Last Friday afternoon, Portland bike advocacy nonprofit BikeLoud PDX held their first big rally in more than three years. The message? Although a recent report shows bike use is down in the city, bikes are still the future in Portland. And advocates will keep spreading the word until people at City Hall listen.
Friday was unseasonably sweltering, with temperatures getting up to 90 degrees in some parts of the city. But after months of seemingly-endless winter, it’s clear that people are raring to get outside. I saw lots of other people riding bikes on my way down to the Salmon Street Springs to meet the group, and as I pulled up to the meeting spot, I saw several dozen people already there. This number grew to about 100 for the ride to City Hall.
Before we left for City Hall, BikeLoud board members Nic Cota and Kiel Johnson spoke to the crowd.
“We’re here to hold the city accountable and get people from all walks of life biking in this city,” Cota said, as leader of the rally the day after he was named BikeLoud chair. “It feels like a statement to ride a bike in Portland. It shouldn’t feel that way.”
Johnson, BikeLoud’s former chair, was initially hesitant about the idea of holding this kind of event. But once he was there, his mood shifted.
“We’re gonna keep on being loud until everybody in Portland has access to protected bike lanes like Better Naito,” Johnson said to the group, gesturing to Portland’s marquee protected bikeway behind him.
When we headed off to City Hall, the group of people on bikes filled up SW Jefferson Street. A few people in cars honked approvingly and were met with cheers in return. Once we arrived at City Hall, a few other speakers got up in front of the group to share why they wanted to come to the rally.
First, Serenity Ebert, BikeLoud’s Vice Chair, took the megaphone. Ebert rides a recumbent tricycle to accommodate her disability, and she said she wants everyone to be able to get around the city safely.
“Biking has given me a lot of freedom to do whatever I want,” Ebert said. “I would like everyone here to be able to ride a bike if they want to.”
We then heard from Shannon Carney, Commissioner Mingus Mapps’ liaison to the Portland Bureau of Transportation. Carney said she’s a longtime cyclist who currently commutes by bike to City Hall the majority of the time, and she said she and Mapps both support the work BikeLoud is doing.
“There are so many challenges that our city faces that transportation can help solve,” Carney said. “You have a friend in City Hall. My boss is listening to you.”
Some people weren’t happy about Carney’s invite: one person booed when she took the stage, calling Mapps out for his recent controversial attempt to divert money away from a Black-led organization.
Depending on how and if Portland officials move into action on this issue, it’ seem’s possible splits could emerge among activists who want to take different approaches to how they deal with institutional power. But ultimately, many are simply trying to use the relationships they do have in City Hall in order to get their ideas implemented.
Overall, organizers deemed the rally a success. The event garnered TV news coverage, which inevitably led to some trolling commentary from people with no involvement in the situation, but also added more legitimacy and publicity to the gathering.
As I biked away from the last event I’d cover as a BikePortland reporter, I felt hopeful. There were tons of people riding their bikes around the city who hadn’t come to the rally, and while their support would’ve been appreciated, it was also kind of cool to me that these people were out there doing their own thing, regardless of what bike count reports say. The Portland bike scene takes all types: the rally organizers, the Pedalpalooza fanatics, the prolific BikePortland commenters and the people who’ve never heard of this website before. It’s bittersweet to leave BikePortland right as I feel a spark in the air, but I look forward to seeing what happens next.