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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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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Kathleen Hellem
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Kathleen Hellem

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

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

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!

Hazel
Guest
Hazel

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.

Travis
Guest
Travis

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.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

This fight is about 19 feet.

19 feet.

On a 40 foot bridge

Mitch died for 19 feet.

rick
Guest
rick

so sad

bradwagon
Guest
bradwagon

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…

soren
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soren

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.)

Adam
Subscriber

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

Mike G
Guest
Mike Gilliland

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.

SD
Guest
SD

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.

KristenT
Guest
KristenT

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.

Christopher Jones
Guest
Christopher Jones

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

Bill Stites
Subscriber

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.

Adam
Subscriber

Why did the cops show up?