Education is a beautiful thing

I was getting worried we might be diagnosed with Early Onset Winter. That on the heels of Late Onset Summer. For those of you adept in the dark art of mathematics, you will quickly calculate that this equals: shortest summer ever. So I was pleased to see this in yesterday’s morning newspaper:

It hasn’t played out that way so far this morning, but …

Does anyone else notice something odd in these little images? Maybe it’s just that I have some fondness and respect for the natural sciences, but this has been annoying me for years.

The Register-Guard weather page routinely forecasts this bizarre meteorological phenomenon: A cloud drifts happily across a glorious blue sky and then passes nonchalantly … behind the sun.

To my knowledge, this has never come to pass. And by my cocktail napkin calculations, if the sun were close enough to pass between the Earth and a cloud, the promise of solar energy would be boundless. Of course, the Earth itself would be incinerated.

Ah, well. Let’s move on. As long as we are browsing the local daily newspaper, let’s stop in at the Letter to the Editor Watchtower and see what we can see.

Following The Register-Guard’s front page story about the new stenciled messages downtown admonishing us all not to ride our bikes on the sidewalks (just remember, though, you heard about that here first!), this angry note arrived on the Sept. 18 editorial page from one Caroline Forell of Eugene:

Why is downtown Eugene so hostile to bike riders? An ordinance adopted when downtown was a pedestrian mall bars cyclists on the sidewalks, even though there are no bike lanes in the core on Willamette Street, Olive Street, Oak Street, 10th Avenue or West Broadway. Instead, there are extremely narrow lanes that make it impossible for cyclists to bike alongside of cars.

It’s even worse on car-friendly Sixth and Seventh avenues, where the options are to ride in the street and risk maiming or death, walk your bike on the sidewalk from Charnelton to Pearl streets (defeating the purpose of biking instead of driving) or ride your bike on the nearly empty sidewalks and be fined $50.

Cyclists engage in the efficient, practical, green and healthful alternative to driving. We should be able to cycle throughout Eugene, instead of being treated as pariahs downtown. Make downtown bike friendly.

I guess you can look at things a couple of ways:

  1. Cars have streets. Pedestrians have sidewalks. Cyclists, on the other hand, are pariahs, greeted with hostility, asked to do the impossible and offered no place to ride.
  2. Cyclists are legally entitled to use the streets and should do so.

I ride my bike downtown practically every day. I take the latter view.

I mean, sure, would I think it nice if there were dedicated bike-only thoroughfares all over town? I would. I would love to live on the planet Zork, too. Remember the planet Zork? The planet that has no fossil fuels? I showed you a picture of it a few of posts ago. I love this image so much that I’m going to show it to you again:

I love that people are actually dining in the street! And I love that they added some gritty realistic touches — such as the man hole cover. You have to ask yourself why they would sully such an improbable and idealistic scene with something as ordinary and lackluster as a man hole cover.

At this point, the closest thing we have to the planet Zork here in Eugene is the University of Oregon campus, especially now that school is back in session.

To me this multi-modal thoroughfare has a rather less idyllic feel than I get from the image of Zork. “Chaos” is more the word that comes to mind when negotiating 13th Avenue on campus during the morning rush.

Anyway, back to the letter. Downtown Eugene.

Do I feel as though I am a pariah if I ride my bike downtown? No. Do I find it impossible to bike alongside cars? No. Do I feel as though I’m in a hostile environment? No. I may run across the occasion hostile motorist. But that’s not the same as a hostile environment. West 11th Avenue may be a hostile environment for a cyclist, but downtown? No.

Yes, many downtown streets are narrow and have no bike lanes. The trade-off here is that automobiles tend to move slowly on streets such as West Broadway, Charnelton and even Olive and Willamette once you get between Seventh and 11th avenues.

Often, the best thing to do is just “take the lane.” Don’t feel bad about it. Most people can cycle nearly as fast as auto traffic moves on a street like Broadway anyway. And if you are slower than that, well, the cars have to wait.

As for Sixth and Seventh avenues, I rarely find it necessary to ride on them unless I happen to be headed to a destination on one of those streets. But an important part of urban cycling is putting some thought into your route. There are going to be these kinds of roads, roads I don’t want to cycle on. For now, it’s a fact of life.

So if I am going to Paul’s road bike shop on Sixth, for instance, I am not going to take High Street to Sixth and then take Sixth west for several blocks until I get to the shop. Think ahead.

Could the cycling experience downtown be improved? Sure it could. But this letter does not jibe with my experience in the slightest.

That said, I understand that if you do not cycle often in traffic, it may well be intimidating to ride down a narrow stretch of Willamette in the downtown core with cars trying to pass you.

But we have a fantastic resource in this town. Go to the GEARs website and consider taking a bicycling safety class that should address these concerns.

I think that a little knowledge of the law, of cycling do’s and don’ts and some experience will give anyone the confidence to claim a rightful place on street, to “take the lane” when it is warranted, to be alert to routine hazards, and to ride in such a way as to avoid them.

That is the answer. Well, that or moving to the planet Zork — to which we all can certainly aspire. In the meantime, riding on the sidewalk, however, is not the answer.

Oregon law says:

Every person riding a bicycle upon a public way is subject to the provisions applicable to and has the same rights and duties as the driver of any other vehicle … — (O.R.S. Vol 17, 814.400(1)

Ride your bike like you know that.

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One thought on “Education is a beautiful thing

  1. I agree. I understand the feeling of fear of cycling in traffic for many people, but downtown is not that bad if one rides defensively and confidently. Also, the more that do so the more motorists will intuitively be aware of cyclists as traffic. I do not want cyclists on sidewalks in general, especially in a busy pedestrian areas. I do not want my kids to be hit by a cyclist riding on the sidewalk. Still, I do think the city can do more to make the roads downtown more bicycle friendly. I also believe cyclists should be allowed to ride up onto the sidewalk before dismounting, rather than dismounting in traffic and walking to the sidewalk. I don’t know what the law is on that.

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