ODOT says stencil removal decision was “very difficult”

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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