When Dan Crall founded Corvallis Pedicab in the spring of 2009, he may not have realized what a major fixture his human-powered bicycle taxis would become in the city. His pedicabs are popular at football games, the farmers’ market, and even at weddings. And three years later it’s as if he’s always been here—Crall’s pedicabs, bustling students around OSU’s campus or locals through the farmers’ market, are a fitting and welcome sight in a city that consistently ranks high in bike-friendliness. Last year, his pedicab service was voted Best Taxi/Transport Service in Corvallis (Reader’s Choice) in Corvallis’s Gazette-Times newspaper.
But as the city’s street-sweeping program has declined, and with the relatively slow response time of Public Works, Crall, like many other Corvallis cyclists, has noticed a distinct and growing problem: glass and debris in bike lanes. While some cyclists pause to toss garbage out of lanes, often onto the grass, roadside trash, especially glass, can also injure walkers and runners. Fortunately, when it comes to effectively cleaning up bike lanes for local cyclists, Crall is a man with a plan – he’s developed a portable cleaning set-up that empowers every Corvallis cyclist to take charge of their own bike route to help sweep up dangerous debris and keep bike lanes safe for everyone.
If you’ve ever blown a bike tire on a broken Smirnoff bottle—which can be especially hazardous at night—or swerved to avoid bike lane debris and narrowly missed grazing a car, then you may also wonder why potentially dangerous road debris is such a pervasive issue in certain parts of the city. In 2004, Corvallis cut its street-sweeping services by 25 percent. Funded primarily by the State Highway Fund Gas Tax, maintaining street-cleaning services at their current levels was no longer an economically sustainable option for our growing city. Without any immediately available funds, Corvallis was forced to make cuts. Now, streets are swept in each of twelve districts only once per month between April and August, and twice per month during the remainder of the year (including during fall leaf clean-up). OSU and the central business district along the river are still swept more frequently.
However, it’s important to note that street sweepers are bulky, expensive pieces of equipment that run on fossil fuels and tend to block traffic. They also sweep designated districts whether or not they actually need it, treating districts that need more frequent clean-up, such as areas with significant numbers of fraternities and sororities, the same as outlying residential neighborhoods. Needless to say, our current street-sweeping services aren’t efficient.
Aware of Corvallis’s street-cleaning issues, Crall developed an idea to combat bike lane debris in the city. In 2009 he submitted a street-cleaning plan to a City Council member that proposed using individuals on bikes pulling trailers with brooms, dustpans, trash cans, and other cleaning implements to spot-sweep problem areas, and report large or developing debris issues back to Public Works. This cleaning would occur once per week for six to eight hours in each of the city’s districts. Not only would this create new jobs in Corvallis, but it would also reduce the need for expensive fuel-burning street-sweeping equipment. A city like Corvallis, which professes to support and promote green ideas, should absolutely have embraced such a pioneering concept.
“I think we all need to be more empowered to act as responsible, concerned citizens to make this world a better place—and it starts locally,” Crall asserts.
But to Crall’s dismay, this particular Council member and a street-sweeping supervisor, rather than considering the numerous merits of the idea, simply “had a good laugh.” Crall was understandably disappointed. But rather than give up on his goal of glass- and debris-free Corvallis bike lanes, he decided to approach the problem from a new angle—if you want something done, do it yourself.
Crall purchased 40 portable broom-and-dustpans from Robnett’s, downtown Corvallis’s locally owned and operated hardware store. The dustpan includes a sticker with the Corvallis Pedicab logo and the phone number for Public Works (541-766-6916) in case a mess is too large for the brown paper bag provided with the sweeping set-up (although you can often find trash cans at nearby businesses as well). Cyclists can carry the small dustpan and broom in their backpacks, bike baskets, or saddlebags to spot-clean any trash along their bike routes that could be potentially hazardous to other riders.
“I see glass every day,” says Crall. “My hope is that people get inspired to take this to the next level. Citizen involvement is becoming more and more something that we can’t ignore our role in.”
Although this project was started only recently, Crall has so far had great success in distributing his portable street-sweeping systems—it’s obvious that local cyclists strongly support cleaning up bike lanes. If you’d like a sweeping set-up for your bike, feel free to flag down any pedicabs you see in town, or contact Crall at DanCrall@gmail.com. The set-ups are free (donations are appreciated), and you can also purchase broom-and-dustpan combinations directly from Robnett’s Hardware for about $4.
As one of the best small cities for bicyclists in the nation, it’s important to keep Corvallis safe for riders, many of whom are young children and college students. And of course, if you’re considering tossing your garbage onto a street or sidewalk—stop. Instead, make an effort (it’s usually easier than you think) to find a trash can, and help protect our residents, young and old alike, from the real dangers of road debris. It’s important to recognize that we as Corvallis citizens need to take responsibility for keeping Corvallis bike-friendly.
Let the Corvallis City Council know that you care about keeping Corvallis safe for cyclists. Call Mayor Julie Manning at 541-766-6901 or email Corvallis City Councilors through the City’s website: http://www.ci.corvallis.or.us/index.php.
By Genevieve Weber