Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Path and Pioneer Cemetery

Part 1: When Heads And Hearts Don’t Agree

Occasionally issues arise that expose competing values in a community. Things usually start off with an idea that sounds innocent enough, but it ends up being a problem for somebody else, and poof, it's suddenly very complicated. Let’s please not suggest that “fixes” are easy, because that just ends up insulting everyone who has an opinion. Some things can't be simplified.

One such issue in Salem has recently gotten my full attention because it’s personal for me on BOTH sides of the issue. It has captured my head and my heart, and it's anything but simple. I’d better explain.

This past Memorial Day Weekend, the Statesman-Journal ran an article about a proposed bike path that would be adjacent to our historic Pioneer Cemetery in South Salem. One might wonder why there isn’t a path there already: We’re talking about putting in a very short ribbon of asphalt to connect two neighborhoods that are currently “walled off” by the Pioneer Cemetery (and City View Cemetery right next door). 

Shouldn’t really be a big deal, right? I mean, the path would offer some much needed relief for north-south riders who must currently use Commercial Street. Picture a fast-moving, narrow arterial that moves buses, trucks, and gazillions of cars between downtown and the burbs and you get the picture: “calm” is definitely not the word you’d use to describe this thoroughfare. I would not ever recommend Commercial to novice riders. A safer option is long overdue.

But like I said, it’s complicated. There’s at least one other side to this issue: While there may be a logical place to put the path, the people who are committed to the safety and well-being of the cemetery are worried.  Unfortunately, we do have to consider the vulnerability of things like monuments and gravestones these days. The “Friends of Pioneer Cemetery” have expressed concern over the proposed location, and the City appears to be considering “vacating” the pathway. As I understand it, that would effectively end the proposal. No pathway.
It’s important that we strive to see all sides of a complicated issue. We must seek first to understand, then be understood. We are better as a society when we honor each others' perspectives, even when they differ from our own.

As a cyclist I want to advocate for a safer path through this part of my community. I worry that without it, cyclists are at risk.  

But I also have a personal connection to the Pioneer Cemetery that’s pretty important to me as well: 

My grandparents.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I think we all agree it is a difficult matter and one that indeed requires thought and care.

But there are several separate (though interrelated) questions that easily get lumped together, and I think that the SJ piece wasn't careful about distinguishing them.

1) The first question is: Would it be helpful to have a path connection between Hoyt and Rural on the west side of Commercial. Bike and Walk Salem said "yes," and I think most of us agree this would be a good thing.

2) So then the next question is: Since we don't know what a such a path would look like (nothing is planned, no alignment has been identified), would it be wise to hold off on vacating the alley?

In April 2011, staff recommendation was "yes." There was some last-minute politicking, and so in September 2011 Council voted to vacate.

When the matter was appealed, the State Land Use Board of Appeals agreed that some of the details of the politicking were problematic and that the City needed to revisit the matter.

Many of us still think it would be prudent to hold off on the vacation until a) we have formalized a path alignment that doesn't need the alley, or b) a formalized path alignment requires the alley, or c) it turns out after all that a path is not possible.

The planning stage that would answer this threefold question has not happened yet, and so it is important that folks understand there is no proposal on the table to put a path through Pioneer Cemetery. This is a possibility, it is true, but we aren't at that planning stage yet. If tons of money magically appeared, a bridge could be built. Maybe City View would like a path through that cemetery. Maybe there's some other alignment that a super creative person will discover.

3) So the last question, on which there is much to discuss and analyze, and on which few I think have a settled opinion, this last question is: Should a path go through Pioneer Cemetery? And the answer surely is, "we don't know yet." Maybe the answer is yes, and maybe it is no. A much more detailed planning and community process would be necessary to answer this.

Many hope that a broad consensus can emerge on postponing the alley vacation - and hold off on deciding anything about where a path alignment would actually fall. These are separate questions, and we do ourselves a disservice by treating them as one, as I think the SJ piece did.

In any event, I look forward to your thoughts and analysis in part 2. I'm glad you're thinking about this! It is really important.

Curt said...

A new path through the cemetery isn't needed to make the connection. There is a service road there already that is used by vehicles. What we are really talking about is a gate next to a maintenance shed that would be opened and closed the same times as the south gate on Hoyt.

Kelly Carlisle said...

We certainly need to keep the conversation alive.

Eric, I really appreciate your respect for process-oriented thinking. I absolutely agree with that kind of approach to complicated issues. I'm hoping the City will have the wisdom to allow further discourse. Vacating the alley would seem to be an artificial ending of the process, and premature.

At the same time, I am identifying with the families of those whose graves lie within the cemetery. I understand the need for thoughtful, respectful dialogue about intent and impact of changes to that vicinity. I worry about the disrepair of some of the sites already.

I wonder how much all sides actually share in common: respect for life, respect for safety of persons and things, appreciation for the beauty and peace in the neighborhoods and cemeteries, etc. And might that be a basis for some jointly held commitments if we take the conversation forward?

Curt, I was wondering the same thing you mentioned. Essentially, reconfiguring fences and gates to utilize that road that runs between the two cemeteries. I think that's what Eric was describing in option "b." It certainly makes the most sense when you're there in person, I think. I don't know what other options have been explored.