Tired of trash, this retired IT pro has launched a bike-powered clean-up effort

Ross Bradley wants to clean up Portland, one bike-load at a time.
(Photos courtesy Ross Bradley)

“Going Street has gone from being pretty horrible, to something I’m kind of proud of.”
— Ross Bradley

People on bikes have a front-row seat to Portland’s immense trash problem. As the issue festers and it becomes clear that government agencies are either incapable or unwilling to deal with it, many Portlanders have decided to take matters into their own hands. One of them who’s looking to scale-up his volunteer efforts is Overlook neighborhood resident Ross Bradley.

Ross, 58, recently left his job as an IT professional (“It was eating my soul,” he shared in an interview Thursday) to do more work cleaning up Portland bike paths. He recently launched an Instagram account @pdxremovebybike and has planned his first-ever public event on September 4th.

I caught up with him on the phone yesterday to learn more.

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Ross has lived in north Portland for about eight years and says he was inspired to do something about the trash problem after seeing a video of conditions on the I-205 path posted by BikePortland. “That video just kind of stuck in my head and I finally got out there to take a look and it all came together in my head. I decided this is what I wanted to do.” Since leaving his IT job, Ross has been spending several days a week for the past few months doing 4-5 hour clean-up shifts around his neighborhood.

“If around the tents is a mess, that’s their choice. But if it spills out onto the street [or the bike lane] then I’m happy to take it over.”

“I’ve always been a litterbug, and yes I know I’m using that backwards,” Ross said, as he explained why cleaning up his neighborhood makes him feel good. “I just figured nobody else is going to go do it, so I voted myself to be the guy.” He’s especially proud of the work he’s done trimming back vegetation and cleaning up trash on North Going Street west of Interstate Avenue.

“Going Street has gone from being pretty horrible, to something I’m kind of proud of.”

Asked about how he navigates the sensitive issue of intruding on where people live, Ross said he always respects encampment sites. “If there’s a homeless camp nearby, I’ll work alongside them. I’ve found they don’t mind if I’m picking up, but it’s like ‘Stay out of the front yard.’ I mean, you wouldn’t walk into someone’s front yard and pick something up and that’s how I look at it.

“That’s their land right now. That’s their place. And if around the tents is a mess, that’s their choice. But if it spills out onto the street [or the bike lane] then I’m happy to take it over.”

Ross usually wears a fluorescent vest when he’s working and said some people think he’s their to sweep away their camp. “The first thing I tell them is, ‘Hey, I’m cool. I’m not sweeping your camp.’ That’s all they care about… and by now they’ve gotten to know me. One time I even helped a guy scour through the trash to find a lost ring that his father gave him.”

Ross has volunteered officially with the Overlook Neighborhood Association and was in charge of keeping the Failing Street Overcrossing clean. That role helped him partner with local businesses. He’s secured orange traffic cones from Bashor’s Team Athletics and has used dumpsters at Rebuilding Center to empty his loads.

You can sign up to help Ross at his first event September 4th.

With his one bike and trailer, Ross can haul several tools and more than two large and full trash bags/barrels. His bike is a Surly Big Dummy with an Xtracycle attachment that has running boards and cargo bags. He also pulls a modified airport luggage carrier that he found on the road and then welded to have a sturdy platform.

Like other Portlanders, Ross has found that a bike is an excellent vehicle to do clean-up at hard-to-reach places. “Sometimes a bike is the only way to get to these locations. I can get in in sort of a stealthy way and get myself into the middle of the location. Logistically it makes things so simple,” he says.

After years of doing this by himself, Ross is excited to welcome others to his crew. “This has always been something I’ve done for my own soul, but I can’t do this whole thing myself,” he said. “People would come up to me and ask how they can get involved. Now people are starting to swarm around it. It’s a pretty good feeling.”

If you want to help, Ross is hosting a clean-up event on Saturday, September 4th that will meet in the Home Depot parking lot near the I-205 path and Marine Drive. You can learn more and register here.

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

Ross You are my People! Since the Pandemic I’ve gone to the streets the clean up trash. I’m in Pittsburgh now and started Trash Nabbers PGH as a local group of citizens that do as you do. I hope to start some community bike rides organized around trash nabbing and also went on a Dump Busters Bike Camping trip where we rode the GAP trail, spent three hours cleaning up a illegal dump site with Allegheny Cleanways and then rode a few more miles to a campground! Sometimes you have to Be The Change you want to see!

RemoveByBike
11 months ago
Reply to  Carye Bye

That sounds like a bikey version of the Gambler 500! It started out as a 500 mile jalopy race through the woods and has become a trash hauling extravaganza. Good on you for putting that together. I’ll keep my eyes open for a similar opportunity here.

Karstan
Karstan
11 months ago

I love this! Ross got out there and did something about the problem instead of casting blame on the houseless. Kudos to Ross!

RemoveByBike
11 months ago
Reply to  Karstan

Thank you. The interesting thing I’ve noticed and mentioned in a recent Instagram update is the sharp increase in what I’ve begun referring to as ‘garbage bombs’. They’re normal kitchen garbage bags filled with normal kitchen garbage but in this case they’re launched at camps from vehicles speeding past.

This isn’t camp trash until it’s launched and launching it doesn’t really transfer ownership but sadly in the public’s eye, it does. Is it fair to ask a marginalized community to clean up gooey leaking blobs of a fools filth after increasingly routine attacks so those flying past in their vehicles feel better about not doing anything? No, I don’t believe it is.

Bicycling Al
Bicycling Al
11 months ago

That’s great. I’ve seen people do this on their own out there too and have taken up cleaning up broken glass on trails myself as it doesn’t require many tools and the debris itself is not bulky so it doesn’t take much setup to do on my commuter.

RemoveByBike
11 months ago
Reply to  Bicycling Al

Feels good, doesn’t it?

Alan 1.0
11 months ago

“It was eating my soul,”

Good, he’s in recovery. I wonder if he’s found The Monastery?

The Dude
The Dude
11 months ago

Good for you, Ross. The last thing I want to do is spend my time doing Portland’s failed government’s job for them in addition to paying their workers’ salaries. What a fucked up society.

oliver
oliver
11 months ago
Reply to  The Dude

Shortlist of cities without a homeless crisis please.
I’ll wait.

The Dude
The Dude
11 months ago
Reply to  oliver

I’m talking about your whole country bro.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
11 months ago
Reply to  oliver

We can talk scale, right? Like some are much worse than others?

Tyler
Tyler
11 months ago
Reply to  oliver

The fact that other cities are also experiencing a homeless crisis is irrelevant to the fact that Portland’s leaders have absolutely failed in managing their responsibilities to the community in crisis.

paulb
paulb
11 months ago
Reply to  The Dude

I’m a somewhat east coast version of Ross. Couple things: all cities have spots that seem “orphaned.” There’s no one with clear responsibility for cleaning them up. Also, official services have been overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of new trash: takeout food containers and single use packaging, etc. And no amount of gov’t service can compensate entirely for an irresponsible citizenry, of which we have a lot. So the ultra-responsible types have to step up.

RemoveByBike
11 months ago
Reply to  paulb

Indeed and dead on. At least in Portland, for a variety of reasons, this problem tends to fall in the Nobody’s Responsibility bucket. I’m thinking of getting Nobody screen printed on the back of my PPE vest and a big orange ‘Nobody Working Ahead’ warning sign as a way to draw attention to the problem.

Jason
Jason
11 months ago

I struggle with this. We live in a city that (seemingly) neglects to spend tax dollars on quality of life services such as providing clean and safe streets. But I commend anyone who is willing to go out of their way to make the world better for everyone. But I really detest the fact that PDX seemingly relies on it’s citizens to do this.

Mr. Clean
Mr. Clean
11 months ago
Reply to  Jason

YEAH! Who in their right mind would expect citizens of PDX to be responsible for their OWN trash, right? Why should WE THE PEOPLE have to pick up after ourselves! What a cruel world this is – making us pick up our OWN trash! The horror!
😉

Jason
Jason
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Clean

Your statement uses combative language, I would encourage you to use persuasive arguments instead.

The city streets are shared, public property. So this confers a shared public responsibility. The most efficient way to follow through on that is to use tax dollars to fund a city service to clean the city streets.

When cyclists are out cleaning bike lanes, it’s an act of desperation. Not a civic duty.

Sarah
Sarah
11 months ago

This is great! Brings to mind a fairly new nonprofit in Portland called Adopt One Block. It’s about people adopting their local blocks and committing to regular trash cleanup. Seems like Ross & AOB would make a great collaboration.

RemoveByBike
11 months ago
Reply to  Sarah

I’m a big fan of this program and have even ‘babysat’ others’ blocks when the adopters were on vacation. In th past I really had to stay on top of litter around my neighborhood but it has gotten better over the last couple of years.

I feel the improvement is related to a couple of things. 1) more like-minded do-gooders who got sick of looking at the mess and bought pickers. 2) broken-window theory. Litter wise we had broken windows all over the place. Myself and a handful of others fixed the metaphoric windows and now they aren’t senselessly broken nearly as often. Truthfully, the litter picking business has gottenreally slow around here, you have to get up pretty early to beat a good do-gooder

Peter F
Peter F
11 months ago
Reply to  RemoveByBike

I really like the Adopt a block program and the “broken window theory”. However, the city of Portland rejects enforcement of its livability and traffic laws at every turn because it’s not “compassionate” and is inequitable to the lawbreakers. Hence the problem.

Mr. Clean
Mr. Clean
11 months ago

Since when is it the governments job to pick up the trash that WE THE PEOPLE throw on our own streets? It isn’t their job – it is OUR job to be responsible enough to not create trash and if we do, the it is our job to clean it up. Lack of personal responsibility is the cause of many problems in our society.

This guy is doing a great thing, but I would have kept the IT job that pays the bills. Probably not too late to go back to it. If he doesn’t need the money, he could use his IT paycheck to pay people to pick up trash. Then he’d be eliminating the trash plus putting $$ in people’s pockets. BUT he’d probably be charged with violating some employment law and sued into poverty. Am I right?

The Dude
The Dude
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Clean

Since when? Since the beginning. It’s literally the purpose of the government to be the caretaker of public space.

This seems like an appropriate place for this video: https://digg.com/video/here-are-all-the-things-the-united-states-could-have-funded-with-the-cost-of-the-afghanistan-war-budget

GAW
GAW
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Clean

Agree. Those who litter/make the mess should clean it up. Agree we need more personal responsibility in Portland. It’s supper nice Ross is doing this though. Thanks Ross!

Jason
Jason
11 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Clean

Since the city owns the streets and taxes us for upkeep.

Suburban
Suburban
11 months ago

Important Detail: “IT” is an acronym for “Information Technology”.
I think it must have something to do with newspapers or a library.

Bryan Hance (The Bike Index)

Ross is awesome and I look forward to joining him on cleanup runs 🙂

Mike Quigley
Mike Quigley
11 months ago

Tired of trash? More on the way as homelessness explodes after the eviction moratorium was thrown out by the Supreme Court. Or, as Larry Elder (Calif. governor wannabe) said afterwards: “Pay your rent and you won’t get evicted.” Problem solved.

GAW
GAW
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

I disagree. I predict we will see little to no increase in homelessness from the cessation of the eviction moratorium. People who are housed typically have the resources and lack of serious mental problems and addiction which are the causes of the majority of houseless situations.

Real American
Real American
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Quigley

If they will not pay their rent and get evicted, that means a rental is vacant and available for someone who is willing to pay. If enough vacancies occur, the demand for rentals will be lower and rental prices will fall to attract more renters, and many people will be helped by lower rents. Am I right? 😉

Larry Elder has a great radio show. Comes on at 6pm I think on 860 AM here in Portland, but I think Carl Jackson is sitting in now that Larry is running for Governor. One thing about Larry – there is NO WAY he could be worse than Gavin Newsom. You can watch some of Larry’s shows on youtube:

https://www.youtube.com/c/TheLarryElderShowRadio/videos