Posted by Michael Andersen (News Editor) on April 1st, 2014 at 9:55 am
received a Bud Clark Award for lifetime achievement
from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in 2001.
(Photo courtesy BTA.)
An often-forgotten forefather of Portland’s street-level bike advocacy movement died last week.
Sam Oakland, an English professor, poet and author who rode his bicycle to work at what was then Portland State College, started rallying bicycle riders to attend City Hall hearings in the late 1960s and led citizen actions in support of Oregon’s groundbreaking 1971 Bike Bill.
“There just wasn’t a lot of advocacy going on at that time,” said Karen Frost, who followed in Oakland’s steps 25 years later as the first executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. “He was really kind of a prime mover.”
He called his volunteer network the “Bicycle Lobby,” and referred to himself only as its “clerk.”
Local historian Steven Reed Johnson has this account of a rally organized by Oakland, then 36, in November 1970:
400 bicycle enthusiasts gathered on Swan Island in North Portland to draw attention to a four-point petition that Oakland had written. The petition called upon the city to create bike lanes on major thoroughfares and bridges; bike parking facilities near schools, department stores, supermarkets, restaurants and in city garages; bike racks on city busses; and the consideration of bike lanes and parking facilities in plans for future developments within the city.
Frost, who researched Oakland’s work as part of a 2001 event that marked the 30th anniversary of the bike bill, said Monday that in the days before email databases, Oakland used handwritten posters, word of mouth and bike activism’s longtime secret weapon — bike rides — to make Portland riders a political force in the lead-up to the 1970s bike boom.
“There was a constituency of bicycling at the time, and that grew out of the fact that it was easy to bike,” Frost said. “You know how Southeast Portland is.”
According to Johnson, Oakland calculated in 1971 that 400 people bike-commuted into downtown Portland daily.