As long as the University of Oregon is winning awards for cycling friendliness, I should tell you how much I love that campus stretch of 13th Avenue.
It’s the part of 13th that runs from the Starbucks at Alder Street, down to the bookstore, then onto campus proper, past the business school and the stout fortress of Johnson Hall, all the way up to the student union at University Street.
Have you ever been to Italy? I once was wandering around Rome, and I saw a guy on a Vespa, craning his head around like an owl so that he could kiss his girlfriend — or some woman — who was sitting on the Vespa behind him — while he was buzzing through traffic at 25 mph. They were beautiful people.
While I was on that trip to Europe, I also saw a guy hit a car with a shovel — an impulse you yourself may have had from time to time. The car just sped off, too. Didn’t stop or anything. That was in Paris. Europeans, I think, sometimes have a different way of expressing their emotions than we do.
I suspect that Americans in general tend to dislike chaos. We make a lot of rules to avoid it. We want for things to be orderly and tidy. And safe, by god, safe.
But our exception in Eugene is 13th Avenue. Here we can witness an amazing flow of humanity — by foot, bicycle, skateboard, car, bus — all tossed together like a salad. There seems to be no convention as to which side of the street to cycle or walk on.
Not long ago, I watched a slow-moving car jerk to a stop for a stream of pedestrians strolling across Kincaid toward the bookstore. The pedestrians seemed oblivious to the car. They didn’t stop, as the motorist might have expected. They didn’t even look up from their phones long enough to notice it.
A cyclist, meanwhile, had to swerve a bit to miss the car, as it suddenly stopped. The cyclist slammed the back of the car with his fist as he pedaled by. The motorist seemed lost and confused, stranded in a strange and hostile land.
I don’t think this would go over anywhere else in town — not on a daily basis anyway. But the usual rules of traffic do not apply here.
Here there is a true critical mass of non-motorized travel. (The guerrilla cycling advocacy ride that bills itself Critical Mass must wish it could be even half of this. Any Critical Mass ride I’ve ever seen, was nowhere near achieving what is really meant by the term critical mass.)
I have an architect friend who doesn’t share my love of 13th Avenue. He thinks 13th, as it passes the business school and Johnson Hall, is an abomination — just a regular old street with regular old curbs and ugly old bike racks. “This?” he asks incredulously. “This is the grand entry to campus?!”
Aesthetically, I suppose he’s right. It is not visually beautiful. But the way it functions is beautiful. And perhaps there is a symbolism in it that is beautiful, too — the old automobile-style street reclaimed by the unwashed, non-motorized hoards.
For the fiercer cycling advocates among you, this should be an important monument of hope and inspiration.
We should mention here that there are some events happening today (May 5) to celebrate UO’s Silver Medal in the BFU (which is, we think, a rather unfortunate acronym for Bicycle Friendly University).
A guy named Andy Clarke will be here. He is the executive director of the American League of Bicyclists (which makes these awards). UO President Richard Lariviere is even scheduled to make a showing. For bicycles!
There is a ride at noon, an awards ceremony at 3:15 and a lecture tonight at 6:30. Details of all the events are at WeBikeEugene.
Eugene Bicyclist himself, alas, will not be partaking in these events. I don’t mean show any disrespect, but I try to avoid going places where there are officials giving speeches, bestowing medals, tossing dirt with chrome-plated shovels or cutting big ribbons with a cartoonishly large pair of scissors. Please.
It is my birthday today. I will be partaking elsewhere.