Bascom and Bike Corrals

Ruth Bascom would have loved bike corrals. Eugene’s first woman mayor wasn’t known as “Eugene’s Bicycling Mayor” for nothing.

David Piercy, the man married to our current mayor, recounted one of his favorite Bascom memories. “It was a news article that I’ve never forgotten. It described a meeting she had when she was mayor of Eugene with then-President Bill Clinton. I don’t remember anything about their meeting, but the article stated that after the meeting, Ruth bicycled home.”

So matter of fact. She wasn’t making a statement. She was just going home.

I worked with Bascom on capturing the history of the riverfront bike path that today bears her name. She wanted to be sure that story got remembered, because it unfolded over decades. Most people can’t pay attention for that long, so they can’t see history exerting itself. Bascom could.

I made Ruth tell me every story she could remember. I can tell you that she liked the riverfront path, but loved the bike bridges.

She was more proud of the bridges, because there was more collaboration necessary to make them happen. Most of those bridges will tell you their secrets if you look at their undersides. You’ll see piping or wires and you’ll know somebody had to get something securely across the river. Rather than digging beneath the river, Bascom and her legion of bicycle supporters were there to suggest a multi-purpose bridge might be built for just a little bit more.

She loved the bike lanes on the streets, but she lit up when describing what she called the Alder Street solution. “We had a consultant examine traffic flows. I stationed volunteers at key intersections to count vehicles of every type. We learned that Alder Street was a key thoroughfare for bicyclists, but less so for motorists. When we first suggested two lanes for bicycles, but only one for cars, people thought they heard us wrong. We were fortunate we had the data to back it up.”

Matter of fact, once again. When you want to be first, it’s good to have facts.

A bike corral repurposes a single on-street parking space to make room for a dozen or more bicycles. They are new to the United States, but they’ve been working well across Europe for years.

Four bike corrals are on the drawing boards for Eugene, but more will follow. There’ll be one in front of The Kiva, one near the downtown Cornucopia restaurant, and one in The Whiteaker by Ninkasi Brewery’s new tasting room. The first bike corral will be installed near the Amtrak station in front of Morning Glory restaurant.

Bike corrals extend the bicyclist mantra, allowing bikes to “share the road” with cars — while both are parked. Bike corrals do something more important than decluttering sidewalks. By lowering bicycle parking the height of a curb and putting it in the street, bicycles are raised in stature to that of their motored kin.

A bicycle parked on a road is a vehicle, equivalent to a car. A bicycle parked on a sidewalk is a fashion statement, equivalent to an umbrella.

Bascom had no use for fashion statements. Her transportation choices were practical, not political. She never confused a mode of transportation with a statement of moral character. After meeting the president of the United States, she probably didn’t bother thinking about the fuel consumed by his motorcade to get him safely home. That might have distracted her from the pleasure of feeling the wind on her face.

She fought for equality, but never considered others her foes. She always trusted history to do its part, making the inarguable also inevitable.

Equality between like things is political only until people get accustomed to the idea. Men and women, blacks and whites, gay and straight, cars and bikes. Eventually their equality becomes self-evident. Parity is justice realized. The task of early adopters is to uncover the disparities that hide what’s simply a matter of fact.

Matters of fact: Bicycles are good for many trips. Automobiles are good for others. Both vehicles have their place.

And now they will, side-by-side, thanks to bike corrals. Ruth would have loved that.
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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a weekly column for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com. He can’t help but notice that the bicyclist emblem painted on streets in Eugene now includes a distinct helmet on the head.