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City of Portland orders removal of ‘America’s bike capital’ mural from downtown wall

Posted by on May 6th, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Pedal Bike Tours owner Todd Roll and two tourists with the mural his company created in 2012. The lettering is due to be taken down Thursday due to a city code enforcement decision.
(Photo by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

A city whose sign code is intended to prevent advertising eyesores and a local shop owner who’s developed “mixed feelings” about his project have settled on the removal, this Thursday, of one of downtown Portland’s newest icons.

That’s when workers are scheduled to remove the two-year-old, 45-foot-tall declaration that the city is “America’s bicycle capital.” Pedal Bike Tours, the local rental and tour company that painted the mural in 2012 based on one of their T-shirt designs, hired them after conceding a compromise in a long negotiation with the city’s code enforcement office.

“Photograph it while you can,” Pedal Bike Tours owner Todd Roll said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s out of here.”

Thursday’s action will cap a quiet six-month-long back-and-forth between Roll and city code enforcement staff over the mural that overlooks the parking lot between Southwest 2nd and 3rd Avenues just south of Burnside Street. It’s larger than the code allows for a building of that size, unless the space could be proven to have been used for advertising before the code was passed.

The terms of their deal: Roll will be allowed enough space to leave up the bike-in-circle icon that is part of his business’s logo. All the words, Roll says, will disappear.

“If people don’t like it and I’ve spent this amount of money, I’m just going to make it pure advertising,” Roll said.

Roll said that like almost all city code enforcement actions, this one was triggered by a complaint. He’s not sure from whom.

Roll said that because the letters of what seems to be a very old mural are still barely visible on the wall, he had hoped the sign would be grandfathered into legality when he spent $2500 to have the piece installed in 2012. But he decided not to verify that with the city.

“I figured it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission, because I figured permission would be denied,” Roll said. “And I’m not sorry, either. I’ll tell you, I cannot walk out of this door in any weather — in rain, sleet or snow — and not see a tourist taking a picture of that sign. And that is going to go away now. Now they can take a picture of that Vic Alfonso sign saying that cars are cool.”

“For the love of cars”: a longtime mural at SW 2nd and Washington in downtown Portland.
(Photo by J.Maus/BikePortland)

“I figured the city would love it,” Roll said. “The Timbers did a video right in front. Nike’s been here to do it. We get film crews here all the time.”

Last month, when Men’s Health named Portland the “fittest city in America,” the magazine chose Roll’s mural as its lead image for Portlanders’ habit to “two-wheel it at every opportunity.”

Last year, Jonathan and I used the image in a post exploring the factors behind Portland’s 2002-2008 bike boom. We wanted argued that part of Portland’s bike success has been that people looking for good biking have chosen to move here.

The mural has drawn criticism, too. Only yesterday, it took symbolic significance in a Vancouver BC writer’s argument that Portland is “resting on its laurels” as a bike-friendly city.

“Of the things that are unique in Portland, bicycles and good food and good quality of life are paramount,” Roll said. “And I just thought that was worth celebrating, especially in a downtrodden part of town.”

“I didn’t realize it was going to be controversial,” he added.

Roll said he’s regularly found himself defending the “bicycle capital” claim, especially to visitors from Minneapolis, but feels he’s on solid ground.

“We are the largest city to have achieved platinum status” from the League of American Bicyclists’ city ratings, he said. “In fact, we are twice as large as all the other three put together. … I’ve always been willing to cede the crown as soon as a city our size or larger hits platinum.”

The root of the legal issue, Roll said, is that if the city issued a permit for the sign — and last year, he shelled out $2,000 to apply for a variance that would give him a shot at one — it would lose control over its future content.

“They’re afraid we would put up a Coors Light ad,” Roll explained to a passing tourist as he walked beneath the sign Tuesday afternoon.


One of countless photos that have been shared online of the two-year-old mural.
(Photo by Dave Malkoff)

Pedal Bike Tours marketing specialist Lota LaMontagne said she and Roll “dug dug dug through historic records” trying to find a photograph of whatever the old mural had been, but came up empty.

Roll said he has “mixed feelings” about the mural. Though the city has given the company permission to, if it chooses, repaint the “bicycle capital” message in much smaller letters that would fit inside the current area of the bike circle icon, Roll has decided to pull the plug on the message.

“Maybe I ought to change it to, ‘Welcome to Portland, a great place to ride a bike,'” he joked. “It was kind of fun. But I’m willing to back off of it. I don’t feel the need to be No. 1.”

Roll recalled how the mural plan had come together.

“It was a big blank wall that nobody was using,” he said. “Our building owner was bike-friendly, a really nice guy. He told me I could do what we wanted with it. I just figured we could take the image from our t-shirts.”

It seemed like a “point of pride,” he said — a way to spread the idea of something he loved about his city.

“‘Just another mid-size city in America’ doesn’t look so great on a wall,” Roll said.

Update 11:40 pm: KOIN-TV included a spot on this story in their 11 p.m. broadcast Tuesday. At the Mercury, Dirk Vanderhart reports that, according to Roll, the decision not to allow the mural ultimately came from Bureau of Development Services Director Paul Scarlett.

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. Thank you — Jonathan

  • jocko May 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    The power of the pen….

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  • Scott H May 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    That was fast. Did the tipping point have anything to do with the lashing it received yesterday?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) May 6, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      Not directly — this decision has apparently been in the works for months — but Roll’s decision not to repaint the message in the much smaller space is certainly informed by his perception over the last few months that “the community isn’t behind us” on the content of the sign, as he put it.

      The clearest connection is that Todd mentioned this news in a comment beneath yesterday’s post. That’s how I learned about it.

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  • kiel johnson
    kiel johnson May 6, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Wow, same week guy says Portland isn’t bike capital Portland takes down bike capital sign.

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  • Granpa May 6, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Capital punishment

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  • BIKELEPTIC May 6, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    “passive-aggressive capital of the world” – ?? seriously – for ‘eff sake – if they’re going to allow that ginormous mural of the car, which I remember that huge billboard issue where Mirador had to hide part of its building mural because it was “too big” and yet just one block down there are about half a dozen clear channel billboards advertising beer, cars and dentists etc. Such BS. This is another example of the DBA and city putting small biz in burlap sacks and drowning them like kittens. But then of course big biz can down whatever the hell they want.

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    • Michelle F May 7, 2014 at 9:49 am

      Portland and Minneapolis may have a legitimate rivalry for “bike capital” of the US, but Portland has NO HOPE of challenging Minneapolis on passive-aggression (here we call it “Minnesota Nice”). Trust me, I moved here from Oregon.

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      • Paul Johnson May 7, 2014 at 3:21 pm

        Wow, that must make Minnesota some kind of Large Hadron Collider of passive aggressiveness, given Portland’s so over the top there’s an entire sketchcom dedicated to the subject as it relates to Portland.

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  • Esther May 6, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Is it a mural or a sign/advertisement? I believe they’re defined differently under city code…

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    • BIKELEPTIC May 6, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      The city code is for banners, murals or advertisement over 200 sqft. Back in 1998. There are some that been grandfathered in and they’re allowed to be painted over as long as they’re not left blank for longer than 6 months. You can thank Randy Leonard for that one.

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    • Rin May 7, 2014 at 11:12 pm

      It is a sign! Not a mural.

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  • kittens May 6, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Im confused, why is this a violation of code?

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) May 6, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      I added to the fourth paragraph to make this clearer: “It’s larger than the code allows for a building of that size, unless the space could be proven to have been used for advertising before the code was passed.”

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  • Wade May 6, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Banksy might be able to help.

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  • Andrew N May 6, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    I love the spirit of Roll’s approach but with all due respect the “bike capital” message is just more myth-making PR snake oil. We don’t need any more of that, we need some uncomfortable honesty. And the “platinum” thing means nothing at this point — the League Of American Bicyclists’ rating system is a farce, as evidenced by their recent re-certification of Portland’s platinum rating despite our obvious failure to live up to their own guidelines.

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    • Paul Johnson May 7, 2014 at 7:24 am

      Heck, Tulsa gets a bronze for having one of the largest limited access cycleway networks around, but the first mile/last mile problem is totally unresolved. Take a look of the corner of the Creek Turnpike Trail and South Memorial Drive and tell me you’d want to wade out in that to get home from work…

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      • Pete May 7, 2014 at 10:15 am

        I’m working on a committee to take Santa Clara from bronze to silver… while the 49’ers have one of our most important bike routes closed indefinitely while they build their giant new stadium.

        Happy Bike Month BTW!

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        • Paul Johnson May 7, 2014 at 3:34 pm

          OklaDOT’s got the Newblock Park Trail, and the NPT Extension on the lower deck of the I 244 bridge (on the same deck as a new high speed railroad bridge!) in a similar bind. Worse, OklaDOT apparently doesn’t own a copy of the MUTCD and provides no advance warning of the closure, which, coming from Sand Springs, happens on a blind curve, several blocks from the nearest exit. The upswing is the NPT Extension is easily and obviously bypassed by the immediately adjacent Oklahoma State Bike Route 66, running on US Historic 66, just a few yards over on the next bridge (there’s seriously 4 bridges in 3 blocks crossing the Arkansas River in downtown Tulsa, including one that’s too old and out of shape to be safe for even pedestrian traffic, too expensive to repair, and too historic to legally remove) and the Riverparks West Trail crossing back to meet the RPE Trail at the Route 66 Monument (which will also serve as a major 5-way intersection between various regional cycleways) on a dedicated path adjacent to the roadway the Route 66 bike route crosses the river on the same bridge, and as long as you’re reasonably aware of the KATY Trail and the Greenwood Bike Boulevard, and understand that inmates aren’t just prone to jumping out of the county jail, it’s pretty easy to go around…

          Obviously the dedicated cycleways and bike boulevards that crisscross Tulsa are about the only reason Tulsa clings to Bronze. Honestly, I’d give Portland the same rating for equal but opposite problems: Portland’s got the first/last mile problem nailed down. But dedicated routes are few and far between, are massively incomplete, and are frequently difficult or inconvenient to use, something that’s compounded tenfold on the westside (Westside Regional Trail and it’s inexplicable incompleteness between 26 and Merlo Road, and again going over the hills into Tualatin, and again on the opposite direction crossing over to Sauvie Island; the footdragging on the I 84 Cycleway between the I 205 Cycleway and Vera Katz Esplanade, etc) combined with far more selfish and pushy drivers. At least in Oklahoma, if you ride with confidence, ride predictably, and (if you’re on a two-lane road) take mercy on those behind you when you get an opportunity to pull out safely, you’re not going to get abused by other road users and ignored by the police when you call them (ie, my 20-year cycling experience in Portland).

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  • Todd Boulanger May 6, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    1) painting a thin red line over the “ad” portion of the mural: “America’s Bike Capital’…thus making it a speech issue versus an “advertisement”

    2)…what about making a small change so that the “logo” voices an opinion on the CoP Bike Parking sign (P4650)…I think the “logo” evolved from the 1997 sign anyway. Put a big “P” where the bike is and put flying “bike symbols” all around the encircled “P” like bees buzzing a voodoo donut.


    Portland still is our nation’s leader in one point for sure…bike corral parking…for now.

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  • Buzz May 6, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    No reason why someone couldn’t call in complaints on all those car company billboard/mural adverts…

    Seems like Tri-Met and C-Span shouldn’t be advertising services to motorists on their busses either, but there are plenty of these ads on their rolling stock…

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  • John Lascurettes May 6, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Sorry, Todd. That’s a bummer. “Capital” pedants aside, it certainly was iconic and struck a cord with locals and tourists alike. And it certainly was no eyesore. Despite being your logo, it did not promote your company directly and can barely be called advertisement. While the Tonkin ad is better than most blasé billboards and murals, it’s certainly nothing to do with Portland’s identity, namely that any car dealer could put up the same mural in their town as advertising. And that’s just it – theirs is advertising that has the privilege of being grandfathered in. Bummer.

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    • Paul Johnson May 7, 2014 at 7:27 am

      Heck, if you go along Historic US 66, especially in the desert southwest, Texas and Oklahoma segments, a lot of dealerships have pretty epic murals advertising them on barns and the sides of their own buildings or buildings in nearby towns…it’s like Tonkin channeled a bad microbrewery beer label through a route 66 car lot mural…

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  • dwainedibbly May 6, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Let’s face it: as a bike city we suck. The mural has become a joke. We can try to get it back when we have done something to deserve it.

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    • Pete May 7, 2014 at 10:40 am

      You can certainly point to aspects of biking in Portland that suck, but I can point to many people who’ve moved there primarily because of its bike-friendliness.

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      • Paul Johnson May 7, 2014 at 3:36 pm

        It’s a reputation that’s much more deserved on a city like Stillwater, Oklahoma; Manhattan, Kansas; San Jose, California; Eugene, Oregon; Solvang, California; or the granddaddy of all bicycle friendly communities, Mackinac Island, Michigan…

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      • dwainedibbly May 7, 2014 at 5:53 pm

        I’m one of them. Then my standards got raised and I realize how much better we can be doing.

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  • TOM May 6, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    I LOVE cycling in PDX , but have always regarded the “Best” , “Capitol” and other cycling claims as PUFFERY , and that is allowed under law and need not be proven.

    Puffery as a legal term refers to promotional statements and claims that express subjective rather than objective views, which no “reasonable person” would take literally. Puffery serves to “puff up” an exaggerated image of what is being described and is especially featured in testimonials.

    The FTC stated in 1984 that puffery does not warrant enforcement action by the Commission. In its FTC Policy Statement on Deception, the Commission stated: “The Commission generally will not pursue cases involving obviously exaggerated or puffing representations, i.e., those that the ordinary consumers do not take seriously.” e.g., “The Finest Fried Chicken in the World.”


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  • armando May 6, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Ok, substantiated or not, let’s all meet there Wednesday night around 7:30 for one last giant group selfie. The more the merrier!

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  • Bike-Max-Bike May 6, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    There is NO bike problem Portland cannot solve by paint: Sharrows, bike lanes, fake separated bikeway on Broadway & a mural that makes weak willed polticos look bad.

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  • gutterbunny May 6, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Anyone know where the old Greek Cusina Octopus is? Bet it would fit in that space. I’m sure the city officials would love to see it back…

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  • gl. May 6, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! This was such a great mural. I loved the bold statement; I loved the audacity. I loved that it wasn’t directly associated with a business, but seemed to belong to all of Portland. It was awesome while it lasted. Thanks, Todd!

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  • maxadders May 6, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    No reason why someone couldn’t call in complaints on all those car company billboard/mural adverts…

    Except that they have permits?

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  • Mike May 6, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Would this happen in Amsterdam?

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    • was carless May 8, 2014 at 2:47 am

      Probably. I don’t recall ever seeing any mural, advertisement, or billboard when I was there. And I mean *none.*

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  • Glenn May 6, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Supreme irony. Hang it up, Portland, it was nice knowing you.

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  • Mark May 6, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Don’t take down the sign!

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  • Tod May 7, 2014 at 12:01 am

    This is really a shame. I enjoyed the sign and it was def. neat for tourists. Portland has improvements to make on it’s cycling infrastructure but it is still a great cycling city -especially for an American city. Will be sad to see it go. I think we should have a bike rally in front of the sign wed. When the weather is sunny and get one last giant group photo with our bikes before it is removed. I liked the suggestion above, I’ll join!

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  • Patrick Mc May 7, 2014 at 6:06 am

    I can’t believe that no amateur historian has been able to find a photo of the old advertisement that clearly predated this one on that wall. Seems like the archives of the Oregonian or some historic preservation group would have a picture that would allow for this to be grandfathered in. Not sure how soon it’s going to be destroyed, but maybe folks could get searching if they really want it to stick around.

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    • Paul Johnson May 7, 2014 at 6:56 am

      Probably because the sign act happened in the mid 1990s, like, around 1995. Fred Meyer and a LOT of car lots had to drastically downscale their signs to fit the code, at a pretty decent expense, and you lost some of the cool, old skool stuff like the classic Arby’s signs among other bits of more local Americana in that sweep.

      It’s pretty safe to say that Portland is obsessed with the new to a fault, to the point where it doesn’t really have any character whatsoever, and likes it that way. If you want to live someplace that can look forward without destroying it’s past, better pack a disaster kit and move to tornado alley.

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  • Steve Scarich May 7, 2014 at 7:42 am

    They should make them take it down, just because they spelled capitol incorrectly.

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    • Ron G. May 7, 2014 at 8:49 am

      Incorrect. Capitol refers specifically to a building where state or federal legislators meet. Capital is the correct spelling to refer to something which is most highly regarded.

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      • Steve Scarich May 7, 2014 at 10:32 am

        Definitions are a bit confusing, but I guess I stand corrected.

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        • El Biciclero May 7, 2014 at 12:39 pm

          Oregon’s “Capitol” is the building in Salem with the gold man on top. Oregon’s “Capital” is the city of Salem.

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    • Spiffy May 7, 2014 at 8:53 am

      this isn’t DC…

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  • Steve Scarich May 7, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Can’t help myself; the advertisement at the head of this article manages to spell exercise incorrectly…Sheesh!

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  • TOM May 7, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Keep Portland Stupid

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  • wsbob May 7, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Sentiment expressed by the words was o.k. for a time, but the sign’s bland, mostly white color and font chosen, in general never was a great design.

    Tonkin’s mural on the other hand, is beautiful, colorful, and despite its devotion expressed in regards to cars, tells the truth about society today as well. People do love cars. Maybe if he get’s another chance at putting up a big mural on the building side, he might consider having it read ‘For the love of Bikes’. I suppose if he did though, Tonkin would come after him for trademark infringement or some such thing.

    I’m glad Portland has stringent sign code regulations. It’s helped to cut down the proliferation of a lot of lousy, obnoxious signage across the city. Not enough of it though, because some of the irritating and distracting electronic signs still do exist.

    Bureau of Development Services Director Paul Scarlett, is being a little weird about Roll’s sign though, given that nothing in its design includes Roll’s name, the name of his business, or even the nature of his business, which is apparently bike tours, rather than simply bicycles or promoting bicycle use for the city. Nothing in that signs design would particularly direct a person to his business.

    Except perhaps the bike-in-circle icon, which it’s reported, he’s used as part of his business’s logo. I’m not sure that’s enough of a connection to make a direct association with his business. It’s just not really a business advertisement sign at all.

    On the other hand, promoting bikes and bike use, is good PR for the city. The city stands to gain by finding some way for a big, visible building mural promoting bikes and bike use to be put up, if not at this location, in another, similarly visible.

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  • Pete May 7, 2014 at 11:04 am

    ” ‘Just another mid-size city in America’ doesn’t look so great on a wall.”

    Too funny! I’ll miss this sign – it certainly seemed to belong to Portland as a community as someone said above. Who cares if some journalist says you’re resting on your laurels… want to know the best way to solve that? Simply go ride your bike!

    When people find out I moved from Oregon they almost always talk about Portland and bicycles – and even that sign. (People in general don’t seem to know there are other cities in Oregon besides Portland… ;). Just like many cities do, yours has an identity – bicycles and beer – but since Milwaukee was traditionally associated with the latter I’d stay focused on being proud of the first one.

    Wish I could join you tonight underneath that mural – what a great idea!

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    • Paul Johnson May 7, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      Up there with people thinking there’s only one major city in Oklahoma (there’s 5).

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  • Jim Christensen May 7, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Ross Caron is the information officer about this. His email address is Ross.Caron@portlandoregon.gov

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  • Aaronf May 7, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    If they allowed this one, they would have to defend that decision in the future when someone else did something bigger and less desirable. Have a little perspective.

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  • GlowBoy May 8, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    Nice! 3 tracts with rates in excess of 20%.

    I also noticed that Boise has two tracts in excess of 10%, and several more at 7% or better. Go Idaho Stop Law!

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    • GlowBoy May 8, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      Oops! Posted to wrong thread. Sorry!

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  • Joe May 9, 2014 at 11:01 am

    For the LOVE OF BIKES

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