Last night there was an open house kickoff for the Downtown Salem Streetscape Plan.
Held in the ground floor meeting room at Courthouse Square, I felt a lot of energy and enthusiasm from the good number of attendees, City of Salem staff, and the consultants hired to oversee the project.
People could use stickers to indicate a part of downtown where they had an idea for improvements, where they customarily entered the downtown area, and where they thought the heart of downtown was.
Not surprisingly, Court and Liberty got the most heart stickers. And you can see that many attendees were inspired to write thoughts about downtown on post-it notes.
This is what I said: "Liberty, Commercial, and Court Streets have too many lanes. Losing some lanes will make downtown much more people-friendly."
Strangely, though, this Streetscape project is ignoring streets.
The whole emphasis is on sidewalks. As shown above, "alleys and roads not part of [project] scope." So they really should have called this a Sidewalkscape project, which is much more limited than a true Streetscape plan -- such as the one proposed for Salem several years ago.
This is disappointing.
Someone I talked with at the open house put it nicely: "City of Salem staff like to decide on their own what the scope of a project should be, then tell citizens that nothing outside of the bounds of what has already been decided can be talked about."
The artificial limits imposed by City of Salem staff were evident in the flyer handed out at the door last night.
Download Downtown Salem Streetrscape Plan
The Downtown Streetscape Plan will help imagine and build improvements to our City's downtown sidewalks now and into the future... The "streetscape" is the area in the public realm between private property lines or the exteriors of buildings and the curb or street. Generally, the streetscape is the sidewalk space that people see as they drive or bike by.
No, this isn't true. Planners actually generally look upon the entire street as the canvas on which streetscaping takes place. For example, here's a definition from the University of Delaware.
Streetscape is a term “to describe the natural and built fabric of the street, and defined as the design quality of the street and its visual effect.”
Obviously sidewalks are the space between buildings and the street. The wider a street is, the less room there is for sidewalks, bike lanes, and other people-friendly areas, as contrasted to the "auto zone" of the street. The original Salem Streetscape planners envisioned downtown streets losing a lane for this reason.
Here's an image from a web page I made to showcase their ideas :
At the open house there were photographs of streetscape elements from both other cities and Salem. Attendees could put an orange dot on the elements that they liked the most. Here's some that got a lot of sticker love. Note that they presuppose a wide sidewalk.
Now, by no means am I saying that just because City of Salem staff have artificially constrained the Downtown Streetscape Plan to basically only be about sidewalks, and not alleys or streets, is this a useless exercise.
(You can participate in it via an online open house.)
Quite the contrary: I expect a lot of good to come out of this effort.
Good ideas. Good visions. Good improvements to downtown. I just hope that the consultants will allow downtown-lovers like myself to indulge in thinking that is outside of the box of sidewalks alone.
The most off-putting thing I encounter downtown isn't litter or homeless people. It is the freeway'ish three and four lane one-way streets. They scream Drive as fast as you can through downtown; don't stop to shop, eat, or recreate.
I've been told by City staff that changes to downtown streets can't be made without altering the City's transportation plan. OK, so change the damn transportation plan!
I'll end with a photo of a comment made by someone at last night's open house that both expressed a great wish for downtown, and did so with some very cool penmanship. Less traffic noise. More peaceful for people.