BikePortland

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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