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Sue Stahl, accessibility advocate who pushed for Portland’s adaptive bike program, has died

Posted by on November 20th, 2017 at 4:06 pm

Suzanne Stahl.
(Photo via Facebook)

One of Portland’s most persistent advocates for the rights of people with disabilities has died. Sue Stahl passed away on November 14th. She was 42 years old.

Stahl was a fixture in the fight to make Portland’s streets work better for all people, not just those in cars and on bikes. Her impressive advocacy resume included: Chair of the Portland Commission on Disability, board member of Oregon Walks, member of the City of Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and much more. She also ran for Portland City Council (against Steve Novick) last year.

BikePortland readers probably recall Stahl’s name in our coverage about the lack of adaptive bikes in Portland’s Biketown bike share system. Stahl began asking the Portland Bureau of Transportation about the accessibility of the system as far back as March 2016 — three months before it was due to launch.

After we broke the story on June 2, 2016, Stahl contacted BikePortland several times via email, hoping we would help her pressure PBOT to do more for riders with disabilities. Turns out she had been emailing PBOT’s bike share program manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth for months about the issue. On April 11th, she wrote to Hoyt-McBeth: “Is it possible to get hand cycles or trikes for people who want to participate in this program and have disabilities? I am under the impression that any program that uses federal grant money, either in part or wholly, needs to comply with ADA regulations. Yet only one bike design is used.”

Stahl threatened to file an ADA lawsuit against the City of Portland and ultimately she found a sympathetic ear from fellow disability rights advocate Chloe Eudaly. When Eudaly got into a runoff with Novick for that seat on City Council, she pressured him (as incumbent PBOT Commissioner) on this issue. Together, Eudaly and Stahl forced PBOT to recognize the validity of adaptive bikes in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise. In the end, Biketown wasn’t violating any ADA requirements; but thanks in part to Stahl’s dogged activism, PBOT ended up launching the Adaptive Biketown pilot program this past summer.

Oregon Walks Board Member Scott Kocher emailed us about Stahl’s passing yesterday:

“It is sad and unexpected. As you may well know, she was an unvarnished voice for accessibility and equity, a former Oregon Walks board president, PAC member, Council candidate, and served on numerous accessibility related commissions etc. She pushed, and pushed PBOT for adaptive bike share bikes. She was often the only voice in the room who knew what it meant to get around Portland with all the barriers most of us manage to get by. Her life was not easy, and she wasn’t looking for easy. She was a champion and I’ll miss her.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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4 Comments
  • Jim Lee November 20, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    We’ll miss you.

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  • Phil Richman November 20, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    Very sad to hear. Sue lived a block away from me and we had many vibrant conversations through the years, mostly around transportation issues. She got my vote for City Council because of all her work on ADA rights. A couple of years ago Sue overcame her fear of being on a bike and let me help her onto my Big Dummy to shuttle her to and from a public meeting at the Multnomah Arts Center. Sue, you will be missed!

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  • Evan Manvel November 21, 2017 at 10:51 am

    All Portlanders benefited from her work to improve our city, work she did without ego or pay. I had the honor of serving on the Oregon Walks board with her, and am grateful for the legacy she left. I really appreciated Sue’s passion and tenacity.

    My thoughts are with her family. Sorry for your loss.

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  • Jack C. November 23, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Any word on the cause of death?

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