Sunday, March 8, 2020

In Debate over Cemetery Connection, we Erase Ordinary Impact of Cars

At City View Cemetery last week
Councilor Nordyke has revived conversation and debate around the prospect of a connection through the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery, and there is a nice piece in the Sunday paper on it.

In the Sunday paper on reviving talks
Invisible Autoism

Among all the talk about fears of vandalism, we do not give sufficient weight to the damage created by our "ordinary" autoism. As with many other policy topics, our cars, their demands and impacts, have become invisible background noise, and we need to center them again.

Compaction, emissions, erosion, cutting corners (2012)
The cemetery and its lanes were not built for car, SUV, or truck traffic. Cars and trucks create compaction, emissions, erosion, corner cutting, and other wear and tear not consistent with the 19th and early 20th century main period of significance. In 1961 the City rerouted access and circulation from the Commercial Street gate to the present Hoyt Street access.

These bollards did not work (2012)
At the entry, on the first lane east, a few years ago some bollards had been installed. Last week these were not all there, and deep tire tracks were in the mud and over the concrete curb on the shaded, south corner in the photo. People cut the corner and drive over the grave site. There are surely other examples. In the debate over a footpath connection, we elide the unintentional and routine damage caused by cars, quite apart from egregious instances of vandalism.

When we talk about historical integrity, we erase the alterations and impacts of car traffic from the mid- and late-20th century, and now 21st century, on a lane system and plot grid originally configured for foot and carriage traffic. By centering cars again, we give additional context and proportion to any wear and tear caused by greater foot or bike traffic.

History of Path Concept

There is a clear documented need for a connection here. With City View the cemetery is a big structural barrier between the Candalaria and Fairmount neighborhoods, and a barrier to the larger matter of a low-traffic connection in between Commercial/Liberty and River Road on a route that extends much further south.

Without a connection, the 1972 route
from the Sprague area was terrible
After the Bike Bill, a very early route concept used Madrona to cross Liberty and Commercial in order to get around the Cemetery. There wasn't a fence at that time, so at least theoretically you could make your way through the Cemetery, but the wide meander around Salem Heights, Candalaria, and Fairmount show the problem.

In 1988 we had a Cemetery connection designated, but it was deleted for the 1992 plan.

Cemetery connection in 1988 regional TSP
It was taken out in the 1992 plan
(a few more notes on the plan's bike system here)
And it was revived in 2005 and 2011/2012.

Again, from 2005 and discussed here in 2012

And again, from 2012
In part because of the way the City handled the alley vacation in 2012, a connection is now not as easy as it might be. The piece in today's paper discusses many of the difficulties.

Hopefully Councilor Nordyke can help mediate a solution that rightly balances protecting the cemetery from vandalism and opening a critical connection in what has been great barrier. Cemeteries are for the living as well as the dead, and we should ensure they live on, knit into the urban fabric and culture.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

I know someone who lives on John Street and has fought this path for years. It is not just about cars vs pedestrian as you imply. It is about property rights. The city deeded the access way to a private property owner. To create a path will not only take away the rights of the property owner who owns that section of land, but the neighbors around the pathway. This is a classic case of "takings" that went all the way up to the Supreme Court and was ruled against. The original case was about a city that wanted a path through a private property to give the public a path to a local beach. They claimed that the public benefit outweighed the private property owner's rights. They lost. Private property can't even be purchased through eminent domain unless it is proven that there is no other alternative for the public. In this case there is. People can go around. If they walk, all the better, but going over a person's public property just because you want to is trespass and a government hasn't got the right to force it.

But beyond just this idea of 'we want to use your property' is that fact that pathways like this are trouble. I have been responsible of leading the effort to close 3 walkways so far and am working on the 4th. The idea of 'connectivity' is fine in theory, but in practice when you have poorly designed pathways, it is very dangerous. We have had assaults, fires and vandalism in walkways. The problem is that they are not usually well lit. But even those that are well lit, they are still dangerous if there is not a clear view to them from cross streets. Any kind of vision obstruction where someone is going essentially down a blind alley, it is very dangerous. A person needs to see and be seen to be safe.

The ally being proposed is around a corner, out of view and lighting it is going to be expensive. Some may say, well we will just have it open during the daylight hours. Most of the attacks we had in our walkways were during day time.

Second thing is that the cemetery is not a recreational site. It is for the dead to rest and for families to come and honor their past family members. Convenience should not even be a criteria for such a decision.

Lastly, the poor people who actually have to live next to walkways are almost never considered. It is always people who live some distance who want them. Imagine someone being able to come within a few feet of your bedroom window. You can put up a fence, but then you have to maintain that fence and you have to remove garbage, graffiti and deal with the noise. Where is their compensation? Never is any.

Nordyke should have done her homework on this matter before taking it to the city. As it turns out most of the people on John Street got no notice prior to a formal proposal. When they went to SCAN they got rebuffed and now they are being treated like they are the enemy just because people want to use their space.

Next to every walkway that is in my area the people who must endure them are opposed. They should be respected as well. Be interesting to see where this goes, but my guess is that if it is passed by the City Council, it will go directly to court. Who needs that hassle and ill will?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Here is the post with the best pictures and diagrams of the alley. You are right that the immediate connection on the north remains difficult and there are things to resolve. This is why I ended with "mediate" rather than "legislate."

As for problems with paths, you are right that they are often too isolated and suffer from poor design. Here is a long discussion of that problem. While it is oriented to bike travel, the same problems with isolation affect people on foot and shorter path connections. This is why I advocate for sidewalks and protected bike lanes in the right-of-way, where there is better lighting and more eyes and ears.

I'm not sure how you get cars vs. pedestrians out of this, however. I am saying that we have normalized cars so much that we are not capable now of seeing their impacts and generally pretend they have no impacts. This is a great problem in our understanding of historic districts, especially those rooted in the 19th century or earlier.

(On some other things we may just disagree, and I don't know if I will come back later to try to answer those!)