Carol Lay
Filled with more leather than Judas Priest's tour bus, North Portland's Amnesia Brewing was home to a Mercury-sponsored open forum on March 24th to discuss the problems facing motorcycle and scooter riders in the city. However, the packed symposium--which was equal parts bitchfest and call to civic action--proved the community will have to overcome (or ignore) some significant fractures before it can present unified policy demands to City Hall.

Commissioner Sam Adams, a veteran of multiple bike accidents, showed up to represent the city, and set the discussion's tone by talking about the need for more bike parking on city streets. Currently, he said, there are roughly only 50 parking spaces dedicated to motorcycles in the entire city--and all are concentrated in areas that are inconvenient to riders. He committed to looking for ways to increase the number of spaces and lower parking fees, but made it clear that free parking and parking on sidewalks weren't viable options. Instead, he suggested hauling out the city's decommissioned coin meters for bike spaces, and was receptive to a suggestion that riders pay for annual parking permits rather than meters.

Not satisfied with those answers, members of the audience continued to harp on the issue of parking, even after a senior member of the motorcycle contingent, a gentleman by the name of Squeeze, told the crowd that their grievances were "bullshit" and urged them to look at the bigger picture. Before making an early exit, Squeeze suggested they instead "get organized, get credibility," while name-checking organizations like Abate of Oregon and BikePAC, which lobby for motorcycle-friendly legislation and awareness.

After Squeeze had roared away on his Harley, Adams commented that, while "big picture issues" were indeed important, they shouldn't preclude groups from pushing for specific policy changes that are under the jurisdiction of the city. To reiterate his point, he explained that in 12 years of working at City Hall, he has never been lobbied by anyone regarding motorcycle and scooter issues.

Other ideas also emerged. Multiple participants wanted to see more efforts made to increase motorist awareness of motorcycles and scooters, including permanent signs posted in areas where bikers congregate. The two most contentious discussions dealt with lane-splitting (wherein cyclists would be allowed to drive between lines of cars on congested highways) and the mandatory helmet law, although the latter was only hinted about. (After the event, a scooterist said that discussions about helmet laws are generally avoided, since they tend to stop serious conversations with policy makers.)

Noticeably missing from the discussion was how bikers could use their greatest strength for legislative leverage: The environmental friendliness of alternative transportation, not to mention the lesser impact on roads. This is what the city needs to hear before it is moved to act on policy demands.

While the symposium didn't result in a unified list of issues for the city to address, it did reveal major splits among its vocal participants, primarily among motorcycle riders from different generations. Older riders, who helped develop lobbying groups like Abate, were overwhelmingly concerned with broad issues like credibility and discrimination, while younger riders were more apt to entertain specific complaints like parking and keeping gravel off the road. A twenty-something bike mechanic, who wished to remain anonymous, later noted, "We don't have the same problems (the older bikers) had in the '70s, because we didn't go around kicking everyone's ass."

Moreover, there is a very real split between motorcyclists and scooterists that has persisted for years, despite repeated attempts to bring the two together. Many scooter riders quietly complained that motorcyclists don't respect them--even when they work together on lobbying efforts--although this rift appears to be less pronounced among younger riders. Several times throughout the forum, older biker dudes referred to scooters as "mopeds," causing a silent but palpable unease among the scooterists.

In the end, the symposium served primarily as an outlet for biker complaints, but could be seen as the beginning of an organized call to action. Whether the fractious voices can compromise enough to present changes to City Hall remains to be seen.