Momentum is building toward honoring a Corvallis cyclist by naming a new section of a city multiuse path after him.
Eric Austin died in June 2018 after he was struck by a vehicle in a pedestrian walkway on Highway 99W near the First Alternative Coop.
Austin death’s was a severe blow to the Corvallis cycling community, and the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board responded with a report to the Corvallis City Council that made a series of recommendations to help improve the situation, particularly on Highway 99W in South Corvallis.
Two more deaths, of cyclist Jeremy Gruver in 2019 and of pedestrian Rhiana Daniel earlier this year, have added to the safety concerns in the corridor, which has seen a series of improvements and is the subject of an Oregon Department of Transportation study that might yield more safety amenities.
The new multiuse path, which will connect the current path that runs south from the skatepark with Crystal Lake Drive, is a key piece of efforts to increase safety on Highway 99, which serves as the multiuse path for the stretch between Southeast Chapman Place and Crystal Lake Drive.
Austin’s father Bruce has sent a letter to the city encouraging officials to consider naming the path, which is set to open later this month, in honor of Eric.
“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," Bruce Austin wrote in his letter of Sept. 27. “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.
“Would you consider naming this safer bypass route in his honor? I think it 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.”
Austin, who has been a strong advocate for bicycle and pedestrian safety since the death of his son, suggested “Eric Austin Memorial Bypass” or the “Eric Austin Multiuse Path” as possible names for the new section.
Greg Gescher, interim Public Works director for the city, told Austin that he would look into the process for such an action, noting that such a decision likely would rest with the City Council rather than city staff.
At least one councilor, Charlyn Ellis of Ward 5, is solidly behind the concept.
“I have been thinking the same thing for several months,” Ellis wrote in response to Austin’s letter. “If there is something I can do to help move this forward, let me know.”
Ellis is the council liaison for BPAB, which has not met since February because of the coronavirus. Wendy Byrne, a member of BPAB and president of the Corvallis Right of Way safety advocacy group, also backs the renaming suggestion.
“As a member of BPAB, I’m fairly certain this idea would have been met with positivity, and hope it will do so with council,” she said.
No information was available on when the issue might be discussed at the city level.
Eric Austin was born in McMinnville and grew up primarily in Sheridan. He graduated from West Salem High School before receiving a writing degree from Boise State University. While in college, Eric worked with a group of peers studying annotations in books that had been owned by author Herman Melville. He had recently moved back to Oregon and was writing for The Corvallis Advocate at the time of his death.
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