Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pioneer Cemetery at Historic Landmarks Commission Tomorrow - Updated

In a comment on the last City Council meeting, Jim Scheppke reasonably asks whether it is time for transportation and neighborhood advocates to "to say 'uncle' on the Rural - Hoyt 'connector'." In the big scheme of things it's not that big of a deal, he suggests.  And perhaps he's right.

Opponents of any connection that uses the cemetery have dug in, and have held up adoption of Bike and Walk Salem over just this matter.  Pragmatically, perhaps it would be wise to yield on this point for the greater good.

On Thursday, Elizabeth Potter will go before the Historic Landmarks Commission presumably to talk about her reasons for opposing a connection through the cemetery. It will be interesting to her her argument for this audience.

So far, the argument against the connection has been largely based on sentiment and fear rather than on good judgement.  There may still be an argument against such a connection, but it hasn't really been made yet.

Here are some questions.

Are the current arrangements really working?

This may be the most important question. In her testimony, Potter cited vandalism from February and April of this year. If the current system isn't working as well as we'd all like, why aren't we having vigorous and creative conversations about changing it?  Instead, the argument boils down to, "we fear things will get worse." Are things really working so well we shouldn't consider change?

Do cars in the cemetery really create less wear-and-tear than people on foot and on bike? And as distinctly 20th century transportation technology, are they the most historically appropriate way to enter and move about the cemetery?

William Martin, 1877 -1881
Advocates who stress the primacy of old "carriage ways" and 19th century history, should recognize forthrightly that the car isn't a fundamental part of that tidy Victorian world. People were using horse and buggy well into the 20th century. Salem's first car came in 1903.  And cars are heavy!  It would be interesting to learn more about the amount of gravel the roads require each year and about the costs of bollards and curbs where cars have taken corners too tightly.

Moreover, the Victorian world wasn't all pretty lace and corsets, as tidy as we might suppose. Mission Mill recently posted a note about Victorian mourning portraits, postmortem photography of the dead. Mourning customs change, and what we might find gruesome and morbid today was vital and uplifting then. Equally, we ought to have a more open mind about the ways today our belching machinery might seem like a disrespectful affront.  History is rarely simple, and we should embrace its complexity and ambiguities. 

Is the disposition and management of dog poop, especially its careless treatment by those dog owners who let their dogs off leash, more respectful of the dead than walking and biking?

Are there episodes of Salem history, many lost or neglected, that could be retrieved by talking more about walking and biking?  With better access, would more people potentially volunteer for cemetery care?

In fact, preservationists love the bikes right now and see them as an important way to connect with a new audience!  The State Historic Preservation Office recently wrote about the ways the bikes and history work together!  And a recent email thread on the historic cemeteries list noted a recent news piece about "a bicycle route that emphasizes cemeteries in the Gresham area" and asked "What other published routes feature historic cemeteries in Oregon?"  The Historic Preservation League of Oregon - surely a stodgy group, right? - sponsored a history bike ride in Portland! Salem is out of step here.

The most recent note on the Heritage Oregon blog is about IOOF buildings and cemeteries.  The Pioneer Cemetery is an IOOF cemetery, and surely is a strong candidate for improved protection.  The article notes that "Oregon also has three IOOF cemeteries listed in the National Register located in Coos Bay, Medford, and Eugene." Salem's should probably join them.

But it seems likely there are better ways to protect this history and the memories of the departed than continuing to lock down the cemetery with a single point of access.  Friends of Pioneer Cemetery should be open to a more thorough discussion about ways to protect and enhance the cemetery.  It may be that at the end of this conversation we decide that increased access for people who walk and bike is a bad idea, but it may also be that at the end as a community we agree that this access is exactly the right kind of access.  Advocates for a connection don't want more vandalism.  Surely we are united in wanting more protection and more visibility for the cemetery. Let's not short-circuit that inquiry and conversation. 

Update, Friday 9/21

This is just the worst.


Curt said...

The only problem with Jim's sentiment is we don't get to say uncle. 100+ Fairmount neighbors do and this is the furthest they have pushed this rock and finally there are at least a few votes on Council.

The other factor is not the path itself but the legal enforceability of the TSP. The goals and policies in the TSP are supposed to be legally binding under state planning rules. Sometimes I wonder if Council and staff get that. If they are allowed to use a quasi-judicial process here to rewrite the TSP in this case, they will be empowered to disregard land use rules even more than they already have.

Besides, does anyone believe Public Works is standing by, ready to get to work on this thing as soon as council passes it?

Curt said...

I would also add that the turnout for the Pioneer Alley hearing was much bigger than for the Bike and Walk Plan. It was probably the loudest call for improvements to biking and walking council has heard from the general public since I have been following the issue.

So like you said before Eric... Maybe the bike/ped community in Salem deserves exactly what it gets.

Kelly Carlisle said...

Great post. It's unfortunate that things like this tend to encourage competing positions rather than collaborative ones.

Could we all agree that everybody wants this cemetery to be around for a long time, and to stay in the best possible condition given its age?

Doesn't the big space with surrounding cyclone fencing make this cemetery irresistible for dog owners to use it as a dog run? Seems like it's not just a poop nuisance, it's probably contributing to the degradation of the site. TIme for a change, I think.

Does the site currently offer enough safeguards against vandalism? If not, what's motivating people to not consider other options that may help?

Isn't there always a risk of vandalism, anywhere? We should just agree that a change to the cemetery site should not increase that risk.

Are there design strategies that engineers can use to influence how people, animals, and vehicles interact with this space? How could a good design help to decrease misuse and abuse?

Could the overall TSP be approved, with design conditions placed upon the Fairview/Hoyt connector that would have to be met before it ever materializes?

I guess we'll never know if people are bracing for a battle.

It would be great if the city could lead this process down a better path.

Pun intended.

Curt said...

Of course the TSP could be improved. Its not like this is a mystery to Public Works. They have had decades to find a solution but all they do is kick the can down the road. Which is exactly why it is going to HLC.

The TSP is a pretty solid document as it is for biking and walking but it means nothing if Public Works won't act on it.

As LUBA said in the remand "the policies in the TSP are more than non-mandatory guidelines Council is free to ignore".

The City lead? Good one...

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Well, I'm happy to say the talk before the HLC this evening was not at all part of the TSP adoption process or LUBA remand - in fact, the prospect of a bike/ped connection was never formally discussed.

It was instead an informational talk about the history of the cemetery and about the challenges of vandalism and maintenance/repair. One of the toppled tombstones, interestingly enough, had been knocked over by a car driven carelessly along a side lane. The picture of Esmond Coulter's headstone was not cited as an instance of vandalism, so it seems like car use is an acknowledged problem at the cemetery.

Informally the temperature of the HLC seemed to be an interest in continuing conversation in a friendly way, neither in support of a path, nor in opposition, but in hopes that continued conversation will hit on areas of common ground and that a mutually agreeable solution might at some future point be reachable. There also seemed to be some interest in exploring a National Register Listing, which by itself wouldn't make a path connection more difficult (the determining factor here is that the cemetery is already designated by the City as a "local landmark" and proposed changes would likely trigger historic design review even without a National Register listing), but which might create additional prospects for funding sources.

If we can just get Council to keep the concept cloud thing in the TSP, there will be a real opportunity to get at the very questions Kelly poses.

More to come, I'm sure.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Also, in a minor edit, added a caption to the William Martin photo. It seemed like a real, and somewhat disrespectful, oversight to have included a nameless photo of the dead. Mea culpa.

B+ said...

A fascinating and detailed post. Thanks!

I walked by the scene of last night's chase ending in the cemetery, noting how much damage one automobile could do in matter of seconds, and comparing that to the likely damage done by cyclists having a way through the cemetery. I guess it all depends on how one's accounting works....

I also saw a perfect example of the problem that needs solving vis-a-vis the cemetery access issue. A cyclist (presumably from Candalaria, as that seemed to be where he had emerged from) was salmoning down Commercial on the west side between Hoyt and Rural. When he got to Rural, he turned left and headed up to Saginaw, then proceeded down that natural bicycle boulevard. Salmoning is very dangerous, and he shouldn't have done it. But, the alternative is to have to get onto Commercial, and this very fact makes it unlikely most people will ever even try. Some will say that's pathetic, but I think it stands as a real barrier to increased multi-modal transport in South Salem. The cyclist I saw chose to try a (dangerous) shortcut to that process, one that could easily lead to an accident.

Surely a better way than forcing people out onto the Commercial Speedway could be developed so that Candalaria has relatively easy and quiet access to downtown? With the rise of eBikes, I think such a route could become well-used in the coming years.