Curator of Portland’s ‘random bike art’ museum retires from PBOT today

The handiwork of PBOT Traffic Maintenance Supervisor Kirstin Byer and her crew.

A fun and creative tradition inside the Portland Bureau of Transportation Maintenance Operations division has survived for over two decades. As of 2:30 pm today it will have to survive without its leader. That’s when Traffic Maintenance Supervisor Kirstin Byer will hang up her neon safety vest for the last time.

Kirstin Byer on the front page of Portland Tribune in 2003.
(Courtesy Kirstin Byer)

Byer has overseen the creation of hundreds of artistic bike lane symbols in her 30-year career with the Portland Bureau of Transportation. This linear museum of whimsical pavement markings has offered a bit of levity and cheer to thousands of Portlanders since they first started to appear in bike lanes in 1999 when maintenance employee Todd Roberts added a hat to a bike lane symbol because he was bored and wanted to see if he could get it past his bosses.

Byer embraced the tradition and has made it part of her legacy. More recently, PBOT has given her even more creative license through the “Bike to Books” program where Byer brings youth art contest entries to life. The tradition is so important to her, Byer works on the designs at home on her own time using materials donated from the thermoplastic manufacturer.

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(Photos: Kirstin Byer)

In an email to co-workers this week, Byer said she kept the “random bike art” going all these years because it kept scrap material out of landfills and, “Was a fun way to express some appropriate humor that appeared to be really appreciated by others.” “There are so many people in Portland who truly appreciate the sentiment of a splash of color or unique design when otherwise it is a simple standard symbol.” It was also a way to create goodwill between the public and city workers.

Tribute to Blazers legend Jerome Kersey outside Moda Center.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Byer has seen her “plastic welding” designs on everything from tattoos to t-shirts, books to magazines. Other cities have asked questions about how to start a similar program. Byer just smiles and says, there is no program. “No funding, no expectation, just random stuff when there was time — free art, recognition for passed musicians, sports figures…. chickens, dogs, cats, snakes, flower gardens, scuba divers, slugs and cowboys.”

Portland will miss Byer’s enthusiasm and skills. Thankfully the tradition is likely to live on with the remaining crew at Maintenance Operations.

Thanks for your dedication to this fun tradition Kirstin! Your creations always bring a smile to my face and remind me of why I fell in love with biking, Portland, and PBOT all those years ago.

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

You will be missed Kirstin! Thank you so much for all the smiles.

Jeff
Jeff
1 year ago

Kirstin, Thank you for years of smiles on commutes, and random rides alike. Your work was, and will remain, appreciated.

Austin
Austin
1 year ago

These things are always fun to find while out on a ride – thanks!

Ed
Ed
1 year ago

We all benefit from a little whimsy in our lives. Thank you, Kirstin.

Todd/Boulanger
1 year ago

Aloha Kirstin,

And thanks for my many smiles over the years cycling over your team’s art work.

I hope someone puts up a photo of all of these art works on line given how diverse and artistic they have become.

And I recommend her for consideration for a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award via Street Trust’s Alice B Toeclips, as a previous ABT award winner myself.

el timito
el timito
1 year ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

Luckily some of them are memorialized on Instagram – notably on BicycleRouteFound, among others.

Keith
Keith
1 year ago

Much appreciated! Nothing better than to be riding around town, coming across one of these random works of art, and smiling all the way home.

ralph
ralph
1 year ago

Thanks Kirstin! Like everyone else, I love the pleasant surprise of your art. My favorite is on Terwilliger by OHSU.

Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost
1 year ago

Kirstin, Your artwork was so supportive of us out there and it always made me feel like the road system had not only created a place for us but even one with creativity and spirit. Thank you so much for your imaginative contributions to our rides over the years! Ray

Sean P Feeney
Sean P Feeney
1 year ago

Fun tradition you started, thanks Kirstin!