One of Salem's biggest problems is that it is so close to Portland. My home town would seem a lot more with-it if Salem was plunked down in the middle of Oklahoma, say.
Wow! Coffeehouses. Vegetarian food. Bicyclists. Environmental activism. Brewpubs.
But since Portland is so much cooler than Salem in every way I can think of, Oregon's capital city to the south richly deserves its in-state nickname of So-Lame.
Here's an example that caused Portland envy in me as I watched last night's KGW 11 o'clock news.
(Salem doesn't have any television stations of its own, nor a "real" airport with actual flights to somewhere, so we're dependent on Portland for these things and much else.)
This weekend a three-block section of Portland's Old Town was turned into a pedestrian plaza by the Better Block PDX folks. Naturally, with the active encouragement of City officials, including Mayor Charlie Hales.
On the KGW web site I couldn't find video of the story I saw last night. It showed the pedestrian plaza in action, on Friday or Saturday I assume. One lane of traffic on SW 3rd Avenue was left open. The rest of the street became bike lanes and space for dining, games, and other non-auto activities.
Hales was shown playing ping-pong. He talked about how this experiment was looking so good, it might become permanent.
This KGW story appeared on Friday. The video is well worth watching, even though it doesn't show activities in the pedestrian plaza.
A new experiment started Friday morning at 7 a.m. in downtown Portland's Old Town district. A three-block section of Southwest 3rd Avenue is turning into a pedestrian zone for the entire weekend.
It's an effort to revitalize the area, and keep business owners happy.
It's being called a pop-up plaza and organizers want to make it nice looking. Wooden planter boxes and cones have shut down 3rd Avenue from Northwest Davis Street to Southwest Ankeny to all traffic, with the exception of a middle lane for traffic and a designated bike lane.
Burnside traffic will not be affected. Pedestrians will use the regular crosswalks to get from one plaza zone to the other.
Mayor Charlie Hales planned to tour the area Friday night and Saturday afternoon, according to Sara Hottman with the mayor's office.
"The bar owners are stepping up to address a problem in their own neighborhood," said Hales. "It's to their credit that this proposal is moving forward. We will take the time necessary to study the results of this experiment and then will move forward together."
It's difficult to imagine this happening in downtown Salem even though, like Portland's Old Town, there are lots of vacant storefronts and it is equally pedestrian and bicycle un-friendly (well, more so).
Salem's Mayor, Anna Peterson, doesn't manifest much creativity or enthusiasm when it comes to revitalizing downtown. She and the City Council have a Big Plan for a third bridge that would suck half a billion dollars out of the economy so people could speed away from Salem's Historic District and shop/visit/dine elsewhere.
Note those two words: "potential" and "actually."
This is what's so frustrating about living in Salem. The town has a lot of potential, but City officials, the Chamber of Commerce, and other members of the powers-that-be are set on keeping Salem way behind the times (the theme of one of my Strange Up Salem columns in our alternative newspaper, Salem Weekly).
Here's a photo of my outdoor elliptical bike posed in front of the sample Salem Sunday Streets lane revamping.
In the middle, between the red barriers, is a two-way bike lane. Cars, I believe, would travel in the single right hand lane, as was done in Portland. The traffic lane on the left would be available for streetside dining or other people-friendly activities.
So instead of the main streets in downtown Salem having three car lanes, as many as I-5, there would be two travel lanes -- one for bicycles and one for cars. The other lane would become a "streetscaped" visitor attractor.
Salem needs this. As an experiment, for sure. Permanently, almost certainly. (See a previous blog post, "Downtown Salem, Oregon needs to lose some lanes".)
All that is stopping us is the inability and unwillingness of our City leaders to recognize that Portland, Corvallis, Eugene, Ashland, Bend, and other Oregon towns are kicking our butt when it comes to being attractive to people who want to live in the 21st century, rather than 1950.
Until that changes, I'm going to have Portland envy.