Yellow Bike Project

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Bike-Friendly Reputation

Portland's reputation as a bike-friendly City was enhanced by The Yellow Bike Project, a 1994 civic engagement action and the brainchild of Portland, Oregon activist Tom O'Keefe. After watching the documentary "Sex Drugs & Democracy", O'Keefe proposed painting donated bikes - repaired by at-risk-youth served by the Portland based Community Cycling Center - bright yellow, and deploying them for free use around Portland. "Gratis Pedalis Feralvus" was a tongue-in-cheek slogan for the quirky eco-transportation project. O'Keefe enrolled fellow environmental activists Joe Keating and Steve Gunther along with the Community Cycling Center (led then by Brian Lacy) into promoting and supporting the project. Project launch: On a weekday in East Portland, in front of a local radio station, a press conference was arranged by United Community Action Network (UCAN) Directors O'Keefe & Keating. They presented about a dozen bright yellow bicycles for free distribution. Local media showed up and that night's evening news featured what looked like scores of bright yellow bikes ridden by a variety of Portland characters. A local Earl Scheib franchise painted the bikes at no charge. The bikes' tires, spokes, pedals, chains, and even the handlebars were all painted mustard yellow.

A Community Cycling "First"

One of the first community bicycle projects in the United States was started in Portland, Oregon in 1994 by civic and environmental activists Tom O'Keefe, Joe Keating and Steve Gunther. It took the approach of simply releasing a number of bicycles to the streets for unrestricted use. Portland's Yellow Bike Project was an amazing publicity success, but proved unsustainable initially due to theft and vandalism of the bicycles. The program was later revised to operate under a more restrictive system. Since then many community projects around the country have attempted similar models and met with varying degrees of success.

The Yellow Bike Project was reported in the New York Times, received editorial condemnation from the Wall Street Journal (an affront to private property rights) and culminated in a nationally broadcast Yellow Bike story on the CBS News Magazine 48 Hours. The Yellow Bike Project provided nearly 400 free bicycles available for unrestricted use in downtown Portland in its first six months. Though The Yellow Bike Project inevitably suffered from theft and vandalism of the bikes, in a broader sense the Yellow Bike Project was an amazingly successful publicity generator for Portland, Community Bicycling Programs and The Community Cycling Center. The Community Cycling Center, which helped to operate the Yellow Bike Project, has since developed its Create-a-Commuter program, which provides 375 free bicycles per year to individuals.

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