It’s hard to quantify and it doesn’t show up on “Best of” lists or city rankings, but one of the best things about Portland is the number of people in our community who care enough to show up and do something about important issues.
Five years ago when BikePortland shared how cycling had stagnated and existing advocacy groups weren’t interested in shaking things up, a new group emerged. “Who’s a cycling equivalent of the Tea Party?” a reader named Dave asked in a comment on this site. “Sadly, there isn’t one currently that I’m aware of. But I’d totally join one! We need a more radical voice for cycling in Portland,” responded Alex Reed. Then Reed took the fateful step of offering to host a meeting for, “Anybody interested in starting a louder voice for cycling in Portland.” He shared an email address and hoped a few people would respond.
11 days later, Reed found himself at a local pub surrounded by dozens of people who wanted to help him make more noise for cycling in Portland. Over chips, salsa and beer, they got to work. A new advocacy group named Bike Loud PDX was born that night and they’ve been busy making an impact ever since.
Less than three weeks after Reed’s comment on BikePortland, the fledgling group scored its first win when PBOT put up barricades on Southeast Clinton Street (a major bikeway) to prevent cut-through drivers from clogging up streets.
Since then, Bike Loud has become a respected force. Their grassroots actions on the streets earned them a seat at the table with the City. Bike Loud’s initial campaign on southeast Portland neighborhood greenways helped push PBOT to complete the Neighborhood Greenway Assessment Report that established stronger policies around traffic diversion.
In the past five years Bike Loud has become a staple of safe streets activism: From die-ins at ODOT and a rally for Better Naito, to a demonstration outside City Hall and shutting down a lane on SE Division with hay bales.
Reed moved away from Portland a few years ago. He now lives in Albuquerque and stays busy as dad of a 3 and 5-year-old. Bike Loud volunteer Kiel Johnson (owner of Go By Bike) asked Reed a few questions via email last week:
When you hosted the first meeting what was your hope that bike loud would become in 5 years?
My hope was that it would become whatever catalyst was necessary to turn around Portland’s bike malaise.
If you could change one thing about Portland to make it more of a bike friendly city, what would it be?
Remove car parking on every East Portland arterial and put in protected bike lanes (with protected intersections) instead.
How has the way you have thought about bike advocacy changed over the past five years?
My thinking has become a lot more holistic and coalition-centric. While I was there (three years ago) Bike Loud’s focus was on local projects through non-election, project-based advocacy. However, what I’ve been coming around to in the past five years is, in order to make a larger citywide difference, we need to elect different politicians (at least one more true progressive Commissioner!) and have the ones that are elected care about our political power. The set of people who are super motivated about bikes isn’t currently large enough to have that extent of political power on its own, so coalition building is necessary.
What do you recall about that first meeting five years ago?
There was a real feeling of possibility and excitement at that meeting, I remember that now while reading the BikePortland article. When 30 people showed up to an impromptu meeting I had made up and posted in the BikePortland comments, I knew that we could make something happen!
It’s very hard for all-volunteer groups to survive and stay relevant. The people who power Bike Loud PDX have managed to do both, and they show no signs of letting up. In fact, they’re poised to become even louder over the next five years. Thank you Bike Louders! Can’t wait to celebrate tomorrow night.
Drop by the Lucky Lab in northwest (1945 NW Quimby) Friday (10/11) night from 6:00 to 9:00 pm to toast these activists and find out how you can get involved. There will be a retrospective presentation, a few awards given out, and cake will be eaten. Kids are welcome. Check out the Facebook event for more details.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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