I've enjoyed the first two Salem Sunday Streets events here in Salem, Oregon.
But after attending a Portland Sunday Parkways event last Sunday, I realized that Salem has a lot to learn from how the Cooler City to our north does its "open streets" thing.
For those not in the know, here's a description of what the Open Streets movement is all about:
Open streets initiatives temporarily close streets to automobile traffic, so that people may use them for walking, bicycling, dancing, playing, and socializing.
Note the words, so that people may use them -- streets.
Portland holds true to this. In 2014, as in the upcoming 2015 Salem Sunday Streets event, local organizers have decided to make it into more of a street fair, than an actual open streets activity.
Meaning, only a few blocks around the capitol building will be closed to traffic, so there isn't much opportunity for using Salem's streets in an active way.
The Salem Breakfast on Bikes blog pointed this out in a recent post, "Does Sunday Streets need a new name?"
As Salem Sunday Streets cranks up for its third year, it looks like it has de facto morphed into something other than a real Open Streets event.
In fact, in the paper's "Holding Court" today it looks like organizers have in fact given up on that idea.
Joe Abraham, representing local institutions that have joined the city of Salem in sponsoring the event, promises four stages and eight bands.
“It’s meant to build community and promote downtown living and the local economy,” said Joe, who anticipates a crowd of 5,000.
...Organizers are hoping attendees will “actively transport” themselves to the event by bicycle, skateboard, walking or running.
...If folks are only "hoping" for active transportation, and that hoped-for transportation isn't on meaningful stretches of car-free streets, and the main goals themselves don't have anything to do with streets or transportation, and instead are community, downtown living, and the local economy, it's a street fair, isn't it?
Yes. Which isn't a bad thing. it just isn't a genuine open streets event, and that's a shame.
After experiencing how Portland puts on its five annual (yes, five) Sunday Parkways events, where, each time, about eight miles of streets are completely closed to traffic, I'm more convinced than ever that Salem needs to make a commitment to steadily move in that direction.
Less street fair. More active human-powered transportation. I found Portland's Sunday Parkways hugely enjoyable. I'll explain why in some comments on photos I took at the North Portland event.
There was a lot of energy on display at the Portland Sunday Parkways event.
A Facebook post today says 22,200 people took part in it. Since Portland has a population of about 620,000, some four times more than Salem's 160,000, Salem should shoot for 5,000 or so people at a Sunday Streets event. So far, not even close.
But even if Salem does attract that many to its four stages and eight bands promised at the upcoming 2015 Sunday Streets event, they will have experienced a street fair, not miles and miles of open streets.
One big reason for Portland's success is how much effort has been put into making it easy to bike around the city. Portland has seventy miles (if I recall correctly) of neighborhood greenways.
These not only are used for the Sunday Parkways events, Portlanders can easily use them to bike or walk to an event from many areas of the city.
By contrast, Salem sucks when it comes to bike-friendliness. Only experienced fearless cyclists can get around on the streets, where you're lucky to find a painted line separating bikes from busy traffic.
It's fun to ride a bike with a bunch of other people. When the streets are completely closed to traffic, as they are during Portland Sunday Parkways events, naturally it's more relaxing and enjoyable.
But I felt comfortable and safe during a tour of Portland's neighborhood greenways on a normal Sunday. (See this post for a video and description of the tour.) Last Sunday, it was great to share that feeling with many thousands of other people.
There's a camaraderie that comes from actively doing something together that is way different from passively watching something together. Yes, Salem Sunday Streets has some doing; it's street fair nature just is tilted much more to watching.
At the Portland Sunday Parkways event there were opportunities to sit down and listen to music, people-watch, or whatever. However, this was the payoff after riding your bike a mile or two to one of the four parks along the open streets route.
So again, the emphasis in Portland is on doing.
This is why I enjoyed Sunday Parkways more than Salem's last Sunday Streets event. I felt like I was part of the action in Portland. In Salem, mostly I was watching the action (such as a highly watchable band).
At the last park stop on the North Portland Sunday Parkways route, I rewarded myself with a slice of wood fired pizza (after rewarding myself with curried dal and a strawberry crepe at two previous parks).
After parking my orange Bike Friday folding Silk to get the pizza slice, I turned around to find two blue and green Bike Friday bikes had joined mine. That led to a conversation with a Vancouver, Washington couple who regularly come to the Portland Sunday Parkways events.
They gave me some good tips about how to "trick out" my Silk, as they've had their Bike Friday bikes for eight years, and I got mine in April of this year. I've ordered a handlebar mirror and shock-absorbing seat post after listening to them extol the virtues of theirs.
The whole vibe of Portland's Sunday Parkways is about active transportation, getting out of your car and biking, walking, skating, whatever.
Sure, Salem Sunday Streets also has bike/health-related booths, but in Salem you can't actually ride your bicycle more than a few blocks on open streets that are closed to traffic. In Portland, you're both walking the walk and talking the talk, so to speak.
I realize that Salem is way behind Portland in bike-friendly infrastructure. Salem is very autocentric. It bugs me to hear a Salem city councilor say, "Few people bike in Salem, so why do we need to put money into neighborhood greenways?"
(Also known as bike boulevards -- be sure to give Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates a Facebook like, if you haven't already.)
Well, Mr./Ms. City Councilor, the reason you don't see many people riding a bike in Salem is this: we don't have neighborhood greenways like they do in Portland!
Build them -- just $100,000 a mile; a bargain compared to the many millions regularly spent in this town on auto-related street improvements -- and the cyclists will come.
The evidence is in a video I made of my Portland Sunday Parkways experience. If photos are worth a thousand words, this ten minute video far surpasses what I've written in this post.