A city code enforcement decision that a mural declaring Portland to be “America’s Bicycle Capital” is an unpermitted billboard, and must be removed, is attracting attention from around the city and the country.
Since we reported on the story Tuesday afternoon, the Portland Mercury, KOIN-TV and The Oregonian have chimed in. At the Mercury, Dirk Vanderhart quotes the mural’s creator, Pedal Bike Tours owner Todd Roll, as saying the decision went all the way to the top of the Bureau of Development Services, to Director Paul Scarlett.
A BDS spokesman said Wednesday morning that he was gathering details on the process and would share them with media by Wednesday afternoon.
Workers are scheduled to remove the lettering on Thursday by covering it with white paint.
“We’re just gonna paint over the words and modify the top,” Roll told the Mercury. “We’ll put our name on there and add an arrow to point out where we are, and it’ll be an ad.”
The current mural doesn’t explicitly mention the business, though the circle bicycle icon is also part of the Pedal Bike Tours logo.
“There’s no phone number, there’s no website, there’s no name,” said Roll.
At issue is a city rule setting maximum sizes for advertisements in public space. Though other billboards downtown are about the same size as the current mural, many have been operating as billboards since before the restrictions were passed.
Roll, who said he had the mural installed without city permission in 2012, points out that faded lettering still seems to be visible behind the current design. But though his company tried to find some photographic evidence that the space had been a billboard before, they came up empty.
Roll, who told The Oregonian in 2012 that “no one’s going to take this away from Portland,” says he’s developed “mixed feelings” about the sign, which has been the subject of countless photo shoots (commercial and impromptu) but also drawn criticism from some who say Portland doesn’t deserve the title.
“I also don’t like to create strife,” Roll said. “It’s caused a little bit of strife.”
Though there’s no question that the project belongs to Roll and his company, it’s clear that many people feel strongly about the display. Reactions online have been varied. Here are a few tweets we’ve seen:
— Chelsea Sherier (@PDXphotogGal) May 7, 2014
@BikePortland we can't get the mural back until we deserve it.
— Dwaine Dibbly (@DwaineDibbly) May 7, 2014
— Andy Boenau (@Boenau) May 7, 2014
Portland admits defeat, schedules symbolic gesture on Thursday to officially pass the torch to Minneapolis. http://t.co/wLYgogPTsZ
— Brian Davis (@briandavispdx) May 6, 2014
"Mr. [Portland], tear down this wall!" Or at least remove that silly proclamation. http://t.co/tu04i5abkL
— MPLS Bike Love (@mplsbikelove) May 7, 2014
Is this another harbinger that Portland is losing our beloved status as “America’s Bicycle Capital?”… http://t.co/0BL9E3Wnam
— The Bikeable Church (@BikeableChurch) May 7, 2014
The fact that it's America's strip club capital has always been way more interesting to me anyhow. http://t.co/WpZwNGTF2G
— Stevil Kinevil (@StevilKinevil) May 7, 2014
— Chris Steller (@chris_steller) May 6, 2014
— Brett Holycross (@BrettHolycross) May 6, 2014
Since when does public art constitute advertising? Save America's Bike Capital mural! http://t.co/RnzZ2yvkWh
— Robin Jones (@wubledoo) May 7, 2014
— Nathan Isaacs (@sevengmedia) May 6, 2014
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.