Saturday, March 21, 2015

So: Which is It?

There are a lot of times in life when we are legitimately confused. I’m not talking about the times when we are willfully confused (being exasperated with ludicrous bureaucracy) or tactically confused (casually “forgetting” when it suits), or even confused for the sake of saving someone else’s feelings (there is a fine art to this in clergy life). No, I’m speaking of the genuine confused article.

The occasion for this post comes from two signs on Church Street as one heads north, each purporting to herald the start of the pedestrian-only sidewalk safety area downtown.

The first sign is at Trade Street, in front of a block of sidewalk that gets relatively little pedestrian traffic.

The second sign is at Ferry Street, at the start of a much busier block next to the historic Methodist church, and a more logical place, overall.

The question is: which is it? Are both signs needed? Does the zone start on Trade or Ferry on the east side of the block?

Now, I have an ulterior motive here. When travelling south along Winter Street after leaving the Capitol grounds, I often take a right on the vestigial, old part of Ferry and travel a couple of blocks west towards the intersection of Church and Ferry (one of the many major speedway intersections in this part of town, slicing everything into odd-shaped sections so that motorists can travel at high rates of speed—except when they can’t, which is fairly often). I then cross the Mario Andretti Memorial Speedway there and head south on Church (on the sidewalk) to Trade, where I cross the eastbound part of this Military-Industrial Road Complex in order to get to the quiet part of Church Street and resume my travel south toward Bush Park on the street itself.

Now, in order to do this, I need to travel on the sidewalk that one block between these two signs (because it is a one-way street going north). If I am riding my bike to do this, I am apparently violating the law—something I’m not keen on doing.

I bring this all up for a wider reason, as well. Salem is a bit of a crazy quilt for transportation cyclists who, like myself, prefer quiet streets rather than risking life and limb on the big speedways rammed through the fabric of our fair city. Getting from one place to another is frequently hampered by these asphalt-and-concrete barriers. Since they are normally of the one-way or divided highway type, these roads present difficulties for cyclists making our way across town. There are usually alternatives, but they tend to be much more circuitous, risky, or actually more likely to put one in conflict with a pedestrian than the block I’m bringing up (this is the case in the area I mention, as the logical alternative is to take the pedestrian path and underpasses from Church over to the Willamette campus…but that really does put one in contact with a lot of pedestrians and several blind corners).

Church Street south of downtown is a natural bike route to Bush Park. It is a good place to cross Mission Street (a better-than-average crosswalk with an island and at a point where that infamous thoroughfare is at its narrowest), and there is a path up the hill to the park’s interior (though it would much better if the old carriageway were restored as a multi-user path…another of my hobby-horses).

Yet, once one gets to Trade and points north, Church turns into quite another critter, much less friendly to cyclists (of the normal sort). Getting from Church to Winter is generally advisable, allowing one to use the Capitol grounds to head north or to connect to points east. This, too, has its own challenges, but is much less anxiety-producing than continuing north on Church. It is that connection from Church to Winter that makes the confusion about whether the block in question is (or is not) in the Pedestrian Safety Area.

When I am walking downtown, I really don’t like having to dodge cyclists on the sidewalk. So, I am cognizant that me being on the sidewalk anywhere in that area is not optimal. However, the maze of cycle-unfriendly possibilities makes it unclear what the best way to get from downtown to Bush Park is.

Winter Street is generally the best bet, except for the rather dreadful intersection with Bellevue—the traffic signals there do not seem to be actuated by cyclists, meaning that one either waits for a car to make the light change, or one has to dismount and push the pedestrian crossing button. If this were to change, it would make Winter the clear first choice (except for the endless construction at the hospital). The lights at Winter and Mission now seem to respond to cyclists, and that leaves the Bellevue signal the big problem.

Well, that’s a lot of verbiage to ask: “Which sign is telling the truth?” I hope someone can tell me. Until then, I’ll ponder the possible hidden meanings of it all.


  1. You should consider bringing this situation and imagery to Council on Monday night! It would be great as one of the narratives in support of more bike boulevards.

  2. O, how I wish I could be there (I must be elsewhere that evening). Perhaps another Council meeting? I would be happy to do my (little) bit for sanity in this matter.