Roman McKay was feeling confident after a pass in the cone slalom Saturday, Aug. 27, in Albany.
The 7-year-old grinned over the handlebars of his bike and described the path he was taking through an obstacle course.
“You roll back and forth and then you do, what is it? Figure-eight,” Roman said.
Chalk lines and brightly colored plastic markers gave an intersection in front of the Linn County Courthouse the appearance of a pedal autocross track.
“On busy roads I get nervous about how small they are,” said Kailey McKay, the boy’s mother.
Surrounded by experienced cyclists and administrators of a bike safety course and professional firefighters handing out free helmets, McKay said she hoped the Albany Bike Fair would reinforce good habits.
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Roman had just learned to ride a bike the last time organizers gathered to promote non-motorized transportation in Albany. The event puts bikes ahead of a city that is still trying to create bike-friendly streets, said Becky Lippmann, who sits on the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission.
This commission seeks grant funding and advises the Albany City Council on how to separate bicycles and pedestrians from cars or move people away from busy intersections, where more vehicles close together increase the risk of a crash.
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“It’s about making sure people can get around the city safely on their bikes,” Lippmann said.
The commission is seeking state funding that would potentially improve safety at intersections where children ride their bikes to school. Lippmann said the city may designate bike lanes on some surface streets.
Commissioners have also talked about how to encourage the city to build trails or easements that would give cyclists a way to get from Albany to Corvallis without riding in freeway traffic.
“There is none,” Lippmann said.
The number of accidents recorded by the state Department of Transportation was at a five-year low in 2020. The state recorded 38,141 accidents that year, up from 50,128 and 50,150 the previous two years.
But the death toll was at a five-year high, with 507 killed in crashes compared with 494 and 502 the previous year.
About 2.8 people for every 1 million of the country’s population died in bicycle crashes that year – a total of 938 cyclists and 2.4% of all accident-related deaths.
Cyclists accounted for most of those killed in accidents, 2.8% of traffic deaths and a higher proportion of the population with 3.3 cyclists killed for every 1 million people.
A total of 14 died in Oregon. Most of them were during the day, most on dry roads, most local where they died and most collided with a passenger car.
That year, a 60-year-old man died after a pickup truck collided with his bicycle near Waterloo, southeast Lebanon. A 3-year-old boy rode in a Scio crossover, was hit by a pickup truck, and died.
Crashes in Albany injured 14 cyclists in 2020. Cyclists did not account for any of the city’s four transportation-related deaths and accounted for about 3% of the city’s 454 total crashes.
18 others were injured in Corvallis at the same time. Corvallis saw three traffic fatalities, none of them cyclists, which accounted for about 5.3% of the 335 total crashes.
Lebanon saw 124 accidents, two of which injured cyclists (1.6%).
Saturday’s event was meant to reach riders before they develop bad habits, before they grow old enough to interact with traffic.
“If we can teach kids that they can ride a bike and it’s not weird, maybe they’ll enjoy doing it,” Lippmann said.
The Albany Bicycle Safety Education Program showed up with a trailer full of bicycles funded by nearly $60,000 in fundraising efforts by the Mid-Valley Bicycle Club.
The program shows up at Albany-area schools to instruct children for hours on best practices — how to ride to school and get there without getting hit by a car.
“We’re introducing bike safety,” said program coordinator Rich Olson.
Roman had been riding for several years and his sister, Bennett McKay, 9, started when she was 5 after she competed in a running and swimming event. Bennett’s friends were competing in the same event in a triathlon, adding an entire leg to their bike race.
“It was really her idea,” Kailey McKay said. “She said I want to ride a bike and we went home and learned it.”
The McKay children, seasoned athletes, showed up on their bikes.
Some children took advantage of bright blue loaner bicycles. Henry Volz asked his mother, Melinda Valencia, if he could ride the obstacle course and was all smiles afterward, even as he skipped through the cones on a particularly sharp turn.
Valencia, like several other parents, said the boy rides a bike near the house, often with neighborhood peers.
She said the kids are usually good at reminding each other to put their helmets on, but she also worries that Henry will leave his helmet at home.
“They’re just busy little people and it’s something they have to stop doing,” Valencia said.
He had to wear the helmet, purchased through contributions from Albany Fire Department firefighters to that agency’s community assistance fund.
The department gives out 75 to 100 helmets each year, said firefighter Carly Shears.
These helmets are part of a mission to provide education and access to lifesaving equipment that is sometimes overlooked when people simply don’t have the time or money to consider purchasing life jackets, or smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Shears agreed that it’s important to reach people with some of that education before they start forming bad habits.
“Once they become teenagers, it’s not the cool thing to do anymore,” she said.
Alex Powers (he/she) covers business, environment and health care for Mid-Valley Media. Call 541-812-6116 or email [email protected].