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Our city has memorialized Bowie and Prince in the most Portland way possible

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Prince and David Bowie are the latest additions to Portland’s bike lanes.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland isn’t known for its rock music legacy, but we do have something no other city has: memorials to two modern-day rock titans that are made out of bike lane markings.

You might have heard about our huge Bowie vs Prince bike ride. Not to be outdone, maintenance crews from the City of Portland’s transportation bureau have lent their creative skills to bike lane symbols that honor both Prince and David Bowie — two artists who unexpectedly passed away this year.

The Prince bike lane character can be found on East Burnside at 9th. It features Prince’s iconic symbol on a purple cape and the rider is pedaling through a torrent of purple rain (of course) that’s falling from a cloud.

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You can find the David Bowie bike lane on SW Broadway and Main. You’ll know it’s him by the guitar, the stars, the makeup and the hair.

These are just two of dozens of bike lane characters the City of Portland has created over the years. The practice started in 1999 by a city maintenance employee named Kirstin Byer. She would take pieces of leftover thermoplastic from bike lane symbol installations and lay them down in funny ways. The first designs were very simple: a cowboy, a glass in the rider’s hand, and so on. The designs usually relate to something nearby. There was a bike lane symbol with a bag of golf clubs on its back near a golf course and one reading a book next to a university.

Back in 2009 we shared images of many of the original markings that were collected by Portlander Jim Waigand.

Over the years the characters get paved over and they vanish. I think the ephemeral nature adds to the fun of spotting one.

The practice seemed to be on hiatus for many years but as of late 2014 it’s become something of a standard practice once again. PBOT tweets out photos of new characters once or twice a month.

The Oregonian’s transportation reporter Eliot Njus has just created a Google Map where anyone can add the location of a bike lane character. Make sure to add your favorites!

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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