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

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 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.


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.


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.


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)

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.


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.



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.


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.


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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