, is not being identified pending notification to his family.

The Traffic Team investigation continues, and as such, no citations have been issued or arrest made....

This evening’s collision is the second traffic fatality of 2024.

Update 02/09/2024 | 11:30 a.m.

Notification of family is complete, and the pedestrian is identified as David Henten Stockam of Salem.

The incident remains an active investigation, and no further information is available for release.

Please note: Mr. Stockam’s death is the third traffic fatality of the year, not the second as previously reported.

The MPO includes Mission Street here as a high crash corridor, ranking it twelfth.

Mission St is No. 12 High Crash Corridor (SKATS)

Speeds are much too high for the urban context, especially as there are stores nearby. There are also, of course, camp sites, and as much as some people crave hobo evaporation, they do have lives to lead and will want to travel places. And a person with car trouble might have to walk some ways also for assistance. There are multiple reasons a person might be on foot here.

Before I-5 was blasted through, and before Mission Street was so dangerously enlarged, it was a frequent picnicking site.

June 30th, 1935

Today the Hager Grove Pear, an Oregon Heritage Tree, is completely inaccessible. Travel Oregon blurbs it, but you can't go there!

This post may be updated.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

City Council, February 12th - Better Crosswalk Safety

For Monday's Council meeting, Councilor Stapleton has a motion for a downtown safety study:

I move to direct staff to conduct a study to gather recommendations to increase pedestrian and bicycle safety and access within Salem’s downtown core, specifically including an analysis of pedestrian lead times at intersections and the feasibility of reducing speed limits to 20 MPH. The study should build upon the recommendations from the Central Salem Mobility Study and be coordinated with work on designating downtown as a Walkable Mixed-Use Area, implementation of Vision Zero, and associated updates to the Salem Transportation System Plan (Salem in Motion). This study should also consider impacts and timing for the new paid parking implementation and any needed updates to SRC 95.710, 95.740, 100.230 and 101.100.

Featured image with the Feds!

Though Councilor Stapleton's motion does not use the specific language of "leading pedestrian interval," the motion's language certainly suggests it. 

The Federal Highway Administration's page on leading pedestrian intervals leads with an image at the Capitol. Salem must have some of them! But when I am crossing a street, I am monitoring for cars and drivers, and not paying attention to the light sequencing, so I have no idea how many intersections downtown and elsewhere might employ them. It's not clear whether we need more of them downtown, or whether we need to lengthen the walk-only phase on existing ones.

For more on them see:

The study envisioned by Councilor Stapleton might also consider places where all-way pedestrian scramble signals might be appropriate, where crosswalks should be raised within speed tables, where count-down timers might be prompting last-second speeding by drivers rather than helping people on foot, and other kinds of incremental improvements to crosswalk function. Make walking delightful!

Here are some people killed while on foot or at rest near sidewalk areas in the last few years. Several were within crosswalks. I do not know of any killed by drivers recently while bicycling downtown (one death involved a train), but this may be because very few bike downtown as it is so forbidding.

Using a broader analysis, including car crashes without people on foot or on bike, the MPO lists seven of the top 20 high crash corridors downtown.

Seven of 20 worst corridors (SKATS)

They are:

  • Commercial Street
  • Wallace Road
  • Marion Street
  • Center Street
  • Liberty Street
  • Union Street
  • High Street

They are the usual suspects, with Union and High also. (And you could include Market Street, even.)

The project would also be a chance to make a wider reassessment of the downtown mobility study. Some parts we should accelerate, and others perhaps revise.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

The High-Viz Jacket won't Save You: Vision Zero Plan must focus on Drivers and their Cars

High-visibility outerwear and a flashing front light couldn't save Marganne Allen.

via the former Twitter

From Salem Reporter a couple days ago:

Marganne Allen was gathering speed as she rolled [downhill] to the intersection, holding the right of way. She was on her way home to her husband and children after a shift at her state job.

It wasn’t yet dark. Allen wore a bright yellow jacket. A white light on the front of her bike flashed. She was traveling an estimated 25 mph – the speed limit....

[Slowing down to about 20mph from his 37mph on Leslie Street, and peeking around the corner Samuel Landis] saw nothing – no car, no pedestrian, no cyclist.

He drove his pickup into Allen’s path. She struck the front fender and crashed to the ground.

And to underscore this, today in a summary note of "five takeaways" they wrote on one of them:

The cyclist tried to ensure she was visible to drivers

Allen wore a bright yellow jacket. She rode with a flashing white light attached to the front of her bike. She was traveling an estimated 25 mph – the speed limit. Landis said after the collision that he didn’t see the cyclist.

The problem here isn't any lack of prudent walking and biking. By all accounts Allen modeled exemplary bicycling safety, over-and-above even. 

I suppose an indirect benefit is that it shows more strongly the jaydriving and careless neglect by Landis. A person in black biking a night without a headlight would not have prompted the same level of scrutiny, and more people would have felt a driver who in fact stopped at the stop sign and then proceeded was more-or-less blameless.

But as it was in the reality of this particular crash, Landis still killed Allen. The personal bicycle safety gear didn't protect her.

The fundamental problem here is a person jaydriving under the too-popular expectation blowing a stop sign was trivial. No big deal. Everybody does it. Except it turned out to be a catastrophic big deal.

The primary burden for safety must be on drivers. They are the ones who employ lethal speed and lethal force.

At the Capitol on Court Street (2015)

We cannot place the primary burden for safety on people walking and biking.

"Doing everything right" couldn't protect Allen.

As we head into the development of a Vision Zero plan, we need to make sure we don't get hung up on false equivalence, ostensible balance, and both-sidesing. It's the cars and their drivers.

High Street is a problem downtown

As part of the MPO's safety plan development, they identified a list of high crash corridors. High Street is one of them. In addition to this crash, drivers struck and killed three people who might have thought they were employing the protection of marked crosswalks:

There may be small, incremental design changes to these intersections to make them safer. It's possible the downtown intersections need more squared off corners to slow down drivers. Leslie might need a diverter and an end to through travel across High and left-turns from High.

But the key is: What more can people on foot and on bike do in these cases? There's not room for any demand to walk better or bike better. 

The room, the space for intervention, is for drivers to drive better and slower. That's the solution and what any Vision Zero plan needs to focus on.