Impact of Bicycles in the Amazon Neighborhood

Amazon community members share the stories and opinions about biking in Eugene.

By: Whitney Highfield

Motorcycle to Bicycle

Todd Gebow understands the importance of bike safety after incurring a traumatic brain injury.


A white plastic bracelet hangs from his wrist in contrast to his black athletic shirt. The embossed letters read “TBI Awareness.” It not only signifies March as being Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month but the accident that took place nine years ago this month in Kingman, AZ.

It was 12:15 a.m. when Todd Gebow ran his motorcycle into a light pole on the highway. He remembers getting onto the highway and shortly after passing a truck. After that he spent the next five weeks in a coma. Gebow wasn’t wearing a helmet that night.

While being airlifted to Las Vegas, NV Gebow flatlined for 17 seconds. After numerous MRIs and five weeks in a coma the doctors told Gebow’s parents he had less than a 15 percent chance of ever walking again. “I think they blocked everything out. They said I would have memory loss, cognitive problems and anger issues,” says Gebow.

When Gebow came out of his a coma recovery was a long road ahead. “It was a struggle because my family knew me. They wanted me to be who I was. I was different after the accident,” says Gebow. Gebow’s short-term memory loss caused him to become impatient and constantly questioning. “I had no tact,” says Gebow.

Four years after his accident Gebow moved to Eugene, OR. Eugene offers many resources and support groups for people with TBIs as well as public transportation. Gebow no longer drives. “I use my feet,” says Gebow as he points to his chartreuse and black Nike shoes. Instead of a motorcycle, Gebow rides a bicycle.

The hardest part about recovery for Gebow was not being able to move and be active. “I was restrained in my body, to be free was what I wanted,” says Gebow. It was his first day of physical therapy at the hospital. He was taking a lap with a belt that helped him stand. That day his mother had come to the hospital and was standing in the corner. “It was the end of the day, I was tired and fatigued. I knew my mom was standing around the corner. When she saw me walk towards her she was so happy,” says Gebow as he smiles.

Gebow glances at a yellow piece of paper from his pocket. “Hilyard at 1:00,” it reads. “I have to write everything down to remember it. I needed to be here so I put it in my pocket and I couldn’t forget with it there,” says Gebow as he slips the piece back into his pocket.

Gebow suffered from severe aphasia when going through therapy and still has some difficulties finding his words. His balance is another aspect of his life that has not fully returned. “People ride their bikes on the sidewalk and clip me. I can’t move that fast. I think I can move faster than I can,” says Gebow.

Moving to Eugene has giving Gebow more opportunities for support and physical activity. With the help of community members Gebow became involved in the Hilyard Community Center. He works at the Hilyard Community Center in Amazon Park since August 2008, there he teaches body building classes for people with cerebral palsy and helps with the TBI support group.

Eugene communities have opened many opportunities for Gebow. Gebow’s TBI has made it difficult for him to concentrate and stay focused. Physical activity helps calm his brain and Gebow has found enjoyment in biking. He has also become an active member of the Eugene Bicycle and Pedestrian Program.

Gebow’s career path has taken a drastic turn since his accident. Gebow moved to Kingman, AZ in 1999 where he worked as a bartender. “It wasn’t too bad, no it was terrible. The accident was the best thing for me,” says Gebow. Gebow says he wasn’t in a good place and needed to get out of the element he was in. A traumatic brain injury was not the type of change he was looking for.

While Gebow can view his accident as giving him the chance to make a positive change in his life he often asks why it happened to him.

Lurking Biking Dangers

No helmet and an innocent ride through the neighborhood could have serious consequences.

Each year about 567,000 people go to the emergency room with bicycle-related injuries. Medical research shows that 85 percent of bicyclists head injuries can be prevented by wearing a helmet.

 

“I don’t think helmets are cool. When my daughter starts riding a bike I probably would too, to be a good model,” said Rebecca Taylor.

For a lot of people helmets are just not cool. We may not see helmets going down the runway as next year Fashion Week, but they do save lives.

“Wearing a helmet depends on where you are riding. As a kid I would have never been caught dead wearing a helmet,” said Casey Bush. Bush identifies high traffic areas as places where helmets should be worn. Like Bush many people do not realize that most bicycle accidents occur within five blocks of home and most accidents happen on driveways and sidewalks.

Biking is an everyday activity for many people in Eugene but the dangers that come with riding a bike are often dismissed. Traumatic Brain Injuries affect thousands of people, but they can be avoided by simple precautions like helmets. By taking those precautions the benefits of biking outweighs the dangers.

People in Eugene are becoming more aware of the increase in bikers, but drivers are not always looking for bikers. It is important to understand how traffic works and know hand signs. Many places around Eugene including the Hilyard Community Center offer bike safety classes, to keep drivers and bikers safe around Eugene.

The city of Eugene encourages people to ditch the car keys, take a bike safety class and start pedaling.

Amazon Park offers miles of running and biking paths that offer a safe network of trails from 23rd to 34th Ave.

An average of 500 fatal and 151,400 nonfatal bicycle-related head injuries could be prevented each year by wearing a helmet.

Using a bicycle to commute four days a week for four miles (one-way) saves 54 gallons of gas annually.

 

Bikers often take the safety provided in the park for granted. “It depends on where you are riding. As a kid I would have never been caught dead wearing a helmet,” said Casey Bush.

Eugene’s ‘Bike-Friendly City’ Ranking Rise

While not at number one, Eugene is making progress to accommodate its cyclists

On any given day, whether rain or shine bikers can be found pedaling about the paths of Amazon Park or commuting on the biker-friendly Alder St.

Eugene, Ore., has been working towards better accommodating its bikers. The progressively “green” city encourages biking to benefit the economy, environment and physical health.

Improvements on Alder St. from 13th Ave. to 18th Ave. are in progress. “People have an increased awareness of bikers,” says Joe Peck the manager of Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life.

“Amazon has a fantastic network of trails that are accessible,” says Todd Gebow a employee at the Hilyard Community Center. When most intercity trips by car are less than five miles taking a bike is a plausible alternative.

Eugene has made great progress in becoming  more biker friendly. Last year the League of American Bicyclists awarded Eugene with a gold medal in its accommodations for bikers. While this award put Eugene into the top ten bike friendly cities in the nation it has a ways to go to catch its neighbor to the north, Portland. Portland is currently ranked number two in the world for bike friendly cities.

Portland has created the first Create-a-Commuter program in the U.S. This program, which could be considered by Eugene in the future, equips low-income adults with a bike, helmet and additional bike safety accessories. Eugene, like much of the world is working towards biker awareness and accessibility.

Biking can help the economy, environment and personal health. The city of Eugene is devoting time to better the community through bike riding. Recently it has worked with Google to become one of the 150 cities to have bicycling directions on Google maps.

Compare Eugene to the rest of the biking world: Bike Map

Eugene continues to climb in the rankings to become a more biker-friendly city. Take a closer look at the top 11 bike-friendly cities in the world and see how Eugene compares. Click on each city and learn what makes it biker-friendly. The race continues and Eugene has a long road ahead.


Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life

Eugene is home to many bike shops. In the Amazon neighborhood where numerous bike paths are found so is Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life. Watch footage from the shop’s store manager, Joe Peck, about his thoughts for bicycling and the Amazon neighborhood.

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