Special gravel coverage

Guest post: Advocate and bike scene veteran Carl Larson says goodbye

Posted by on January 15th, 2016 at 3:23 pm

2014 Bike Fair-10

Carl Larson at the 2014 Multnomah County Bike Fair.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

This is a guest post from Carl Larson, a Portland bike advocate and all-around bicycle culture Renaissance man. Amid many other bike-related activities including bike polo, World Naked Bike Ride, Mini Bike Winter, Zoobomb and Pedalpalooza, he’s worked for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance since 2008, currently as its engagement manager. The BTA is eliminating the job on Jan. 31.

“I feel sheepish about suggesting anyone would care about my memories but they’re not just mine,” Larson writes. “These highlights remind me of what a ride so many of us have been on and it’s been really fun to look back at some of them. It has helped me, and will hopefully help others, recognize the BTA at its best.”

My first blog post for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance was called “Hi. I’m Carl.” Eight years later, it’s time to write “Bye. I’m Carl.” I’ve been looking for work on the east coast and, due to a budget crunch, my position at the organization has been eliminated.

That first blog post gleefully listed some of the bike fun I’d been involved with since moving to Portland so it’s fitting now to list some highlights since starting work at the BTA. These aren’t the most important things the BTA (or I) did. They’re just some of my favorite memories. I am so grateful for these memories and the BTA staff (current and past) and members (current and lapsed) who helped make them.


carl larson at the Rose fest parade

Carl with a front row seat at the Rose Festival parade, 2006.

The first time I ever volunteered to ride with kids was for a community ride at Boise-Eliot school with now-legendary BTA instructors Dawn Riddle and Greg Lavender. I was headed off on a Zoobomb field trip afterwards so I rode a 16″ bike and wore a full-face motorcycle helmet. The kids were rightly appalled and explained to me that proper saddle height is important if I wanted to be able to go fast and not hurt my knees.


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Memorial ride for Tracey Sparling, 2007.

After Tracey Sparling was killed in a right hook crash in front of the Crystal Ballroom, I invited Scott Bricker, then BTA Executive Director, to address the crowd at a ride/vigil my friend Tiago Denczuk and I organized. Scott stood in the back of a pedicab with his baby daughter in his arms and, yelling as loud as he could, made it clear that this type of traffic violence was unacceptable. It was incredibly moving and reinforced my desire to someday work for the BTA. Soon, Brett Jarolimek would die in a similar crash and Sam Adams would announce Portland’s bike box pilot project.


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Carl and a friend at Mini Bike Winter, 2008.

My first year on the job at the BTA had a lot of peaks: wrangling a wild pack of Vestal students as we biked down 82nd in the Avenue of the Roses Parade, running the bike parking for a particularly raucous Alice Awards. My coworkers were opposing the Vancouver mandatory helmet ordinance, running the “Get Going” bike boulevard campaign, strengthening the new Vulnerable Roadway User law…but the best memory wasn’t work. It was tearing it up with the BTA team at a PIR short track relay race.


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Rallying against the Columbia River Crossing freeway, 2009. (That’s Carl in the big hat with the sign.)

I was really energized by the anti-CRC rally Joe Kurmaskie organized in Waterfront Park. It was such a thrill to work alongside smart, passionate people like Michelle Poyourow and Joe Cortright to fight this insane boondoggle of a project. I hosted a sign-making party at the BTA office, our Communication Director’s son carried the “OMG CRC WTF” sign, and Jefferson Smith led the crowd in a memorable chant: “What do we want?!” “A supplemental environmental impact statement!” “When do we want it?!” “In a matter of months!”

2010 (tie)

Mayor Adams at Safe Routes to School ride-9

Former Mayor Sam Adams, right, joins a BTA-led Safe Routes to School event organized in part by Larson.

The BTA was leaderless for most of 2010 and that made for a tense and ugly year. By the time Rob Sadowsky was hired, we were so ready for Hope and Change that I nicknamed him “Robama.” Despite being a tough year, I can’t bear to choose between these two memories:

The BTA launched the “Build It” campaign to support the City of Portland’s Bicycle Plan for 2030. The message was, “don’t just adopt a plan, BUILD IT.” The campaign brought lots of 2010 highlights for me: stenciling signs with Ryan Hashagen, our big rally at City Hall, and getting endorsements from food cart vendors, my neighbor the cabbie, and Darcelle XV.

More personally, this was the year that I finally felt like I’d become pretty good at teaching bike safety to kids and really good at planning rides that they’d enjoy. Planning the last ride of the 2-week class (the “community ride”) was always a blast. I sought out every puddle-strewn path, alley, and “dead mans hill” in town and usually brought the kids (and volunteers and teacher) home muddy. We rode far crazier things than the grassy hill in Overlook Park, but it’s hard to deny that bombing that hill with Mayor Adams and Mrs. Porter’s Humboldt 4th graders will be hard to forget.


Joel Holly and I were tired of boring, victim-blaming bike safety campaigns. Amazingly, the BTA gave us a camera and some time to create three of our own PSAs. They starred Mike Cobb pretending to be bad at trackstanding, K’Tesh the Klingon Warrior, and Wm. Steven Humphrey sneaking around the Portland Mercury office in his underwear. Successful or not, we had fun.


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Riding Barbur Boulevard.

There were much bigger things that happened in 2012 (an awesome mayoral forum, for one thing) but I’ll always remember making Valentines in the newly-opened Velo Cult. Michelle Poyourow and Jessica Roberts started BTA Valentines as a way to show some love to allies who might not realize they’re allies. 2012’s went to every Franz truck driver for their patience with changes to the streets around the bakery.

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Larson has built a good relationship with Portland’s first modern bike-riding mayor, Bud Clark.

On a quiet Easter morning, Will Vanlue and I met up with former Portland Mayor Bud Clark at 6th and Jefferson to recreate his iconic “Expose Yourself to Art” poster. The resulting “Expose Yourself to Bikes” poster was released at the Goose Hollow Inn after Bud led a group ride visiting his favorite public art.


Williams Avenue-3

The new left-side buffered bike lanes on Williams replaced wide door-zone lanes on the right side and eliminated a lane of northbound traffic.

Nobody is completely satisfied with the N Williams project and maybe that’s okay. The process that led up to its design was a challenge for all involved including the city, the neighborhood, and the BTA. The best possible outcome was sure to be a compromise. I’m proud of the result (a street that is far safer for walking and biking) but mostly I’m proud of the lessons we learned: get the right people at the table, listen first, confront racism, and seek agreement on objectives before discussing solutions.


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At the 2015 Alice Awards, celebrating the BTA’s 25th anniversary.

With Lisa Frank doing tons of work in Washington County and unanimous approval of the Monroe Neighborhood Greenway at Milwaukie City Council, 2015 felt like the year that the BTA truly became a tri-county organization. That was exciting but the experience I’m more likely to remember was the task of digging through old photos and slides to create a slideshow for the BTA’s 25th anniversary. Image after image of fun, passion, and change: Rex painting the first office with help from his young family, staff playing polo in Waterfront Park, Karen Frost celebrating the first Trimet bus racks, Bud Clark’s snowy last day in office, lots of neon, BikeFest on the Burnside Bridge, Sam Oakland leading a ride to Salem to celebrate the anniversary of the 1971 Bike Bill, smiling kids doing the same bike safety drills I’d later teach…


I didn’t realize that it’d be the last ride I would lead for the BTA but, in a way, it was a fitting one; I was surrounded by old and new friends, heading east with a smile on my face.

The BTA New Years Day Ride is always great excuse to go for a freezing cold bike ride on eerily quiet streets with a bunch of friends. This year’s ride would have been hard to imagine in 2006. We rode across the Tillikum, up a transformed Division Street, out a soon-to-have-bike-lanes Foster to Lents’ new brewpub, right next to a Green Line MAX stop.

At the time, I didn’t realize that it’d be the last ride I would lead for the BTA but, in a way, it was a fitting one; I was surrounded by old and new friends, heading east with a smile on my face.

— Carl Larson, @LilBikesBigFun

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  • 9watts January 15, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    So inspiring! Thanks for all your excellent work and passion and humor, Carl. We’ll miss you!

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  • Mike Mason January 15, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Carl, sad to see you leaving Portland but expect that you will accomplish big things on the East Coast. And maybe come back one day? Your input on projects such as Denver Ave/Schmeer Road really helped improve the end result. All the best, Mike

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  • K'Tesh January 15, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    I’m still looking for a qualified cloaking device engineer… 12 years experience with Bistromath drives required.

    Thanks for sharing your memories with us Carl!

    So, how far east are you going? New York? or like me… China?

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  • J_Ryde January 15, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    Wishing you the best, Carl. Hopefully you’ll be making it up to the hill a few more times before you leave!

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  • Blake January 15, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    Thanks for your support and advice on my advocacy work, and for all you have done in the last 10 years for Portland!

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  • Dan January 15, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    Very, very bummed to hear Portland is losing Carl! I wish you nothing but the best of luck where ever you land!

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  • Brian Sysfail January 15, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Bummer news, Best Luck in new adventures Carl. Much Love

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 15, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    First… Want to clear up some confusion. Carl is looking for work on the East Coast (and will probably find it IMO), but he won’t be leaving Portland until he gets a job. My original headline was confusing.

    Second… just want to say if he does leave, I will definitely miss having him around.

    Carl did so much stuff not even mentioned here. He’s such a humble guy and he’s pretty quiet so much of what he did was behind the scenes. He was like our glue-guy… keeping everything together when/if shit hit the fan and unlike me or other folks in town he never went and told everyone about it.

    And dang, it’s a bummer the BTA won’t have his institutional and transportational project knowledge to tap into anymore. Carl was a force on project committees and such.

    Good luck on your next steps Carl! I know you’ll be happy on the east coast.

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  • Cory Poole January 15, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Carl, thank you for your fine work over the years. Thank you for helping us get the Northwest Skate Coalition off the ground. I’m not sure what skateboarding in Portland would look like today if you had not stepped up to assist. You will be missed.

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  • Steve B. January 15, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Carl’s leadership in Portland will be sorely missed. Thanks for all you’ve done. I suspect we will continue to reap the rewards of your work years from now. Onward!

    I’m surprised and disappointed the BTA is eliminating this important position that in my opinion noticeably improved the BTA’s advocacy ground game over the past few years.

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    • One Love January 16, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Agreed. I always felt that Carl “Got” people and “Got” Portland. He felt like the wing of the BTA who was fighting hard and organizing while he could see the big picture (As opposed to others in the BTA who worked towards a helmet law, for the CRC, or for additional taxes for bicycles.) Couldn’t a different position be eliminated? Any chance $$$ could go towards one of the other bicycle advocacy organizations in town that could hire Carl on?

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  • Ben January 15, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Bye Carl! You have been a shining light of Portland’s bike community since you showed up. We’ll miss you a lot!

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  • Sarah MIrk January 15, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Aw, thanks for writing up all these sweet memories, Carl. You mean a lot to so many people and we’ll miss your hard work and ample beard.

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  • Tomas January 15, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    We’ll always have McKenzie Pass!

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  • EricIvy January 15, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    Hey Carl! Bummer to hear. If you’re still around in June, let’s do that “Old car scavenger hunt” pedalpalooza pipedream ride we were talking about 🙂 Cheers to you and all your awesomeness over the years

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  • carye bye January 15, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    Carl, thanks for inspiring the Short Shorts Scandinavian Pride Ride which I put on the Pedalpalooza calendar–you showed up with another 100 cyclists (Not expected) and you saved me by instantly agreeing to co-lead the ride with me (as I had, uh, somehow not had enough time to route the ride..) You were up for the task, leading our short short scandis through the Ladd’s Addition alleyways to the Keller Fountain and finally the Euphoric downtown exit OVER THE TOP of Steel Bridge taking the lane to our final destination at Norse Hall. OH and for being a Bunny volunteer a few times on the Bunny on a Bike ride! I’m not as familiar with what you did with the BTA but I’m sure it was A LOT. Thanks Carl — you’re bikeariffic!

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  • Breesa January 15, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Thank you, Carl, for all you’ve done to make Portland’s streets safer and way, way more fun.

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  • joe kurmaskie January 15, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Carl – it’s been a pleasure riding, laughing and causing trouble together over the years in the name of killing bad bridge projects, bikes and a healthier planet. Hope you find work local but wherever you land, that community will be richer for it.

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  • Buzz January 15, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Good luck, Carl! Can I get dibs on one of those Moulton’s if you’re gonna get rid of them?

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  • K.Bott January 15, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    In which PDX bike advocacy loses a wonderful person and a great asset. Thank you for making this a better place to live and ride, Carl – I’ll miss your voice in all-things-advocacy, your level head, your getting-sh*t-done approach — and your wit, your brilliance, your boat shoes.

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  • Marjorie Eickel January 15, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    Very well written, of course, Carl! You’ve obviously contributed so much to biking and to Portland; I’m sure you’ll be sorely missed! Best of luck as you begin some wonderful new adventure. Hope I get to see you when you return east.

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  • Mossby Pomegranate January 15, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Portland is losing ’em like crazy now.

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  • Scott Kocher January 15, 2016 at 5:22 pm

    Thank you, Carl.

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  • Scott Bricker January 15, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    Thanks Carl for your awesome work, and how you brought fun and creativity to the critical work of making streets safe for everyone. Not to mention that we love your outfits….

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  • Todd Boulanger January 15, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    Sounds like a Low Bar Bike Ride Dos is in order….

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    • Todd Boulanger January 15, 2016 at 5:44 pm

      sans nudity + jail time

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  • rick January 15, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    but Carl has done so much for Barbur

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  • Matt- Bike Milwaukie January 15, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    Hey Carl! Sorry to hear that your position is being cut 🙁 Your testimony at the Milwaukie City Council regarding the Monroe Greeenway concept was very helpful in making that at unanimous vote. Thanks for sticking with us in Milwaukie the last few years to get this project where it is, and for having difficult conversations with people who probably were not too excited about the project. Your even keel will be missed.

    Best of luck wherever your wheels take you to!

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  • Jim Labbe
    Jim Labbe January 15, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Carl’s departure is such a loss. He is a great example of how young creative people have been able to come to Portland, get connected, and make a lasting impact in making this a great City. Portland has remained such a place because of people like Carl…. people who grew-up here or have moved here who help sustain and renew the best of Portland.

    But can Portland remain such a place? New, young innovators have been able to come here or stay here since the 1990s because Portland has had a stock of relatively affordable housing (relative to other Cities) that- combined with a human-scale street grid and descent transit system that supports walking and biking- allows people to live a relatively affordable, car-free (or car-light) life.

    It’s time we face the enormous challenge of keeping Portland affordable for everyone.


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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty January 16, 2016 at 11:40 pm

      Much of the East Coast faces that same challenge.

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  • Mike Cobb January 15, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    Carl, I’m excited to hear about your next exploits. You’ve been a vital part of what makes my Portland feel good when it feels good. You’re going to leave a big hole. We’ll put comes around it.

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  • Sara January 15, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Thank you for everything Carl!! Personally, I don’t think we should let you go without a fight… I think it would be great to keep you in the City as you have lead so many efforts and can lead so many more! #keepcarl

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  • Zaz January 15, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    A sad day for Portland bike culture. I will miss your face, Carl, but I’m sure the East Coast (NYC, perchance?) has something wonderful waiting for you.

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson January 15, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    For me Carl was the face of the BTA. It was always a pleasure to see him and have a few words as we got some things done on Swan Island. A loss for Portland and gain for who knows where! Chicago?! Thanks Carl for all you’ve done for biking in little old Portland.

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  • Gasper Johnson January 15, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    stoked to appear in the 2009 photo but i should really photoshop myself into the 2013

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  • Murph January 15, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    PDX will be way less bikey without you. Bummed to lose you. Stoked that the East Coast will be so much better with you out there. Big ups to little wheels.

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  • Caroline January 15, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    Good luck, Carl! Thanks for making things awesome and keeping it real!

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  • Ted Buehler January 16, 2016 at 12:35 am

    Say it isn’t so!

    I’d like to like you, BTA. I really would… But you’re not making it easy.

    Thanks so much for creating and shaping the community I love here, Carl.

    Ted Buehler

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  • Robin Dale January 16, 2016 at 8:22 am

    I am so sorry to read that your BTA position has been cut and that the sane and FUN transportation scene here is loosing one of it’s shining stars.

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  • Chadwick F January 16, 2016 at 9:47 am

    It’s really getting time to go isn’t it? It’s people like you that really help shape the culture of a place. Hope to find out where you land, Carl, I’ll put it in my arsenal of places to live. Thanks for everything.

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  • Andrew Holtz January 16, 2016 at 11:35 am

    A loss for BTA & Portland.

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  • Fourknees January 16, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks for all you’ve done for the community. I always felt your perspectives were balanced and helped everyone understand issues better.

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  • Evan Ross January 16, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Thank You Carl. You have been a huge inspiration. I wish you the best of luck with your new endeavors.

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  • Sam January 16, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Thanks for sharing these memories.
    As many have written, your significant contributions to community and the City of Roses is deeply appreciated and widely seen. You brought a calm but enthusiastic demeanor, bright smile, savvy advocacy, and were so often nattily dressed. You are a terrific citizen, peer, and friend, and an inspiration to try new things, get involved, and work smarter.
    Good luck and many thanks,

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  • Jonathan January 17, 2016 at 8:15 am

    Dear Carl, I too am saddened for Portland (but not surprised) to hear of your pending life changes. You are one of the first people I met prior to moving here from your old neck of les arbes. Your enthusiasm, good humor and adventurousness influenced my decision to relocate and I am grateful. The City ought to hire you immediately as Embassador General but I am sure you will find many open doors wherever you land based solely on your wit, wardrobe and capacity for facial hair. Thanks for letting me ride your Pedersen (not a euphemism). Your last day at BTA coincides with my birthday. Let’s raise a pint. Very best wishes.

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  • Ted Labbe January 18, 2016 at 11:05 am

    We are all so sad to see you go Carl. I know that wherever you land, you will bless that ground with your wonderful bikey spirit. Portland’s loss. You’ve given us so much, and what you’ve help start will live on after your departure…huge gifts that will continue to pay bikey dividends.

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  • Steph Routh January 18, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Carl, words cannot express. All the selfish bits of me hope that fate keeps you here, where one can expect to find you at a Truly Random Place doing a Truly Marvelous Thing. And the parts of me that are left can’t wait to read of your future exploits as you Mary Poppins to some wondrous and worthy new place that will be enriched by you.

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  • Vanessa Renwick January 18, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    oh Carl! So grateful to have had you in my life for a spell. Wherever you will end up, those people win! I miss you already. Have fun!

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  • Jessica Roberts
    Jessica Roberts January 19, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Carl is the best. Funny, tireless, creative, generous, and just an all-around mensch. His advocacy instincts are stellar and he brings people together. We’ll miss you so much, Carl.

    I’m really sorry the BTA couldn’t find the funding to keep your job open until you got settled in a new gig – doesn’t seem like that would have cost very much, and it would have been a great gesture to someone who’s been working at the organization for 7 years.

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  • A J Zelada
    A J Zelada January 19, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Oh. this cannot be, Carl! You are not replaceable. Deep heartfelt thanks for ALL you have done for not only us~now but the bar you have set for Fun, Health, Dedication for the next generation! Z

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  • Pedal PT January 19, 2016 at 10:56 am

    You da man Carl! Super sad to hear you’re leaving but I’m pretty sure this is not that last time I’ll run into you down the road. 🙂 Thanks for all your hard work and advocacy promoting bicycling in this town- you’ll be missed!

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  • Alison Graves January 19, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Carl, Thank you for your smartquirkycreativekind way of building community and advocating for change. You have left a mark on the people of Portland and Portland itself. I’m excited for your next adventures but am sad to think that you won’t be a part of Portland regular landscape. Best wishes to you!

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  • Souljoel January 19, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    I remember being introduced to you Carl, soon after you joined the Safe Routes team as it was going through some initial transition in ’08. Your humble yet astute demeanor, then combined with a quick pan of your clever office cubicle effects, led me to get a sense that the BTA–and perhaps more significantly, the folks served through it’s programing–were in for a treat; a ride like no other.

    As both a member, and volunteer, I got to see you in action throughout parts of your eight years with the BTA. You shaped a lot of memories: From early Safe Routes Community Rides (the kind of rides no kid–or kid at heart–could possibly forget), to more recent times and opportunities in working with you individually within your role in Engagement; everything from cool tabling gigs to six-keg-bike-caravans to the steps of City Hall. Even the follow-up venting session over a beer when I needed to clear some stuff up. You’ve been steadfast in your professionalism, and personal ethos. I’ve been lucky to have gotten to know and work with you.

    You’ve stayed true to the humbleness and humility you came to Portland with over ten years ago, and yet have established yourself as a voice and a leader singular in the bicycling community. Portland will know and shine in your legacy for years to come. Some other place is calling for you now. You’ve got courage; the rest will fall into place.

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