I hugely enjoyed the 2013 Salem Sunday Streets event, our town's first version of the much more expansive car-free ciclovias pioneered by Gil Peñalosa, the executive director of 8-80 Cities, who got this going in Bogota, Columbia with great success and now is preaching the cilclovia gospel around the world.
“Streets are like a forbidden place,” Peñalosa says. “Almost nothing scares you as much as when your parents say ‘Watch out! A car is coming!’” But with the ciclovía, the streets “become open so people can enjoy the forbidden place.”
In Bogotá, the ciclovía is used to promote public health: exercise classes are taught in city plazas, dance parties are held in the street, and thousands of people stroll down the boulevards. But Peñalosa says that whatever happens, happens—people are more than welcome to set up small shops, pop-up schools, art fairs, and picnics. Loosen up the streets, loosen up the city.
“People are so hungry for public space,” said Peñalosa, “that when they have it, they’ll take over, and things will develop!”
Oh, yeah! Like a senior citizen skateboader, moi, doing his longboard land paddling thing along an automobile-empty State Street last year.
It would have been to great acclaim, if I'd gotten the media attention that I had shamelessly sought and, sadly, failed to receive. Here's my GoPro video of last year's Salem Sunday Streets.
When I learned from the great Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog (a must-read) that this year's route had been considerably reduced, I was worried that City officials had bowed to the autocentric sprawl lobby, condensing Salem Sunday Streets into an island of a loop around the capitol building instead of the longer 2014 route connecting State Street to Riverfront Park to the Union Street bridge to Wallace Marine Park.
But the more I've learned about this year's event, the better I feel about it. Check out the Salem Sunday Streets Facebook page. Bike, scoot, skate, walk or whatever next Sunday, September 7, 12 to 4 pm.
Yes, in the future more streets should be closed to traffic. In fact, I think the entire Historic District should be carless several Sundays a year. This will let Salemians get a feel for what it would be like to lose a lane on the freeway'ish core streets and add pedestrian-friendly streetscaping and real bike lanes.
(Not just bike logos painted on a car lane.)
That's hopefully in the future. For now, planners are probably wise to focus on having a bunch of stuff -- music, food, yoga, booths, and more -- to draw people into an intense condensed Salem Sunday Streets experience.
Next year, consider doing both: longer carfree route, at the end of which is the central event happenings. I agree that in 2013 booths and such were too spread out, a few on this street, a few on that street.
Since I now am addicted to riding an outdoor elliptical bike, the StreetStrider, I began wondering how I'd get to the 2014 Salem Sunday Streets. Last year I drove to Riverfront Park, then longboarded down a car-free State Street to the capitol area.
I'm not wild about riding on downtown streets, especially since the StreetStrider is a few inches wider than a regular bike and takes up a bit more room on a bike path due to its elliptical'ness. Plus you turn by leaning, not via handlebars.
So I shared my quandary with the City staff person coordinating Salem Sunday Streets. Corinne Fletcher told me:
We have reserved the Capitol Mall underground parking garage as an option for participant parking. You're also free to park at Wallace Marine again and ride over with one of the organized bike caravans scheduled to depart from Wallace Marine. Here's more info about the bike caravans:http://www.cityofsalem.net/Departments/CommunityDevelopment/NeighborhoodEnhancementDivision/neighbor/SalemSundayStreets/Documents/Bike%20Caravans%20to%20Salem%20Sunday%20Streets.pdf
These caravans have been designed with safe routes in mind by people who ride daily with their kids.
Well, I'll pass on the caravans. I'm sure some people will take advantage of them, but I don't want to be tied to arriving at this year's event at a certain time in order to be part of a "bike caravan."
This is why next year's event should have closed-off streets all the way to Riverfront Park. It sends the wrong message when, in order to get to Salem Sunday Streets, people concerned about biking safely on downtown streets have to band together in a caravan to navigate their way to the car-free area.
I also asked Corinne why it wasn't possible to completely close off State Street all the way to the riverfront. Last year there were "soft closures" of State Street at several intersections where police were on hand to allow north-south traffic through.
She told me:
As Brian [Hart] mentioned on FaceBook, this year's route was mapped out with both help from community volunteers and feedback from last year's event. The intention of this year's design is to provide a fully closed to cars route for families to enjoy safety. Because Front, Commercial, and Liberty cannot be closed to cross traffic, we decided to focus on streets that could be completely opened up for participants to ride without worrying about traffic lights and cars.
This was my reply.
Thanks for the response. I’m glad the underground parking garage is available. This would be my first choice. The bike caravan idea will work for some, but the timing isn’t good for me. As with all things, you’ll learn from this year’s event, as from last year’s.