"Now we want to move to Portland."
I heard this from some people who had recently moved to Salem and, like me, had just finished a 10 mile tour of Portland's highly-acclaimed Neighborhood Greenways. They may not have been completely serious, but they sure sounded like it.
Hopefully Salem's City officials and Chamber of Commerce types will take those words -- Now we want to move to Portland -- to heart. People of all ages are putting more importance on favoring towns that are walkable and bikeable when deciding where to move themselves or a business.
So kudos to the Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates folks for organizing yesterday's tour, which was ably led by Greg Raisman of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). He's called a "greenways guru" in this Sightline piece, "How Portland's Neighborhood Greenways Evolved."
You can see Raisman doing his greenway guru thing in a 13-minute video I made from the Go Pro footage I took while cycling along -- which included several stops where Greg explained various features of the Neighborhood Greenway approach.
You'll see Angela Obery at the beginning and end of the video.
She's the main driving force behind Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates (which Raisman recommends renaming Salem Neighborhood Greenways Advocates, since not everyone rides a bicycle, but virtually everyone likes greenways).
I wrote about Angela's quest in a Strange Up Salem column, "Time to make Salem a bike-friendly town." It started out:
When it comes to riding a bicycle in Salem, most people are like me: desirous of doing this, while worried about how dangerous it is.
After all, this town has been designed to bow down before the Altar of Vehicular Traffic Flow.
Making it safe and easy for bicyclists and walkers to get around has been an afterthought, getting occasional lip service in transportation plans without much follow-through commitment from City of Salem officials.
Angela Obery seeks to change things.
She’s a long-time resident of the Highland neighborhood who has formed a Salem Bike Boulevard Advocates group.
After talking with Obery I’m super-enthused about her vision. This could be a game-changer for enhancing our quality of life, along with making Salem more attractive to people and businesses thinking of coming here.
It was encouraging to see three City of Salem officials among the twenty-one Salemians who went on the tour: City Councilor Diana Dickey, Public Works Director Peter Fernandez, and Transportation Planner Julie Warncke.
Hopefully they were as enthused about what Portland is doing as everybody else was, and will be working to make Bike Boulevards (oops, Neighborhood Greenways) a reality in Salem.
These aren't bike paths indicated by lines painted on the side of streets, or dedicated multi-use trails separate from streets. They are, basically, streets themselves that have been greenway'd up at a comparatively low cost to make them pedestrian, bicyclist, and skater friendly.
You can see how pleasant they are to ride on in my video.
Here's a photo from a Salem Bike Boulevards Advocates post about the tour. Diana Dickey is on the front right. I'm riding the small-wheeled bike in the middle, my Go Pro camera wrapped around my chest.
My newly-acquired folding Bike Friday Silk worked great on the tour. I hadn't been able to ride it much until yesterday. The ten mile tour was a great way to see how the Silk did on city streets. In short, excellent. I really like the smooth quietness of the carbon fiber belt and NuVinci continuously variable transmission.
I also really liked riding on the quiet North Portland Neighborhood Greenway streets.
Sure, I was with a large group of experienced bicyclists who were led by one of the city's top bicycle transportation guys. So I figured that my chances of being run over by a car during my first foray onto big city streets in a long time were slim to none.
But when Raisman took us down a regular bike path near the end of the tour, just a painted white line separating us from a busy street with lots of cars and trucks whizzing by, I realized how different that felt from the Neighborhood Greenway streets you'll see in my video.
I felt completely relaxed while on those traffic-calmed streets.
I wasn't on a bike path; I was on the street itself, feeling like me and my bike belonged there. I felt kind of nervous on the painted bike path street, as if I was an interloper into the World of Cars and Trucks where I didn't really belong.
A final observation: the ambience of North Portland reminded me a lot of the close-in Salem neighborhoods. Mostly older houses. Front porches. Mix of young and old. There just was more energy, more people moving around on foot or bike.
As I said at the beginning of the video, I could tell I wasn't in Salem by how many people were sitting outside at neighborhood gathering spots -- taverns, restaurants, parks -- enjoying a pleasant Sunday afternoon.
Yes, this happens in Salem also. However, our town is much more autocentric than Portland is.
Portland's city government has worked hard to make people more of the centerpiece of transportation planning, rather than cars. This goes a long way toward explaining why Portland has more energy and vibrancy than Salem, and is viewed by most as a more appealing place to live.
People make a city lively and livable, not lifeless vehicles.
I'm not saying that Salem should become Portland. Just that Salem has a lot to learn from Portland. We need to bring the best of Portland to our town, notably including Neighborhood Greenways.
(Oh, I should mention that the highly skilled longboarder in my video is Cory Poole. He used to live and work in Salem. Now he lives in Portland, and still works in Salem. Cory is one of the founders of the NW Skate Coalition. One of their goals is to show how longboarding is a transportation option, not just a way to have fun and do tricks.)