Monday, April 1st, 2013 • Portland, Oregon
Sunday saw the inaugural launch of a new league of tactical urbanists calling themselves VELOPROVO. Expanded from the Dutch word for ‘provocateur’, the group has formed in response to big money interests pushing auto-centric infrastructure, and due to the ineffectiveness of compromised “nonprofit” franchises who no longer fight for livable streets. Inspired by the Dutch anarchist Provo movement, yesterday, activists took to the streets to challenge the ‘tyranny of pollution‘ that the ‘capitalist automobile’ has wrought upon urban space.
The group toured several locations heralded for being true complete streets designed for human beings, and contrasted them against some of the most depressing and lethal road designs Portland possesses.
The first stop was under the I-5 freeway close to Legacy Emanuel Hospital. The terminus between life and death ran along the exact line of the freeway, beneath which there was insufficient sunlight or water for plants to grow. Speakers highlighted this fact, as well as the principle use of land under elevated freeways in our metropolis, which is to apparently store wrecked city vehicles behind concentration camp-style razor wire.
From here the ride proceeded to the deadly intersection where Brett Jarolimek was run over and killed while riding his bicycle by a man driving a 36,000 pound garbage truck. Shortly after Brett’s death, a community memorial was erected, and was then promptly desecrated and destroyed by the state’s freeway-promoting Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). Speakers educated the crowd as to the harm that globalized economies cause local communities, and how the massive cost of export transportation infrastructures rob desperately needed funding from human-scale livable street projects. Despite ODOT’s policy of relentlessly painting over unsanctioned artwork on public property, the words “I Miss You” pervaded the grey underpass, an emotional sentiment not lost on the group.
Having viewed the worst examples of Portland’s outdated auto-centric street-scapes, it was time to start looking for the positive. The group headed south along Interstate Avenue, much to the displeasure of one spandexed passing cyclist who incorrectly believed that people commuting via bikes have to ride single file in the road, and chided the swarm of riders accordingly, eliciting a modicum of laughter.
Crossing over the top deck of the Steel Bridge, the group took notice of the ‘BIKES IN ROADWAY’ sign that many motorists seem to ignore.
Once downtown, the riders stopped near Voodoo Donuts where a small section of SW Ankeny has been opened up to human beings for the last two years. Here, speakers talked about the lengthy bureaucratic process that local businesses had to go through to reclaim just a single block of street space from automobile dominance. Talk within the group also focused on how direct action beyond the rule of law had compelled Portland city hall to grant Alberta street’s ‘Last Thursday’ arts fair ‘car-free’ street privileges.
The swarm then proceeded to Tom McCall Waterfront Park to retell the history of how citizen activists in the 1960s stopped a plan to widen the four lane Harbor Drive highway to six lanes, and instead fought tooth and nail to rip the highway from the ground and replace it with Portland’s most utilized public park.
From here the crew took a lane across the freeway-connecting Morrison bridge, finally coming to rest on a small patch of grass and bushes next to the loud, noxious Interstate-5 freeway that cuts off East Portland from the Willamette river. Speakers talked about the need to tear down the freeway, and what better uses could be chosen for the riverfront that would benefit our city beyond car-centric freeways or gentrified condo development.
Referenced was the English ‘Diggers Rebellion’ of 1649, where thousands of agrarian communist farmers revolted against the state acquisition of public lands by “illegally” planting crops on the grounds of Saint George’s Hill in protest. The rebellion was violently put down by the King’s army.
Three-hundred sixty four years later and half a world away, the bicycling radicals of Veloprovo planted broccoli shoots and sunflower seeds next to the freeway on ODOT property in an act of rebellion against pollution, against globalized export economies, and against car-dominated concrete barriers to the banks of the Willamette river.
Despite predictable complaints from Portland’s bourgeois liberal bike community, the launch ride of Veloprovo was a peaceful, empowering success – and is surely a positive sign of future direct actions to follow.
Portland’s status as a livable, sustainable city has certainly turned stale of late. But on Easter Day, 2013, America’s cycling capital got a small wake up call. We will not be complacent. We will no longer tolerate bureaucratic institutions who regale us with their excuses. We shall continue to offend irrelevant agencies while pushing towards legitimate livable futures for our communities and the streets that connect the city of Portland.
Come join our next ride and meeting this Monday, event page HERE.
See you in the commons.
All images taken by Hart Noecker, and are free to use with credit. Bottom group photo credited to Nicholas Caleb.