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.
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.
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.
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.