And now, for our feature presentation:
Today, I went to Silverton, a small town about 12 miles east of Salem. To get there, I took a Flixbus from Corvallis to Salem, then a regional bus from Salem to Silverton, the same bus back, and then the Coast Starlight from Salem to Albany, and a bus back to Corvallis. That is a lot of travel for January! I was out for about 10 hours, and left and returned in the dark.
This is a long video, I address a lot of things in it, even though I was very tired while making it:
The story of Stu Rasmussen
Silverton was the first city in the US to elect a transgender person as mayor. The reason that this is important for a post I am writing about transit is that at this point, everything in the United States is politicized, and transit is certainly one of those things. In Oregon, attitudes towards transit are divided between Portland and Eugene, where transit is a normal part of life, and everywhere else, where transit is viewed as either a waste of money or insidious. Or, at best, as a cute social service. Despite Silverton being progressive enough in terms of acceptance of gender diversity, in terms of transit and urban development, its still a small town that assumes that cars are the only serious method of transit. In general, Oregon communities are very diverse in their views of economic and social issues, and "urban Oregon" and "rural Oregon" is usually way oversimplified.
The Amtrak Cascades would be great with hop-on hop-off service
Well, there is a radical idea. There are places where the Amtrak Cascades service allows this: if you are going between Portland and Seattle, you can hop off and have lunch in Centralia. Of course, you would need to have two tickets! It took me a long time to get to Silverton from Salem. Actually, the trip isn't that long, but they only run five times a day. And the Salem transit center is some distance away from the Amtrak station. For an intrepid traveller, someone who is just backpacking around looking for an adventure, it would be possible to do something like start in Eugene, take the Cascades to Salem, take a bus to Silverton and back, then get back on a train to Cascades. But for most people, it wouldn't be a feasible option. Amtrak Cascades service is expected to increase, which takes away part of the problem. A bus directly from the train station to Silverton and back would make it a possible tourist destination. Imagine being able to work your way up and down the Cascades route, and being able to take side trips!
Combining the above two points: small towns can be small until they aren't
Downtown Silverton has a lot of small businesses. It also has very walkable streets. And lots of parks. And it doesn't have traffic lights. It is a charming place. The problem is, a town can't maintain "charming, friendly downtown" if it grows too big and refuses to have transit. The town has preserved its downtown, but I would guess most of the residents are commuting into Salem to work, and the downtown is mostly for tourists (and of course the service workers). If the town gets bigger, those charming little streets will become traffic jams. Unless there is some sort of transit planning. Right now, there are 5 trips a day to and from Salem (and north to Mount Angel/Woodburn). This isn't enough for employment. In the long term, the city can't maintain its charm without transit planning. But people from small towns often reject the expense of transit. Whether Silverton, like other small towns in the Willamette Valley, will shift away from being totally car-centric is something that remains to be seen. Especially since there is currently a high level of sociopolitical animosity towards anything considered "urban".