"If you designed a new downtown, what would it look like?" This week's Rapid Responder feature in the Statesman Journal asked a good question.
The answers from people who live in Salem and some nearby towns were equally good.
Below I've excerpted cogent parts of the responses (leaving out the names of the people), arranging them in categories. Some responses could have gone in several categories, so I picked the one that seemed the best fit.
I'll comment on the Numero Uno Most Frequently Mentioned category -- Bike and pedestrian friendly, streetscaped, fewer lanes -- after the responses.
Diverse vibrant energy
Diversity... venue for bands... lots of cool murals... large group workouts at Riverfront Park... actual food truck pod like the ones in Portland... put event posters or art in vacant windows... multi-age, multi-income... one or two restaurants/bars, offering some sort of evening entertainment, open on each block... vibrant energy which transitions from work to fun from 6 p.m. to at least midnight... remove the 3-hour parking restriction at 7 p.m.
Clean, bright, decorated
Cleaned up downtown... replace or wash the awnings... wash or paint the buildings... return buildings to their original facades.... add some color!... fix business and city council relationships so Christmas decorations and holiday decorations return... cleanliness, attractive decorations, adequate lighting... extensive plantings, and floral baskets
Bike and pedestrian friendly, streetscaped, fewer lanes
Remove some lanes of traffic on Liberty Street and divert cars around the core... close off the center to traffic, encourage parking outside the core and lots of green plazas for relaxing... Salem should have diverted the cross through traffic away from the main arteries for ease to walk around and to close down streets for events... pedestrian and bicycle protection... pedestrian friendly streets... widened sidewalks... comprehensive streetscape... replacement of the central streets with pedestrian malls having trees and benches... streetscapes like the concepts drawings that have been published in the past
Like the old days
Salem’s downtown should look like it did 100 years ago... compact, walkable... people got around easily without cars and the transit system was robust... Salem in the 1950s. The stores you liked were all there.
Safe... do not tolerate or enable disrespect, lawbreaking or vagrancy
Regulate housing costs, so people can afford to live here in Salem... starts with much living space, with affordable places for young and working people... more people living there
Leave a view of the riverfront... Salem should have put downtown on the river
Ample parking... parking continues to be appalling... restrict truck deliveries from shopping hours... parking; I hate the parking problems... only problem is parking, so the council hasn’t fixed that problem
Council needs to do more, and the mayor, to encourage downtown growth... hire a talented city planner/urban designer... a Central Salem Plan 2025
Quality architecture, with careful signing... preserved historic buildings... plazas for outdoor dining and displays
More bus service, especially weekends and late nights... add robust public transportation
Excellent ideas. Especially, in my view, the calls to make downtown Salem more cyclist and pedestrian friendly, with attractive streetscaping, and fewer street lanes.
I've just started reading a book authored by the former New York City transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, and Seth Solomonow called "Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution." Here's an excerpt from the Introduction that echoes what many of the Rapid Responders here in Salem said.
During an intense, six-year period under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City proved to itself, the nation, and the world that almost everything that was assumed about how urban streets operate was wrong.
Real-world experience showed that reducing the number of lanes on carefully selected streets or closing them entirely not only provided pedestrian space and breathed new life into neighborhoods, but actually improved traffic.
Simply painting part of a street to make it into a plaza, bike, or bus lane not only made the street safer, it also improved traffic and increased bike and pedestrian foot traffic and helped local businesses to prosper.
The revival of the city's transportation network was accomplished without bulldozing a single neighborhood or razing a single building.
It was cheap -- absurdly cheap -- compared with the billions of dollars American cities have spent annually building new streetcar and light rail lines and rehabilitating or replacing aging roads and bridges.
And it was fast, installed in days and weeks using almost do-it-yourself tactics: paint, planters, lights, signs, signals, and surplus stone. Overnight, centuries-old roads turned into pedestrian oases atop space that had been there all along, hidden in plain sight.
Streetfight has numerous photos of how cities around the world have transformed their streets. The book's web site has some of them. Here are screenshots of "before" and "after" photos of how San Francisco altered the area where Seventeenth and Castro streets meet Market Street.
Salem has lots of streets that resemble the "before" image: oceans of ugly asphalt that are hugely uninviting for people.
As Sadik-Khan says, it costs much less to make a street bike and pedestrian friendly than to build the multi-laned monstrosities that do little or nothing to ease traffic congestion, while discouraging the cyclists and walkers who are key to making a neighborhood economically vibrant and attractive.
It's important to keep in mind that aside from drive-throughs, nobody spends money at a shop or business while sitting in their car. Vehicles in motion don't contribute anything to retail sales. Smart cities recognize this.