Alice Award Nominee: Janet Taylor

This article is the eleventh in a series profiling the varied and amazing nominees for the 2009 Alice B. Toeclips Awards, which will be presented to five winners at the Alice Awards & Auction on March 7th. We won’t be able to profile everyone, so read the nominees’ descriptions online. This profile was written by BTA correspondent and Salem bike advocate Eric Lundgren.

For a single dollar, in 2004 the Union Pacific Railroad offered the City of Salem an unused bridge across the Willamette River. Some thought the offer might not be good enough. Going into a crucial City Council meeting, Mayor Janet Taylor was one vote short.

So she pulled out a painting and told a story. And that did the trick.

Salem is a town in transition, and bicycles are getting new attention. In September the League of American Bicyclists recognized Salem as a “bronze” Bicycle Friendly Community. The League singled out Salem’s efforts in encouragement and engineering for recognition.

But a few years ago this might not have been expected. When Mayor Janet Taylor was first elected in 2002, she was widely regarded as the pro-business candidate. Business development is still important to her, and the relations pay off in interesting ways.

Salem Mayor Janet Taylor (in red) removes the first spike from the Union Railroad Bridge.

Salem Mayor Janet Taylor (in red) removes the first spike from the Union Railroad Bridge.

Her relationship with Sanyo Solar is one of them. Back in October, Sanyo broke ground and became the anchor tenant in Salem’s Renewable Energy and Technology Park, where they will produce the wafers for solar photovoltaic cells.

Late in February, after the Salem Sustainability Summit, Sanyo Solar brought to the city one of the first bicycles assisted by their new Eneloop batteries to come to the United States. Mayor Taylor rode one and later showed it off in city council, saying, she was “totally in love with it.” She noted it could “sure save a lot in gas” and that it could be “revolutionary” for Salem. She plans on buying an Eneloop bike in October, when they become generally available for sale in the United States, and hopes to commute occasionally to the office on it.

Though when Taylor talks about cycling and trails, it’s clear her heart is with kids and recreational cyclists. She focuses on the extensive trail network in Minto-Brown Island Park, a 900 acre refuge of reclaimed river bottom land, and notes that “a lot of the commitment gets started there.”

She recalls fondly her first bike, a blue Schwinn with a basket on the front. “My aunt bought it for me and surprised me when I was ten.” She remembers the falls, the skinned knees, and all the fun.

Another project dear to her is the Downtown Vision 2020 plan, a community-wide conversation and planning project designed to ensure that “the City Center is a vibrant, regional, year-round regional destination for employees, visitors and residents.” It has a special focus on “pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths and streets [that] connect the adjoining neighborhoods and communities to and from the City Center.”

Mayor Taylor also loves history. Compared to many of Oregon’s cities, Salem has preserved a high proportion of 19th century buildings in its downtown core. One of the losses was the old City Hall. The first thing Mayor Janet Taylor points out in her office in new city hall is a painting of the old one, a brick building from the 1890s that was demolished in 1972.

She recalls the city council meeting in August of 2004 when council was deciding whether to buy the bridge from Union Pacific. “There are ten or 12 special votes that will always stay with you,” she said, and it was one of them. Councilors and the public had expressed concerns about operating costs, conversion costs, and environmental abatement costs.

But, she says, there had always been a “dream in the community” to tie Wallace Park to Riverfront Park, and to create safe bicycle and pedestrian links across the river. With a second bicycle and pedestrian connection to Minto Island Park, the Union bridge would link 1200 acres of parkland and create a 26 mile loop, she says.

At the council meeting Mayor Taylor held up the painting. “Do you know what happened to it?” she said. “It got torn down. It’s a parking lot. This is our history. This is a part of our heritage.”

The Statesman Journal noted the next day that “Applause broke out…the measure, which moments before seemed doomed, passed by one vote.”

A few days after the city council meeting where the “fate of the railroad bridge hung in the balance,” the Statesman editorialized that “it could have become an expensive junk-removal project. Instead, it will be the prized feature on Salem’s riverside cycling, jogging, and walking trail.”

Mayor Taylor continues to work hard and sometimes talk tough on the vision. Indeed, in her State of the City address earlier this year, she noted that City efforts towards the proposed Minto Island Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge – currently in the planning phase – were stuck on a second parcel on Minto Island and that “the city could consider exercising our right to eminent domain” in order to complete the vision of public parks and connections.

The long view matters. The bridge for the Salem, Falls City and Western line opened in March, 1913. It was used for maybe a half century. Soon, in April 2009, Salem residents will get to celebrate its opening a second time. With a new interest in bicycling and walking, Mayor Taylor and Salem residents are looking for a second chance much longer than 50 years.


Comments (7)

  1. Dan Permalink  | Mar 09, 2009 09:00pm

    The *existing* bike / pedestrian lane across the river on the Marion St bridge – literally a stones throw from the old railroad bridge – is quite probably already the very best bike facility in all of Salem.

  2. Dan Permalink  | Mar 10, 2009 11:15am

    (er… I guess maybe I meant the Center St bridge… but it’s already right there, anyway.)

  3. Dan Permalink  | Jul 10, 2009 07:55pm

    I’ve decided to blog some of my exploits here about *trying* to safely and sanely make my around Salem. It’s a truly astonishing set of (mis)adventures – remarkable.

    But first, about that new bridge: I crossed it once shortly after they opened it just because, and was not impressed. Aside from all the people out there three abreast just sightseeing and blocking the whole thing, there are deep cuts in the concrete every five or six feet (even sidewalks only have deep cuts every twenty-five or thirty). I made a loop of it and came back on the Center St bridge, which is *much* better to ride on (and was already there).

    So just the other day I was downtown and decided to give the new bridge another shot. The pedestrian traffic wasn’t *too* bad this time, but I observed that the concrete deep cuts aren’t just cuts – the concrete paving is actually made up of individual slabs, which is even worse than deep cuts in that the gaps are wider and they don’t always match up as well. Th-bump… Th-bump… Th-bump… Th-bump… every five or six feet all the way across! Then you come to the end and there’s nothing there – you have to go all the way down this long asphalt tail back to where the old Marion and Center St bridges wind up anyway (nowhere – except a traffic nightmare). Even the pedestrians weren’t actually going anywhere – they’d stop at the asphalt trail, turn around and head back the other way. Sheesh!

    (How much did that thing cost again?)

  4. Dan Permalink  | Jul 10, 2009 08:13pm

    I met Mayor Taylor once. Well, we weren’t introduced or anything, but I was walking from the parking area at City Hall to drop off my $40 Parking Racket fee (they cashed my check, took the money, and then sent me a bill for more because I got there with it a few minutes after 5:00)… Anyway, I was walking up toward City Hall, and this big ol’ SUV pulls right up by the entrance, and out steps Mayor Taylor.

    Yep, that Eneloop thing is gonna save her a *ton* of gas, all right. Can’t wait to see her riding it. I wonder (not really 😉 what she means by “occasionally”.

  5. Dan Permalink  | Jul 11, 2009 01:54pm

    Anybody else ever try to make their way north or south in East Salem? Always looking for better routes that avoid the motorists daily CM celebration, I checked Google Maps for possible routes across the area between Lancaster and Cordon, Center and State. The maps and aerial images show what looks like it could be a long, mysterious barrier running east-west *all* the way from Lancaster to Cordon, between Center and State.

    So I scoped it out on the ground. It’s fabulous biking – quiet, tranquil, stress-free neighborhood streets in pretty nice condition, shade trees, long stretches with no stops – lovely. There are *lots* of kids with bikes around there. Wouldn’t it be nice to offer them opportunities to view bicycling as a form of transportation? But noooooo! Just try to get across that barrier without going all the way to Lancaster (historically one of the busiest streets in the state) or all the way to Cordon (I think I’d almost rather ride I-5). It felt eerily like trying to escape to or from one side or the other of cold war Berlin!

    What is up with that? This is a vast neighborhood. Why has the city seen fit to segregate the people there and practically force the use of motorized transport to get anywhere?

  6. Dan Permalink  | Oct 09, 2009 06:53pm

    I found it!

    I tried again yesterday to make my way from the north part of East Salem to the south part without resorting to the cagerland nightmares of Lancaster or Cordon (guess it’s not really Salem at all – did you know that this huge neighborhood and even like Target and Wendy’s and all that is outside the City limits?!)… anyway, yesterday I just got lost and dead-ended again.

    … But today I went in there again, and with the help of some locals, found a “dead end” that led to grassy path, a break in a fence, a gap in the blackberries, some wicked gnarly singletrack, and finally a deep ditch crossing (where I had to put a foot down because of the big pickup truck parked on the far side), and into the other side! Woo-hoo!

    Even then it still took some maze negotiation, and some more off road, but eventually I got out of town at the southeast end.

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