Friday, October 1, 2010

A Glance at the 1972 Oregon Bikeways Progress Report

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with Sheila Lyons at ODOT looking at some historical materials in anticipation of the move. ODOT staff are vacating the building in order for it to be renovated. (It was great to have this opportunity afforded by the move. Thanks, Sheila!)

Both bike racks were full out front, but I have dreams of seeing not just 8 bikes locked up, but a tens, even hundreds of bikes in front of the Transportation Building!

That got me thinking about progress. One of the files I looked at was full of annual Oregon Bikeways Progress Reports from the early 70s. The best picture was of the 1973 report (above), but I spent the most time with the 1972 report, completed just a year after Governor McCall signed the Bike Bill in 1971. I hope to return to it and write about it in more detail.

One thing that caught my eye was a clear definition of "utility cycling" - and the sense that we are only now just beginning to recover interest in that kind of bicycling. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, "recreational cycling" dominated.

Another fascinating document is this 1971 map of the Salem bike network. The picture is bad, I know, and I hope to make a better one or to scan it on a flatbed. But it shows the path on Highway 22 when it was shiny and new, and shows a continuation into south Salem of the route on SE Berry and what I think is the Croisan Trail. Keubler and Cordon roads don't yet exist, and West Salem is mostly rural.

The report also contains project lists, completion order, early bike counts, and some other matters it will be interesting to return to.

Another swell artifact was this Bike-Ways book, circa 1950. It showed large numbers of young women bicycling, camping, and repairing - this confounded my expectations of a frank post-war sexism and "Leave it to Beaver" domesticity. That was great.

Less great was seeing the optimism of "this time cycling is not a fad!" Bicycling in the last century has been intensely "cyclical" - with booms in the 1890s, during the Depression, the 1970s, and our current one. I wasn't aware of a post-war boom, and I'm not sure the sales data really supports this. Even so, basically once each generation, we discover the value of bicycling for fun, health, and economy - and then we forgot. It was dispiriting to see the past enthusiasm in the ironic light of history and to wonder if we can sustain our current boomlet.

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