Back in 2008, Rev Phil Sano and I sat around talking about how much we’d like to watch a documentary about the history of Portland’s Critical Mass. Shortly thereafter we scrapped together a trailer and then Phil promptly moved to Seattle and I began making a film.
(Fourth revision, August 2012)
What does it mean that Portland, one of the best North American cities for cycling, has virtually no Critical Mass? Was it no longer relevant, did its activity not appeal to a cycling “mainstream,” or was a police crackdown just so successful? What are the new goals of cyclists? What is the new activism? How are objectives reached?
Quickly it became clear that the narrative was more complicated than I had previously thought. It all began with the Oregon Bike Bill in 1971 but progress disappeared for over twenty years when forces converged in city hall, advocacy, activism, and funding for projects.
Through conducting interviews, I came into possession of some historical documents and the story became increasingly complex. Why did the police response play out this way?
I opened the umbrella a little wider to look at the big picture—what was going on in Portland simultaneously in the early ’90s? What had gone on previously? How was the city government treating it? Obviously the lawsuit from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in 1993 played significant roles, but what else shaped the way that we bicycle today?
I spoke with Roger Geller and Mia Birk—both employed by the city to make Portland functional for cyclists. I spoke with other city employees, Critical Mass participants, politicians, former politicians, activists, police officers, bicycle commuters, former and future mayors, and lawyers. Every step revealed three more steps and important figures of the past and present.
In the spirit of a time forgotten in documentary, I want to maintain as much objective bias as possible and tell both sides of the story; showing the complexity of the issues and the people involved: There is no good and evil—everyone is trying to manage the situation in the best way that they know how.