Eric Austin was on his bicycle on June 27, 2018, riding through the crosswalk on South Third Street to go to the First Alternative Co-Op, when he was struck and killed by a driver.
Born in McMinnville, Ore., Austin was relatively new to Corvallis, but had already made friends, and an impression, including at his workplace as a writer for The Corvallis Advocate.
He received traditional memorials for a bicyclist: A Ride of Silence was held a few days later, and a white bike was chained at the spot where he died to honor his memory and to remind drivers to watch out for bikes.
Now, he may get a more lasting remembrance. Citizens are actively campaigning for the new multiuse path which will connect the Corvallis Skatepark with Crystal Lake Drive – a path which could have saved Austin’s life if it had existed at the time – to be named for him. The Corvallis Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board urged the creation of the path to make cycling safer in the area. Since Austin’s death, bicyclist Jeremy Gruver and pedestrian Rhiana Daniel also died in the busy northern part of South Third Street, and the Oregon Department of Transportation has taken an interest.
“Thankfully, a bypass path is finally being created to help alleviate this unsafe situation, and thank you to any of you who have helped move it along,” Eric’s father, Bruce Austin, wrote in a letter to the Corvallis City Council. “I still believe that if Eric had had an option to keep him away from traffic to get home that evening that he and I would’ve probably had dinner together tonight. I think it [the path] would be a very nice sort of tribute to him, since, unfortunately, it has been his death that helped bring safety issues in this area to the forefront.”
The Ride of Silence as a memorial to a person who died while bicycling originated in Dallas, Texas, in 2003. Since then, the practice has spread worldwide.
A bicycle painted white has been a common remembrance for a person who died while bicycling since one was placed in St. Louis, Missouri in 2003. It was inspired by a practice which began in Argentina during its “dirty war” against pro-democracy activists: when a person was “disappeared” by the government, their bicycle would often remain chained to a pole or a bike rack for months. People who knew whose bike it was and why it had been there so long began attaching flowers, poems, and other memorials to them, the bike serving as a substitute for the grave which the victim had been denied. At some point, people began painting the bikes white to draw more attention to them, and they became a symbol of resistance.
John M. Burt