Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dumping Grounds? [Updated]

This is the sort of thing that suggests we have some distance to go before Salem "gets it" about utility cycling...

This pile of gravel (minus the orange warning pylons) awaited someone crossing State Street onto Winter last night. I know. I found it while returning from Bible Study. The pile sort of emerged suddenly out of the darkness. If I had been going much faster, it would have resulted in some unintended BMX-ing. [This was one time when being a relatively slow, low-geared Upright Cyclist was definitely a point in my favor!]

It was, well, surprising. Thankfully, the book from the Bible we are studying encourages detachment, and I was still in that mood at the time.

I am pleased that the City folks decided to set up some form of warning today, but I would think a sign saying "Bike Lane Closed" that shows up in a bicycle headlight (as is done in other cities in our fair state) would be a better solution.

A few weeks back, I was making my way north on 12th street. I had just emerged from under the Mission Street Viaduct when it became very clear to me that the bike lane was being used (again, without any signage) as a dumping ground for debris generated by a city crew cutting overgrown shrubbery. Lots of traffic cones closing the bike lane followed the work being done...but precious little warning came before it.

I respect their hard work, and that they had to do something with the cuttings they created...but did they have to throw them into the bicycle lane? Did anyone stop to think that, without any warning to cyclists that their lane was gone, suddenly stopping or veering out into the auto traffic lane on 12th Street during a busy time of day might be a bit dangerous? Perhaps not. They were busy. I understand.

But I think bike lanes are considered actual lanes of traffic in law, and not dumping grounds. I also think that if a couple big piles of gravel were left unmarked in the middle of an auto lane downtown, we would hear something about it.

This is not a wildly cranky cyclist demanding perfection...work has to be done, lanes closed, and inconvenience in the service of greater convenience must be borne. It is just a plea for a little consideration about the consequences of communicating the legitimate needs of our gallant City workers to the cycling public.


Update on October 4th

After thinking about a reader's suggestion to bring this matter to the attention of my City Councilor (Laura Tesler), I did so. This was the first time I've ever written a City Councilor. She very kindly responded, and forwarded my e-mail and link to this post on to Mr. Peter Fernandez with the city Department of Public Works. He responded to me today about the issue, agreeing that it was a matter needing to be corrected. He ended by making an offer to do better on this in the future.

I am delighted to see local government communication and response in action. I hope it will result in at least two things: better notification about bike lanes being closed, and a good experience on the part of the Public Works department with the utility cycling world in town. Ideally, we are on the same team, really. We do need each other to make Salem a more livable, creative, and enjoyable place to live.

In spite of what we see on the National level, it is possible for us to deal with concerns constructively. People of good will, each from their own perspective, can arrive at a mutually-amicable solution most of the time.

I look forward to the completion of the State & Winter street crossing (it is already much better: the curb-cuts allowing for access to the Capitol grounds are much smoother and more effective for cyclists).

I also look forward to fewer surprise BMX opportunities while coming home from evening Bible study!

Again, thanks to all involved!


  1. Good post U.C. I suggest you email a link to this post to your Salem City Councilor. They are usually pretty good about working with city staff to solve problems like this one.

    1. Thanks, Jim. I'll do that. I'm not filled with towering rage or anything, but when a marked bike lane is involved, it seems like a courtesy well in order. I have a decent headlight on my bike, and that gravel was still mostly invisible--matching as it did the black asphalt of the road around it. Arrgh. If I had taken a tumble, I would likely not be quite so philosophical about it all.

    2. I followed through, Jim...and who knows what will happen. But, I did get a very pleasant e-mail response from our Councilor. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. I rode by the gravel pile yesterday on my way to the midwife's office...glad it was still daylight! You should have seen it a few years ago when we had lots of snow...they put gravel on the roads that then piled up in the bike lanes and the city didn't have enough "money" or something along those lines and took a long time to clean it up! Was not fun riding in that either!

  3. I've updated this post on the 4th. Thanks to all who wrote in or e-mailed me about this matter. It was very helpful.

  4. Sweet! The more neighborhood advocates who "ping" the City about improvements for people who walk and bike, as staff and electeds start hearing a "louder" volume of noise for this, it will be increasingly difficult to ignore this squeaky and important wheel. I think that Peter, in particular, just needs more political "cover" - he will be able to do more, and would like to do more, if the political sentiment is calling for more.

    1. Perhaps through positive, non-cranky encounter, some of the obstacles can be overcome. I'm hopeful, even though I know there are times when things have to get a little "hot under the collar" for change to occur. Thanks for all YOU do to facilitate this in town.