Streets are kind of strange, when you think about it. Essentially they serve no purpose other than to get people and goods from here to there, usually by car or truck.
So by themselves, streets are basically useless.
For example, unlike a park, you can't have a picnic on them. By and large streets are a highly visible and unattractive testament to our American addiction to vehicular travel.
But this isn't a given. At least, not now.
There's no reason why modern transportation planning has to be bound by the outmoded rules that have given us the ugliness of south Commercial Street and Lancaster Drive, to name a few examples of streets that genuflect to the Almighty Car and Truck rather than catering to the needs of human beings.
McGilchrist Street in south Salem is slated for a major makeover, paid in part by money from the $300 million City of Salem bond measure approved by voters last November.
I haven't followed the McGilchrist project very closely, but the transportation savvy Salem Breakfast on Bikes blogger has. You can read all of his posts on this subject via this link. His most recent post has some cogent criticisms of the McGilchrist project.
Here's some excerpts from "Cost Escalation and Overengineering Swamp McGilchrist Project."
The project is too expensive and overengineered... You may recall drawings from the Federal grant application that showed some paint-only bike lanes.
The words "cycle track" in the cross section (at top, again) are doing a lot of unearned and heavy lifting. First off, in the drawing shown to the Bond Implementation Oversight Committee, it's more a multi-use path, not really a cycle track, which should be distinct from the sidewalk. Second, it does not appear to run the full length of McGilchrist.
At least in public, we have not yet seen a set of drawings with a strong bike lane treatment that is continuous. Note those paint-only sections. Any separation is only in segments. For such an expensive project we should get best-in-class bike lanes the whole length! There's more than a little bit of bikewashing here.
The travel lanes are really wide and will induce speeding. The street is not being built for urban speeds. It's more than a little stroady. With the 2 foot "shy lane" and 11 foot travel lane, there's really two 13 foot travel lanes and a nearly continuous 12 foot center turn pocket. Even allowing for freight trucks here, it is too big.
Finally there is the budget and cost escalation.
In February the Bond Implementation Oversight Committee saw the funding, and the budget just keeps ballooning, apparently doubling in a year or two. This table (above) was not included in the agenda and packet the City posted for the February meeting, and the City is generally not publishing any notice of the meetings on the City calendar. It may be that the committee is structured not to require formal Notice. But with the magnitude of the bond, they should provide more transparency.
Wow. It sure looks like the McGilchrist project more than doubled in cost in a single year from $22 million to $51 million. That's a heck of a lot of money. Maybe there's a good reason for the $29 million increase in the project budget. Regardless, the City Council definitely needs to conduct more oversight about this.
On the positive side of street improvements, soon several blocks of downtown Salem's Court Street will become two way rather than one way. As a Salem Reporter story said, the current three travel lanes will be transformed into two lanes with left turn lanes.
The project aims to increase pedestrian, biking and other alternate transportation options to cars while maintaining parking in both directions.
And at a cost of just $500,000.
So the apparent $29 million cost increase for the McGilchrist project would pay for 58 similar "Court Street" conversions in other parts of the city.
This shows what a bargain bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is compared to super-expensive traditional street improvements -- which mainly are aimed at speeding cars and trucks along, not making it easier for people to walk and bike.