Throughout Sunday afternoon a group of five people periodically blocked traffic on Highway 99W in Corvallis to sing and dance their way through songs from the musical “Grease.”
But it wasn't summer theater, at least not exactly: The performers put on the shows during Sunday’s Open Streets event, in which a mile of South Corvallis roads were closed to automobile traffic and turned over to pedestrians and bicyclists so participants could do activities, play games and listen to live music. The community festival’s route, which included two parks and Lincoln Elementary School, crossed Highway 99W and so the event had flaggers out to regularly stop traffic to let pedestrians cross the highway. The costumed volunteers performed songs during those breaks.
Craig Farrell, a Corvallis resident who organized the performances, said the purpose was to get drivers to change their perspective about how roads should be shared with other users.
“Coming out in the street for a performance is empowering,” he said.
Farrell said in places like Portland drivers already are accustomed to having to be patient and stop for pedestrians, but people in Corvallis may be somewhat less familiar with that concept. He said the performances challenged drivers to be more patient.
“It asks a lot of people, but people don’t grow until they’re challenged,” he said.
Most of those who were stopped appeared to enjoy the performances, but the reviews weren't all positive: At least one angry driver revved his engines at pedestrians when finally allowed to pass.
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Ilene McClelland, who coordinated the event, said having the event cross Highway 99W was a deliberate choice to make people re-evaluate how roads can be used.
She said the musical performances were an example of one way to do that.
“It’s attention-getting. It’s unusual and it’s fun,” she said.
She added the performances were inspired by “The Late Late Show” host James Cordon, who has a recurring “Crosswalk the Musical” segment on his show.
McClelland said she wants people who attend the event or cross its route to be more aware of other road users, and she said that it's a two-way street: Bicyclists and pedestrians need to be more aware of cars and cars more aware of them.
She said another point of the event, in its third year, is to build community. She said South Corvallis residents turned out better than any past neighborhood.
McClelland said she’s not yet sure where the event will be next year, but event organizers are considering downtown.