Gravel - Cycle Oregon

ODOT says stencil removal decision was “very difficult”

Posted by on December 7th, 2007 at 10:14 am

Stencil of Brett Jarolimek that
was painted on a bridge
support in North Portland.

This morning I got a call from Mike Mason who works in the community and public affairs office at the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).

Mike (who happens to be a daily reader of this site) wanted to give me some background on why ODOT maintenance crews painted over a stencil created as a memorial for Brett Jarolimek that was painted on a bridge support near the intersection of N. Interstate and Greeley.

Mike expressed that he thought it was “a great stencil” and that, despite usual policy that calls for more immediate removal of graffiti, his crews wrestled with this decision for weeks. Here’s more of what he said:

“Frankly, it was a very difficult issue for us, our maintenance crews were well aware of what happened there and have been talking about it for a while…wondering when it was an appropriate time to take it down [Jarolimek was killed 6 weeks ago]. We’re not just a bunch of ogres and bureaucrats. The crews, I spoke to them this morning, really wondered, what should we do?

We have a small but great crew of maintenance workers who are responsible for all our structures from Mt. Hood to the Coast. Most of it [graffiti] we want to get to right away and we remove it without issue…it’s just our policy. But here [at the Jarolimek site] it was very different.

We decided to leave the ghost bike, the metal sculpture and other memorial items as a trade-off, but we needed to take this [the stencil] off.

It’s our belief if that if we do leave things like this up, other types of graffiti may be added…and it’s a fact that anything that draws the attention of drivers or cyclists from what’s in front of them, and away from the road is a hazard.”

I asked Mike if ODOT would be supportive of a formal request to create a permanent memorial painting in that same spot (something the stencil artist is interested in pursuing). Although he couldn’t really comment on that specifically, he seemed supportive but also said it’s pretty rare for public art to be put on ODOT structures (most murals are on privately owned buildings or property).

I really appreciate Mike’s candor in this situation, and based on our conversation this morning, I’m glad someone like him works for ODOT.

While I wish this stencil could have remained, I also realize the decision-making and policy constraints of a massive bureaucracy like ODOT. Given this candid response by Mike Mason, and their unprecedented (for them) community effort on the Bryant Bridge improvement project, I am beginning to feel winds of change at ODOT.

They may not yet be as flexible or sensitive on bicycle issues as the City of Portland, but it seems they’re headed in the right direction.

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  • skodt December 7, 2007 at 11:04 am

    \”…and it’s a fact that anything that draws the attention of drivers or cyclists from what’s in front of them, and away from the road is a hazard\”

    really?? billboards are apparently exempt from this ODOT rule.

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  • Lenny Anderson December 7, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Does ODOT have a policy on roadside memorials…are they reminders or distractions?
    This was a striking and timely image for a fallen comrade and like Brett its \”life\” was cut short too soon.

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  • Me 2 December 7, 2007 at 11:18 am

    Great post Jonathan. I was having some second thoughts about ODOT\’s decision this morning. I still don\’t like that they decided to paint over it, but I understand that doing so could be potentially diffuse a more tense situation. It\’s not hard to imagine someone marking it up and igniting another pointless motoristcyclist war of words.

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  • Jason December 7, 2007 at 11:46 am

    This is one of those situations where no one\’s right or wrong. I understand ODOT\’s point of view, and leaving the artwork up for some period of time sounds like they did what they could to respect the intent and the memory.

    Rant of the day: why do we call it an \”accident\” when motorists are deaf and very nearly blind?

    Sorry, I\’m getting grouchy in my middle age 🙂

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  • joe adamski December 7, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    the distinction between \’art\’ and graffitti is sometimes difficult.Look at City of Portlands legal wrangling between the billboard companies, esp Clear Channel..( possibly our new bike rental/portable ad device supplier..)

    Does ODOT have a public art policy in place? It is my experience that taggers tend to leave art alone as a respect thing.. i like to point out the mural in outer southeast on an autobody shop at 128th and Foster.. over a decade and never messed with..

    So..whats ODOTs public art policy? Would the stencil qualify as art?

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  • bikegrrrl December 7, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    This makes me very sad. I would rather the stencil had stayed over all the other memorial items (not that I want any of them to go away.) No one bothered it for 6 weeks, what\’s to say anyone would have bothered it in the future?
    I agree with skodt, billboards are highly distracting, particularly those LED ones that flash and change.

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  • Spanky December 7, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    There was and probably still is a great deal of litigation re: billboards, and if memory serves, the State lost that battle, in large part. So you can thank clear channel for the billboard blight we all live with.

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  • Stripes December 7, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    It seems to me that particular piece of grafitti could have been left, unless ODOT specifically received a formal complaint about it.

    It was some of the most beautiful and meaningful grafitti I have ever seen in this city.

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  • no one in particular December 7, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    really?? billboards are apparently exempt from this ODOT rule.

    I have no doubt that ODOT would love to get rid of billboards, but it\’s not up to them. Those billboards are on private property so ODOT has no legal right to do anything about them. If this stencil was on private property, ODOT couldn\’t remove it either.

    There are, in fact, strict laws governing billboards in Portland. Most of the newer \”billboards\” you see in the city are actually paintings on the side of a building. There have been lawsuits over those before, but the bottom line is that Oregon Constitution does not allow any distinction between commercial and artistic speech, which means if you want to ban advertisements on buildings, you have to ban all murals, too. If you search, you should be able to find quite a bit about Portland\’s long fight with Clear Channel to ban commercial murals.

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  • GLV December 7, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    \”really?? billboards are apparently exempt from this ODOT rule.\”

    Billboards are private property. This action dealt with ODOT property.

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  • Sarah Hobbs December 7, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    I am heartsick about this. I commented when the painting went up that I would hope the city would leave it alone. Oh, well. I am glad that the city left for as long as they did. 6 weeks is better than nothing at all I guess.

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  • SKiDmark December 7, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Maybe someday Joe Squaresville will be able to distinguish between public art and vandalism.

    I hope the artist puts it back up, or some group of artists takes it upon themselves to do a memorial mural…

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  • Darren December 7, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    The Hollywood Bike Gallery used to have a huge bike mural. Maybe Brett\’s stencil could resurface there.

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  • Mike December 7, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    With such a rapid response to the \”graffiti\” on Interstate and Greeley by ODOT, I wonder when they\’ll take care of other graffiti that I\’ve noticed on thier property that\’s been there for over 6 months.

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  • John Reinhold December 7, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    I wonder when they\’ll take care of other graffiti that I\’ve noticed on thier property that\’s been there for over 6 months.

    Portland Graffiti Abatement program:

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  • Matt Picio December 7, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Sarah (#11) – I\’m not making this distinction to be picky, but merely so that you blame or credit the correct people. The city *did* leave it alons. ODOT is a state agency.

    Mike (#14) – Are you sure they know about it? I doubt most art/graffiti on ODOT property doesn\’t make the local news – IIRC the stencil did. If you really want to know if ODOT practices what they preach, call in one of the ones you know about, and see how long it takes them to come out and remove it.

    -matt p

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  • once again December 7, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    And it was ODOT and not the City of Portland that removed the stencil.

    Once again we have to apologize for jumping to conclusions and on bandwagons.

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  • Darren December 8, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Over at the OBRA mail list, Candi Murray is considering Brett\’s stencil image become integrated with the OBRA logo. She\’s looking for feedback, particularly from artist, friends and family.

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  • Matt Picio December 8, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    Post edit (#16) – 2nd para should read \”I doubt most art/graffiti makes the local news\”

    (and in the first para, \”alons\” should be \”alone\”)

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  • Loren December 8, 2007 at 7:57 pm


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  • Andrew Plambeck December 9, 2007 at 9:41 am

    I\’d like to see O/PDOT start dedicating bike lanes to fallen riders like Brett. That would be awesome: riding along, and all of a sudden there is a name stenciled on the bike lane with \”In memory…\” or something.

    We could really be utilizing that space to pay some reverence.

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  • Robert Sanders December 9, 2007 at 11:31 am

    I hope the stencil reappears.

    Isn\’t that elk sculpture in the middle of… Morrison, Salmon–whatever–a distraction? Of course it is, and I love it. BTW, it does get tagged, and have you seen what people to Vera Katz\’s sculpture? Despite vandalism, these works will not be removed, and vandalism is not a valid excuse for removing Brett\’s stencil.

    Removing the stencil was the easy administrative choice, and clearly someone with autority wanted something done. They say time heals all wounds. I would imagine that delaying enforcement of the existing rules for graffiti helped ease consciences at ODOT. Returning property (the sculpture and ghost bike) to the artists would have been even more uncomfortable than painting over the stencil. The stencil was, after all, graffiti.

    Stencils of this type are historically born of political resistance. They are political art. Brett\’s stencil was a celebration of his spirit, skill and speed. It was also a criticism of the State\’s transportation prejudice–whether or not the artist intended it as such. This is the compelling offense–questioning authority. It is the original function of graffiti.

    Many cities and state DOTs have murals, tile and decorative visual arts– including over-sized photographs–on their roadway structures. These are produced under the direction of the State and reflect It\’s interests. Publicizing the human cost of It\’s transportation design is not one of It\’s interests.

    That said, we do have some influence on the state of Oregon, and I would like to see a permanent tile image of Brett at that location.

    Meanwhile, I hope the stencil returns. I was truly saddened when I saw it was gone.

    -Robert Sanders

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  • Robert Sanders December 9, 2007 at 11:33 am

    I apologize for the misspellings, including the instances of \”it\’s.\”

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  • Tiago December 9, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    The priorities of our officials…

    Thank that removal to Clear Channel, that works local politicians to make sure they are the only ones to put any message out there.

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  • Moo December 10, 2007 at 8:36 am

    l Also, let\’s not tie this in with the whole highway memorial sign bit. If one stencil goes up and sets a prcedent that it will stay up, then more will follow. They were nice enough to leave the ghost bikes all over town.

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  • Tiago December 10, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Stencil the whole town!
    More memorial stencils!
    More stencils for the living ones, too!

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  • Sarah Hobbs December 11, 2007 at 10:48 am

    In response to #16, I saw my mistake later. Wether it was the city or the state I was just hoping the painting would have been left alone.

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