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‘Vehicle’s only!’ stencil: Sign of a power shift on our roads?

Posted by on September 9th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Stencil seen in Mt. Tabor neighborhood.
(Photo: Adam R.)

Reader Adam R. sent me an interesting photo a few days ago. It’s a DIY stencil that’s apparently one of many painted on streets throughout Southeast Portland. It reads, “Vehicle’s Only!” and it’s written in all caps.

Grammatical slip-ups aside (bikes are vehicles too and of course there’s no apostrophe needed), one astute transportation policy and politics observer in town thinks it just might symbolize something deeper than the words themselves convey.

After I posted the image to Twitter this morning, it got a lot of responses. Most of them either focused on the grammar or the unfortunate anger behind the sentiment. But Steve Bozzone, a Willamette Pedestrian Coalition board member, volunteer with Active Right of Way, and generally engaged transportation activist, saw it differently.

“I think we’ve hit a critical mass when we see car drivers resorting to grassroots stenciling for space.”
— Steve Bozzone

“I think we’ve hit a critical mass,” he wrote, “when we see car drivers resorting to grassroots stenciling for space.”

Bozzone might have a point. Southeast Portland is one of the most bike-centric areas in the city and arguable one of the most bike-centric neighborhoods in the entire country. It’s nearly impossible to drive around down there without feeling and seeing the presence of people on bicycles.

As the City of Portland continues its unprecedented effort to create a network of bike-friendly neighborhood streets, is it possible that people in cars are starting to feel outnumbered? Is this the start of a role reversal where people who have no interest in bicycling begin to demand their space on the road?

I’m not sure we’ve come that far yet; but as bicycling rates continue to rise in Portland — especially in some bike-crazy neighborhoods — the usual vehicle power paradigm is bound to shift.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Courtney
Guest
Courtney

I ride over these every day and for the past several weeks have been trying to figure out what they mean. What I’ve concluded is the stencil is in the shape of the State of ORegon and in the few places where they are, in front of people’s houses, they are warning their neighbors and passerby that only OR licensed vehicles are welcome to park there. Seriously, I don’t think it’s about the bike.

brewcaster
Guest

No way. It has to be about us!!!! No possible way they couldn’t be talking about bikes. LOOK AT ME!

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

We were in delta park the other day getting some lumber and I ended up behind a WA plated Lexus with “No Tolls” and “No crime-rail to Vancouver” stickers on her window.

My gf, local home-owner and light rail cheerleader was so incensed that had it been realistic, I think she would have stenciled that on the woman’s face.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

This sounds similar to the monitoring of OR plated cars parked nightly on some streets and dropping off children at public schools in Vancouver.

Mike Fish
Guest
Mike Fish

I think you’re interpretation makes good sense.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

As someone who runs in the streets of SE more than I bike or drive, I take particular offense.

Jeff P
Guest
Jeff P

I too believe ity has more to do with keeping walkers/joggers somewhere else but they street.

John Mulvey
Guest
John Mulvey

The stencils represent the early stages of the ultimate war for the future of mankind. It will be between the smart and the stupid.

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

So what does that make Stephen Hawking? He has a motorized vehicle.

Joe Adamski
Guest
Joe Adamski

appropriate transport. Not that I would expect to pick up a ton of lumber on my bike. Or drive 3 blocks to the grocery store. Mr Hawkings mobility device can have a motor.

Indy
Guest
Indy

Just speaking from a SouthWest perspective, today I saw more bike commuters than I’ve ever seen coming down 99/Barbur. I passed/was passed by easily 15 or so bikes in 5 miles.

What is strange is I rarely see bikers on my commute home. They must either bus it or take Terwilliger.

jim
Guest
jim

that is the funniest thing i have read all day.

brian
Guest
brian

I”m assuming that the stencil is directed at foot traffic. A bike is a vehicle.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

I was thinking *exactly* the same thing. Not exactly an issue for this blog. Now, Portlandafoot may have something to say about it…

Brian
Guest
Brian

I LOVE IT that runners use our bike boulevards as running routes! I think it gives them a legitimacy. Car drivers dislike cyclists, but don’t seem to have the same beef with runners.

I think if we could only get the running lobby on board with bike boulevards, we would have INFINITE more support for them as a concept. Runners benefit from car-free streets too.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

exactly… it’s telling people to stop illegally jogging in the road… I hate that…

Tommy B.
Guest
Tommy B.

Maus – is the apostrophe in the penultimate paragraph an homage to the poorly-worded stencil? (sorry…couldn’t resist).

On a more sincere note, I’m working on a stencil to use as an overlay to this one. The working version will convert the exclamation point to an “F” and the whole thing will then read: “A CAR IS NOT A VEHICLE’S ONLY FORM.”

Rob
Guest
Rob

It’s definitely the work of a driver/cyclist targeting pedestrians. From now on, I’m going to walk down the middle of the road just to show that I can’t be bullied!

shirtsoff
Guest
shirtsoff

Joking aside, there is an ORS law that requires pedestrians to use a sidewalk when one is present with fines being the punishment for those who refuse to comply. Personally, I think joggers, cyclists, skaters, walkers, and motorized vehicles should all be allowed to use the street (hopefully at below 25 M.P.H.).

9watts
Guest
9watts

One of the more interesting things I learned at the Towards Carfree Cities conference a few years back when it was held in Portland was that in places that don’t have/never had cars, there are no sidewalks. In other words, sidewalks are derivative; they reflect not an intrinsic need, but rather protect us from cars. Pedestrians are pushed off to the sides.

This is another reason I’m ambivalent about the push for sidewalks (more of them, wider, etc.) Soon the need will disappear and we can go back to walking in the streets.

Rol
Guest

Interesting. The same is true of bike lanes of course.

dan
Guest
dan

I really have no idea what these stencils are intended to mean. It’s kind of a shame that someone is going to all this effort to get their message out, and their message is indecipherable.

daniel miles
Guest
daniel miles

WHAT DO WE WANT?
–> It’s hard to tell.
WHEN DO WE WANT IT?
–> ???

Marcus Griffith
Guest
Marcus Griffith

One jack ass is far from a movement.

Richard
Guest
Richard

But the stenciler used an exclamation mark, so it must be serious (if small) movement.

Rol
Guest

Yeah, if there were TWO exclamation marks, then we might have cause for concern.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Or the stencils are communicating one driver’s belief that the whole road is only their road – no sharing with anyone – even other drivers.

captainkarma
Guest
captainkarma

Haha, it’s about doggy hate. No More Dog-Poop on my street!
And judging by the secret language of misspelling & punctuation errors, it’s being done by a fraternal order of tea-baggers. Or a pack of bored seventh grade boys. wait…

Barney
Guest
Barney

“it’s being done by a fraternal order of tea-baggers”

Pllleeeaaassseee! You have as much evidence of that as you do of it being done by union auto workers. Your stereotypical villan bank account is overdrawn on this one. That’s bad karma!

captainkarma
Guest
captainkarma

Don’t take everything so seriously Barney.
BTW, viilan = v i l l a i n, even to that stone-age family in that stone-age town of Bedrock. Yabba dabba dooooo (first words my kid ever said).

Richard
Guest
Richard

Maybe the shape of the stencil isn’t supposed to be the State of Oregon. It looks more like a saddle. Perhaps they are trying to keep equestrians out of the right-of-way.

Brian
Guest
Brian

Or segways!

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

I have seen more horse poop on the roads this year than previously… luckily it’s fairly easy to avoid…

francis
Guest
francis

This makes me think of this image showing a road with 4 lanes for bikes and a gutter lane for cars:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ensie/1162469167/

Carter
Guest
Carter

Since bikes are vehicles, it could not be directed at them. The only thing left is pedestrians. The stenciler thinks they should be on the sidewalk.

Kyle Krause
Guest
Kyle Krause

I don’t see this as an anti-bike sentiment. I believe it’s a statement about bicycles being viewed as vehicles and demanding the same rights and respect while in the road.

…or maybe I’m just naive.

Charley
Guest
Charley

I am not at all certain of the intended meaning of this stencil. Honestly, I have a hard time believing that there is some auto driver with BOTH the stenciling ability and this strong a dislike of non “vehicle” travel. It seems like two mutually exclusive traits.

I mean, hipsters like to stencil, but are generally also sympathetic to bike travel. And when’s the last time you saw a redneck or Tea Party type stencil a slogan on a street?

It also does kind of look like Oregon state, so. . . it’s just a mishmash of unclear references and meanings to me!

OnTheRoad
Guest
OnTheRoad

Maybe it’s directed at joggers who run in the streets.

I have never understood why joggers do this. The explanation that asphalt is more forgiving to knee joints than concrete sidewalks are doesn’t make sense to me. They both seem plenty hard.

Richard
Guest
Richard

Try hitting asphalt with a hammer and hitting concrete with a hammer. Concrete is far harder, and yes, there is a huge difference in the shock your legs must absorb running on concrete versus asphalt (your arm will feel the difference when you use the hammer).

Jack
Guest
Jack

Yeah, when I go running in my hardened-steel soled running shoes, I can definitely tell that concrete is harder.

So generally I wear my soft soled running shoes.

J_R
Guest
J_R

I think joggers use the street because sidewalk surfaces are so uneven due to tree roots lifting panels unevenly and because most homeowners refuse to trim the vegetation to provide clearance above and to the side as required by city code. And, the City of Portland refuses to actually enforce the vegetation trimming. (They will eventually contact the property owner asking them to trim, but they don’t enforce or inspect that it is actually done.) That produces sidewalk rage including trimming by some pedestrians who take the law into their hands. Joggers don’t seem to be as prone to carrying pruning tools. I guess it has to do with being told as a child “don’t run with scissors.”

Brian
Guest
Brian

It is REALLY difficult to job on the sidewalk. I say this a new runner. The reasons it sucks to be a runner in Portland are –

1) block length here is only 200 feet, meaning EVERY 200 feet, you have to completely stop.

2) Many sidewalks still do not have curb cuts, meaning you have to lollop down curbs of about a foot and a half in height (or so it feels) every 200 feet, which really hurts my ankles

3) Many sidewalks are in shit condition, with cracks, and holes, and tree roots to trip you up.

I always run on the road, on quiet side streets. It’s a shame our pedestrian infrastructure is so poor that this is the choice I end up making, but there you go. It is what it is.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

I have never understood joggers… the human body is not built for this… so you’re already doing something unnatural by jogging, then making it illegal by doing it in the road…

go for a short sprint, on sidewalks… way better for the body and uses more muscles by having to pay attention to the surroundings…

Marid
Guest
Marid

The human body is built for long distance running, although not running on rock (concrete). Striding is very energy efficient. A human can run down just about anything.

OnTheRoad
Guest
OnTheRoad

Yes, and in some neighborhoods, humans have run down things more than in other neighborhoods.

sharon
Guest
sharon

It’s odd. My original reaction to the photo was that this was a sarcastic approach to saying that bikes belong on the street just as much as any other vehicles.. And I think that the blatant grammatical error clouds our judgment as to the intent just as much as the medium does.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

We don’t have this mystical Critical Mass or we wouldn’t be fighting for table scraps from DOT budgets.
The irrational/insane will always feel outnumbered by their paranoid delusions.

This attitude come ONLY from a lack education and/or an absense of the basic concept of sharing.

Allan L.
Guest
Allan L.

OnTheRoad
Maybe it’s directed at joggers who run in the streets.
I have never understood why joggers do this. The explanation that asphalt is more forgiving to knee joints than concrete sidewalks are doesn’t make sense to me. They both seem plenty hard.
Recommended 0

The cars (vehicle’s) seem pretty hard, too.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Then please also explain to me why jogger/walkers still insist on staying in the road for the 5-block distance of Wilshire Park in NE when there’s a groomed jogging path 20 feet to their left with no breaks in the path on it.

RunnerBicyclerDriver
Guest
RunnerBicyclerDriver

I run in the street because car drivers threaten every living being on a regular basis. It’s time to take back the streets. “Public road” never equals “cars only.” The more bicycles, walkers, runners, joggers, children in the streets the better. Car drivers need to drop the sense of entitlement–thinking that only cars belong in the road.

Specifically, if I’m running in the road near Wilshire it’s because I’m fed up with car drivers speeding through my neighborhood.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Fair enough. I’m certainly well aware of people chugging along Skidmore between 33rd and 42nd at 30-40mph when the speed limit next to Wilshire is posted at 20mph and the uncontrolled intersections of 37th to 42nd should technically be even lower by general speed laws.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Somebody should just go stenciling “Bicycle’s = Vehicle’s” [grammatical error intentional] right next to these stencils

mark kenseth
Guest
mark kenseth

I think it’s meant for the squirrels. They are a non-vehicle hazard while eating their nuts on the road.

Editz
Guest
Editz
Rol
Guest

I’m getting all existential with this one. Is the vehicle only? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

captainkarma
Guest
captainkarma

The shape? It’s obviously Gumby’s tag, started after a faceplant off his longboard goin’ down Tabor. He’s trying to tell us something….?

http://t2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRfSjO2bGHQUJIY88A4ntAHmpEbrSUc-JlLqA1KzFJiBUTMBvdTZw

Naomi
Guest
Naomi

I wonder… If the stencil artist is reading this blog, could said stencil author now please correct the stencil and re-apply the message to the street for clarification? Thanks, that’d be fabulous.

By the way, I run in the street quite a bit (usually on neighborhood streets which are void of designated lanes for bikes) because the sidewalks are like staircases in spots. I’ve nearly landed on my face from tripping. Screw that! Also, asphalt IS softer. Believe it or not.

ADS
Guest
ADS

The problem with this stencil is its intent is completely unclear. All this speculation is indicative of its pointlessness. If you want to send a message, be clear about it. As it stands, it is merely graffiti performance art.

Hugh Johnson
Guest
Hugh Johnson

Maybe it’s some dumb hipster trying to be ironic.

Al from PA
Guest
Al from PA

The possessive should indeed be taken seriously. “Vehicle’s only” = only what vehicles possess are allowed on the road. All humans are defined by what they drive in or ride on (“motorist,” “cyclist,” etc.). And since in our culture vehicles possess their passengers and not vice versa, and since all passengers are by definition human, the stencil means that all non-human life forms are banned from this street.

I’ve been informed privately that the stenciller is particularly irritated by hummingbirds, which have the insolence to avoid all vehicles, and which are so small that they effectively ignore bullying.

Dan O
Guest
Dan O

Exacty usage aside, the apostrophe *does* connote “ownership”, which is bothersome if the sign’s supposed to mean what I think it does.

And “vehicle” is a dumb semantic to worry about. “Mork and Mindy” was a “vehicle” for Robin Williams to cut loose and cavort with Jonathan Winters.

Editz
Guest
Editz
fnscgbg
Guest
fnscgbg

Small minds, small thoughts.

Unfortunately for the splay painter (mistake intended), the law gives equal rights to all vehicles unless specifically prohibited (bikes on Interstates – in the East – for example).

So basically, too bad spray paint grammar boy, bikes can be on the road too. Even cars from California, can you imagine?

9watts
Guest
9watts

He (she?–maybe not) wants cyclist’s to go live (and travel on roads) in other states. I see this graphic as code for ‘Oregon (roads) are for cars only!’

tacoma
Guest
tacoma

I think that Courtney (first comment) nailed it.

Duncan
Guest
Duncan

SilkySlim
As someone who runs in the streets of SE more than I bike or drive, I take particular offense.
Recommended 8

as someone who hates getting stuck behind a jogger on my bike, I think you should use the damn sidewalk .

Natalie
Guest
Natalie

any bike riders see, you know, any irony in this anti-jogger attitude? does it maybe ring a little familiar in terms of the entitlement behind car drivers’ screams at us as they blaze by our slower bikes on the street? how do you think car drivers feel when bikes take the lane?

captainkarma
Guest
captainkarma

Perhaps this is irony & sarcasm, no?

Mike
Guest
Mike

I like to walk in the bike lanes. Much more convenient and safer than sidewalks. I take the lane so I don’t get buzzed or hooked by cyclists.

Alain
Guest
Alain

The medium being paint and road surface, I’d be curious to know where exactly these stencils are located in SE? This might help provide some clues. This and a decoder ring.

Dan O
Guest
Dan O

Duncan, “… stuck… “? Having a hard time maneuvering your bike, are you? Sounds an awful lot (exactly) like cager mentality toward bikes at that.

Duncan
Guest
Duncan

Dan
If a person is running in the bike lane (yes I have seen this) and there are cars in the traffic lane, what should I do? buzz the runner? risk my neck and get hit by a car or bike on the sidewalk to get around them? I try and be polite, but WTF if your running in the bike lane when there is a sidewalk- a seperate facility for pedestrians like 5 FEET TO THEIR RIGHT I feel that they should be on it. I dont bike on the sidewalk unless I have to- and then at a walking pace, its because I respect the right of pedetrians to have a safe place to walk. When someone enters my space travelling at 1/4 my speed, takes over that space (usually using headphones) and refuses to move over so I can proceed, yeah I think it is selfish, rude and mean spirited. I feel the same way when cars use bike lanes as parking lots, turn lanes, places to talk on their phones or what have you. I also feel that when bicyclists needlessly block vehicle traffic on busy streets (two abreast up Hawthorne Hill anyone?).

The problem we have isnt bikes, cars or running shoes- its people so caught up in their sense of personal entitlement that they forget that we live in a community, and that each person you see has their own desire to get wherever they are going, alive and safely, but also in a timely manner. When we give a little to others, we can all get where we are going safely.

Natalie
Guest
Natalie

I think your analysis is spot on. @Intersection911 mentioned on Twitter the other day how the bicycle still isn’t considered a “serious” mode of transportation. But the number of bicyclists filling the streets these days is forcing those who have snubbed bikes to take it seriously, whether they want to or not. This sign might unfortunately represent how some people feel about being forced to take something they see as frivolous seriously.

Serena
Guest
Serena

Whatever the point of these stencils, I do think there is a sense of frustration out there. While I was riding along the SE Center St. greenway in the 70s blocks last week, an SUV sped by, yelling something unintelligible, and threw a plastic cup, hitting me in the back. Not sure if the source of the rage is boredom, class resentment, or something else. Certainly I’d like to see barriers to through-traffic along both Center and 80th so cars can’t barrel through the way this SUV did.

But on the subject of class resentments, I drove to my family’s house in Gresham via Powell Blvd. several times in the last week, and I have not seen another street in Portland/Gresham more desperate for bike/pedestrian improvements. Technically there is a bike lane, but cars regularly drive way past the 35-45 mph speed limits. Moreover, because there is NO SIDEWALK!!! for much of Powell, pedestrians are forced to use the bike lane as their only sidewalk. When I did see bikes along Powell, they were often riding against traffic. Those who live in the crappy apartments along much of Powell are among the city’s poorer citizens, and thus in much greater need of good infrastructure than the yuppies of N. Williams. Here’s my vote for getting Powell some dang infrastructure before children playing in front of their house or people walking to work get hit.

captainkarma
Guest
captainkarma

I used to commute that way, and was astounded & dumbfounded by the number of “vehicle’s” (fuel burners) that routinely drive into the bike lane to pass left-turners on the right (legal at an intersection, but not into the bike lane in the middle of the block). I really wanted to call it in but figured the police would just have a good laugh. So what I do now, at least when I drive there and some car is trying to turn left across traffic, is wait behind them of course, but edge as far to the right towards the bike lane as possible without going into it at all. This prevents a**wipes behind ME trying to make an incursion into the bike lane to pass on the right. The hope is that there will be some slight affect on the gray cells of the drivers that otherwise would routinely drive into the bike lane. I know, hopeless.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

I don’t mind people passing in the bike lane… bikes pass me in the parking lane all the time, same thing… just look where you’re going, and don’t drive there longer than you need to…

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Ugh. I see a similar problem around where I live: drivers driving 1/2 to a full block (or more) in the bike lane to squeeze up to the light for a right turn on red. I (when in my car) use your same maneuver of stopping behind the line of cars as close to but not in the bike lane. With my right turn signal on. I can sometimes feel the laser beam glares from drivers behind me burning into the back of my head. I also occasionally see some impatient canned-beer-drinker zoom past me in the bike lane anyway–onto the sidewalk if necessary.

jimbobpdx
Guest
jimbobpdx

I have it on good authority that this is the work of a PSU grad student doing a project on narcissism in the SE Pdx bike bubble. Ya think?

Mike
Guest
Mike

I heard a Reed student put the PSU student up to it because they needed to find a fresh social injustice.

resopmok
Guest
resopmok

I thought it was there to warn runners and pedestrians back onto the sidewalk? I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but on neighborhood sidestreets it seems like many walker/runner prefer the street over the sidewalk. Im not sure but I think they do still have a legal right to be there anyway, but maybe this guy is just sick of having to pedal and/or drive around them. I just assumed “vehicle” included bike since that’s they way the law reads.

Mirandai
Guest

Someone should send this to apostrophecatastrophes.com

NW Biker
Guest
NW Biker

I think it’s clear that it’s an anti-bike message. I’d wager that a significant majority of the general population–and maybe even some cyclists–don’t consider bikes to be vehicles. The common use of that word refers to cars and trucks and those street-legal monster trucks called SUVs and “mini”vans.

So I tend to agree with Jonathan’s original point: are cyclists beginning to make ourselves present in the general consciousness? It seems so. And that’s a good thing.

ac
Guest
ac

i read it as a clear anti-jogger sentiment

i’m ok with joggers as long as they’re going in the direction of traffic (no, joggers, it’s not safer to run against traffic in the lane!)

Mindful Cyclist
Guest
Mindful Cyclist

If this is indeed about joggers, my only grip about them being in the street them not being conspicuous enough at night. Fred Meyer sells blinky lights you can attach to your clothes for about $6. Go get one!

Greg
Guest
Greg

I find it ironic that whoever painted the graphic probably had to walk into the street to do their dastardly deed, thereby violating their own admonishment in the process.

Naomi
Guest
Naomi

In response to NW Biker who said: “I tend to agree with Jonathan’s original point: are cyclists beginning to make ourselves present in the general consciousness? It seems so. And that’s a good thing.”

Yes – it is, but (rather disappointingly) it seems this cycling glut happens every summer during “fair” weather. How many of the summer cyclists will return to their cars once rainy season resumes, thus pushing the needle on the clock of cycling progress/power back to “Start?” Are cyclists really becoming a more powerful presence, such that our community can’t and won’t forget about us? The winter months will prove it if so. More of us need to get rain gear, bright lights and waterproof bags and KEEP IT UP all winter!

If more of us would bike all year long, maybe we could exponentially earn more of that much-needed car-free space on our streets.

Naomi
Guest
Naomi

…Not that no progress has been made! 😉

Rebecca C
Guest
Rebecca C

I agree that this is an anti-cyclist statement. For context, the stencils are on Lincoln Street between the sharrows. Cycling on Lincoln and SE 52nd can be dicey because of large car volumes and I see a lot of car-bike conflicts. Hopefully this will change with the 50s Bikeway!