This article is the sixteenth in a series profiling the varied and amazing nominees for the 2009 Alice B. Toeclips Awards, which will be presented to five winners at the Alice Awards & Auction on March 7th. We won’t be able to profile everyone, so read the nominees’ descriptions online. This profile was written by BTA correspondent John McLaren.
Elly Blue has been nominated for an Alice Award both for her past work as an organizer for bicycling and carfree causes, and for her more recent work as managing editor of BikePortland.org.
She was hired as managing editor last October by Jonathan Maus, founder and editor of BikePortland.org. Besides writing news stories and editorials, she has a variety of other responsibilities, among them working with new writers, planning events, adding features, and “generally developing the business and figuring out new ways to bring the community information and inspiration about bikes.” Today her work is focused on informing and inspiring BikePortland.org’s readership, which is a change in perspective and practice for her after many years of successful advocacy and activism.
Earlier last year she recruited to Portland and then coordinated the 8th Annual Carfree Cities Conference. It drew 300 delegates to Portland, about half of them from other countries, for a week of presentations, discussions and projects. The conference is a project of the World Carfree Network, which promotes alternatives to car dependence and automobile-based planning.
In her personal life, Blue has always been carfree, and commutes by bike four miles to work every day regardless of the weather. She has also always been a bicyclist, but she did not become an advocate until early 2005. That was when the issues around Critical Mass rides piqued her interest. She worked with riders, the police and attorneys to achieve better relations between cyclists and police officers – many of them skeptical about and uncomfortable with the “defiant celebration” nature of Critical Mass.
Blue moved on to take a leading role in Shift, Portland’s open-source bike fun organization, after her friend Sara Stout, one of Shift’s founders, helped redirect her focus from bike advocacy to the broader carfree cause. (Shift was also a sponsor of the Carfree Cities Conference.) Through their work with Shift, Blue and other advocates began to recognize that there was a need for financial, legal, permitting and insurance assistance for Portland’s very popular bike-themed grassroots activities. To meet this need, she and others together (including Steph Routh) founded Umbrella, a non-profit organization that fills that role for Shift, Pedalpalooza, the World Naked Bike Ride, and other events.
Blue’s carfree projects also include the Last Thursday parking-spot takeover in July 2006. Blue and other activists took over a parking space on NE Alberta Street and turned it into a living room, complete with the usual furnishings. Such advocacy by Blue and many others, over multiple years, culminated in the first Car-free Last Thursday last summer, which was a fantastic success.
In November 2007, following the tragic deaths of two Portland bicyclists, Blue was the principal organizer of a press conference and public rally, under the motto, “We are all traffic.” She said at the time, “we’ve been hearing a lot of talk …about bikes versus cars, but what gets lost in that discussion is that we’re all human beings. We’re just people out there on the roads, using different modes of transportation. I think we forget that common humanity.” Ultimately, the result was a badly-needed community discussion about bike safety (as well as the new Green Bike Boxes that then-Commissioner Sam Adams installed around town to help prevent future deaths). After such disturbing events in 2007, the City of Portland experienced no cyclist deaths in 2008 – partly attributable, perhaps, to the positive discussion Blue helped foster in 2007.