Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on August 5th, 2009 at 11:41 am
hands with Earl Blumenauer during a
fundraiser last night.
(Photos © J. Maus)
U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer was the guest of honor at a fundraising event held in North Portland last night. Bike industry and advocacy bigwigs from across the country joined a host of local bike luminaries to thank the Congressman for his dedication to bike issues on Capitol Hill.
The event began with a four-mile bike ride from the headquarters of Cycle Oregon on N. Flint. The ride went down to the Esplanade via the Rose Quarter and stopped at the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge for a few remarks by Blumenauer before heading back up Williams.
Blumenauer spoke at west
end of Hawthorne Bridge.
Tim Blumenthal of Bikes Belong and Blumenauer
staffer Meeky Blizzard.
Joining in on the ride were several heavy-hitters in the U.S. bicycle industry who flew into town just to show their support for Blumenauer. Coming from Madison, Wisconsin were Trek Bicycle Corporation CEO John Burke and President of Saris Cycling Group, Chris Fortune. Gary Sjoquist, the advocacy director for Quality Bicycle Products made the trip to Portland from Minneapolis and Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Boulder, Colorado-based Bikes Belong was also in attendance.
“Talk is cheap, you’ve got to write checks.”
— Chris Fortune, President of Saris Cycle Group
Speaking to the group near the Hawthorne Bridge, with evening bike commuters streaming by, Blumenauer said, “This is really what it’s all about.” As he pointed to the Eastbank Esplanade, Blumenauer — who was Portland transportation commissioner during the 1990s — said he was able to get the popular path built because the City “Cashed in a freeway.”
“The Mt. Hood Freeway was supposed to bring the magic of an urban freeway [sarcasm] through our Southeast Portland neighborhoods… but the people said, ‘no thanks!'”.
He also spoke about the removal of the Harbor Drive Freeway and said that for a total of about $30 million dollars Portland was able create a carfree, riverfront loop that is a “365 day a year urban experience.” “It’s hard to think of money better spent.”
Back at Cycle Oregon headquarters, about 50 people (from local bike non-profits, local industry, bik eplanners, bureaucrats, etc…) mingled over finger foods and cold Oregon microbrews (from Deschutes Brewery if you’re curious). Bikes Belong’s Tim Blumenthal took the opportunity to thank Blumenauer for his work and reminded attendees that passion alone isn’t enough to push the bike movement forward.
“I know a lot of people in the room are passionate about this issue. Passion is great. But passion is not enough. We also need the proof and I look to Earl for that. He helps us make the case for bikes on Capitol Hill.”
Burke’s remarks were short. He thanked Blumenauer for his work and commented on how far the U.S. bike movement has come since Blumenauer first brought his bike to Washington D.C.; “Now we’ve got a lot of fish jumping into the boat.”
Before opening things up for a Q & A, Blumenauer took the floor. He said that being able to represent Oregon and Portland on Capitol Hill is “a gift”, but then added that, “it can be a little weird politically.” He spoke of the contentious and divisive tone in Washington these days. He said there are “real problems” but there are also “bright spots where people are coming together.” One of those, of course, is bicycling.
Blumenauer said that a majority of House Members are now part of the Congressional Bike Caucus and that the bike continues to offer him “bike-partisan” opportunities with other lawmakers. “I’m trying to bend the curve politically, and I thank you for your help with our efforts.”
During the Q & A session, Blumenauer addressed several issues. About the transportation bill, he said, “Oberstar [Congressman Jim Oberstar, who’s pushing for a new bill, while the Administration wants to extend the current one] wants it done by September 30th. That’s theoretically possible, but it’s not going to happen.”
Blumenauer also spoke about how to pay for transportation. He pointed out that the gas tax is “in a death spiral” and that due to inflation and it not being increased since 1993, the average driver is paying 50% of what they paid for the roads 10 years ago. Blumenauer’s solution? Get rid of the gas tax.
With more fuel efficient and electric-based cars coming onto the market, Blumenauer said he’d like to see a tax based on vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Blumenauer has helped get a pilot VMT tax program started in Oregon that includes a sensor in a vehicle that can tell how many miles have been driven. The program would not only be a more effective way to collect road taxes, but Blumenauer said that it forces people to think more about how many miles they drive. People currently in the pilot project, he said, have decreased their VMT by nine-percent.
Blumenauer has legislation in the works to extend Oregon’s VMT tax system to all states.
I asked Blumenauer about Cash for Clunkers. How can the Obama administration and other lawmakers justify support of that program with their stated commitment to lowering VMT and creating more livable communities? Read his response here (a separate post I published after this one).
Before I left, I chatted a bit with Chris Fortune from Saris. Fortune is a big player on the national advocacy front. He said supporting politicians that do good things for bicycling is imperative in moving the issue forward. “Talk is cheap. You’ve got to write checks,” he said.
— Browse more photos from this event in the photo gallery.