How Salem Can Meet Its ‘Net Zero’ Goal Through Effective City Planning

The following comments were sent from 350 Salem OR to officials with the Salem Climate Action Plan and “Our Salem” (the city’s comprehensive strategic plan). The Climate Action Plan is being developed in coordination with Our Salem.

350 Salem Comments on “Our Salem”: Revisions to the Comprehensive Plan

In this letter 350 Salem and our collaborators make specific recommendations about how the Salem comprehensive plan revision should contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the interest of brevity, there is only limited discussion of the reasoning behind certain proposals. Many implementation details are omitted. We look forward to responding to questions from staff and further discussions. Detailed implementation will be ongoing after the comprehensive plan vision and other elements are adopted by the City Council.

Salem’s comprehensive plan:

To meet the state greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals requires reducing driving (vehicle miles traveled – VMT) per capita by 20-25% over the next 30 years. The City’s Climate Action Goal for 2050 is to be carbon neutral. The comprehensive plan should support achieving this goal.

We can reduce VMT by expanding transportation options and incentives and building most new housing and jobs in walkable, compact mixed-use neighborhoods and in areas that are well served by transit. While current plans allow infill and redevelopment in these closer in, mixed-use areas, the focus of most City plans, policies and investments is to encourage and support auto-dependent development in outlying parts of the city. These are the areas with the highest rates of VMT per capita and that are least amenable to walking, transit and cycling. If we’re to be successful in reducing GHG and VMT, the City needs to completely shift its focus to support and give priority to walkable, mixed-use developments mostly in closer-in areas. 

The comprehensive plan vision should adopt a goal of accommodating 50% of new housing and jobs in walkable, compact mixed-use neighborhoods along Cherriots’ core transit network. Even for outlying developments the City should investigate ways to encourage or require mixing commercial buildings with denser residential developments and with sufficient open space and parks. This will make it easier to expand transit to outlying developments in the future. The comprehensive plan should guide implementation of this vision by setting specific targets for adding housing and jobs to areas that are planned for walkable mixed-use development. For example, the goal could be to add 2,000 housing units and 4,000 jobs in downtown. Similar jobs/housing goals should be set for each area around the city that the city identifies as appropriate for mixed-use development.

The comprehensive plan should include policies committing the city to support and encourage development in designated mixed-use areas.   

This should include:   
  • Update and revise neighborhood plans and zoning to allow walkable mixed-use development and higher densities, by, for example, reducing or eliminating off street parking requirements, increasing height limits, reducing setbacks and landscaping requirements. (Along some busier streets it may be appropriate to increase setbacks to include features that support walking, biking and outdoor dining.) Zone for and provide incentives for high density and more vertical development within a quarter mile of the existing core transit network, especially at major intersections. Provide for or require smaller, walkable urban-scale parks and open space in new developments.
  • Revise the city’s transportation system plan (TSP) and other infrastructure and capital improvement plans to include public improvements needed to support mixed-use development and neighborhoods. For example, the TSP should be amended to identify pedestrian, bike and transit improvements, and other improvements to make streets in mixed-use neighborhoods safe, convenient and pleasant for walking and cycling. The city should update its park master plan to include small pocket parks, plazas, playgrounds or open spaces appropriate for these walkable neighborhoods.  
  • Work with major employers (the State of Oregon, Salem Hospital, Willamette University, etc.) to encourage and support infill, redevelopment and new development in existing campuses and other areas planned for walkable, mixed-use development along the core transit network.
  • Plan a downtown pedestrian mall or zone, potentially closing one or more blocks to automobile traffic.
  • Develop a comprehensive network of separated bikeways connecting major employment centers with mixed-use neighborhoods and areas of higher density housing. Connectivity is essential. Complete networks of sidewalks and bicycle and bus routes. A bike or pedestrian route with one small unsafe segment is completely unsafe.  
  • Prevent gentrification and displacement and make services and resources more equitably distributed. Keep housing affordable. Protect public health in all neighborhoods.  When planning amenities and incentives for businesses in Neighborhood Hubs and mixed use development in low income and underserved communities, seek input and representation from residents and community organizations about their specific needs and wants and incorporate them in planning and development.
  • Require or have the City provide buffer zones with trees and shrubs to protect children and families from heavy traffic areas and industrial pollution.
Reform financing:

Reform the City’s system development charges (SDCs) to support and encourage development in walkable mixed-use neighborhoods. Reduce SDCs for infill development. Waive SDCs for affordable housing. Reduce transportation SDCs for mixed-use, multistory and developments that provide less or no parking. SDCs should be revised so that outlying areas pay the full cost of providing needed infrastructure. The City should also require new developments in outlying areas to have storm runoff catchment structures to mitigate the vast majority of increased runoff.

The City should adopt a gasoline tax to pay for all locally funded roadway maintenance and improvements. Property tax funds should not be used to pay for roadways. Property owners should not subsidize fossil-fueled vehicle use.

Take actions to reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT):
  • There should be no widening or adding lanes to existing roadways, except where they improve bicycle and pedestrian safety or to improve transit flow. Congestion can only increase if the City allows VMT to increase. The City should ensure that VMT does not increase.
  • Require multifamily developments with more than 25 units to “unbundle” parking charges from unit rents so that renters can choose whether or not to rent a parking space
  • Amend the Salem Transportation System Plan (TSP) to include goals for walking, cycling and transit use that are consistent with and that implement the Statewide Transportation Strategy (STS), which calls for tripling the number of trips made by these modes.
  • Update the pedestrian and bicycle element of the TSP to include a network of walkways and neighborhood greenways, including bike facilities designed to make it safe for riders of all ages (8 to 80) and abilities to walk or ride to nearby grocery stores, shopping areas and schools.
  • Work with major employers to adopt a transportation options program that provides employees with strong incentives for non-SOV (single-occupant vehicle) commutes using the OHSU commute rewards program as a model. The OHSU program gives employees cash incentives each day that they commute by alternative modes. The Salem program should add telecommuting to the list of qualifying actions under the OHSU Program and other transportation demand management (TDM) measures. Promote ride sharing.  
  • When possible, the City should make the TDM measures mandatory for large employers. TDM includes a number of things besides cash payments to employees (e.g., transit passes, emergency ride home, car/van pool coordination, secure bike parking onsite, showers and lockers for bicyclists, etc.). There is a brief introduction to TDM at
  • To increase pedestrian and bike safety, lower speed limits throughout commercial and residential neighborhoods. For streets where speeding is a problem, redesign roads, including fewer lanes, speed humps, traffic calming and other safety measures. 
  • In addition to the proposals above that are more related to the comprehensive plan, the City should increase opportunities for telecommuting for City employees based on recent experience with the Covid pandemic.  
  • The City should encourage employers to stagger work shifts away from the traditional 8-5 schedule. It should also encourage employers to allow individual employees to have different or variable working hours. 
  • The City should discourage or prohibit employers from offering free parking to employees. It should develop ways to induce retailers to provide transit vouchers or reimbursements for bus expenses to shoppers that are similar to the amount retailers or the City spends to provide free parking for shoppers. If possible, the City and the Transit District should find ways to make riding transit free.  
Coordinate with Cherriots and plan for expanded transit service: 
  • Work with Cherriots to develop a detailed transit-oriented development (TOD) plan that increases transit reliability on the core transit network, including transit priority treatments on streets, improved transit stops, and pedestrian access improvements.
  • Provide bus and turn (BAT) lanes for specific intersections and corridors. 
  • Provide safe walking routes to bus stops. Complete the sidewalk network throughout the city, especially within a half mile of transit route.
  • Provide bus-only lanes for portions of the core network, including high-occupancy vehicle lanes in some cases.
  • Plan for a downtown circulator.
  • Provide dedicated right-of-way for transit stop development along arterials and collectors.
  • Do not just focus transit on downtown. Plan for more and longer bus routes, including routes that connect to canneries and employment in outlying areas (e.g., Cordon Road). Plan for the use of small buses to extend bus routes to more rural areas, with assistance with the last mile.
  • Consider allocating money to buses that serve areas outside the urban growth boundary (obtain funding from nearby cities and businesses and explore other ways to pay for comprehensive service). 
Equity and health considerations:
  • Prioritize public spending to address needs in low-income neighborhoods, such as improving sidewalks before bike lanes. 
  • Transform existing neighborhoods to complete neighborhoods, especially in NE Salem. 
  • Prioritize frontline communities for urban forestry and green infrastructure investments and new parks (East Salem).
  • Improve resources accessibility: translate documents into simple or vernacular words, spell out or avoid acronyms, and avoid expert language. Provide Spanish translations and videos.

Some of the proposed emission reduction measures above for the comprehensive plan and later implementation may require changes in state laws or rules. The City of Salem should join with other climate-oriented cities as part of Climate Solutions’ coalition and other coalitions to seek appropriate changes in state rules. The proposals that City staff will bring to the Planning Commission and City Council in 2021 should not be constrained by the existing state rules.  These are undergoing major revisions under Gov. Brown’s Executive Order 20-04, which calls for state agencies, notably the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC), to make major changes to state planning rules to plan for greenhouse gas reductions from transportation by expanding transportation options and changing land use plans to support compact mixed-use development. The City should look to the rule making processes to anticipate new rules over the next two years as it develops its comprehensive plan.

Thank you for inviting our feedback on how the Salem comprehensive plan should address greenhouse gas emission reductions. 


350 Salem OR

Phil Carver
Prof. Janet Lorenzen 
Bob Cortright
Nadene LeCheminant
Laurie Dougherty
Jim Scheppke
Clair Clark
Bobbie Cade

(Comments sent December 20, 2020)