Imagine, dream, envision... how much more vibrant Salem's Historic District would be if the downtown area was a People Magnet.
Drawn in by wide sidewalks, two lane streets, water features, abundant greenery, safe bike lanes, outdoor dining, and an overall focus on encouraging pedestrians to stay, rather than speeding traffic to somewhere else, both Salem visitors and residents would say "This is a way-cool downtown; I'm coming back soon."
It can happen: a general vision for Streetscaping downtown was developed several years ago. Now this is being shared by Salem Community Vision in several recent posts. (See here and here.) Some excerpts:
The downtown streetscape project is designed to enhance the pedestrian and biking experience in the core area and eliminate blighted conditions. The project would remove one lane of automobile traffic and dedicate the space to protected bike lanes. It also would widen the existing sidewalks to provide more space to build a lineal park connecting Riverfront Park to the State Capitol Mall and Willamette University.
Streetscaping would include underground electricity, drip systems for plants, solar panels, and possibly underground cisterns to collect and reuse rain water. The general design of the project would follow the design principles of nationally renowned Salem landscape architects Lord & Schryver.
...The Conference Center bond will be paid off soon. The Urban Renewal District could sell a $30 million bond to finance this project. Urban Renewal funds do not have to be approved by voters, only by the City Council.
...This project will capture national attention in magazines and newspapers. It will make Salem a botanical, cultural, and culinary tourism destination. Plus, Salem residents will find that downtown is a much more enjoyable place after the streetscaping is completed.
Here's some images produced by the original Streetscape planners: AC + Co Architecture | Community, Carole Smith, and Susan Huston.
This is a rendering of what it would be like to look down a streetscaped Liberty Street, with State Street in the foreground. A tree-filled median would replace a lane (or maybe two?). No big deal, because there's no way any downtown street needs more lanes than I-5.
The image above shows how Court Street would lose a lane and be converted to a two-way traffic flow. Much more favorable for businesses and visitors alike. Two lane streets with wide sidewalks encourage browsing, walking around, eating/ drinking/ hanging out. More trees provide shade, beauty, an Oregon'ish feel.
Salem's Historic District has lots of untapped potential. Every time I'm downtown, which is frequently, I think, "Man, this place is poised for greatness. It just needs to lose the 'freeway vibe' because of Liberty and Commercial, along with other one-way streets, and gain a 'this is a people place' vibe."
There's a lot more that could be said about how wonderful a Downtown Streetscape Project would be.
Here's some of the saying that was in an under-read December 2015 report by John Southgate Consulting and Public Affairs Counsel that I blogged about in Semi-mysterious "Salem 2025" report looks at future of downtown. These excerpts from the Salem 2025 report point to the benefits a streetscape project would bring to the Historic District.
I've boldfaced some passages for emphasis.
Downtown Salem, Oregon, is a City that has not fulfilled its potential. It boasts a number of key assets – location immediately adjacent to a beautiful waterfront; a great stock of historic buildings; a healthy economy; and financial capacity in the near term that would be the envy of many larger cities.
And yet it has not deployed these assets as effectively as it should, and it also faces some challenges that have prevented Salem from reaching its potential.
Some challenges are physical (difficult access to the waterfront; too many properties that are under-performing; and streets that dominate the urbanscape rather than accommodating pedestrian activity). Other challenges include difficult development economics; a bureaucracy that too often gets in the way of good development; and a tendency over the years to make ad hoc decisions, rather than strategically.
This situation is far from hopeless, if the City leadership (including elected officials, key staff, as well as major players in the private sector) will work together to craft a strategy to guide future investments, a strategy that targets public/urban renewal investments intelligently and in a manner that will catalyze major private investment.
To do this, it will be important for the key private sector players to contribute towards an effort to (1) develop a coherent strategy for downtown focused on how to deploy approximately $30M in urban renewal funds when the Convention Center bonds are paid off in 2018; a strategy incorporating bold moves that dramatically change development dynamics in Salem.
...In light of the ad hoc nature of decision making, there is a serious risk that when the Convention Center bonds are paid off (2018), the City will fritter away its resources rather than being strategic in how it uses this debt capacity.
...Streets are wide and all about getting traffic through DT Salem, rather than to businesses in DT Salem. Bikes are generally not accommodated on downtown streets. Narrower streets (two lanes) would open up the possibility of more bike lanes.
...What Salem does need to do is be thoughtful and strategic about how to capitalize on its assets – in particular its urban renewal bonding authority. Perhaps the biggest challenge that Salem faces is a mindset. Cities that do great things, that change the economic dynamic of their downtowns, require bold and even courageous visionary leadership.
...We believe that Salem needs to start by articulating a vision/strategy for its downtown.
...In anticipation of such an effort, we surmise that there will be strong support for the following investments which will have the capacity to re-energize downtown Salem:
• Promotion of high density mixed use development – this means dollars for public/private deals, for land acquisition of strategic properties, and for predevelopment work
• Rehabilitation of Salem’s fine stock of historic buildings, including development of housing or high tech office uses on upper floors
• Access to waterfront
• Streets to serve all modes, not solely the auto. Fewer lanes, attractive lighting and pedestrian furnishings, curb extensions, bike lanes, and ample sidewalks.
• Tools to incentivize the sorts of places that energize a district – brewpubs, wine bars, etc.