Reaching cyclists before cars do: Bicycle education returns to Albany | Community

Roman McKay was feeling confident after one pass of the cone slalom on Saturday, August 27, in Albany.

The 7-year-old grinned over the handlebars of his bike and described the route he took through an obstacle course.

“You go back and forth and then you do, what’s that? The eight,” said Roman.

Chalk lines and brightly colored plastic markers gave the intersection in front of the Linn County Courthouse the look of a pedal-powered autocross track.

“I get nervous on busy streets with how small they are,” said Kaylee McKay, the boy’s mother.

Surrounded by experienced cyclists and bicycle safety course administrators and professional firefighters handing out free helmets, McKay said she hopes the Albany Bike Fair reinforces good habits.

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The last time organizers gathered to promote non-motorized transportation in Albany, Roman was barely learning to ride a bike. The event puts cycling in front of a city that is still trying to create bike-friendly streets, said Becky Lipman, who is a member of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission.

That commission seeks grant funding and advises Albany City Council on how to separate bicycles and pedestrians from cars, or how to divert people away from busy intersections where more vehicles close together increase the risk of a collision.

“It’s about making sure people can get around town safely on their bikes,” Lipman said.

The commission is seeking state funding that would potentially improve safety at intersections where children cross streets while riding their bikes to school. Lipman said the city may designate bike routes on some surface streets.

Commissioners also talked about how to encourage the city to build trails or easements to give cyclists a way to get from Albany to Corvallis without having to navigate freeway traffic.

“There isn’t one,” Lipman said.

The number of crashes recorded by the state Department of Transportation was the lowest in five years in 2020. The state recorded 38,141 crashes that year, down from 50,128 and 50,150 the previous two years.

But the death toll was at a five-year high, with 507 killed in collisions compared with 494 and 502 a year earlier.

About 2.8 people for every 1 million of the country’s population died in bicycle crashes this year – a total of 938 cyclists and 2.4% of all crash-related deaths.

Cyclists make up more of those killed in crashes, 2.8% of road deaths and a higher proportion of the population at 3.3 cyclists killed for every 1 million people.

Total 14 died in Oregon. Most of them were during the day, most were on dry roads, most were local to where they died, and most were in collisions with a car.

That same year, a 60-year-old man died after a pickup truck collided with his bicycle near Waterloo, southeast of Lebanon. A 3-year-old boy entered an intersection on Scio, was struck 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.

Another 18 were injured in Corvallis at the same time. Corvallis saw three people die in transportation fatalities, none of them bicyclists, which accounted for about 5.3 percent of the 335 total crashes.

In Lebanon, 124 crashes were registered, two of which injured cyclists (1.6%).

Saturday’s event aimed to reach riders before they have bad habits, before they are old enough to interact with traffic.

“If we can teach kids to ride a bike and it’s not weird, maybe they’ll enjoy doing it,” Lipman said.

Albany’s bicycle safety education program showed up with a trailer full of bicycles, funded by about $60,000 in fundraising efforts from the Mid-Valley Bicycle Club.

The program is popping up in Albany-area schools to guide kids for hours on best practices — how to walk to school and get there without getting hit by a car.

“We instill bicycle safety,” said program coordinator Rich Olson.

Roman has been riding for several years, and his sister Bennett McKay, 9, started when she was 5 after competing in a running and swimming competition. Bennett’s friends competed in the same triathlon event, adding an entire stage to their bike competition.

“It was really her idea,” Kaylee McKay said. “She said I wanted to ride a bike and we went home and taught her.”

The McKay children, accomplished athletes, showed up on their own bikes.

Some kids took advantage of the bright blue loaner bikes. Henry Volz asked his mother, Melinda Valencia, if he could ride the obstacle course and then mostly smiled, even as he jumped over the cones marking one particularly sharp turn.

Valencia, like several other parents, said the boy rides his bike close to home, often with peers from the neighborhood.

She said the kids are usually good at reminding each other to put their helmets on, but she’s also worried Henry will leave his helmet at home.

“They’re just busy little people and it’s something they have to stop to do,” Valencia said.

He got to keep the helmet, purchased through contributions from Albany firefighters to that agency’s community assistance fund.

The department gives away 75 to 100 helmets each year, Firefighter Carly Shears said.

These helmets are part of a mission to provide education and access to life-saving devices that are 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 a cool thing anymore,” she said.

Alex Powers (he/him) covers business, environment and health for Mid-Valley Media. Call 541-812-6116 or email