Now that I've been to two Portland Sunday Parkways, I've got a better understanding of what I like about these open streets events, where 7-8 miles of streets in various parts of Portland are completely closed off to moving vehicles.
People cycle, scoot, skateboard, walk, or whatever along the route, which leads to several public parks where booths and activities abound.
After driving up from Salem, my Bike Friday folding bike ("Silkie," because it is the Silk model) tucked in the rear compartment of my Mini Cooper, my first stop was to fuel up at a pizza stand. Very Portland. Had to eat the slice with a fork, it was so thick and cheesy.
Then I headed out on the seven mile route. I've been told that Salem Sunday Streets has to restrict its route to a very short 12-block or so circle around the Capitol Building because it costs a lot to shut off streets. But somehow Portland Sunday Parkways manages to close seven or eight miles of streets with no problem, five times a year in different parts of the city.
There are Portland police officers at a few intersections where the route crosses a non-closed street. But most of the intersections are manned/womanned by volunteers. They hold a banner across the intersection to block cyclists, then raise it when the light changes to green and yell pleasantly, "Move, move, we've only got 15 seconds."
There's a wonderful feeling of community that pervades Portland Sunday Parkways. This booth offered free bicycle repairs, with donations accepted. Somehow this event had a small town feel, even with thousands of participants, because of how relaxed and friendly people were.
I'm not saying that Salemians aren't also relaxed and friendly -- just that there is a certain Portland vibe that is very appealing. Less uptight than Salem. The Portland Sunday Parkways routes mostly go through residential areas. Residents are out on their front lawns and porches, having mini block parties, singing, playing music, handing out free water and lemonade, waving to passers-by.
Quite a few cyclists dress up in various guises. The girl in pink loved honking her horn. If I'd had to listen to it for longer than a mile or so, the incessant sound might have gotten annoying. But it was cute... in moderation.
Speaking of annoying, when I got close to the park along the route where I planned to leave my car, I had to drive across the closed-off streets a time or two. I was amazed at my reaction: mild annoyance. Hey, let the cars through! I want to get to the park so I can start riding my bike!, I thought impatiently, watching volunteers stop traffic at intersections without a light.
In a little while I was going to be one of those cyclists who were enjoying vehicle-free streets that usually are filled with cars and trucks, shunting people who want to get around under their own power to the sidewalks, a bike lane, or pavement where a multi-ton piece of steel could bash into them with little or no warning.
This just shows how autocentric American culture has become. I'm so used to having cars dominate our public streets, which belong to everybody, that it felt sort of weird to be driving along and have to stop for a lengthy string of cyclists to cross on a closed-off road.
But when I got on my bike and joined them, it felt wonderful to be out and about with my fellow two-legged human beings, getting around under our own power. This was how I felt at the first Salem Sunday Streets, as I said in a post about my senior citizen longboarding at the event.
What struck me was how different State Street seemed without any cars or trucks on it. The state Capitol area felt wonderfully calmer and more natural. As a bicyclist rolled by, I heard him say "This should happen every Sunday!"
Some of the southeast Portland streets were particularly beautiful, because of the large trees. The City of Salem has a habit of cutting down big, beautiful healthy trees for no good reason. Which is really sad, since they add so much to an urban landscape.
I'd noted that a Bollywood activity was scheduled at Laurelhurst Park at 2:30. I got to the park around that time. Hearing Bollywood music coming from a grassy area, I parked my orange Silkie by a tree to soak up some Bollywood dancing instruction. OK, as a viewer, not a participant. Here's the You Tube video I made:
It was great to see so many people having fun learning some Bollywood dance moves. This is the way an open streets event is supposed to be: getting people off their butts and doing stuff. At the moment, Salem Sunday Streets is unduly passive. There isn't much of a cycling route, and the event is focused too much on participants passively watching music and other performances.
CItyBikes, a worker-owned cooperative bike store, lay along the route. They'd set up a water mister. It felt good on a hot day.
There were many cool houses along the southeast Portland Sunday Parkways route. This one felt decidedly Portland'ish to me. Overstuffed chair on the porch. Fairly old Volvo station wagon in the driveway.
Often when I compare Portland and Salem, I get some blog post comments along the lines of, "Hey, if you love Portland so much, you should move there!"
Which makes as much sense to me as what I frequently heard in the late 1960s when I and many others protested the Vietnam War: "Love it or leave it!"
I can love a place and not want to leave it. I can want Salem to be more like Portland without wanting to move to Portland. Salem can learn a lot from how Portland has made cycling much easier and safer than it is in Salem.
Portland Sunday Parkways is testimony to that.