Farewell to the Fare, Thanks to the Fair

Oregon Country Fair has always specialized in the fantastic. Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean you can’t believe it’s true, or that it will become true. Tinker Bell was right. If we only believe, it can come true.

For example, fret-free public transportation across the region, available to all for any purpose, at no cost — wouldn’t that be fantastic? Thanks to the Oregon Country Fair, for the next three days, it’s also true.

Free shuttle busses to the Fair have been available for years, but leaders of the Fair chose this year to simply underwrite the entire cost of LTD’s system for all riders, for all three days — as if to say, “Skip the fare; come to the Fair.”

Leaders of the Fair take their citizenship seriously. They have slowly widened their influence and philanthropy beyond its entrance gates. First they reclaimed their own parking lots, then they began helping Veneta in strategic ways. Now they want to share a vision for less carbon-intensive travel with you, whether you’re planning to attend the Fair or not.

Considering transportation alternatives can be frightening, in part because we’ve learned (i.e. been persuaded) to attach our choices to our identity. A self-described bicycle activist once confided in me that his movement was focused too much on winning a few converts and too little on connecting with the many who are curious.

What if I left my car at home this weekend? How will I learn how to get where I’m going? How much will it cost me, in money and time?

This weekend we can ask those very private questions in a very public way. If it catches on, every bus stop might begin to resemble Orientation Weekend around campus. Those who use the system can make themselves available to help those who are new to it.

You can take the bus to work today, bringing some reading material that’s been following you for a week and weighing down your commuter bag.

Imagine getting to and from Saturday Market without worrying about parking. How much stuff would you buy at Costco or Winco if you didn’t have a trunk to fill? Have you ever taken your bike on the bus (#91) out McKenzie Highway past Blue River and ridden (part of the way) back? The Ems are playing at PK Park all weekend.

How would each of these activities be different, sans automobile? Aren’t you curious?

Bring a book or a friend, so the extra time won’t feel wasted. Almost any trip you take will be a little longer but a lot easier. You’ll spend more but better time, discovering new things.

Oregon Country Fair leaders have devised a clever alternative to purchasing carbon offsets, which function like modern-day indulgences, assuaging the guilt of event organizers and attendees. And so, good for them — providing car-free travel options to a couple hundred thousand neighbors is more satisfying than planting some trees in a bulldozed rain forest.

Who will follow these leaders? Oregon Bach Festival? TrackTown USA? Lane Transit District should promote this option to other groups and events. We love our reputation as a community committed to sustainability, so let’s get on board with this fare-free vision. We can move people from curious to occasional to regular users.

The benefits extend far beyond lessening carbon output. Riders will find themselves connecting in new ways — an unscripted Saturnalia festival, but in reverse. Once people leave their anonymizing fuel-combustion cages, they begin bumping into people they haven’t seen.

Urban planners refer to those unplanned connections as “collisions.” Skybridges connecting a parking structure with an office building are out. Better to spill commuters onto the street, where they might stop for a cookie or a latte or learn something new about their surroundings before they duck into their cubicle.

Once you remove the ton of metal and machinery between us, “collisions” become a serendipitous source of happiness and a building block for community.

So who will you bump into this weekend if you leave your car at home? There’s only one way to find out.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column most Fridays for The Register-Guard and blogs