Bud Clark, Portland’s bicycling mayor, has died at age 90

Click for captions. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Former Portland Mayor Bud Clark died Tuesday at age 90.

As mayor from 1985 a 1992 he helped set the stage for Portland to become the greatest city for cycling in America. His beaming smile and direct, no-nonsense approach to issues come through clearly in an iconic poster for Bike to Work Day in 1985 that shows him straddling his bike in front of City Hall. That’s how many Portlanders will remember Bud because riding a bike was part of his daily life and something he cared about and not just a political photo-op.

1985 Bike to Work Day promotional poster.

Clark was an unabashed supporter of bicycling before it was politically popular and was known to call out, “Whoop whoop!” (which he told KATU in a 2018 interview was just an expression he let out by accident and it stuck) as he pedaled by friends and acquaintances on his rides around town.

Mayor Clark was also the model in the “Expose Yourself to Art” poster by the late Portland journalist Mike Ryerson. In 2013, Carl Larson, a former staffer at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (now The Street Trust) worked with Clark to remake the poster. With photographer Will Vanlue, Larson replaced the statue with a bicycle and changed the tagline to “Expose Yourself to Bikes”. They then hosted a public art bike ride as part of Pedalpalooza and Clark served as the ride leader, stopping for a group shot on the Transit Mall where the sculpture is located and signing posters for his fans.

When it came to biking, Clark just got it.

Bud Clark (right) and PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller at 2014 Policymakers Ride.

He was elated when Portland was awarded a “Platinum Bicycle Friendly City” designation by the League of American Bicyclists in 2008 — an achievement city leaders and advocates spent years pushing for. At the local ceremony where they announced the award, I caught up with Clark. He said he traveled to Amsterdam in 1962 and was curious how they could have a high fat diet like Americans but have none of the heart problems. “I thought, heck, that’s the key right there. These people were getting exercise on their bikes all the time!”

When his City Hall tenure came to an end in 1992 he literally rode off into the sunset under a huge banner hung across the City Hall plaza that said, “Thank You Bud”. Actually, according to photos from The Street Trust archive shared by Larson yesterday, he rode off into the snowstorm.

(Photos: The Street Trust)

Clark rode his bike until his final few years and he remained a part of our community. Just like riding a bike, being part of the community wasn’t something he did because it was good for politics; it was just who he was.

In 2007, Portland Mayor Tom Potter cut funding for the Bicycle Master Plan update. In the midst of that controversy and the fight to restore the funding (which we won after 100s of emails and calls to City Hall in support), the Portland Bureau of Transportation held a series of bike rides to raise awareness of the plan. Bud Clark showed up to lend his support.

Click for captions. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

I’m so glad he lived to see Portland become a great cycling city. At that 2008 Platinum award event, I asked what it was like riding around Portland. “I see all these bicycles streaming across the Hawthorne Bridge. It’s extremely pleasing for me to see that,” he said.

The last big event I saw him riding at was the 2019 Policymakers Ride when he rolled up on a small electric GoCycle — a far cry from the clunky cruiser in that iconic 1985 Bike to Work Day poster.

Riding in Milwaukie at 2019 Policymakers Ride.

In bicycling and beyond, Bud Clark was a giant figure in Portland’s landscape. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude not just for what he did as a leader but for who he was as a person.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
15 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Matti
Matti
5 months ago

Bud was a mayor for Everyman/woman and represented Portland at its best. He was at the vanguard of making bikes cool in this town. Can’t forget the Mayor’s Ball and the Goose Hollow Inn. And he sported a great beard. Whoop, Whoop!

dwk
dwk
5 months ago
Reply to  Matti

Bud was great but also Vera Katz,was another outstanding mayor. There has to be more people in this city like them who can step up and help rescue this city.
Neither of them would ever have allowed things to get this bad.

Todd/Boulanger
5 months ago
Reply to  dwk

Good point to include Mayor Katz (and her lead staffer Sam Adams)…as her tenure deepened Bud’s work by getting access for cyclist access across the major bridges and the Eastbank path (~$32m…YR2000).

Todd/Boulanger
5 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

…plus Mia Birk being hired (by Bud or Vera).

Jeff S
Jeff S
5 months ago
Reply to  Todd/Boulanger

I believe Earl was the PBOT commissioner when Mia was hired.

H. Ovekov
H. Ovekov
5 months ago
Reply to  dwk

Yep, I am so discouraged. I hope another Vera will arise. Maybe Mingus Mapps….he seems to be someone who could perhaps fill those shoes.

Ed
Ed
5 months ago

RIP, Bud. Thank you for leaving behind a legacy that I benefit from on a daily basis.

Sigma
Sigma
5 months ago

I can only hope I am still riding a bike at 87. RIP, Bud.

adventurepdx
5 months ago

“Clunky Cruiser?”
Jonathan, that was a Univega mountain bike with a giant Wald delivery basket, a “look” that many cyclists “rock” these days. Bud was ahead of his time in more ways than one!

Rivelo
Rivelo
5 months ago
Reply to  adventurepdx

Right on, Shawn! Everyday cycling on real, comfortable, useful bicycles is the way forward! Down with carbon fiber!

katew
katew
5 months ago

thanks, bud, for making portland a better place to bike, walk, live and play!

Steve
Steve
5 months ago

I propose the Mayor Bud Clark Memorial Hawthorne Bridge

Keith
Keith
5 months ago

Bud Clark was what we needed then and what we need again now – an apolitical politician who simply wants to do the right thing. He led by example and changed the city mentality to embrace bicycling. When most mayors are completely unknown outside their city, it was fun to live here with Bub’s national reputation, including an appearance on Johnny Carson. Thinking of him will always make me smile.

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor
Reply to  Keith

That’s so true Keith, I lived almost 4,000 miles away when the “Expose Yourself To Art” poster came out. Yep, people had it on their walls in Connecticut. I remember thinking, “that’s cool.”

H. Ovekov
H. Ovekov
5 months ago

I never met Bud but understand he could relate to people with a variety of beliefs. So refreshing compared to the Portland of today and its intolerance of anyone who doesn’t fully support far left orthodoxy. Maybe that pendulum is swinging but current PDX is not really an accepting place. I hope we can get back to more of a “Bud approach” so we can come together and Portland can get back on its feet.