Monday, March 29, 2010

A Different History of Transportation: Bicycling & Multi-Modalism Circa 1900

Chartered in 1860, Salem is this year celebrating its own Sesquicentennial. On her SHINE blog, local historian Virginia Green is marching year-by-year through Salem's history. It's a great project - but in one important way, its history reflects a conventional wisdom that needs to be revised.

Just last week, Green wrote about 1905, when she notes that
Mrs. John Albert, Mary, dies after injuries in one of Salem's first automobile accidents according to Pioneer Cemetery records of her death and funeral. She was the daughter of pioneer, Joseph Holman, and mother of noted photographer, Myra Albert Wiggins.
Two days before she observed that
Henry Ford introduces his new Motor Company and the Wright Brothers fly in Kitty Hawk

It is often noted that the Wright Brothers were bike mechanics before they were flight mechanics! And in Salem, between 1890 and 1910, bicycling was a central part of the transportation system, far more important than the motor vehicle.

It wasn't, in fact, until the late 19-teens that auto ownership and use equaled bike ownership and use. Portland's first auto came in 1899, Salem's in 1903, and the little town of Pratum's in 1912. In 1905, 218 autos were registered in the state; by 1911, it was 6,428. The 1910 census gives Oregon's population as 672,765, so in 1911 even if we assume that car owners had only one each, less than 1% of the population had a car.

Even in Portland and Salem, in 1912 autos were luxury goods, expensive and out-of-reach for most people, much more expensive as a proportion of yearly income than iPods or even fancy notebook computers. Even in the 1920s horse-drawn carriages were common.

When we write the history of the very early 20th century, we should not overstate the presence of the motor vehicle. They were far from ubiquitous.

Conversely, as we write this same history, we need to rescue bicycling from the scrap heap. For in the 1890s, the bicycle was leading edge technology, an advanced form of ground transportation. In the next two decades, it remained speedy ground transport that, once the second-hand market developed, became quite affordable.

A picture says it best. Check out this 1905/6 film. It is from San Francisco (pre-earthquake), and it is from the nose of a cablecar, going down Market Street. (full details here, h/t streetsblog)

San Francisco was a large port city, rich from mid-century gold. Even with all the wealth, there were many more horse-drawn vehicles than motor vehicles at this time. The cablecar/streetcar infrastructure was the most important part after wagons/carts/buggies.

Needless to say, in Salem, with much less weath, motor vehicles were a paltry bit of the transportation system at this time - expensive and fancy gadgets, a spectacle, and in no way moving significant numbers of people or goods.

Bicycles did move significant numbers. They were so popular that in 1899 the State Legislature passed a law to create a network of bicycle paths, highways between communities that were better surfaced than the roads, deep and think with gloppy mud and manure. (We should not underestimate the amount of crap on the roads!) In Marion County surveyor B.B. Herick, Jr., surveyed 5 routes each in 1899 and 1900:
Salem and Aurora
Salem and Turner
Jefferson and Turner
Salem and Silverton
North Salem and the Wheatland Ferry along Matheny Road
I.O.O.F (Pioneer) Cemetery and the Liberty Store along Commercial & Liberty
the Fair Grounds and the Howell Prairie Post Office
Pratum and Silverton Road
Brooks and Silverton
The Butte Creek Bridge at Monitor and Woodburn.
In May of 1899 the Salem Cycle Association designated Winter street as part of the main north-south bicycle route in Salem. It was to connect two of the cycle paths, one to Aurora, the other to Jefferson.

Everyone biked. Note the women bicyclists in this detail from an image of a marching band on State street in the very early 1900s.

Leaders, too, biked. Governor Geer (1899 - 1903) often biked to the Capitol from his farm in Macleay. When in 1900 he visited Champoeg to locate the site of the 1843 meetings, he biked. In his 1911 memoir, Fifty Years in Oregon, Geer wrote about this ride:
I shall never forget that beautiful ride from Salem to Champoeg. It was a perfect day, with a firm north breeze, not a cloud in the sky; the roads were in good condition, the crops were growing splendidly, birds were singing everywhere, seemingly to be in harmony with Nature’s glad mood – it was, in short, just that sort of day which is known in all its wealth of joy, beauty, and inspiration only in the Willamette valley in the spring and summer months.

As we consider increasingly scarce oil, more expensive energy, and a potential shift to electric vehicles, we do well to remember that the automobile itself is something contingent and of recent vintage. The motor car is not merely historic, but also historical, and we all know history changes.

For more on this history see this article on Marion County.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kidical Mass Beats the Rain!

Whew! While there were plenty of clouds, and a few sprinkles, there was no real rain for Kidical Mass. Families brought the rain gear and everyone stayed warm and dry!

There were about 30 - maybe 40 - riders. Kat will have the full details at Kidical Mass Salem!

Monday, March 22, 2010

City Council Tonight

City council meets tonight, and as on the 8th, there are no large agenda items with specific bicycle implications, though there are a number of smaller things that may or may not impact bicycling in Salem.

Perhaps the most interesting are the responses of applicants for the Planning Commission. 8 applicants answered 5 questions about Salem planning, including, "How do you define 'reduce the reliance on automobiles' as it relates to planning?" Check 'em out!

There's additional information on the TGM grant proposal to manage parking in the developing Edgewater and Broadway districts.

The City is moving forward on selling the plot on the Pringle Parkway, which was before Council in November.

In no small part because of the mild winter, the Union St. Railroad Bridge is on schedule for a mid-May re-opening!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Breakfast, Kidical Mass next Weekend!

Breakfast on Bikes is next Friday, March 26th, between 7am and 9am.

While we wait for the Union St. Railroad Bridge to reopen - which appears to be on schedule per the latest report to Council - we'll be on Water Street across from the A.C. Gilbert House, right where the bike path off-ramp from the Center Street Bridge merges with Water Street and Riverfront Park.

Please remember our generous donors:
Cascade Baking Company
the Coffee House Cafe
and LifeSource Natural Foods.
Thanks also to the Salem Bicycle Club and
Willamette University Sustainability Council

View Larger Map

The second Kidical Mass ride will be Sunday, March 28th at 1pm. The ride meets at Faye Wright Elementary School in south Salem.
The theme is "Pedal to the Beat of Your Own Bicycle Ride," and the idea is that riders will get to make some playful noise as we make our 4-mile loop. Noise makers, kazoos, maracas, bells, tambourines, homemade & otherwise, are definitely encouraged.
The kids had a blast last time, so come on and join the fun! See the Kidical Mass Salem site for more information.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Look for Transportation Survey this Spring

This spring our Metropolitan Planning Organization, SKATS, will survey 1800 households in an effort to sample accurately and then model equally accurately regional travel patterns. Participants will be asked to keep a diary of daily travel outside the home.

It's time to update the data!

According to Salem-Keizer Area Transportation Study,
The last Travel and Activity Survey conducted in the SKATS area was in 1994...the data is over a decade old. Many people question the relevance of the responses in light of changes in land use, demographics, and the transportation system (road and transit), as well as external factors such as increasing gasoline prices.
The survey and resulting data are important because they are the "base for the travel demand models used by SKATS...." In other words, when planners talk about the need for a new highway bridge across the Willamette, or for other large road projects, they are using 15 year old data. In 1994 gas was $1.25 a gallon.

Unfortunately, bicyclists will be underreported. In both Salem and Portland, March bicycle counts have been about half of summer counts. There's a clear seasonality to bicycle traffic patterns.

There's also an ebb-and-flow (and not just stop-n-go!) to motor vehicle traffic. Road planners typically build roads for rush hour ("peak volume") traffic calculations, and bicycle planning should be no different. If we build roads for peak rush hour auto traffic, we should also plan bike facilities for peak summer bicycling volumes. Bicyclists should not apologize for counting peak bike traffic!

The survey will be conducted by a third party contractor. If you are contacted by NuStats or PTV, and are interested in participating in the survey, please be sure to report your bicycling activity! Your use of transit is also important to note!

The survey will be used for the next decade or so in traffic planning, and the better the data now, the better the decision-making will be.

For more information on the Oregon counts, here's the OTAS Portal.

Friday, March 12, 2010

MWVBTA Meeting Tuesday, March 16th

The MWVBTA meets the third Tuesday of each month. The March meeting is Tuesday, the 16th. We'll be meeting from noon to 2:00 p.m. at the Sassy Onion on State Street.

If you are a member of the BTA, would like to learn more about the BTA, or are interested in making the Salem area a better place for bicycling, please join us!

On the agenda...

Google maps bike routes - how to improve it, and what's next!

Bike parking and the new proposed Neighborhood Center Mixed Use zoning code.

A TGM grant application on managing parking in the Edgewater and Broadway districts.

Congressman Schrader - where he stands on Congressman Blumenauer's ACT-ACT

May = Walk + Bike month

Further brainstorming for TE and Bike/Ped grant apps

Other stuff as time permits...
A brief Landuse Network Conference report
Update on Vision 2020 Bike/Ped group - winter st. signage & April 1 open house
Alison Wiley from the State may join us for a bit to float an idea
Rides Update - Kidical Mass, Boys & Girls Club
Volunteers needed for Saturday Market

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New: Google Maps Shows Bike Layer...

And at least in Salem, it might not be ready for prime time.

Market, Marion, Center, and State are all shown with dotted green lines - all very busy roads without bike lanes!

Google will be announcing it tomorrow at the National Bike Summit. More later!

From the google blog:
We've also added information about bike trails, lanes and recommended roads directly onto the map. This can help you get a better sense of your route, or let you find trails nearby for a recreational ride. When you're zoomed into a city, click on the "More" button at the top of the map to turn on the "Bicycling” layer. You'll see three types of lines appear on the map:

* Dark green indicates a dedicated bike-only trail;
* Light green indicates a dedicated bike lane along a road;
* Dashed green indicates roads that are designated as preferred for bicycling, but without dedicated lanes
Needless to say, these stretches of Market, Marion, Center, and State should not be "designated as preferred." We'll find out the data source and how/what might have been interpolated.

Update 2
At the National Bike Summit, Bikeportland has a great little interview with the folks at google. Still working on the exact source of Salem-area data...

Bike Advocate & Planner Ronkin Leaves Salem for Europe

Last month bicycle and pedestrian consultant and retired ODOT manager Michael Ronkin left Oregon on his way back to Switzerland.

Ronkin was a key figure in Oregon bicycling. In May 2007, then just retired ODOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager, Michael Ronkin received the Bud Clark Award for Lifetime Achievement at the BTA Alice Awards. The award citation noted:
Michael Ronkin moved to Corvallis from Switzerland in 1973, and started working with the Oregon Department of Transportation in 1984. He went from highway construction to bikeway design after five years, and then became the manager of the state’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program. In this role he wrote the Oregon State Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, which is a model for the nation, and he put Oregon communities firmly on the path to being great places to walk and bike. Without the work Michael did to “till the soil,” local interest in bike projects and the strength of bicycle advocates statewide would never have grown.

In an email last month Michael shared his plans.
My wife Andrea and I are in the final hectic stages of our move from our longtime home, Oregon, to our new home, Geneva, which is my old home. We have been planning this move for many years, and we are now ready for take off.
He will continue to work on critical bicycle and pedestrian matters, fortunately.
I will continue to work, trying to make America more walkable and more bikeable one city, one street, one intersection, one corner at a time. Flying from Geneva to the US is easy, I'm already coming back for some work in April.
Salem, Oregon, the United States - we all will miss you, Michael!

Locally Michael has been a strong advocate for completing the Union Street corridor, the bicycle boulevard and connections that will make sure the Union Street Railroad Bridge is a fully functioning transportation link, and not merely a "bridge to nowhere."

As Michael says, "Au revoir means I will see you again!"

Friday, March 5, 2010

City Council on Monday

City council meets Monday, and while there are no large agenda items with bicycle implications, there are a number of smaller things that may or may not impact bicycling in Salem. In aggregate, they show the untidiness of the political process and the difficulties Salem has in truly assimilating ideas of sustainability and coordinating them across multiple areas of municipal activity.

The Good
Activities that increase Transportation Choices

Willamette University is donating directional signage between campus and the riverfront along the Mill Race, Shelton Ditch, and Pringle creek. This give more visibility to an underused and quite lovely resource, the multi-use path system along the waterways! This project arose out of the Salem Downtown Vision 2020 Bike and Pedestrian group.

The Northgate neighborhood will get some funding to finish installation of bike racks at Northgate Park. This will help encourage kids and families to bike to the park! Thanks to Kate Tarter for her work on this!

The Not-so-Good
Activities that increase motor vehicle activity and may hamper increased transportation choices

The city continues to accumulate right-of-way for enlarging Liberty Road some day. This strip is at Pembrooke and Liberty. (Last summer they added a portion near Ewald.)

The city is moving forward on purchasing right-of-way and easements to enlarge the intersection of Market and Lancaster.


Downtown groups are asking for $75,000 to fund a "Downtown Strategic Action Plan" that will guide the way Downtown-Riverfront Urban Renewal funds are applied to redevelopment and other improvements. Hopefully development strategies will include provisions for greener transportation choices downtown.

Finally, two bits suggest timidity and possible resistance in the City to real change. The Salem Community Energy Policy is subtitled, "Partnering to Create the Nation’s Most Sustainable Capital City." The reports on Senate Bill 1059 and on the Electric Vehicle project, suggest that the city is not yet willing to transfer resources from unsustainable enterprises to more sustainable enterprises. Instead, the city is willing to work on sustainability only when new revenue streams appear to support it.

On SB 1059, regarding land-use planning and greenhouse gas emissions (Oregon Environmental Council's analysis here), the report said,
Our biggest concern is the creation of future requirements on local governments that consume a lot of resources without the accompanying funds to carry them out.
And on electric vehicles,
To date, Staff has not embarked on the comprehensive, strategic EV delivery approach...and believe this is consistent with the direction provided by Council. Staff is concerned about the appearance of conflict of interest should the City be percieved as favoring one set of manufacturers - or one mode of transportation - over another. There will be significant budgetary impacts for which the City does not expect reimbursement....At this point, staff does not recommend ramping up staff involvement and committing resources towards Oregon's EV arena to the degree necessary to be successful in this role.

Successfully transitioning to sustainable economies necessarily implies a reallocation of resources from non-sustainable enterprises to sustainable ones. The City and others will in fact need to favor some transportation choices over others. Sustainability doesn't always permit us to have our cake and eat it too!

In December the Chair of the Oregon Global Warming Commission, Angus Duncan offered trenchant words on our current transportation planning:
While this was important progress, the improvements are incremental, and the problems climate change promises will dwarf these efforts shortly....We're at a critical inflection point between business-as-usual and the new challenges and opportunities of a low-carbon world. On the one hand, we adopt emissions reduction goals. On the other, we propose a transportation plan (or design a bridge, or legislate a laundry list of highway projects) that enables emissions to continue trending skyward. We acknowledge the disconnect but excuse ourselves -- we don't have the staff or tools or funding to write different plans; or we'll deal with climate as soon as we clean up this backlog of projects; or our project isn't part of the problem because, well, at least it's slowing the overall rate of emissions growth.

We'll start that diet tomorrow. Right after we finish off this pint of Haagen Daz.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Willamette University Bike Shop Kicks off Sustainability Month

Willamette University kicked off Sustainability Month today and the Bike Shop was front and center. They set up a couple of tables with information on better biking as well as an obstacle course out in front of the dining hall.

Whitney and Theresa staffed the table during the lunch hour and gave out free bike helmets, bike shop class and shop schedule, and other information on bicycling around Willamette.

Theresa demonstrated flat repair - tire removal, patching, and re-installation.

A group of cross- and fixie-riders participated in a track stand contest. Several of them will be participating in the Capital Cup races on April 3rd.

(There was a disconnect, however, between the largely helmetless fixie riders and the suggestion at the table that helmets are a good idea!)

The bike shop has plans to get more Sanyo Eneloop bicycles and to add them to the rental fleet. Campus Safety is also installing more bike racks as last fall during the good weather there was a real bike parking problem.

More and more Willamette students are bicycling, and it's great to see students promoting sustainable transportation!

Kidical Mass Ride Enjoys Great Weather and Large Turnout

Midway through the inaugural Kidical Mass ride yesterday, riders take a breather on the Capitol Mall.

We had a great turn out! About 50 people gathered in the parking lot and we talked and chatted and admired the kids showing off helmets, bikes, and other gear.

The ride kicked off in Bush Park, looped through the park and South Salem High School neighborhood, headed north to the Capitol, and then returned.

Stephanie Knowlton wrote a great piece in the Statesman. She noted
Neighbors waved and flashed thumbs-up signs as the group cycled through the streets surrounding Bush park....

Halfway through the ride, Aurora Gutterman-Johns, 4, fell asleep in a seat behind her mother, Jennifer Johns. Johns was excited about the turnout and the relatively flat route, she said.

"It's clear that people in Salem like these community-building events," she said. "There's no reason Salem shouldn't have the same sorts of events that Portland and Eugene have."

More Statesman photos are here.

Thanks, Kat!

Update - here's the Kidical Mass Salem wrap, with lots of photos!