I'm no mental health professional, but I'm prepared to diagnose a malady that is rampant in Salem: parking space mania. Some of the symptoms are:
-- Feeling that something is seriously wrong if it isn't possible to park in a downtown block where your intended destination is located.
-- Driving in circles around downtown looking for an on-street parking space even though a totally free parking structure with plenty of open spaces is close by.
-- Freaking out at the prospect that any number, even just a few, of on-street downtown parking spaces will be lost, even if this would make the Historic District more attractive and vibrant.
Intrigued, because I was curious about what changes had been made to the concepts that seemingly were in close to final form last April, when I made a web page about them. See:
Worried, because as indicated by the language circled in red in the open house invitation, some unnamed "stakeholders" had a chance to weigh in on the Streetscape plan over the summer. I don't like that term, stakeholders, since I consider that the citizens of Salem are the ones with the biggest stake in every policy issue, including how downtown looks and feels.
I've gotten mixed messages as to who ended up influencing the refinements to the original Streetscape plan recommended by consultants. City Public Works staff reportedly had a say in this. I suppose this makes sense, though I wonder why they didn't provide their input during the lengthy period of public input on draft Streetscape proposals.
Tonight the team of consultants revealed what has been left out of the final design proposals I described in my web page. I wouldn't call these "refinements," but rather selling out to the above-mentioned parking space mania -- since I was told that concerns about losing on-street parking spaces led to the changes above.
They're delicately called "Longer-Term Projects."
What this really means is that the above-mentioned stakeholders, which I suspect includes some parking-space-crazed downtown businesses, put enough pressure on City officials to get the Mid-Block Landscape Pockets, Front Street Crossing, and Parklets Program shelved.
The frustrating thing is that each of these Streetscape design elements makes great good sense.
Look at the photos of how much better Commercial Street, and also Liberty Street, would look if a couple of parking spaces were used for bulb-out landscaping that would calm traffic (without diminishing the width of traffic lanes) while beautifying the street.
Likewise, the Parklets Program would utilize a few parking spaces in creative ways, either temporarily or permanently. But somehow parking space mania outweighed the benefits of making downtown Salem a more attractive place to work, live, dine, and shop.
The consultants told me that because Front Street is a state highway, it would take more time to improve pedestrian crossings between downtown and Riverfront Park. But this doesn't explain why those crossings have been removed from the Streetscape plan.
Gosh, would it really be so bad if parents, children, and other living beings were able to walk more safely and conveniently across Front Street to enjoy Riverfront Park, while maybe slowing traffic on that street down a little bit?
There's no doubt that however the Streetscape project turns out, it will make downtown more attractive. It just is disappointing to see the aspirations for this project diminished due to input from unnamed "stakeholders."
Hopefully the City Council, acting as the Urban Renewal Agency board, will seriously consider reinstating the Longer-Term Projects as immediate priorities. The schedule above shows this could happen on February 19, 2019.