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Chris Billman is the only Oregonian with a disabled parking decal for his bicycle

Posted by on February 19th, 2018 at 3:04 pm

It’s not a bike, it’s a personal mobility device.
(Photos: Chris Billman)

61-year-old Forest Grove resident Chris Billman got a new lease on life when he discovered cycling.

He was born with scoliosis and suffers from a litany of degenerative issues including spinal stenosis and liver disease. He needs a cane to walk, and when he does, his legs can go numb.

But put his feet on pedals and everything changes.

Billman started riding years ago by putting upright “chopper” handlebars on a Schwinn 10-speed — a fine set-up for cruising around the neighborhood. Then in 2015 he invested in a recumbent and everything changed. “I was off and flying!” he told me during a phone call earlier this week in the voice of someone decades younger.

“They wanted to give me drugs, but the bicycle is better than opiates!”
— Chris Billman

“When I get on the bike I’m bent over like a pretzel,” he said. “But after I get on it my back is straight. If I can do that twice a week I’m in good shape. They wanted to give me drugs, but the bicycle is better than opiates!”

In fact they’re not just bicycles, they’re his personal mobility devices as defined by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Billman is currently the only Oregon resident with a disabled permit decal for his bicycle.

The bikes Billman rides are recumbents with electric-assist motors to make pedaling easier. His tandem Gulfstream (which he rides with his wife Barbara) is 17-feet long with the cargo trailer attached and his single-seat Slipstream is 12-feet long.

Chris and Barbara Billman.



But as the Billmans expanded their cycling horizons, they realized they weren’t welcome everywhere. A trip to ride carfree McKenzie Pass was met with a locked gate they couldn’t maneuver around without a struggle and damage to their bike. When they rolled up to the Banks-Vernonia Trail a sign greeted them with: “No motorized vehicles beyond this point.” And when they tried to run errands around town they quickly found that no bike racks on sidewalks could accommodate their relatively long vehicle.

“Why don’t they make it easier to get around that gate?”, “Why can’t I use that trail?”, “Why can’t I just park in a handicap parking stall?” Billman thought.

Given that his bikes are mobility devices and a mode of transportation, Billman wanted better access. No stranger to disability rights activism (he fought for more handicap parking at a City of Forest Grove parking lot in 2013), Billman began to research the issue.

He was able to guarantee his right to use the Banks-Vernonia State Trail by telling rangers his bicycle qualified as a mobility device under the American with Disabilities Act. Billman pointed out the section of the law that grants accces to “Other power-driven mobility devices” which are defined as, “any mobility device powered by batteries, fuel, or other engines… that is used by individuals with mobility disabilities for the purpose of locomotion, including golf cars, electronic personal assistance mobility devices… or any mobility device designed to operate in areas without defined pedestrian routes, but that is not a wheelchair.”

“The definition of an electric assisted bicycle can reasonably be described as being similar to a motorcycle.”
— David House, Oregon DMV

With federal law on his side and an impressive familiarity with the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS), Billman turned his attention to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

In late 2015 Billman applied for an ADA decal for his bike. “It was like asking for a golden egg,” he shared. After a bit of back-and-forth where Billman said he “Had to throw around the ORS and OAR [Oregon Administrative Rules],” he eventually received it.

DMV spokesman David House recalled Billman’s case when we asked him about it last week. He says the decision has limited reach and doesn’t apply to all bicycles.

“We approved it by reasoning that since OAR [Oregon Administrative Rule] 735-080-0050(3) allows DMV to issue decals to ‘motorcycles, golf carts or other similar vehicles,’” House wrote in an email to BikePortland last week. “And the ORS 801.258 definition of an electric assisted bicycle can reasonably be described as being similar to a motorcycle.”

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The DMV then issued this memo to Oregon law enforcement agencies in 2015:

“DMV has made a determination to issue disabled person parking decals to motorized recumbent bicycles and 3 or 4 wheel motorized mobility scooters for disabled individuals. Non-motorized recumbent bicycles are not qualified for the issuance of these decals. The decal numbers will reflect on the persons driving record for parking enforcement purposes.”

House made it clear to us that the DMV’s decision is only applicable to electric-assist recumbent bikes. “DMV does not issue ADA parking permits to bicycles.”

“We bought a badass bicycle, we decked it out, we’ve got a 50-amp motor and plenty of solar power… We can go anywhere.”
— Chris Billman

Billman’s first request set a precedent; but he wasn’t finished. A year later he began using a new recumbent and needed a second decal. Strangely, it was actually harder to get than the first one.

Oregon law allows for one disabled parking placard (the hanging ones that hook onto the rear-view mirror of a car) and one extra decal. When he got a new recumbent and requested a second decal, the DMV initially declined.

A rejection letter to Billman from the DMV’s Driver Issuance Unit in September 2017 stated that, “Bikes, including E-bikes, do not meet the definition of a vehicle for the purpose of issuing a disabled parking permit.”

Billman claims he was also rebuffed in his request for a second decal at a local DMV office by a staff person who said he’d have to “Go down to Salem,” to take care of the problem.

Another DMV staffer told him last in October that he could only have one extra decal. “You will need to decide which bike you would like the decal to be placed on,” the staffer wrote in an email.

But Billman would not be denied.

If at first you don’t succeed…

“Your decision to force me into making a choice of what vehicle I would like the protection of the DMV/ADA decal on is uncalled for,” Billman replied. He felt the rules were biased in favor of people who drive automobiles. “The choice of having only one mobility device with an ADA decal is not forced on anyone else but the disabled whom don’t want to use a vehicle with registration fees attached to it,” Billman continued in a follow-up email.

Then he made his case using ORS 814.400, “Application of vehicle laws to bicycles”. “ORS 814.400 is clear in the first line the where it says the ‘same rights’,” Billman wrote. “And parking an oversized recumbent, pedal-assisted mobility device is not on the list [of exceptions]… Oregon ODOT receives funds from the Feds for ADA-related compliance, I think this is a clear ADA compliance issue… This is a quality-of-life dilemma you created and have forced me into,” he continued. “The stress from having to choose whether I want my one or two seat unit protected is uncalled for.”

Two months later, his second decal arrived in the mail.

Billman was pleased, but was also struck how the letter that accompanied the decal made no reference to the broader issues. “Nobody admitted anything. Nobody said, ‘Oh gosh, we’ve been denying people this right all alon. We’re not even sorry about it. We’re not even going to recognize that it happened. Here’s your sticker and go away.'”

I asked DMV spokesperson David House why he was initially a decal two years after the agency gave him one. “This is new territory for us, because this the only customer in this situation who has made a request to DMV,” House replied. Here’s the rest of House’s response:

“It’s no surprise that there was a second denial letter because the situation is one-of-a-kind and requires manual work by a data processing coordinator at DMV to add it to the record – and authorization by a manager to make such a manual change. (This is important so that law and parking enforcement can verify the decal electronically.) So we need to work with this customer individually because it is a unique situation each time a request for a decal is made.”

While it’s nice that the DMV was flexible with Billman case, the question remains why they don’t make this a standard operating procedure. There are surely other Oregonians in Billman’s who won’t go the extra mile to receive a decal. Or, as Billman put it during our phone call. “How many people just get denied and then give up?”

Billman has the passion and persistence that are hallmarks of an effective advocate. And there are a lot of other things he’d like to change (like making bikeways fall under ADA regulations for quality and accessiblity). It’s all about accessibility and staying independent as long as possible.

“TriMet spends millions of dollars to send a little bus out to your house [referring to their Lift service], as long as you get in the wheelchair. But to me, it’s about staying out of the wheelchair. I don’t want to get into one! That’s not transportation — that’s keeping people more-or-less captive,” he shared with me in a phone cal. last week. “I’m a 61-year-old man who’s been independent all my life and now I have to call up someone 48 hours in advance to take me into town? Screw you! I don’t want it! We bought a badass bicycle, we decked it out, we’ve got a 50-amp motor and plenty of solar power… We can go anywhere.”

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

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Esther Harlow
Guest
Esther Harlow

Great story! I’ve known of other people to use bikes as mobility devices in places of public accommodation. An eassist bike makes so much sense if someone is able to use one as a mobility device.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Yes. Hurrah for Billman and his doggedness. And screw the unimaginative and small-minded bureaucrats harassing him.

“Non-motorized recumbent bicycles are not qualified for the issuance of these decals.”

Carhead? What gives?

Toadslick
Subscriber

This was such a joy to read! A powerful story and excellent journalism.

But I can’t understand why the change in law is limited to only recumbent e-assists. The only thing it accomplishes is creating a wage gap where you need the thousands of dollars to spent on an electric recumbent.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Chris, congrats on your success with the bureaucracy…and in minimizing your use of paratransit when possible…not only are you freeing up a van for others to use but each of your paratransit trips avoided saves TRIMET $ (likley over ~$40).

rick
Guest
rick

Congrats!

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

We need to stand against and therefore end the hate for ebikes. Today. Will bike Portland lead the way against hate?

9watts
Subscriber

are you responding to something in the article or the comments?

mran1984
Guest

Mopeds are great for getting around. Who hates that? Oh, I bet you want to “ride” trail…
Great article!

CHris
Guest
CHris

What I want to do is stay fit and hang on to what I have. Getting on or in anything without a workout is not what I want. Before the e-assist we were riding 50 miles and 2000 feet of climb. If we don’t make it up the hill we push. But walking the bike up a hill killed my spine. The pain of pushing was enough to make me invest in a device that helps. Now when it gets hard I hit the SAG on demand (the throttle) and away we go. The power of a pro and the weight of a kid! Why not?

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

does that include Di2?

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Nobody “hates” e-bikes. The DMV has gone on record as considering them motorcycles. Tey have motors. They are cycles. They are mo-peds and should be treated as such by their drivers and by law enforcement and insurance agencies.

Paul
Guest
Paul

And yet, the experience of riding one is about 99% bicycle and 1% motorcycle.

mark smith
Guest
mark smith

Thank dog that I don’t take orders from the borderline corrupt dmv. If you believe there isn’t hate for e bikes, you haven’t been paying attention.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Are you suggesting the DMV hates E-bikes? Because the language we’re reading here suggests they hold e-bikes in higher esteem than bike-bikes. Perhaps you can be a bit clearer.

CHris
Guest
CHris

But the peddles separates the motorcycle from a bicycle. Lets see if I get a vehicle rejection card in the mail. FYI I do have a insurance policy separate from my car and home policy on the bike.

drew
Guest
drew

We live in a system that wants to dope you up and put you in a van. Thank you and more power to you Chris, pioneering better alternatives for everyone!

CHris
Guest
CHris

TriMet is set up to keep you in you 32 x 40 inch spot or get in the van. One would think you can remove the sides of old Max cars and put bike racks on them and solve a few problems. They could also remove a few seats to make space inside for trikes.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I am sympathetic to the issues he raises — particularly trail access, but why park in a handicapped stall? One of the advantages of a bike is you can park even closer. I am unclear on why he wouldn’t be able to lock up to regular racks and other fixtures.

One of my rigs is a velomobile — can’t say I’ve ever been hassled parking where I want and I do not look like I need, nor do I request any kind of accommodation. Securing it probably has at least as many issues as a LWB recumbent, but frankly bikes like these are poor theft targets for their bulk, weight, and relative difficulty of parting out.

9watts
Subscriber

“but why park in a handicapped stall?”

I think this may be akin to the ODOT/ADA flap. Just because many of the curb ramps rated as non-compliant are still “functional, accessible and being used as intended.” (The Oregonian) doesn’t mean there isn’t a PRINCIPLE at play here.

austin
Guest
austin

“And when they tried to run errands around town they quickly found that no bike racks on sidewalks could accommodate their relatively long vehicle.”

Chris
Guest
Chris

I try to avoid parking in a spot. But sometimes you have no choice. I parked once in a spot at the farmers market. If the parking lot is not full I will try to leave the permitted spots for last.

Berek Novak
Guest
Berek Novak

Love your strong stance on dealing with uncooperative and ignorant bureaucrats. I have filed a formal complaint against the Dept of Agriculture for,noncompliance of the ADA by not permitting ebikes on national forest trails. Good luck and keep riding

Chris
Guest
Chris

This is the hard part to weed out what works and what don’t. I know I can’t ride mountain bike. I tried to just sit on one and almost killed my spine. It would be hard to show the type of mobility disability one could have and still ride a mb.
A place to check out is the US Forest Service , Access for all . Because not everything falls under the ADA

rh
Guest
rh

Great inspirational article, especially how he realizes exercise it more powerful that opiates. His enthusiasm and independence is also fab “We bought a badass bicycle, we decked it out, we’ve got a 50-amp motor and plenty of solar power… We can go anywhere”!! [high five]

Gus
Guest
Gus

I’d like to see some regular “scooter” type mobility devices get pedals and cranks. There are plenty of folks who can’t walk well sure to balance or other issues that could pedal (assisted or not) their scooters around. This would have a huge health benefit for those individuals that could take advantage of it.

Chris
Guest
Chris

You got it right. Go for a ride you will feel better!

Alison
Guest
Alison

Bike infrastructure, including gates, signals, and parking, needs to be accessible to the various adaptive cycles real people use: long recumbents, trail-a-bikes, Big Dummies; wide trikes; e-assisted cycles; etc.

9watts
Subscriber

While I agree with you that it would be nice, in practice this is not very realistic. Trimet racks, for instance, can’t feasibly be adapted to take all those kinds of bikes. Sometimes the solution isn’t technical.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Why not? Put a flat car with bike racks in from of the conductor and charge a buck. If poor countries can do it why can’t we do it. Gas tax and auto minded people. Why do we only offer the most expensive type of mobility training to teenagers. You know Drivers Ed. Why not train people to ride a bike and save a few bucks and maybe have a better life.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Take the time to tell the people you vote for the same thing. Tell TriMet we expect more.

Frank Johnston
Guest
Frank Johnston

Looking for an e-recumbent. No storage space for a trike, can’t ride a regular bicycle because of arthritis. Have a peddled recumbent but too old for long trips. Lots of old guys like me want this type device. However, can’t build one and can’t buy one. Any suggestions?

9watts
Subscriber

You should try that place on Hawthorne at 20th that used to be Coventry. I would be surprised if they couldn’t help you.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Long wheelbase bikes you can find on CL. A simple hub motor and a bunch of old lap top batters. The batteries are know as 18650’s I have 15 sets of 14 cells it makes 54 volts. The hub motors are very economical to buy.

Susan
Guest
Susan

I’m late to this conversation, but I’d like to thank you, Chris. The DMV hasn’t given me any grief about the decal I want for my Liberty Trike. They said it was approved and mailed off right away. It should be here soon.

I have balance problems and I’m extremely overweight. When my doctor prescribed an electric scooter, I was initially content. It gave me freedom to get out and participate more with my family. But it was doing all the work. No pedals. Now I have a pedal-assist trike that’s small enough for me to take inside most stores. It’s the smaller stores or places that I can’t access with my trike that inspired me to ask for a decal for parking.
Now I just need to figure out how to strap my walker to the back of my trike!