PBOT’s whimsical bike lane characters make a comeback

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

PBOT is back to having fun with bike lane symbols.
(Photo courtesy City of Portland)

15 years after if first started, a fun City of Portland tradition seems to be making a comeback.

In 1999, a city employee named Todd Roberts decided to create a little hat from a piece of thermoplastic left over from installation of a bike lane symbol. After that, dozens of bike lane characters began to appear throughout Portland. In 2009, we shared a slideshow of the characters compiled by one of their biggest fans — northeast Portland resident Jim Waigand.

Unfortunately, for the past several years it’s seemed like PBOT crews had stopped laying down these whimsical symbols. I hadn’t seen or heard about any new ones and assumed it was just another part of Portland’s past cycling swagger that has recently gone missing.

But a few weeks ago I was excited to see the tradition return.

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Portland’s bike lane characters; a proud tradition continues (Slideshow)

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

One of Portland’s customized
bike lane markings.
-Slideshow below-
(Photo: City of Portland)

2009 marks the 10th anniversary of a proud Portland tradition: our creatively modified bike lane pavement markings or what I like to call, “bike lane guys”.

The “unlikely cycling hero” who started the tradition in 1999 — according to Portlander Jim Waigand, who has documented the phenomenon since 2003 — is former City employee Todd Roberts. In an article published in VeloVision Magazine in September 2003, Waigand uncovered the fascinating story behind the practice. (I’ve uploaded that article as a PDF with permission from the publisher. You can download it here.)

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New bike lane stencil by Joe Biel

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

Some of you may remember that Joe Biel (founder of Microcosm Publishing) is working on a documentary about bike art. He was particularly interested in Portland’s whimsical bike lane characters.

I just heard from Joe that after a few meetings and phone calls he was given the opportunity to design and lay out his very own bike lane character. So here it is, courtesy of Joe Biel. It lives on NE 33rd, just past the Columbia Slough (by the DEQ).

To see more of Portland’s bike lane stencils, check out these photos.

Meet Portland’s bike lane characters

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
Portland bike lane stencils

If you’ve ridden your bike around this city long enough, you’ve probably come in contact with Portland’s bike lane people.

Customized bike lane markings were started in 1999 by a former city employee named Todd Roberts and is a tradition that has carried on ever since. One of my faithful readers turned up this great article (PDF) on them from the September 2003 issue of VeloVision Magazine (a really great UK bike mag). It’s a great read. Turns out Todd doesn’t even like bikes (“It’s boring as hell”). In fact, he’s the last guy you think would be behind these markings. He is, as the author puts it, “an unlikely cycling hero.”

I’ve been given permission by the city to share some photos of these markings from their archives. So far, I’ve got 19 of them in the BikePortland photostream. I have no idea how many are out there but if you come across one and remember to snap a photo, please consider sharing it with me!