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At protest ride, St. Johns Bridge carries weight of hundreds, and of recent tragedy

Posted by on November 3rd, 2016 at 9:17 pm

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Hundreds of people came together in St. Johns tonight to remember Mitch York, the 55-year-old northeast Portland man who was killed while bicycling on the St. Johns Bridge six days ago.

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York’s family and friends gathered with neighborhood families pushing strollers, and people who ride bicycles rolled in from all parts of the city. We gathered at Cathedral Park, under the historic bridge that we all simultaneously love for its beauty and despise for its lack of safe bike access.

People who knew and loved Mitch York passed out flowers and mingled among the crowd as the TV news cameras assembled and Portland Police officers mapped out their plans to escort the ride.

Jacob Tong, who co-organized the ride with his friend Hazel Gross, addressed the crowd with a megaphone: “We’re going to show people we deserve to be protected. We deserve to be safe. We’re going to start the fire and we’re not going to stop.”

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Ride co-organizer Hazel Gross.
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Ride co-organizer Jacob Tong.

After a slow ride through the streets of downtown St. Johns we pedaled up onto the lanes of the bridge. The Portland Police (whose Traffic Division headquarters happen to be located right at the east end of the bridge) fully supported this ride. So much so that they deftly prevented all driving on the entire north side of the bridge while we pedaled to the middle of the span.

As line of riders stretched about half the entire length of the bridge, one woman standing on the sidewalk just kept saying as people streamed passed, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for being here.”

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As we’ve seen with other recent road tragedies, this isn’t just about “cyclists.” People who live in St. Johns are also sick and tired of dealing with dangerous roads and the people who use them irresponsibly. One woman was passing out flyers for an upcoming Transportation and Traffic Safety Forum that will be held at the Community Center on November 14th (we’ll have full details about that in a separate post).

Once we made it to the middle of the bridge, with York’s family and friends assembled on the sidewalk, we all shared several minutes of silence. There we were, standing in a place we all usually ride quickly across, too scared and stressed to even look down at the river, much less contemplate anything deeply. As we swayed high above the Willamette under clear skies, people driving cars and trucks eastbound rumbled by very slowly, probably shocked to see that many people stopped on the bridge. (If only they’d drive like that more often, is all I could think about.)

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The weight of the tragedy, the seriousness of the safety issues we face, and the immense outpouring of support and unity displayed by our community, brought several people to tears.

It was a very powerful moment.

After everyone layed flowers at a makeshift memorial near one of the bridge stanchions, we turned around and rode back toward St. Johns.

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

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40 Comments
  • Kathleen Hellem November 3, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    Great article! It was very well handled tonight. Thoughtful and respectful. Thank you.

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  • K'Tesh November 3, 2016 at 10:56 pm

    I wish I could have participated. I wish that participation hadn’t been needed. I pray that this will compel ODOT to do the right thing, and the violence on the roads will end. I’m praying for Mitch’s friends and family, and all those who have lost their lives, or been hurt, by motorists.

    Be Safe People!

    God Bless!

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  • Hazel November 3, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    Thanks Jonathan for capturing the event so well. Thanks to everyone that came out tonight. Thanks to the PPD who were respectful and interested in keeping us safe.

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    • EmilyG November 4, 2016 at 9:48 am

      Thanks so much to you and Jacob for organizing this ride, Hazel.

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  • Travis November 3, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    Still chills. Beyond moved to have been apart of our community tonight.

    Jake did a terrific job setting the tone. Hazel and Jonathan (over these past few days) too. PPB for support — loved.

    From a Mary on the STJ FB Page: “If the bikes I saw riding in downtown St. Johns tonight could be called a protest, I would say it was a mostly silent one. It felt more like it was a memorial ride for a friend. As the bikes kept passing me outside Anna Bananas. I wanted to say thank you. I wanted to war hoop my solidarity. I even wanted to film you but my heart was too full to do any of those things. I just listened to whir of spokes and took a moment to slow down.”

    And Mitch’s family just blessed — they were there.

    Tonight was church for me. For a long time. Thank you. All of you.

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    • Travis November 3, 2016 at 11:35 pm

      *the very furthest thing in entire universe from apart. a part.

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  • Mark smith November 4, 2016 at 12:19 am

    This fight is about 19 feet.

    19 feet.

    On a 40 foot bridge

    Mitch died for 19 feet.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 4, 2016 at 8:11 am

      hi mark,

      i hear you. But let’s not be swayed by ODOT’s attempts to focus solely on arcane and biased policy they created to maintain the motorized status quo. This fight is about a lot more than 19-feet. It’s about an agency that has proven many times over many years that they are incapable of managing roads used by people who are not inside steel motorized vehicles. Their negligence and failure to put people first is killing people every day throughout our state.

      it’s time to take the keys away from ODOT before they kill again.

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      • patrick November 4, 2016 at 8:28 am

        Comment of the month

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      • B. Carfree November 4, 2016 at 12:25 pm

        ODOT cannot even manage the roads in a manner that is safe for people in multi-ton steel boxes. At what point will our governor admit that a clean-sweep of that dangerous agency is needed? The Oregon Department of Trucking, er, Transportation, needs to be replaced with something better, much better.

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  • rick November 4, 2016 at 6:53 am

    so sad

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  • bradwagon November 4, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Jonathan, curious about the logistics of the ride and traffic on the bridge. Seems that both WB lanes were shut down, did you all ride back in those same lanes or was traffic stopped so you could ride back on EB lanes? Obviously 6 is slightly past rush hour but wondering if you thought traffic was slowed down because of the ride or if the light into St Johns was still the main slow spot? Seems cars have quite a bit of room between them in some of the mid span pics…

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    • Hazel November 4, 2016 at 10:07 am

      PPD met with us before the ride and asked what we would like. We asked to take a single westbound lane. With the amount of riders there, they offered to close down both westbound lanes(I think this was also a safety move on their part so no cars could try and drive at us, etc). Our initial plan was to continue west and somehow turn around which seemed impossible. We talked to the officers when we were done with our silence and they suggested that we just turn around and ride back east in the westbound lane and the blocked off traffic so we could exit the bridge heading down towards the park.

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  • soren November 4, 2016 at 9:01 am

    I am very glad that the ride was successful and hope it will have lasting and meaningful impact on the community. (I really wanted to attend but did not have a helmet yesterday.)

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    • Hazel November 4, 2016 at 10:08 am

      Soren, there was no helmet requirement. Too bad you couldn’t make it.

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      • soren November 4, 2016 at 10:19 am

        Jacob Tong posted that helmets are required and that people who cannot follow the rules should not attend.

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        • Hazel November 4, 2016 at 10:28 am

          Helmets were strongly suggested and we just asked that people keep them on(if they were wearing them) for the whole event. Not sure why several members of Bikeloud feel the need to hijack this whole event with negative comments. It’s really disappointing.

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          • soren November 4, 2016 at 11:17 am

            I promoted the event on FB and the BikeLoudPDX email list, canceled BikeLoudPDX’s Thurs meeting, and was planning to attend. If this is hijacking the event then I plead guilty.

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          • J.E. November 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm

            Hey Hazel, sounds like there has been some miscommunication/misinterpretation going on. For personal reasons I do not own a helmet and also did not attend, not because of the original “helmets strongly suggested” post (I attend events all the time that recommend helmets), but rather because of a follow-up post on the event page that appeared to change “strongly suggested” to something along the lines of “helmets are to be worn at all times and not taken off… if you cannot follow the rules of this event, don’t come.” As someone who frequently leads both fun and protest bike events, I wanted to respect the choices of the event leaders, so I did not come. I wish I could cite the post for you, but the event page has been deleted, however I promise you that Terry and Soren are correct, there WAS a Facebook page post by your co-lead that made helmets sound absolutely mandatory.

            Please do not see this as an attack; as long as you are not promoting bigotry or encouraging violence etc, operational policies of events like this are up to the discretion of the event’s leader. If you want to make it a helmets-and-hi-viz-highly-recommended event, that is entirely up to you. If you want to make it a helmets-and-hi-viz-REQUIRED event, that is entirely up to you. But please understand that some of us may disagree with or feel uninvited, or even alienated, by such requirements (or the tone by which such requirements are laid out) and that it hurts a little bit to feel that in order to respect an event that is meaningful to you, you cannot attend. Even if such sentiment is unintended by the event coordinators (or due to miscommunication), it’s still something we need to watch out for when trying to engage both our core cycling advocacy community, and when trying to invite in new people (who might perhaps feel MORE welcomed by helmet and hi-viz requirements). This goes both ways, and I also don’t think it’s fair for people to criticize those who have volunteered to lead an event (constructive comments, of course, should always be welcome).

            I think being more inclusive is something that we in Portland (and groups like BikeLoud) have been struggling with, and we all need to try and be a bit more understanding and respectful of different viewpoints within and outside the “cycling community” in order to grow both our support, and the number of people enjoying and utilizing all bikes have to offer.

            Anyway, reading the BikePortland the Oregonian coverage, it sounds like this event was a big success. Please continue your bicycle advocacy in the future! (Hoping this time it won’t need to be another memorial ride.)

            Jessica Engelman
            BikeLoudPDX Co-Chair

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            • Hazel November 4, 2016 at 1:54 pm

              We had to remove the event page because there were BikeLoud members who were posting very inappropriate stuff that was very disrespectful to us and to the event. I also received a private message from another BikeLoud member that was hugely critical of the event. I’m sorry that there was some misinterpretation of what was posted on the page. I was under a lot of stress putting this on on top of feeling very emotional about this tragedy and it’s really disappointing that there are people that can’t be respectful in their communication around something that was trying to be and was positive for a lot of people.

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              • Alex Reedin November 4, 2016 at 2:32 pm

                As the founder of BikeLoudPDX, I’d encourage you to email the current co-chairs at bikeloudpdx@gmail.com about this behavior. Although I’m not currently active in the group (parenting two very active toddlers takes up all my time!) I can say confidently that the group and its leadership does not want people associated with it causing discord and heartache among the wider transportation activism community. We’ve had to exclude I believe two people from further participation in the group due to bad behavior and will do it again if there is a participant or participants who are disrespectful and demeaning.

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              • soren November 4, 2016 at 2:43 pm

                I resigned from BikeLoudPDX today because I’m tired of seeing what I say or write as a private citizen being used to attack BikeLoudPDX. For the record, BikeLoudPDX is not some monolithic group where everyone agrees and marches in lockstep. We often disagree and my individual opinions are not always shared by other people. A recent example: I very strongly supported the new facility on NE 21st (see below) but the vast majority of BikeLoudPDX members did not.

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              • mh November 6, 2016 at 4:22 pm

                The BikeLoudPDX Google group has 322 members. The organization itself has no definition of membership. The very few officers (now, regrettably, not including Soren) are the only individuals who can speak for the organization. When BikeLoud makes an official statement, it has been vetted and edited by as many members of the Google group as cared to do so.

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              • soren November 7, 2016 at 12:44 pm

                Guidelines for an official BikeLoudPDX position are:

                *Majority vote at a general meeting.
                *Three votes with no dissent for a rapid online proposal.

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        • Terry D-M November 4, 2016 at 10:53 am

          That is why I did not go. First helmets were suggested…..then he said if you can not follow the rules, one of which was wearing a helmet, then do not come.

          As someone who spends many 100’s of hours on bike Safety activism, this is the first memorial ride i have missed as it was not my place to question the organizers. So, I did not go.

          I have however sent several emails to ODOT…..it might not matter much, but they know who I am so who knows.

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          • Hazel November 4, 2016 at 11:00 am

            There was no helmet requirement, I don’t know why you all keep pushing this point.

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            • soren November 4, 2016 at 12:13 pm

              Helmets were explicitly required in a post by an organizer.
              There were additional posts by an organizer on the event page that concerned me:

              *A post that referred to black lives matter. (Comments requesting that this be clarified were deleted.)
              *A statement suggesting that the actions of individuals reflect negatively on all people who cycle.
              *A post urging attendees to wear hi-viz clothing.

              My rationale for making these comments is not to be divisive or offend but, rather, because I strongly believe that cycling advocacy should be inclusive.

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              • Mike C November 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm

                OMG stop.

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            • bradwagon November 4, 2016 at 12:28 pm

              Original Post about ride has a quote from Facebook page that has the statement “HELMETS STRONGLY ENCOURAGED” as the only Caps Lock text in the middle of a paragraph. Yes, it doesn’t say required but doesn’t sound inviting… Not sure if Facebook page has anything additional, can’t find it.

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    • Mike November 4, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Facebook post for the event specifically said helmets recommended, not required. It also said kids were not recommended, but we brought our 9-month-old in a trailer (and would have left if he were to start fussing). No problems. Very safe ride with the police escort, kudos to the organizers.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. November 4, 2016 at 9:06 am

    All these cyclists are being so selfish by taking up the entire bridge. Only cars are allowed to take up the entire bridge!

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    • Eric Leifsdad November 4, 2016 at 10:09 am

      Cars are unable to be selfish. Because drivers sit within the space occupied by cars, they don’t take up any space, so aren’t being selfish either. Right?

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. November 4, 2016 at 10:34 am

        Something something A to B, hard working Americans, coffee-sipping bikers, yada yada yada.

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  • Mike Gilliland
    Mike Gilliland November 4, 2016 at 9:34 am

    Participation in last night’s ride left me speechless. Massing together with a silent crowd and standing 200′ in the air had a massive impact on all of us.

    We knew the issues and why we were there to stand for those who couldn’t speak silently for themselves.

    Tragic. Sad. Respectful. Indignant. Confused. Awesome. Proud.

    So many words, yet still speechless.

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  • SD November 4, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Very well done by all involved. Grateful to have been there. It is amazing that a memorial for the needless death of a wonderful human being is also a protest because it slows down car traffic. A life is worth more than 10 minutes.

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  • KristenT November 4, 2016 at 10:40 am

    I saw the coverage on the news at 11 last night. What a beautiful thing to see. I especially loved the video shot from a higher vantage point of all the bikes going over the bridge, it was like what rush hour should be– a beautiful line of bicycles and few cars.

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  • Christopher Jones November 4, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Thanks for organizing this, Hazel and Jacob. It was great to see so many people united, both on foot and on bikes.

    Hazel’s comments on KGW sum up the my feelings: it used to feel safe, and it doesn’t anymore. Well said.

    http://www.kgw.com/news/local/cyclists-rally-in-honor-of-crash-victim/347640080

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  • Bill Stites November 4, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Beautiful, solemn event. The family seemed to really appreciate our presence.
    Well organized, and the police were exemplary.

    Let’s keep the pressure up on ODOT.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. November 4, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    Why did the cops show up?

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    • Hazel November 4, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      They showed to help keep us safe. The closed down the bridge and blocked traffic for us. See my above response to someone for all the details.

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