BikePortland.org

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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