Eugene Bike Scene article in Oregon Voice
Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads – But Bike Paths Would Be Nice
words by Noah Dewitt
On a sunny autumn morning in
2006, Michal Young pedaled
his Trek 5200 bicycle north on
Alder Street. At 18th Avenue,
he stopped at a red light.
An Associate Professor of
computer science, Young was on his way to
teach a lesson in software methodology, but
that morning he ended up learning a lesson in
physics: Two objects cannot occupy the same
space at the same time.
When red turned green, Young continued
north, while a southbound driver, unaware of
the “Except Bicycles” clause of the intersection’s
“Do Not Enter” signs, turned left onto 18th
without looking for oncoming cyclists. The
driver’s-side corner of the small SUV knocked
Young to the street. Fork bent, head tube
damaged, front wheel “tacoed,” and collarbone
broken, Young was taken by ambulance to the
In the urban ecosystem, bikes and cars are
two species that can’t seem to co-exist. With
limited space on city streets, clashes are
inevitable. Horns get honked. Doors get keyed.
Cyclists get told to “get off the road, idiot!” And
once in a while, the two-wheeled and the fourwheeled
physically collide, often leaving the
non-motorized party pissed off, hurt, or dead.
Luckily, the car that hit Young was moving at a
very slow speed, and his helmet kept his head
uninjured. Although he continues to bike for
both transportation and recreation, many
people are discouraged by the threat of an
accident like his.
Over the past few years, the city of Eugene, in
its finite wisdom, has launched projects, plans,
and committees to better protect those who
ride and to encourage others to lay down their
steering wheels and take up the handlebars.
But according to Eugene bike planners, the
city’s efforts, as progressive as they may sound,
aren’t going to lead us to Bike-topia.
In June 2010 the city began the protracted
process of updating the Pedestrian and Bicycle
Master Plan, a list of infrastructure projects the
City Council hopes to execute over the next
20 years that will make cycling a safer, more
convenient option. Once passed, it’s just a
matter of going down the list, finding funds,
and adding a bike lane here, a shared lane
marking there, to make Eugene’s network of
bike facilities bigger and more connected.
With the Ped/Bike Plan update nearing
completion and a number of bikeway
improvements slated for this summer, things
are looking up for cyclists in Eugene. But
support for these bike-friendly initiatives isn’t
unanimous. Many Eugene commuters are left
wondering why upping bikability is worthy of
There are hella reasons, said Marc Schlossberg,
Associate Director of the UO’s Sustainable
Cities Initiative and professor of planning,
public policy, and management. “First,
nobody wants to drive more than they already
do. Second, we have a big climate crisis, and
bicycling more reduces our CO2 emissions.
Third, we have an obesity problem and
increasing our physical activity would help.
Fourth, biking is less socially isolating. And
fifth, it’s fun.”
But by American standards, Eugene is
already a city of cyclists; around 11 percent
of residents get to work by bike, which gives
Eugene the highest bicycle mode share of any
city its size in the nation, according to the U.S.
Census Bureau’s 2009 community survey. But
if we widen our scope and compare Eugene to
the European standard, we see that 11 percent
is nothing to brag about. In Amsterdam,
Netherlands, a city of more than 1 million
people, bicycling accounts for 38 percent of
all trips. Eugene has room to elevate its game.
“Not every European city is bike-friendly,”
Schlossberg told me. “Amsterdam and
Copenhagen made bike-friendly policy
decisions to create their bike infrastructure.”
The Dutch and the Danish employed trafficcalming
features like roundabouts and
separated bikeways (guarded by a physical
barrier) to make driving annoying and cycling
enjoyable. Cut to the USA, where a line of paint
is all that stands between the Humvee and the
Huffy. The American approach to increasing
bike safety (wear a helmet) doesn’t seem to
be working. The U.S.’s cyclist mortality rate is
five times that of the Netherlands, according
to data compiled by Rutgers University
transportation planning scholar John Pucher.
Can we learn from our Dutch bros?
People who aren’t big on biking might wonder
if pro-bike planners like Schlossberg are trying
to force-feed cycling to the public. Take your
medicine. Ride a bike. It’s good for you. But
Schlossberg says that’s not true. At least not
“I firmly believe that there are more people
that would like to walk or bike than can
currently do so,” he told me. “There’s a public
demand that isn’t being met. So that’s my
As the city of Los Angeles illustrates, a certain
percentage of people ride bikes no matter
how underdeveloped the infrasrtucture; for
these riders, no intersection is too gnarly.
Another percentage will always opt to drive,
walk, or bus, whether out of laziness or the
memory of a traumatic childhood crash. But
the majority of people are conditional riders.
They feel vulnerable on a dodgy bike lane
(like the northbound contraflow lane on Alder
Street), but totally at home when cruising on
a separated bike facility (like the River Path).
For the most part, the Ped/Bike Plan will create
more of what we already have: painted lanes
on the side of the road.
“Bike lanes aren’t the end-all. They shouldn’t be
our overall goal,” said Ted Sweeney, University
senior, Coordinator of the UO Bike Program,
and volunteer on two committees that advise
the city on bike infrastructure decisions.
“We need to start building a different kind
of bike infrastructure: separated facilities.
Either there’s a barrier or a section of road,
something that makes you feel separated from
automobile traffic because that’s what it takes
to get the other 30 percent of people out there
This summer, one type of separated bike facility
will be making its Eugene debut. The bike lanes
that currently straddle traffic on Alder will
become a two-way cycletrack on the street’s
east side, stretching the corridor from 19th
Avenue to the north side of Franklin Boulevard
for easy River Path access. Unlike your run-ofthe-
mill bike lane, the cycletrack on Alder will
be marked with “green thermoplastics” (think
sidewalk paint) at high-traffic intersections,
making it more visible to motorists. To be a true
cycletrack, however, it will need to be guarded
by a barrier or elevated slightly from the street,
but these details are still being decided.
After the crash that broke his collarbone and
totaled his bike, Michal Young changed the
route of his commute to avoid the intersection
of Alder and 18th. But when the Alder Street
cycletrack is unveiled this summer and a stripe
of lime green calls attention to the cyclist’s
path across 18th Avenue, he may find it safe to
resume his old way.
To bike on the streets of Eugene, or any other
American city, means to mingle unprotected
with moving automobiles. A helmet can
only do so much when you are struck by a
2-ton mass of steel moving at upwards of 20
mph. If the problem is that cars and bikes are
occupying the same space at the same time,
the solution is simple: give each one its own
space. While Eugene’s Bike-topian planners
want nothing more than to give cyclists
separated facilities, they are making necessary
concessions to the car-centric status quo: baby
steps in the right direction. OV