|Revised Travel Salem Historic Downtown Bike Route (detail)|
|First draft Historic Downtown Route and 2012 Salem Bike Map|
(click to enlarge)
Travel Salem, let Council know that this is a difficult project and that to support bike tourism, you need more bike-friendly streets - more better, and more of them. Don't let Council be complacent and think the job is done
|The new sheet and route|
|State Street is rarely comfortable|
|MassDOT Separated Bike Lane Guide|
So while the geography of the route is "easy," functionally it is difficult, and is not something to recommend for tourists interested in a casual cycle around the city.
(At the same time, it is important to repeat that it's not at all clear there's a superior option, and so Travel Salem made a set of very defensible choices in this revision.)
But if we want any and all tourists downtown to feel comfortable, we will need a different approach.
Our Prevailing Incrementalism
Our current approach on this has much in common with other projects.
Over the years one of the themes here is the conservatism in Salem (not conservatism in politics, but in sensibility) that prefers to wedge things into our existing systems, often making use of different kinds of spandrels, metaphoric and literal, rather than having a vision for something new. It is too often a timid incrementalism.
A different example of this is the way On Your Feet Friday has shied away from any street closure, and instead asks people on foot to stay on the sidewalks and in the crosswalks. It accepts the primacy of autoism and fully accommodates those traveling by car. We don't use the event as a way to reconfigure, at least temporarily, our public space. Instead we jam activity and people in on the edges and into empty lots. We ask adjustment from people walking not from those driving.
|"The Cube" installed a in tree well - via City of Salem|
The first piece in the art program, "The Cube," in this context looks more like refuse that missed the garbage can. It is misplaced and perhaps even misused. Even with the partially reflective surfaces it is more inert than active in space. It is still too much an aesthetic object to be contemplated and not a creative source of life that offers many different interactions.
The Oregon Artist Series Foundation is, together with the City's Public Art Commission, collaborating on the art project, and they are working on the next installation in front of Liberty Plaza at the recently closed Starbucks site on the corner of Liberty and Chemeketa.
But again, they are going to wedge a modest sculpture into a spandrel. At best this is an imperfect realization of the goal:
As stated by the Salem Public Arts Commission (SPAC), the arts throughout history have been the catalyst for creating unique public spaces which have yielded physical, social and economic benefits to communities. The aim of OSAF is to create a more vibrant downtown, which will benefit local businesses, enhance tourism and provide a tangible link to the creativity of Northwest artists.But really, The Cube at its present location just simply fails at "creating a unique public space." It's just an ornament.
Over on the Facebook, they recently linked to something much more promising.
|Artsy Crosswalks - via Oregon Artist Series|
But if the goal is to participate in "creating unique public spaces," a transformed crosswalk offers delight and whimsy for the person on foot - and more crucially, tends to calm auto traffic. It actually alters public space and the activity in it. It warps creatively.
Until our art and event programming actually grapple with cars and car traffic, grapple with our transportation system, all we do is rearrange the deck chairs, fiddle with the surfaces.
In the Sculpture Garden at the Conference Center there is a citation from Ada Louise Huxable, and you might recall she also said:
Some day, some American city will discover the Malthusian truth that the greater number of automobiles, the less the city can accommodate them without destroying itself. The downtown that turns itself into a parking lot is spreading its own dissolution.It is the sculptures, like The Cube, and the way we install them, that are merely decorative. Artsy crosswalks could actually be more profoundly transformative and therefore a deeper expression of art. Our approach to art in downtown too much accommodates the automobile and our mania for parking. In this it is too shallow.
Sometimes incrementalism is important and useful, a better approach than whole-hogging it in big transformation.
|Structural change can also be incremental|
Polka dots pilot curb extensions and a right-sized intersection
|If you can stage photos like this on Liberty at State,|
that's evidence we have excess capacity!
(via Downtown Salem fansite)
Equally, our approach to tourism should recognize that tourism happens on foot, and that our tourism promotions should privilege non-auto travel.
It is a central claim here that in order for these programs to be really successful, especially in the context of making downtown really vibrant, whether for walking or biking or art, we will have to contemplate and then execute change at the level of systems, especially those for cars, not merely fiddling with local detail in a way that ends up being fundamentally ornamental and decorative.