Spurred into action by Portland’s Great Bike Stagnation and a growing realization that this town needs a bike advocacy shot-in-the-arm, a group calling itself BikeLoudPDX held its first ever meeting on Saturday.
Most people were simply fed up with the lack of high quality bicycle access in Portland and the lack of urgency to do anything about it. One man, a 62-year old named Eric (I didn’t get his last name) lives on the west side and said riding a bike through downtown Portland is so scary (“life-threatening” is the term he used) to him that he and his wife Martha (who’s 67 and has a chronic foot injury) drove to the meeting.
Another woman who recently moved here, said during a round of introductions that, “The more I bike in Portland, the less I like it. The shine has worn off.”
By all accounts, it was a huge success. About three dozen people crammed around tables at the Lucky Lab, each one of them eager to share their perspectives and get involved to make cycling better in Portland.
Instead of spending time talking about what’s wrong and what we should do about it, leader Alex Reed focused the meeting on actions. From the minute I got there and had a flyer for an upcoming ride shoved into my hand (by noted North Tabor-area bike activist Terry Dublinsky), till the last conversation I had, the room was full of positive, forward-looking energy.
With so many people, Reed decided to break everyone into three main groups: one to organize the group’s first ride/action, another to discuss the group’s mission, and another to focus on organizational structure (such as, how/if the group should become a 501-c3, remain all-volunteer, and so on).
As I looked around the room, I was happy to see a healthy mix of wily veterans (including BTA Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky) and newcomers. For several people, this was the first bike meeting they’d ever attended.
Here are a few more photos…
Several themes emerged in the conversations I was part of (and overheard):
— There’s a feeling that any new efforts should work in symbiosis with the BTA; yet remain independent of them. One man, who was involved with Critical Mass in Chicago, said a successful activism group should “refuse to get sucked in” to the bureaucracy or existing power structure.
— The media was a big topic. People want to both focus on changing the dominant narrative in the local media and use new social media tools to organize activism more effectively. One person mentioned using the Internet group Anonymous as a model of powerful and influential “subversive” activism.
— Many people wanted to do more guerrilla actions, such as pop-up protected bike lanes and DIY crosswalks.
— Inclusiveness was another popular theme. Actions the group takes and its organizational structure should be inclusive of all types of people and geographic areas. (I noted out loud during the meeting that the case for inclusion came most strongly from two of the only five or so women that showed up.)
— The group also wanted to do more to encourage bicycling perspectives and representation at project meetings. On a similar note, they want to do more to respond immediately to infrastructure issues and problems as they arise (examples being SW Barbur road diet proposal, the narrow bike lane on Interstate, the ongoing issues of too many drivers on SE Clinton, and so on).
— As for how aggressive a new group should be, that question remains. There was a strong feeling that this group wanted to stop short of pushing the envelope too much, but some expressed that a certain amount of “loud and cranky” bike activists is just what Portland needs.
— While the actions this group takes will draw attention to gaps and safety issues, we also discussed the need to do more celebrating of the good things. Because Portland City Hall has no bicycling champion at the moment, there’s a lack of ribbon-cutting and commemorations to draw attention to major accomplishments (like the one millionth bike trip over the Hawthorne Bridge or the success of the NE Multnomah road diet project.)
— One key overall theme was that bicycling needs a strong voice in Portland. “The bike voice tends to get undermined in infrastructure discussions,” was how one person put it. On a similar note, the BTA’s Kransky said he showed up because he wants to create more bike advocacy capacity. “How we can build more power?” he asked the group.
Like I said above, this group is about action and the first ride is tonight (8/26). Reed has posted details of a Protest Ride on SE Clinton, “to highlight the importance of keeping motorized traffic volumes low on neighborhood greenways / bike boulevards.” The rides will meet at SE 26th and Clinton at 5:15 and 5:45. In addition to riding, people will hold up signs to encourage drivers to use SE Powell instead of Clinton (like PBOT now advises) as the detour during a major construction project on Division.
Reed and others are working toward a short-term goal of getting PBOT to try temporary diverters on Clinton to reduce the amount of driving trips on the street.
To get involved and/or keep tabs on this fledgling group, check out their Google Group or drop Reed an email at bikeloudpdx [at] gmail [dot] com.