Planning commissioners approve River Road plan – with a caution

Members of the Keizer Planning Commission gave their final blessing to a plan to re-envision Keizer’s commercial corridors at a meeting Wednesday, Aug. 14, but three members of the commission charged the Keizer City Council with doing more for pedestrian safety before finalizing the plan. 

“As we go through this process, and I generally really like what is here, the thing that stood out to me was marked crosswalks,” said Commissioner Jeffrey Watson. “Crosswalks are a requirement for me and it seems to be the obvious critical piece missing from this plan.”

Watson’s found allies in fellow commissioners Mark Caillier and Mike DeBlasi.

“We are missing an opportunity here. I don’t think we go far enough as far as pedestrian safety is concerned,” Caillier said. 

Caillier expressed frustration over past battles with those that feel non-signaled crosswalks provide a false sense of security to pedestrians. He added that there are three components to safety: engineering, education and enforcement. 

“If we aren’t going to have enforcement, we better start doing more on engineering,” he said. 

DeBlasi, one of the city’s most ardent supporters of designing for multimodal transportation, said the council needs to look at the new plan in the context of larger goals and consider the positive and negative impacts it will have throughout the city. 

The largest change proposed in the plan is rezoning commercial areas along River Road North and Cherry Avenue Northeast to mixed use. The change is intended to “increase flexibility, efficiency and create opportunities for a broader mix of development,” said Matt Hastie, a senior planner with Angelo Planning Group. 

No owners will be forced to redevelop in a specific direction, but certain new construction and standards will kick in when major redevelopment occurs. For instance, a shopping center with multiple entrances along River Road will need to consolidate or shift the access points. Changes to major centers, there are three designated, will also have to include some residential component when redevelopment occurs. 

Additional improvements, that would require public investment, include creating parallel bike paths to River Road in neighborhoods, developing a sidewalk upgrade and infill program, turning the area where the city’s Christmas tree sits into an actual pedestrian plaza, and performing a road safety and mobility audit. 

DeBlasi said a number of the plans goals were duplications of earlier work that created the River Road Renaissance Plan, which fizzled out during The Great Recession, and wondered what made this plan different. 

“We did not implement additional code changes like the ones here,” said Shane Witham, Keizer senior planner. “The Renaissance plan was more of a guidance, there were no regulatory changes that forced compliance.”

Several residents turned out for the meeting but only a few offered comment during a public hearing. Residents of Maine Avenue Northeast voiced concern over their ability to exit onto River Road North with further changes, one property owner was concerned about the potential effect on property values, another wanted to see more trees along River Road in the plans. 

On the topic of crosswalks, Mike Jaffe, transportation program manager of the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments, urged the commission to consider mid-light crossings in areas where long distances between signaled intersections prompt pedestrians and cyclist to attempt dangerous crossings.