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• City's 'bike guys' pave bicycle lanes with personality

Some carry diplomas. Some wear book bags. Some have neckties that flap in the wind.- Portland's city bike lanes are marked every 1,000 feet with a standard-issue, internationally recognizable representation of a generic person on a two-wheeler Ñ except that on some city streets, the bike lane markings are far from generic or standard issue.


Creative members of the city street crews have taken to customizing the bike lane graphics:

• The bike lane on Southeast Taylor Street at 39th Avenue near the Belmont branch of the Multnomah County Library is adorned with a bicyclist who reads a book as he pedals.

• A yellow-haired cyclist swings a golf club in the bike lane near Riverside Golf Country Club in Northeast Portland.

• The graphic cyclist marking a bike lane on Northeast Broadway sports a tie that flies behind him as he races toward downtown.

'It's sort of a human-scale bit of art,' says Jessica Roberts, membership director for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, a Portland advocacy group. 'You can only really see it at the speed of walking or biking. So it's sort of like a secret. É Every time I see them, I think, ' 'Oh, gosh, Portland's just such a great place.' '

Roberts likes the way the insignias stay true to their function but also are 'absolutely charming.'

The customizing was the brainchild of Todd Roberts (no relation), who was a member of a city Bureau of Maintenance crew whose tasks included laying down the bike lane insignias. To escape the tedium involved in placing hundreds of the lane markers, he decided to dress one up by putting a triangular shape atop the bicyclist's head.

'I thought they were plain, anyway,' Roberts says. 'I was just seeing if I could get away with it.'

Roberts says he expected his head would roll but found out at a staff meeting later that it was OK for him to dress up the insignias, which soon became known simply as 'bike guys.'

For four years, beginning in 1999, he estimates that he customized about 50, including a series on Southwest Broadway at Portland State University, where one has a studentlike bike guy wearing a knapsack and a graduate holding a diploma and sporting a mortarboard on his head.

Roberts left his city job last year and now drives trucks and paints T-shirts and houses. He notes that repaving projects have wiped out many of his original bike guys, but he says he's glad the city street crews continue in the same spirit.

'I love it,' Roberts says. 'It kind of makes it different from every other city.'

Public works supervisor Kirstin Byer oversees the Portland Bureau of Maintenance crews whose tasks include laying down the bike lane insignia. She says the customizing is encouraged, as long as it doesn't waste time or materials.

'They have an opportunity to be a little more creative,' Byer says, pointing out that the 'extras' come from leftover materials and that crews don't linger on city time over their creations.

The materials used to create the street graphics include sheets of thermal plastic, cut to order. The plastic shapes are then pressed against hot concrete and heated with a propane torch so the plastic bonds with the street.

That makes street paving an opportune time to lay down bike guys, and the road-marking workers hustle to keep up with the pavers. The material to customize the cyclist insignias Ñ spiked hair, caps, ties, books Ñ comes from the scraps of plastic left over from marking turn lanes and curbs.

City officials say no one has complained; on the contrary, the response has been good. Roger Geller, the city Office of Transportation's bicycle coordinator, says he's shown the bike guys to visiting transportation planners: 'They'll say, 'Oh, wow, that's really cool.' '

A no-frills bike guy costs around $136, and the city is required to place them every 1,000 feet for the 153 miles of city streets with bike lanes. An insignia also is required after each major intersection, and the city puts in extras on bike lanes next to curbs to show that they are not parking lanes.

Byer, the public works supervisor, has been mulling an idea to save the city money: She'd like people to sponsor a bike guy, much as people bought bricks to support Pioneer Courthouse Square when it was being built in the early 1980s.

'Maybe for $100, you could pick a bike guy, I don't know,' she says.

Byer knows that much has to be thought out before the idea takes any formal shape. For example, a sponsor might want some say in the design, but Byer wants to avoid anything risquŽ or offensive:

'I know the gray area. I don't go anywhere near that.'

Contact Nevill Eschen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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