When I go to a Salem City Council meeting, typically it feels like a dentist visit: I need to do it, but the experience isn't high on my Fun List.
However, last Monday's meeting left me with more positive feelings than usual. I actually came away thinking, "Hey, Salem may be poised for some enervating bursts of coolness."
Maybe I'm making too much of what amounts to a few vignettes during a lengthy meeting.
But, hey, when I see encouraging glimpses of coolness in, gasp!, a City Council session -- that's eminently worthy of sharing with my fellow Salemians.
I'd gone to the March 23 meeting to show my support for Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates, a recently-formed group that wants to improve this town's bikeability and walkability.
(See my Strange Up Column, "Time to make Salem a bike-friendly town.")
Some Bike Boulevard advocates were handing out yellow Walk + Bike stickers at the door. I was pleased to afix one on my t-shirt, then sat down for what figured to be a lengthy wait before the public hearing part of the meeting when testimony on proposed capital improvement projects would be heard.
Like I said in another column, "Mayor, say yes to intoxication," the customary prevailing mood at City Council meetings is sober-minded seriousness, where even attempts at levity seem artificial and forced.
The current crop of city officials -- Mayor, City Manager, and city councilors -- don't strike me as wild and crazy guys, to put it mildly. Except for...
Newly elected Tom Andersen. He's sort of our version of Portland's Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a bow-tie wearing, bicycle-riding guy with some pleasing eccentric qualities.
Most of the city officials were settled in their seats around the 6:30 meeting start time. I was sitting in a back row near the entrance doors, chatting with a fellow liberal gadfly, Ken Adams.
Suddenly I felt a disturbance in the Stolid Boring Council Chambers vibe. A hand clapped me on the shoulder. it was attached to a body belonging to Tom Andersen, who was wearing a bike helmet and carrying a bike, while rapidly walking into the meeting room.
A cool entrance. Maybe typical for Portland, Corvallis, or Eugene, but unusual for autocenrtric Salem.
Andersen is a breath of fresh air for city officialdom in this town. He manifested Coolness Glimpse #1, which was refreshed during his frequent cogent energetic comments and questions during the City Council session.
Coolness Glimpse #2 came during the initial public comment period, where people get three minutes to speak about agenda items that don't have a public hearing associated with them.
Two guys from the Salem Yellow Cab company spoke first. They were at the meeting because "Vehicle for Hire" regulations are being revised in response to Uber's entrance into the Salem market. I liked how they looked exactly like I'd expect Yellow Cab guys to look.
Older. Stocky. Wearing Yellow Cab jackets. No nonsense. Straightforward.
Somewhat surprisingly, they seemed fine with how discussions about the "taxi" regulation changes were going. They just wanted a level playing field with Uber, which seemed reasonable.
The Uber representative followed them at the public comment podium. He was a thirty-something attorney from Portland, neatly dressed in a suit. I felt a Portland Coolness vibe ooze into the room as soon as he began to speak.
He talked about the new sharing economy, which Uber is a leading part of. A woman, he said, could shift back and forth between her private and public driving roles.
Drop the kids off at school: her car is private.
Then she checks her iPhone and sees that an Uber pickup awaits: now her car is public. Later in the day she does some personal errands: back to private. This new form of being a "taxi" requires a different sort of regulatory structure, the Uber attorney reasonably argued.
I enjoyed the prospect of Salem joining the rapidly growing sharing economy world. Just hearing talk of this made me feel like this town was becoming cooler.
But then came the Big Coolness Glimpse of the evening, #3. I had to view this the next day at home via the CCTV recording, since I left the meeting after an hour and a quarter.
It was during the public hearing on the City's 2015-2020 Capital Improvement Plan. Several Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates folks spoke about the need for more and better bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure in this town.
They all were interesting, informative, and energetic. Watching them via You Tube, I looked upon them as Salem's present-day Paul Reveres, calling out "The bicyclists and walkers are coming!"
Five years from now, or whenever Salem starts up to catch up to Portland and other cities which are much farther along with the variously named "Bike Boulevards," "Neighborhood Greenways," "Family Friendly Bikeways," or "Quiet Streets" -- this March 23 City Council meeting should be remembered as the beginning of the Bike Boulevard Revolution in this town.
Three members of the Obery family spoke, all persuasively, including Mason, a middle school student. HIs mother, Angela Obery, is the leader of Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates. I've set up the CCTV video of the meeting to start a few seconds before Angela's testimony.
Well worth watching... for a glimpse of how cool Salem could become if her Bike Boulevard Vision becomes reality. Keep watching through some questions for Angela from city councilors.