Councilor floats a “bike vision” for Salem streets

Salem residents ride their bikes over the Union Street Railroad Bridge. Several civic leaders are seeking to expand the city’s network of bike infrastructure (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Commuting by bike in Salem often means squeezing into a narrow bike lane as vehicles rush past a few feet away.

It’s a system Ian Davidson says is effective at keeping people in their cars.

“I’d invite anybody to come cycling and see how dangerous it is. When you make something dangerous, it’s not surprising people don’t ride their bikes,” he said.

Davidson, who serves as the chair of the Cherriots Board, wants the city to change course.

He, along with City Councilor Virginia Stapleton and Dylan McDowell, vice chair of the Salem Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, put forward a plan last week to create biking corridors across the city, called “Salem Bike Vision.”

The idea is to provide cycling lanes set off from vehicle traffic by parking spaces, planters or curbs along major north-south and east-west arterials citywide.

The network would make bike commuting more feasible for people with safety concerns, and also provide more casual or recreational cyclists with safe ways to run errands or explore the city.

Stapleton said their plan would draw on existing roads and infrastructure, shrinking or eliminating car lanes rather than relying on costly right-of-way expansions. She described the proposal as “a down payment on the future transportation system that’s equitable, and climate action at the forefront.”

They’re hoping to include the proposal as part of a $300 million infrastructure bond city officials expect to go to voters in November.

The proposed Salem Bike Vision network would add protected bike lanes and other infrastructure to major city roads. (Salem Bike Vision)

The trio’s proposed map calls for bike infrastructure to be added to Southeast Liberty and Commercial streets, Northeast Market Street, Silverton Road, Portland Road, 17th Street, Broadway Street; and Northwest Glen Creek Road and Eola Drive.

Davidson said he was inspired by a similar effort in Bend put forward in 2018 to make the city more bike-friendly by among other things, adding more buffered bike lanes to roads. The cost was estimated at $2,000 per mile, according to a Bend city presentation.

Davidson met with Stapleton and McDowell over the summer to discuss how they might bring a similar effort to Salem. Davidson said the trio took out a map of the city and started drawing.

“How do we look to a world where people aren’t so car-centric?” Stapleton said of the meeting. “We sat there and dreamed together about what this kind of world would look like.”

Stapleton said as she’s attended neighborhood association meetings to discuss the city’s bond, she’s heard about biking-related needs from many city residents.

She said she hears people say “bike lanes,” but it’s clear from their comments that they’re seeking a more connected biking infrastructure across the city – not just new paint on some roads.

“Everybody was talking about bike lanes – we need bike lanes, we need bike lanes,” she said. “I’m not sure they know the right words to say the thing that they’re asking for.”

Stapleton said she floated the cycling plan hoping to draw public support before the city council is asked to approve a list of bond projects at its April 25 meeting.

She wanted to offer Salemites a vision of what their city could look like, she said, including pathways where people would feel safe letting their kids ride to the grocery store.

“I want people to see this plan and see themselves in the plan,” Stapleton said.

A steering committee of city councilors, including Stapleton, and top city executives has been meeting since December to decide which projects to include in the $300 million package.

City officials are seeking a new bond as rates on some older projects are decreasing, allowing the city to finance new projects without raising the levy rate taxpayers pay. If voters approve the package, it will include improvements to city parks, roads not eligible for federal infrastructure funding, and new trucks for the city’s fire department.

Aside from alerting the city manager’s office last week, Stapleton said she hasn’t yet worked with city staff to flesh out the bike proposal, so it currently has no price tag. She said the council could seek a report on the proposal from city staff if there’s support for including it in the bond package.

Davidson said while Salem ideally would have created this infrastructure years ago, now is the best time to get started.

“Our city is not designed for people that would like to choose other alternatives to get around. You’re all but forced into a car which is difficult, I think, especially today with really high gas prices,” he said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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