15 years after if first started, a fun City of Portland tradition seems to be making a comeback.
In 1999, a city employee named Todd Roberts decided to create a little hat from a piece of thermoplastic left over from installation of a bike lane symbol. After that, dozens of bike lane characters began to appear throughout Portland. In 2009, we shared a slideshow of the characters compiled by one of their biggest fans — northeast Portland resident Jim Waigand.
Unfortunately, for the past several years it’s seemed like PBOT crews had stopped laying down these whimsical symbols. I hadn’t seen or heard about any new ones and assumed it was just another part of Portland’s past cycling swagger that has recently gone missing.
But a few weeks ago I was excited to see the tradition return.
There have been two new bike lane characters installed by PBOT in the past month. On December 8th, PBOT posted this “Transportation Superhero” character on their Facebook page.
And then two days before Christmas, they tweeted what is perhaps their most colorful and ornate bike lane character ever: a likeness of University of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to commemorate his Heisman Trophy…
— Portland Bureau of Transportation (@PBOTinfo) December 23, 2014
You can see the superhero as you ride south on N Vancouver Avenue just before you get to Russell. The green quarterback is located right outside the Duck Store in the southbound bike lane on Naito south of NW Couch. (It’s common for PBOT to place the characters in geographically signification locations. Years ago they laid down a soccer-themed symbol outside Merlo Field on N Willamette — the home of the NCAA championship-winning University of Portland women’s soccer team.)
Many people love seeing these characters as they ride by. They remind us our streets are alive, that our public servants love their work and aren’t afraid to show it, and they’re a welcome respite from a routine commute. But of course other people see them as a waste of precious city resources. To those folks, PBOT is quick to point out that these characters are created by staff on their own time with materials that would otherwise be unused.
We’re keeping our eyes peeled for the next one. Perhaps a cargo bike full of shopping bags on NE Multnomah outside of Lloyd Center Mall?
— For more on this local tradition read Jim Waigaind’s article, Artists of the Asphalt, which appeared in the September 2003 edition of Velo Vision magazine. (PDF)