Downtown Salem Streetscape A project to transform the Historic District

The Downtown Salem 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.

What follows are streetscape designs and images that emerged from an initial planning effort by Carole Smith, Eric Kittleson, Susan Kay Huston, and Alan Costic about five years ago. These were, and are, intended for illustration and discussion. They're very much open to change, so pay more attention to the overall goals of the Downtown Salem Streetscape project than to specifics shown in these early plans.

Salem Community Vision is sharing this material because renewed interest is being shown in streetscaping the Historic District and surrounding area. This would transform Salem's urban core, making it much more people-friendly. Increased economic activity would follow, including more downtown businesses, visitors, and residents.

How Liberty Street could look with a center tree-filled median.

In the image above, and also in the schematic shown below of a single block between State and Court, you can see that parallel parking is on one side of the tree-filled medians in the middle of Commercial and Liberty. An unneeded traffic lane would be eliminated, making downtown more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians.

Liberty and Commercial lose a lane and gain a median

Below is an overall plan showing what streets in the downtown area were planned to get streetscape improvements. The double lines indicate sidewalk widening. The bushy tree-shaped lines indicate street medians, as in the photo above. Court and State would be streetscaped all the way to the Capitol.

Extent of proposed Downtown Streetscape improvements

This is an image of Court Street, which seemingly would be the same as State Street. Wider sidewalks. Relocated angle parking. Two traffic lanes. Bike paths aren't shown, but they are very much part of the streetscape concept and would be featured in updated plans if this project becomes a reality.

Head-on view of an improved Court Street

In case you're wondering how vehicles could fit in angled parking with a tree in the middle of the area, this schematic of Court Street sidewalk widening shows that a single tree would be at the end of each block. New planters, outdoor seating, and water fountains are shown as part of the plan.

Top-down view of an improved Court Street

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 following images were drawn by Susan Kay Huston, who was part of the original streetscape team that also included Carole Smith, Eric Kittleson, and Alan Costic.

Below each image are some quotations from Huston where she describes the Streetscape vision.

"Our lineal, authentic, old west City of Salem has treasure to magnify and complement in a streetscape or garden hardscape by responding to our goals and existing physical strengths. We already have cast iron fruit basket key stones, gargoyles (like those you see in Paris), arched windows and many, many curiosities that set Salem apart from other Oregon towns.

"I drew these original conceptual drawings by responding to our pre-existing strengths in Salem, and to the requests of several hundred people that Carole Smith and I talked to about their values.

"High percentages of people wanted more intimacy; music, dinner outside, spaces that were personal. Many wanted safety. Some flow and movement. Some bikes, some blooms. All great contributions that defined the design."

"Our cues are to amplify these existing local wonders and celebrate them by:

1) Slowing down pedestrians -- changing point A to point B behaviors by interrupting long city concrete blocks with gentle green curves. Enjoy a variety of extraordinary plant material.

2) Celebrate and incorporate Salem's strengths -- restore and preserve history. Rediscover the original joy of Downtown Salem's curious, international architectural influences during construction.

3) Direct our attention to the fertile, natural environment by incorporating interaction with tree varieties, fruits, berries, evergreens, full year bloom, fragrances and clean water presence. Emphasize the Willamette River and confluences of tributaries throughout town. Shadow building curves with responding lines in raised green forms.

4) Involve and Invite local Salemites to contribute mechanically and artistically within a plan."

"We have world class arborists here. Sustainability and water shed experts. Local nurseries ship our plants all over the world! Amplifying downtown Salem with subtle, structural responses to characteristics that we already cherish is a community effort, a culmination of parts and not one that any single person can take credit for. I think this is exactly why people love the idea so much. It is personal.

"We are not trying to recreate Salem, but enhance, and enjoy the fruits of her elaborate, quirky and expressive character. And, people have worked for years on this: plantsmen, historians, city leaders, sub-contractors, hydrologists, master gardeners, artists, cyclists and Salem families."

Downtown Streetscape public forum, August 2012

So what is keeping Salem from transforming downtown through a Streetscape "remodeling"? Nothing. Enthusiasm was high for this project back in 2012. It is just as strong now, if not more so. As the saying goes, We just need to Git-R-Done!

How do we pay for it?

Well, downtown has the lowest retail rents in all of Salem, and thus meets the definition of blighted property. Urban Renewal's primary goal is to eliminate blight. 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.

As this project helps downtown become more successful, rents will go up, causing an increase in downtown property values, which culminate in higher property taxes. Salem will gain additional property tax income to help fund schools, public transit, and city services when the Urban Renewal District is closed out. 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.

When large companies visit Salem to decide whether to relocate here, some of the main factors they assess is the health of the downtown area and how happy their employees would be to relocate here. A healthy and unique downtown is a motivating factor to attract industry and jobs to our community. A successful, thoughtful, creative streetscape program will attract tourists to Salem and create a sense of community pride. This project will engage citizens' interest in the design and implementation process.

If you support a major streetscape project in downtown Salem, let the City Council know. You can email them at citycouncil@cityofsalem.net

(Much of the material on this page was written by Carole Smith for the "Streetscape" project page on the Salem Community Vision web site. Give the SCV Facebook page a "like," so you can stay in touch with progress on this project and other efforts to improve Salem. Email me if you have questions or comments about the material on this web page. I'm just a supporter of the Downtown Salem Streetscape plan, not a creator of it, but I can get answers from the people who did originate the plan.)

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Brian Hines
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