Check out the Adobe Spark page where I share photos and a video of today's Salem March for Science on the capitol mall -- plus some commentary on the event. My wife and I hugely enjoyed the inspiring speakers, signs, and wonderfully geeky chants.
Last Wednesday I managed to drag my retired body and mind to an astoundingly early 9 a.m. meeting of the Streetscape Committee at the Urban Development office in downtown Salem.
Carole Smith, an early and ongoing proponent of streetscaping downtown (see the web page I made about these initial efforts) is on the committee. After learning from her about the exciting plans being discussed by the group, I wanted to attend the committee's second meeting to see for myself what they were up to.
In short: great stuff.
Streetscaping the Historic District would be wonderfully transformative for downtown -- which has a lot of untapped potential. Here's how a draft statement of purpose handed out at the meeting starts out. Download Downtown Streetscape Plan
The purpose of the Downtown Streetscape Plan is to create an environment through streetscape that is attractive, inviting, consistent, interesting, fun, colorful, low maintenance and representative of Salem's "unique" qualities. (Brands our downtown and makes you want to linger.)
Now, the Streetscape Committee isn't actually developing a plan. They're basically coming up with the scope of services that will be performed by the consulting firm chosen as the successful bidder after a RFP (request for proposals) is publicized by City officials.
Those consultants will facilitate public meetings, likely starting this fall, where citizens will be able to weigh in on how they want to see downtown streetscaped.
Normally I'd be worrying that this could be another case where a great plan for making Salem better in some fashion is developed, but then sits on a shelf and is never implemented. This seems much less likely with the Streetscape Committee's work, for these reasons.
(1) The committee is being led by Urban Development Director Kristin Retherford and CB Two architect Aaron Terpening. I was impressed with how they handled the meeting. After it was over I talked with Retherford at some length and came away feeling good about the prospects for this project.
(2) Retherford told the committee that about $30 million in Urban Renewal money is available soon. Top priorities are streetscape and downtown housing (plus maybe also "Toolbox" grants/loans; wasn't sure about this). These Urban Renewal funds need to be divvied up between various uses, but there seems enough to make a good start on streetscaping downtown.
(3) Unlike other contentious City of Salem projects -- such as the controversial Third Bridge/Salem River Crossing -- the diverse members of the Streetscape Committee seem to be pretty much in agreement. When Nick Williams of the Chamber of Commerce is agreeing with progressive activist Carole Smith, as happened at yesterday's meeting, that's a great sign.
Still, there was some spirited discussion on several topics.
One issue concerned who would be involved in selecting the consulting firm that would develop a Downtown Streetscape Plan. Several members urged Retherford to involve the committee in this. She was cautious about that prospect, citing standard procedures for evaluating RFPs.
Artistic competence was repeatedly mentioned as being an important criterion for choosing the consultants. It does seem like some citizens with artistic credentials should be able to review and comment on previous streetscape work by the firms responding to the RFP.
Another issue actually was discussed after the meeting ended.
Carole Smith and I talked with Retherford about a few subjects. I told her that I thought the Streetscape Committee was off to a good start, but was concerned about the lack of discussion of what streets would be eligible for streetscaping -- given how critical this obviously is to the success of the project.
Here's a map showing the streets that City staff currently consider to be potentially streetscapable (in green; yellow are streets with existing bike lane improvements).
Only east-west streets (Chekeketa, Court, State) are shown as "Potential Streetscape." Liberty and Commercial, major north-south streets, aren't shown as streetscapable.
I told Retherford that this needs to be reconsidered.
Liberty and Commercial are the streets that most downtown visitors use to reach the Historic District. They are the "front door," so to speak, for downtown. Their appearance provides an overall impression of what the Historic District is like, an ambience that should reflect the brand/vibe of a newly vitalized downtown.
Retherford responded with talk about the periodic review of City transportation and comprehensive plans, which won't happen for a while. Smith noted that changing the designation of Liberty and Commercial from "major arterial" to something more cyclist/pedestrian friendly would just require a City Council vote, so this could be done if the will existed.
The issue is whether Liberty and Commercial should be put on a Road Diet as part of the Downtown Streetscape Project.
A key feature of a Road Diet is that it allows reclaimed space to be allocated for other uses, such as turn lanes, bus lanes, pedestrian refuge islands, bike lanes, sidewalks, bus shelters, parking or landscaping.
...As more communities desire "complete streets" and more livable spaces, they look to agencies to find opportunities to better integrate pedestrian and bicycle facilities and transit options along their corridors. When a Road Diet is planned in conjunction with reconstruction or simple overlay projects, the safety and operational benefits are achieved essentially for the cost of restriping. A Road Diet is a low-cost solution that addresses safety concerns and benefits all road users — a win-win for quality of life.
I look forward to vigorous, open, passionate public discussion of this issue and all of the other streetscape design features.
It's encouraging that the Streetscape Committee is calling for quite a few charettes next fall where consultants and City staff will hear from Salem citizens about how they want to see streetscaping carried out in the Historic District.
Downtown Salem would be much more attractive to out-of-town visitors and locals alike if Commercial and Liberty streets lost some lanes.
(Other streets too, but my focus here is on Commercial and Liberty.)
Fortunately, there's a decent chance this could happen. Yesterday a City of Salem Streetscape Committee chaired by Urban Development Director Kristin Retherford had its first meeting. Carole Smith, a committee member, shared notes with me about what happened.
Smith and other Streetscape proponents came up with some initial concepts several years ago. You can check them out on a Downtown Salem Streetscape web page I made (which has gotten about 4,700 views, showing the interest in this subject).
Below is a sketch of how Liberty could look as it enters downtown.
Much more inviting, right?
This is a sketch of how Commercial (on the left) and Liberty (on the right) could be transformed. Keep in mind this was just an initial concept. Streetscaping downtown could happen in a multitude of different ways. But a key goal is to make Salem's Historic District much more people and cyclist friendly.
Which means, less autocentric.
I took the photo above from the corner of Court and Liberty as I wandering around downtown during the First Wednesday event yesterday. Notice the vast expanse of Liberty's four lanes (top left) with very few cars occupying the street.
This is another view of Liberty from the other side of the street. Four lanes. Very few cars. A tremendous waste of precious downtown space.
I often drive into downtown from the south via Liberty, and less often, but frequently, into downtown from the north via Commercial. I can't remember ever seeing these freeway'ish streets running through the Historic District filled with cars once I got past Ferry or Union streets.
Yes, traffic on Liberty and Commercial gets congested at certain times as it nears downtown. But many, if not most, of these vehicles are trying to get around downtown, not into it. This is why Liberty and Commercial are comparatively empty once traffic turns off onto the Front Street Bypass or the Marion Street bridge.
Front Street was built to route traffic around downtown. The photo above was taken in 1978.
This screenshot of a page from the Front Street Bypass Environmental Impact Statement has criteria #1 for determining the design of the bypass: "The project must satisfy the objective of diverting traffic away from Liberty and Commercial Streets in the downtown."
Well, Front Street does a pretty good job of this. I use it whenever I'm heading west or north of downtown, because this is faster than going through the Historic District.
So I'm perplexed by Carole Smith's report that at the first meeting of the Streetscape Committee members were told by City officials that certain streets were off-limits for narrowing:
Front Commercial Liberty Trade Ferry Center Marion
I can understand why Front, Trade, Ferry, Center, and Marion streets couldn't lose lanes. They are used by people trying to get around or out of downtown. But why can't Liberty and Commercial streets lose some lanes in the Historic District? This question needs some serious discussion at the Streetscape Committee's next meetings.
Economic activity in the downtown area (or anywhere else) doesn't occur when people are moving around in their cars or trucks. It happens when people stop to buy something. Which is preceded by people walking around.
The current First Wednesday organizers were smart to close off part of Chemeketa Street.
Food trucks and other purveyors drew people to a block that otherwise would have been devoted to moving traffic. Streets should serve the needs of people, not vehicles. This should be freaking obvious, but too often city planners either ignore or forget that basic truth.
Parking spaces -- indeed, the entire street -- can be used temporarily as a people place rather than as a vehicle place. Streetscaping downtown would follow a similar philosophy: make the Historic District a people magnet rather than a place drivers pass through to get somewhere else.
Walking around on the initial First Wednesday event of 2017, I was struck by the pleasing amount of vitality in some of the alleys. City planners and Streetscape Committee, pay attention to this.
No, or very few, moving vehicles in the alleys. No public parking in the alleys. Yet people were having a good time and supporting downtown businesses.
Salem needs to lose some downtown lanes so it can gain more downtown vibrancy.
Painted lines on an unnecessarily wide and mostly empty street provide zero economic benefit to the Historic District. Streetscaping downtown would be a city-changer, especially if Liberty and Commercial streets become more people-friendly and attractive.
Thanks mucho to Los Angeles-area comedian Grant Lyon who got me off my lethargic ass and into a Salem gem that I've been meaning to check out, but hadn't until last Saturday night, the Capitol City Theatre (tagline: serious about comedy).
Here's me and Grant after the show, posing in front of some important information. Salem Has a Comedy Club.
A good one too. I really appreciate Grant emailing me his free ticket offer. Grant said that he likes to offer them to local bloggers in towns that he visits. Which, after Salem, was a 7-hour drive to Sacramento.
Yeah, stand-up comedy is a tough gig. Yet Grant and the woman who opened for him, Carmen Morales, both looked fresh and energetic. (Of course, they're a heck of a lot younger than I am.)
The Capitol City Theatre vibe felt exactly right for a comedy club. Dark yet welcoming. Small round tables with chairs close to the stage. Beer, hard cider, popcorn, and other goodies for sale from a friendly staffer.
I'm not a big laugh-out-loud person. I smile, both inwardly and outwardly. This doesn't make me the best sort of audience for stand-up comedy in a small club, but fortunately I was surrounded by more voluble people.
Grant and Carmen (I now feel like I know them, so like using their first names) clearly enjoyed feeding off of audience reactions. That's part of what made this LIVE stand-up comedy experience more enjoyable than watching comedians on TV, which I do a lot.
For real -- and I'm not saying this because of the free tickets -- Grant and Carmen were top-notch entertainers. Right here in semi-sleepy Salem. I'll share some You Tube videos of their acts below so you can get a feel for their styles.
(Carmen said she had time before the show to look for witches, but didn't see any; um... you need to head to Salem, Massachusetts, girl.)
Being philosophically minded, I've been pondering a bit what makes stand-up comedy so appealing. Don't want to overthink this -- funny is what feels funny -- but here's a few thoughts spurred by Grant and Carmen.
I think experiencing stand-up comedy is like looking at the famous duck-rabbit image.
There's one reality here. A drawing. But the mind can see it in two different ways: as a duck or a rabbit.
What a good comedian does, and for sure both Grant and Carmen fill this bill, is shift our perception of a truth so we see it in a fresh way.
To me, the important word in what I just said is truth.
Comedy needs to be based on how the world really is, or it isn't funny. For example, Grant had a pleasing bit about global warming and those who deny it. It would have been irritating, not entertaining, if he'd made fun of people who accept the scientific consensus about global warming.
(Maybe this would have gone over at a Trump rally, but that's a sad commentary on today's reality-denying right-wing politics.)
I can't think of one instance where Grant or Carmen joked about something that wasn't true. Even when they talked about personal things that can't be verified -- like Carmen's father going on embarrassingly about how much he wants to make love to her mother later, during a dinner when Carmen's friends were over -- had a decided ring of truth.
So, yeah, good comedy makes us look at life through laugh-filtered glasses. We still see the same reality. It just looks different. Not less real, but more real in certain ways.
Carmen had an enjoyable bit about twerking. She nailed the animalistic nature of it, riffing about how the first female twerker could have been out picking berries in prehistoric times when she spots a hunky caveman who looks like he'd be good at providing raw meat of several different varieties -- dietary and sexual.
So she turns her ass to him and wiggles it around in a wordless Come take a closer look at this hot stuff, dude message.
Grant, to offer another example of reality-enhancing comedy, talked about how in the course of science getting us to live longer, he didn't want to be a 130 year old guy who gets all crotchety about cultural trends that are passing him by.
Sure, when Grant was younger he was chill with same sex marriage, but being able to marry a clone of yourself -- NO WAY! says old man Grant.
After the show I complimented Grant on coming up with this creative idea: of how we can't foresee all the social changes that are going to keep arriving, many of which we aren't going to feel comfortable accepting, yet we feel ever so proud of our with-it attitudes toward current changes like legal weed, gay marriage, and using whatever damn bathroom your gender identity demands.
If you get a chance, go see Grant Lyons and Carmen Morales. And if you live in Salem, Oregon, check out the Capitol City Theatre comedy club. "Headliners" on Friday and Saturday nights; open mic night on Thursday. (I'm tempted... ).
Best I can figure, our dog ZuZu somehow hooked up with a pet psychic who was able to channel her obviouslyoutrageous thoughts about us into a letter that was sent to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
So now my wife and I are on the receiving end of a serious-sounding complaint from the ASPCA.
I'm going to respond to our dog's ridiculous accusations in this blog post, but I'm worried that the damage to our animal-loving reputation is beyond repair -- thanks to our oh-so-innocent looking family pet, ZuZu.
Don't let her sweet expression fool you. As you'll read below, ZuZu is purposely spreading fake news about Laurel and me that has just the slightest connection to reality.
(I now realize what a mistake it was to occasionally leave Fox News on in the room where ZuZu takes an afternoon nap. Pretty clearly, she was only pretending to be asleep and was learning how to twist the truth into the outrageous pretzel that ended up in the ASPCA mail bag.)
Here's what ZuZu said in her complaint, and our aggrieved response.
ZuZu: They're trying to kill me. With the aid of the murderous vet they took me to last week. After holding me down and stabbing me, the perverted S.O.B.s forced me again to endure their finger-up-the-butt torture. I felt as sick as a dog that night, and not just because I am one. Fortunately my owners' demented plan failed. Somehow I managed to survive the stabbing and regained enough strength to communicate what happened to someone who actually truly cares about poor little dogs like me.
Us: OK, let's get the facts straight. ZuZu did indeed go to the vet a few days ago. However, all that happened was, she got a canine flu shot and had her anal glands expressed. This was the first time ZuZu got a flu shot, and she did have some sort of reaction. Most of the evening she laid listlessly in her crate rather than on the full-size futon in her very own dog room like she usually does. We're going to pass on canine flu shots in the future, but regardless, her claim of "they're trying to kill me" is absurd.
ZuZu: There's another way my owners are trying to kill me. Starvation. Regardless of what doctored photo they may submit in response to my ASPCA complaint, which could be years old from a happier time before they started torturing me, I'm now just skin and bones. My dog bowl is filled with minuscule scraps of food a few times a day, barely enough to keep a gerbil alive. Which, I suspect, is going to be my replacement after their nefarious plan to bury me in an early dog grave comes to fruition.
Us: Un-freaking-believable. And we have vet records to prove it, unless ZuZu has been able to hack into the vet files and alter them. After an exam several months ago her vet told us that our dog was getting fat and ideally ZuZu needed to lose about five of her 62 pounds. Knowing how much she likes to eat, we've only cut back slightly on her diet of high-quality dry and canned food, supplemented by chew sticks, broccoli, blueberries, pumpkin, and a nightly "popcorn party" where kernels are tossed and she catches them in her mouth. So far in the past few months she has lost a grand total of ONE POUND. Starvation... give us a break.
ZuZu: Here's more proof that my owners are horribly unfit dog parents. The smaller owner with the long hair who makes me do demeaning acts before she feeds me the few scraps I get in the morning -- sit, spin, lay down, that kind of crap, all while I'm hungry -- took me out for a walk and led me into the arms of a super-dangerous wild animal that almost killed me. I was surprised and shocked, not to mention dizzy with blood loss, since I was totally minding my own business. I can't understand why my owner wanted me to be torn to shreds, but this fits with her role in the schemes to stab, torture, and starve me.
Us: More fake news from the family dog. Yes, it's true that ZuZu was on a walk with Laurel when she was attacked by another animal. But this occurred when she stuck her nose into a tree hollow during a cold spell when there was snow on the ground. A cat had taken shelter in the hollow. It scratched ZuZu's nose, which bled slightly. The cat ran into the bushes with our dog close behind. Fortunately, the cat ran up a tree, while ZuZu learned a lesson about sticking one's nose into a tree hollow that smells like cat.
So that's our response to ZuZu's ASPCA complaint that she somehow managed to file, probably through the aforementioned pet psychic intermediary.
We expect to be exonerated.
And even though it's irritating to have your own dog turn against you like this, we bear ZuZu no ill will. The dog mind works in mysterious ways. She just must have taken some ordinary happenings in her canine life and blown them out of proportion.
We love ZuZu. We trust she still loves us. And remembers all the good things we've done for her, like let her buy a car.