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An interview with Portland Mayor Sam Adams

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on April 13th, 2011 at 10:34 am

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Mayor Adams
(Photos © J. Maus)

It's been nearly three and a half years since I last sat down with Portland Mayor Sam Adams. To say a lot has changed — both in bike infrastructure/policies and our city's relationship with Adams — since that time would be a vast understatement.

Adams and I sat down in a diner in Old Town. We were joined by his spokesperson Amy Ruiz and his transportation policy advisor Catherine Ciarlo (last time it was just him and I, which I prefer). Read the interview below...

"... active transportation is still an issue that has a lot of work left to do — even in bike-friendly, progressive Portland — for it to be fully respected and for its costs and benefits to be fully understood."

2010 was a tough year for bikes [I shared a list of negative bike PR examples for him]. There was a lot of negative media attention and several PR crises around bike policies and projects. What do you think caused all that negative attention around bicycling?

The last time we did a public opinion poll and we asked people what do they want to spend their money on, the bottom of the list were bikes and freight. One of their top concerns was conflict between cars and bikes. So, active transportation is still an issue that has a lot of work left to do — even in bike-friendly, progressive Portland — for it to be fully respected and for its costs and benefits to be fully understood. To go from one level of effort to the next is always fraught with controversy.

Are we at that point now, going from one level to the next?

If you look at the last 18 months or so, it's also been arguably the best year for bikes in Portland. Ever. 69 miles of bikeways either done or funded, going from 26 to 80 elementary schools in the Safe Routes to Schools program, going from 20-some thousand to 90-some thousand attending Sunday Parkways, and the list goes on. By the end of the year, we'll have an estimated 85 bike corrals on commercial streets. All these things happened in that same time period. When you make change, and it's significant change, you always get push-back. And maybe that's what happened in 2010. Is that there was actualy push-back, push-back in a city that is known for being a bike city.

Toward the end of last year, following all those PR problems, you stopped talking about bicycling in public. Do you think it's fair to say all that negative attention caused you to shy away from being a spokesperson for bicycling?

Mayor Adams at Safe Routes to School ride-15

Not consciously. I think that until we... [Adams trailed off momentarily and then gathered himself]... One of the reasons I campaigned to be transportation commissioner was I saw a lack of focus on basic safety that was holding back a higher utilization of biking and walking. That safety was a result of too slow-going on infrastructure, an outdated bike plan, and a lot of self-congratulatory back-slapping. So, in the past two years since the Bike Master Plan was put through Council and there was a lot of push-back, I just put my head down and got stuff done.

There has never been a year when we have gotten more, deeper bike change done than in the last two years. So, there's always controversy and I don't know that the bike advocacy community had had a lot of controversy since Earl [Blumenauer, Portland City Council member from 1987-1996] first put in bike lanes, and because it was easy for us to sort of read our own national press that everything is easy because we're the bike capitol of America; I do think that [the backlash] took people by surprise. My job was to just put my head down and get the job done; and we have.

"The fact that we've pushed over the past two years, some notions that have been controversial to get funding in place to get the work done, I accept that. But, I would argue that it's a matter of being at the cutting edge of the discussion as opposed to just riding along someone else's path-blazing efforts."

The numbers speak for themselves, the accomplishments speak for themselves. When John Canzano, the O[regonian] Editorial Board, and even the Mercury are taking me and the bike community to task by relating bike investments to mental health funding — which is as unfair as people could get — we're still getting the work done. And that is the bottom line. 69 miles of bikeways done or funded, from 26-80 schools doing Safe Routes to School, adding green bike boxes, Sunday Parkways, all of that momentum got stronger in the last years.

Are you aware of the "bikelash" that's going on in New York City?

Yes, and in Toronto they just elected a mayor running against bikes.

Do you think there are lessons for Portland from those places?

Yes, there are. You have to make smart decisions that you can show have a tangible benefit on the cost-benefit scale, that you are saving people's lives and reducing injuries, and your smart transportation advocates need to stay at it. We're not across the finish line. It's a continuous effort.

"I'm not here to impress you Jonathan. Frankly, I'm not here to impress anybody. I'm here to deliver an infrastructure that would get more people biking...And, it might not be sexy to you or others, but it's what we need."

In NYC, Mayor Bloomberg hired a strategist and went on the offensive to defend a controversial bike lane; but when a similar backlash happened here, it seemed like you retreated a bit. There was nobody being strong and forceful in speaking up for bikes. Don't you think the public tenor around biking is important?

I think what's more important is that the work gets done.

We got through it. Yeah, I think handling it effectively is really important. I think in the last 18 months to two years we've done more in terms of investment in bikes and peds than I know at any time previously. The facts speak for themselves in terms of what we've accomplished.

Jonathan, there are going to be times of controversy on every issue and with every person. At some point your site will become wildly controversial, I'm quite certain. But you go forward and you persist and you persevere and you figure out where you're at and you move forward from there.

At the BTA Alice Awards last year, you made it clear in your speech that you were getting a lot of negative push-back and you needed more support from the bike advocacy community. Did you get some?

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Not a lot [laughs]. But, there are reasons for that unrelated to me. Like, a search for and a new leader at the BTA and a bicycling advocacy community that had had about a decade that lacked any controversy at all. I will tell you, and I was working at City Hall at the time, when Earl was putting through with Mia [Birk] the first bike efforts, it was blisteringly controversial. Nothing like you think 2010 was. It was blisteringly controversial and you just perservere. So, I guess I learned from observing that work of then-Commissioner Earl Blumenauer with Mia Birk.

You know, the benefits and costs of biking are obviously easy to misrepresent. So what looks expensive to some people, in reality is not. The benefits of biking are opaque from the visual eye, but significant when you are responsible for a transportation system. I think everyone knows where I stand on bikes. I don't think that's a mystery for Portlanders, so sometimes just getting the work done, instead of talking about the benefits.. If anything, over the past two years, instead of talking so much about the benefits, which was important to do for 5-6 years, just getting the work done and people seeing the benefits is what we've focused on.

".. if the 50s Bikeway project isn't sexy enough for you, too bad Jonathan Maus, I'm going to focus on the non-sexy life-saving stuff as I always have."

We went from swales for sewers to people understanding that swales come with curb extensions which slow traffic down and saves everybody's lives, including car drivers. The fact that we've pushed over the past two years some notions that have been controversial to get funding in place to get the work done, I accept that. But, I would argue that it's a matter of being at the cutting edge of the discussion as opposed to just riding along someone else's path-blazing efforts. Sometimes it takes a while for these things [the bioswales/bike safety connection] to sink in.

Bike Share has been on the table for several years now. It seems there is some new momentum. Are you actively supporting the bike-share project?

"He's actively supporting it." [Adams' Transportation Policy Advisor Catherine Ciarlo interjected.]

Will there be something up and running by the end of the year?

I don't know, I hope so. I've been pushing and prodding for six years. Staff and the experts have said, let's wait to see the experience of other cities. I think they've been right to some degree. There have been some spectacular successes that have been very expensive and there have been some spectacular failures that have been very expensive. So, I think my team is right, but I've been anxious to move it forward.

The biggest challenge is financial. As you know, most of these bike-share programs have been built on a trade of the bike-share program for massive billboards and massive advertising in the city. I don't want to trash portland with that kind of advertising and I don't think Portlanders would support that. I'm not willing to put up billboards like other cities are. So, we're coming up with some other ways to pay for it. These things don't pay for themselves, but then again, every transportation mode is subsidized to a certain degree.

We have a list of $600 million in projects laid out in this bike plan. At our current spending levels, we won't get there by 2030. Can you tell me where the money will come from to build this system?

I don't know how we're going to get $600 million. But I also don't know how I'm going to get 8-10 times that for the automobile.

But people working on bike projects are fighting and scratching for a little bit of money here, a little bit of money there. You've said in the past that biking is the best ROI you get for transportation investment. What can you tell me about funding going forward?

There is no magic answer to that question and no city across the United States has come up with one either, or anywhere in the world that I know of. Where we have had a lot of success is the examples of Sellwood Bridge, or of Cully Blvd., where it [bikeways] gets done as part of the regular major maintenance or capital investment. We continue to hustle to get the money wherever we can, but we're also working to change the way we do business so that it's part of everything we do. Like the SW Moody TIGER grant project we got. It knits together the neighborhoods with pedestrian bridges and the transit bridge across the river, and the separated cycle track. That's all part of the way we do business now, whereas before it might not have been an assumption.

What do you see, from where you sit, to being the key barriers to pushing forward on some big, high-profile projects? (Not like the neighborhood greenways, which are non-controversial).

I'm not here to impress you Jonathan. Frankly, I'm not here to impress anybody. I'm here to deliver an infrastructure that would get more people biking, and a different kind of people biking. The fact that a lot of our work over the next 2-3 years is going to be in East Portland where a lot of people don't go, they're not necessarily going to see it. Those greenways are just as important to meeting our goal of 25% as cycle-tracks on Broadway, in fact more so. So, I'm going where the need and the opportunities are. And, it might not be sexy to you or others, but it's what we need.

Biking started out in central Portland, in the central city. It's been viewed by a lot of people as an upper-income, white, amenity. To whatever truth there is to that, it doesn't have to be that way. People that live east of 39th and 82nd and 122nd, people that want to be able to travel by bike safely north and south. Sorry if that's not sexy, but that's what we need right now.

What made you think you needed that type of focus? Was it hearing from citizens, was it "equity gap" research?

Part of it is seeing where people are getting injured and killed. The three most dangerous corridors in the city are 122nd, 82nd, Foster, and Burnside/Everett/Glisan. I'm not going to apologize for going from 26-80 schools... You might never see that, the average bicycle advocate might never see that. It might not be the big sexy thing you are looking for, but too bad! That's what we need as a city, that's the kind of work we do as a city to make biking reach it's full potential and that's what it's going to take.

Now, I'm not going to use all our powder and give away all our secrets. There'll be some good, sizzly things coming up; but a lot of the work we need to do, might not be something you see downtown. It might not be sexy, but dog-gone it, it's going to work.

What do you see as the problems with our transportation system in the Central Business District right now?

We've lost a lot of businesses in downtown. We've lost a lot of jobs downtown through this recession. We're working hard to get them back. So, from a transportation point of view for central Portland my biggest concern is actually around jobs and prosperous business. The biggest challenge for downtown is to get as high as possible, the work-to-home commute on anything other than a car. Whether that's transit, pedestrian, bikes, or a combination of all that, it's to the benefit of everything else. Because the #1 criticism, according to public opinion surveys, as to why people don't come downtown, is the lack of available parking and congestion. So the win-win is relieving the congestion, freeing up parking, except for those that are here to play and spend money and those that don't have a choice.

I've been to several ribbon-cuttings for very expensive transit projects over the years. Rail transit is comparable to highways in cost. Do you foresee sometime in the near future where we're at a ribbon-cutting for a connected bikeway corridor that people can have the same level of comfort, safety and efficiency as you get riding a streetcar or light rail, but it's for bicycles? Do you see that happening?

Right now we're focused on the [neighborhood] greenways. You know, we're working from a plan here. To be honest, this sort of, highly-expensive, downtown-focused, sort of big, expensive, you know, bike extravaganza project, you get — and sometimes maybe rightfully so — you get community-wide push-back.

I was in Toronto during that election. That is a liberal city and they elected Ford overwhelmingly. He talked about taking streetcars out of downtown and 'quit spending so much money on bikes' and, you know, the light rail to the suburbs was 'ridiculous' and they should have spent it on freeways.

So, do you see that election of Ford as being the result of push-back because Toronto did big, flashy bike projects that the public wasn't ready for?

I think like any enthusiast, you know, you can send the wrong signals. And honestly, I'm going to prioritize life and safety over your sense of spectacular ribbon-cuttings any day. And so, you know, if the 50s Bikeway project isn't sexy enough for you, too bad Jonathan Maus, I'm going to focus on the non-sexy life-saving stuff as I always have. We'll continue to do the innovations, but they're going to be innovations that make sense.

So, you know, push forward where we need to with the big, high-profile things and just do the bread and butter work.

You know, it's a little bit arrogant for us to think we've got the basics covered on bike infrastructure. We don't. And we're going to get that much more underway than maybe bike advocates want to see. But then again, it sticks with the reason I ran to be transportation commissioner and that was to prioritize safety and to prioritize complete neighborhoods and the trip not taken.

And by basics, you mean where all Portlanders have access to some sort of bikeway?

Absolutely. That's where you're seeing our money go right now. I think the separated bikeways over the new light rail bridge and on the Sellwood Bridge speak for themselves. We have to raise a frickin' neighborhood on SW Moody 14 feet and included in that right of way are separated bike lanes.

I look at that SW Moody project and wonder, what happens to the cycle track at the end of that project? The cycle track will just end at some point; but the streetcar will continue on all the way to PSU, all the way to NW Portland.

So you're going to pit bikes against streetcars now?

No. I'm talking about the relative balance of what we're doing with rail versus with our bike facilities. If you're on a bike, you don't have the same type of access you have with rail or bus right now. There's some point in your trip when you have to make a scary crossing, or where you're sharing space with a car. When are we going to come to the point where we can all come together and cut the ribbon on a $20 million bike project that takes people from NE Portland into downtown and they never have to feel danger and can feel safe enough to ride with their kids and grandparents?

Well, the network that we do have in the core of the city needs to improve, but we have swaths of the city that have no network. So, while you may be a central Portland bike rider by choice. There are bike riders and pedestrians in parts of the city where we have no infrastructure. And, excuse me but I'm going to focus on those areas for a while, before I come back and do the necessary, but sometimes very expensive retrofit of existing corridors. It isn't necessarily an either/or, but what you're going to get from this commissioner is more emphasis on parts of the city where they do not have anything but the busiest streets to go on... And I make no apologies for that.

It's a matter of safety and fairness. Why should downtown Portland get all the bike money? Why should downtown Portland get all the bike infrastructure? Why are you promoting obviously necessary improvements to existing bike infrastructure when hundreds of square miles of the city don't have anything at all. So, get on the bus Jonathan! I want this message to go out to bike advocates!

What about facilities in the Central City where you have demand outstripping supply?

Those are the ones we've prioritized for further improvements. Again, it's not a total either/or, but you wanting your big ribbon-cutting of something that's going to go from here to the moon on a bike — I'm just trying to get people from Lents to Midway... Alive! And if I can get more people alive and uninjured on something perceived as a safe way to go, we're going to have more citywide support.

Let's talk about Sunday Parkways. Has that event had an impact on garnering more support for cycling outside of downtown?

Sunday Parkways have done more to get people all over town — Linda [Ginenthal, Program Manager for Transportation Options] and her team and my team deserve all the credit — to get more people to see the possibilities. It's allowed us to have discussions with folks along the 50s Bikeway. In part because, thanks to the Sunday Parkways, people actually show up and say, 'I really would like to go from point A to point B on the east-side. I did that on Sunday Parkways and it was really good!'

Can we expect to see Sunday Parkways continue to get funding at its current level?

Of course. Absolutely. Unless the council reverses me. I'd like to do more, but I'm afraid I'd have an insurrection at PBOT [in their recent One Year Progress Report, PBOT said they are unable to do more Sunday Parkways due to staffing limitations] ... I love Sunday Parkways, and we put money into it because it's earned it. What it does for neighborhoods along the way, what it does for businesses along the way. We now have Hawthorne asking to have Sunday Parkways on their street. When we started, it was like, "No! You'll kill our business!"

What's the best thing the average Portlander can do to help move bicycling forward in this city?

Get involved with their neighborhood association and neighborhood business association. Get involved. If they don't have a transportation committee. Fine. If you don't have the energy to organize one, then at least be there to talk about it. Arm yourself with the facts and just be there to bear witness to the conversations and speak up for the facts, that bicycling is a fantastic investment for any neighborhood.

In terms of moving forward with the Bike Plan for 2030, What's one big concern you have in terms of implementing it?

The concern is that we are still only doing Safe Routes to Schools with elementary schools and we kind of lose people in high school. So, at the time that they're actually most physically able to do biking, there's no real program around teenage bicycle education.

What are you most excited about?

I want see a bike system that will be a combination of cycle-tracks, bike lanes and greenways all the way to the Gresham city line. That's what I'm most excited about. Then it's no longer talking about bikes and it only meaning downtown Portland. I'll be talking bikes and it will mean the whole city.

Are you going to run for Mayor?

We'll see. It's the greatest job I think a person can have. I'll be making a decision. But again, I want to focus on the work.

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Comments
  • Ethan April 13, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Man he gets touchy about street cars. I appreciate you asking the hard questions about the inequity between the two, even he chose to dodge them. Does he support the ridiculous Lake O streetcar?

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  • Nick V April 13, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Great interview, Jonathan. A couple of thoughts:

    When Adams talks about public opinion polls putting bikes at the bottom of the priority list, I scratch my head. Who exactly is being polled? Do the long-time residents here think that we have enough bike lanes now and money is better spent somewhere else? Do newer residents coming here recently not have the interest in cycling that others have had for the past 20 years? Are the cyclists here, and I'll admit to being guilty of this, simply not being proactive enough?

    Second, I agree with Adams' comment that neighborhoods with no bike amenities should get priority over downtown Portland. I'm able to bike around downtown just fine as long as I stick to certain streets. Getting out to Sandy or to Tigard or to Gladstone is a different story.

    Finally, I do think that getting high school kids on bikes would be huge. There seem to be lots of them. BUT.....the allure of that brand new driver's license and the long-sought after ability to finally step on the gas and go 80mph is tough to compete with. How can we do that?

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  • SilkySlim April 13, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Great interview. I am impressed by Adam's commitment to pragmatism - getting the simple stuff done where it needs to happen (neighborhood greenways from the west hills out to gresham). Ditto with the Safe Routes to Schools project.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 13, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Nick V

    When Adams talks about public opinion polls putting bikes at the bottom of the priority list, I scratch my head. Who exactly is being polled? Do the long-time residents here think that we have enough bike lanes now and money is better spent somewhere else? Do newer residents coming here recently not have the interest in cycling that others have had for the past 20 years? Are the cyclists here, and I'll admit to being guilty of this, simply not being proactive enough?

    I don't what poll he was referring to, but I'm sure we could find a similar poll that ranked biking at the top of a priority list. Polls are silly in my opinion. Too easy to be biased, too easy to refute.

    Second, I agree with Adams' comment that neighborhoods with no bike amenities should get priority over downtown Portland. I'm able to bike around downtown just fine as long as I stick to certain streets. Getting out to Sandy or to Tigard or to Gladstone is a different story.

    I think this debate needs wider attention than it has gotten (although in many ways one side has essentially won already). Obviously I'm all for investment in East Portland, etc.., but I worry that Adams is using that argument as a justification to not do more high-profile projects because the political will isn't there for them (and not just because he wants to save lives in east Portland).

    Finally, I do think that getting high school kids on bikes would be huge. There seem to be lots of them. BUT.....the allure of that brand new driver's license and the long-sought after ability to finally step on the gas and go 80mph is tough to compete with. How can we do that?

    Me too! The more people on bikes the better. In Portland, I think biking can compete very well with that allure of driving... But we need to make it just as safe, efficient, and comfortable as we make car travel. It's not cool to have to ride on narrow, debris-ridden bike lanes and play Frogger to cross a busy street while your friends in cars hum along without a care in the world (accept for being stuck in traffic!).

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    • craig April 13, 2011 at 5:04 pm

      Seems that Safe Routes, with the current elementary age focus, is great for healthy kids etc. But missing high schoolers means missing a crucial opportunity during the transition to teens being self-transporting and the options they'll choose, which influence their view of transportation options as they grow into adults.

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      • Ed April 13, 2011 at 9:29 pm

        That's a very good point! Teaching kids the habit of riding bike to school and other activities at a young age will definitely stay with them into their adulthood. Not only it solves the gasoline dependance problem but also the obesity problem!

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  • BURR April 13, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Curb extensions don't slow traffic down in the least, they just create new street hazards for cyclists and help preserve on street parking spaces - space that could be better utilized for bike lanes.

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    • jacob April 13, 2011 at 1:50 pm

      I like the curb extensions, especially when trying to cross with a child, I feel they make me more visible to other road users, as well as make the walk across the street shorter.

      As a cyclist they don't bother me, only time they would become a hazard is if I were riding in the parking lane, which I don't for many reasons.

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      • Rol April 13, 2011 at 4:55 pm

        You just proved BURR's point. You're not riding in the parking lane because it's full of parked cars, and because it's periodically interrupted by a curb extension. If it were instead made into a bike lane, you'd be riding in it.

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    • Greg April 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm

      People do love their (mostly) free on street parking.

      My understanding is that the idea behind curb extensions (and other traffic calming measures) is to make the motorist feel like they're in a smaller space, and when that happens, people tend to slow down.
      No idea if it actually works as intended.

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      • Paul Cone April 13, 2011 at 9:37 pm

        We wouldn't keep putting them in if they didn't. I wish BURR would give up on playing traffic engineer. Also cynicism is tiring.

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    • dr. E April 15, 2011 at 10:37 am

      BURR,
      you're uninformed and unqualified on this. curb extensions are one of the proven infrastructure modifications that actually reduce traffic speeds,
      according to traffic engineers

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  • Andrew Seger April 13, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Wow that was a good interview. Interesting how he got so defensive about the lack of major capital projects for bikes like a NP greenway or Sullivan's Gulch trail. Also disappointing 'cause both of those projects would really tie under-served areas together with the bike network.

    Also is it really true that downtown/central city receives a lion's share of bike $$$? Most of the time downtown I'm just on unmarked streets, which is cool, 4th is perfectly fine to ride on. Would love to see a breakdown by quadrant of $$ spent on bikes/greenways. The other stuff they've done to help bikes downtown is retiming lights and putting a bit of paint down.

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  • matt picio April 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Great interview, Jonathan! One note regarding the transcript - I think he meant "razing" (raze) 14' of a whole neighborhood. "raise" - lift it 14' vs/ "raze" - eliminate 14' of right-of-way along an entire road.

    I think Mayor Adams makes a number of good points, and the focus on safety is something I want to see bear fruit. It's obvious that the city has heard those of us in the advocacy community and the neighborhood associations (and likely many of the PBOT staff) who want a focus on solving the issues with the high crash corridors - 82nd, 122nd, Powell, and Burnside. The focus on East Portland is great. It would be nice to see a focus on SW Portland as well, but in the current funding environment, the city will get a lot more bang for its buck in east Portland, where the ground is flat and the opportunities are there to build some connectivity between neighborhoods and provide safe routes to schools, shopping, parks, and workplaces.

    And he's right - the city has gotten a lot done in the last 18 months, sexy or otherwise. I thought that the administration was largely noise after the first year, but the rapid changes we're seeing now took time to set in motion.

    I look forward to seeing what other progress happens over the next 6 months. (especially since I won't be here for most of it)

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    • matt picio April 14, 2011 at 8:43 am

      I stand corrected - thanks for the project info, Jeff!

      In either case, that's a pretty substantial undertaking.

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  • boneshaker April 13, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    I appreciate all the work our Mayor has done to improve cycling in Portland. It doesn't need to be glamorous because sometimes that is just sticking your nose up to another party who doesn't agree with what you've done. If he runs for Mayor again he's got my vote.

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  • jeff April 13, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    read all about the elevation of SW Moody here. He literally meant "raise"

    http://swmoodyproject.com/

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  • adamdoug2011 April 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    I am reluctant to consider a scenario whereby Mayor Adams has a chance to be reelected given his inability to lead and to effect change. I hope I am right.

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  • Michael M. April 13, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I wonder why he thinks the Mercury, etc., "taking me and the bike community to task by relating bike investments to mental health funding" is so unfair? The bottom line is that everyone is "fighting and scratching for a little bit of money here, a little bit of money there," across a whole array of priorities. It doesn't strike me as "unfair" to question those priorities. We're spending so much money raising SW Moody 14 feet primarily to provide OHSU with more automobile parking. We didn't need to raise it to put in a cycle track. So it seems our priorities are kowtowing to the big money interests that drive spending decisions in Portland, but it is somehow "unfair" to question that?

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  • Rol April 13, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    He sure talks about sex a lot. I count six mentions of the word "sexy." I guess he's confident the scandal is well behind him. ha ha. But no, actually it's just a sign he was feeling some heat on those questions about big high-profile bike projects. He's working hard here to defend & spin his record as one of steadfast and steady accomplishment of lower-profile smaller goals. He also busts out the "saving lives" rhetorical tactic. For shame Jonathan, suggesting we should kill people in East Portland for the sake of your sexy ribbon-cutting! Well I say it was still a fair question. Bike infrastructure spending is pennies on the dollar after all. But Adams' approach is sensible, since what he can or can't do is still subject to the same constraints of what is and isn't supported by the political will of the entire citizenry.

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  • dwainedibbly April 13, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Great interview! Thanks!

    I agree with the Mayor's desire to expand into under-served areas before going for big projects. (And I live in downtown.) Get more people on bikes and the political will will follow. In the meantime, build ridership, fly under the radar a bit, and let the push-back die down. I think it's good strategy.

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  • Marcus Griffith April 13, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Adam's lied repeatedly about his affair with an intern during the last election; why would he be any more honest the next time?

    Safe Routes to schools is a project that will pay long term diviends and should be supported.

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  • Chris Sullivan April 13, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Nice work as always, Jonathan. Sam seems to have grown a more pragmatic personality, and one that uses a lot of emotional rhetoric. Interesting mix.

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  • old&slow April 13, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    "So you're going to pit bikes against streetcars now?"

    Well, since you won't I will. "Scratching for money", not if you want to build street car lines for fat people who don't want to walk or bike or get on a bus (which does the same thing for 10% of the cost).
    Softball interview.
    This city is spending ridiculous amounts of money to put rail lines where buses use to go, there is never a problem of funds for that.
    If he sounds defensive, he should be, he has conned most of the bike community here for several years (including that he actually rides a bike!)
    He uses the water bill as a tax that he doesn't have the balls to request, squanders most Transportation dollars on streetcars and gets kudos here because he has lunch with the website owner.
    Big whoop.

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    • matt picio April 14, 2011 at 9:15 am

      "10% of the cost" - are you talking capital costs? Or are you also figuring in maintenance over the life of the line? Buses have higher operating and maintenance expenditures, and generally a shorter usable lifespan. The primary benefits to bus over streetcar is the ability to reconfigure routes at will and the ability of vehicles to bypass a broken-down or "stuck" vehicle.

      I agree with the basic criticisms against rail - an electrified bus system might be more efficient.

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  • mmann April 13, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    On the subject of Safe Routes to School, East Portland, and older kids...
    I'm a teacher and the point man for the new Safe Routes initiative at Dexter McCarty Middle School in Gresham. So yes, we are aware and addressing the need to move beyond he elementary grades with bike promotion and safety education.
    In addition, another teacher and I started an after school bike club this year called "Wheelz" where we're riding with kids, getting them more comfortable mixing with traffic and thinking of bikes as more than toys for parks. We're also teaching basic bike mechanics - hoping to grow these kids up into self sufficient riders who will use their skills to help out the community. It's a little group at this point we're trying to nurture along, but we've had some generous support/donations, including lights from Portland Design Works and a great wheel truing workshop from Jude at Sugar (Epic) Wheelworks.
    If you don't get out to Gresham much, there have been positive bike infrastructure changes that resulted in the Bronze level award. I see our little effort as part of the bigger push to help put practical cycling on the map in East County.

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  • Steve B April 14, 2011 at 1:44 am

    Nice interview! Thanks Mayor Adams for being candid and honest, and thanks Jonathan for asking some tough questions.

    I think we've accomplished a lot this past year, and I hope we'll see the support for bigger and better bikeways continue to swell. We haven't proven to our political leadership that enough of us really want it. Ridership grows everyday, I hope we all let Mayor Adams and Council know we appreciate the support for bike improvements in this year.

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  • Wendy Ann Wright April 14, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Good interview Jonathan. I think one of the problems is that so many people are angry at Sam for lying to get into office and his other digressions that they complain about bike infastucture...and to be honest I can see their point. Moving towards a car free society is something I certainly believe in, but now that I have lost my job and am legally homeless I get frustrated with folks I might consider biking yuppies who think they are all that and a bag a chips. I'm certainly not calling all bikers in Portland that. Many of my friends bike their entire families around Portland and I don't consider them yuppies...but this progressive liberal Portland thing is kinda starting to feel like a yuppie invasion to me...and full disclosure I used to work for Mayor Adams and I currently think he is one of the biggest creeps on the planet. Feel free to flame attack me now. I can take it. Peace.

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  • Charley April 14, 2011 at 8:34 am

    This is great journalism, and it's on a blog! So that's cool. My other thought is that Adams is so dang *touchy*. I just wish he'd relax and understand that he's gonna get flak, and that responding with that kind of attitude makes him look like he's worried about losing control or looking weak. I don't know how someone so think-skinned ended up in politics.

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  • Wendy Ann Wright April 14, 2011 at 8:41 am

    @Charley I think he is worried about losing control because many of the people who originally supported him, myself included, are totally fed up with him right now...which is too bad because he has a lot of excellent people on his staff, but personally I think the dude's ego is huge and he is very self destructive and sometimes quite rude. A number of his staffers left because of this when I worked for him. Oh politics, gotta love it...it's like a soap opera.

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    • Nick V April 14, 2011 at 8:52 am

      I was going to steer clear of personal opinions but I have to agree. I don't trust Sam Adams one bike-riding bit.

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  • Wendy Ann Wright April 14, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Also he barely even rides his bike anymore.

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  • Alexis April 14, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Adams' characterization of the 2010 Toronto Mayoral election is a bit misleading when he says: "That is a liberal city and they elected Ford overwhelmingly."

    The old City of Toronto (core areas of current city) voted for Smitherman by a significant margin. The suburban areas voted for Ford by a significant margin. No candidate received a majority of the vote, although Ford's win was by a relatively large percentage (a bit over 10%). A third candidate took roughly ten percent of the vote as well.
    http://torontoist.com/2010/10/which_wards_voted_for_who_for_mayor.php

    Current Toronto city limits are max 27 miles EW and 13 NS; it's an amalgamated city created by combining old Toronto with its inner and outer-ring suburbs. So it's like Portland was all of the Portland area, including Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego, Mikwaukie, and Tigard, and the results reflect that. The results that Toronto saw in their election are more like what we got when Hughes beat Stacey for Metro, but Metro's not responsible for the majority of bike and transit projects in Portland, PBOT is, and Adams is, and he's not at risk of being thrown out by voters in Hillsboro.

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  • Dude April 14, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    How come you didn't ask him why he's such a lying liar?

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  • Wendy Ann Wright April 14, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Dude that is a totally good question. C'mon Jonathan get in touch with Sam again and ask him why he is such a lying liar.

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  • Ely April 14, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    re: eastside investments, I was just over there where I rarely ride. There's a lot of sparkly new infrastructure that really helped me complete my ride safely & comfortable. Way cool.

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  • Steve B April 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    One other thought: it seems Adams keeps referring to you Jonathan as the only one who has the same concerns about incomplete infrastructure and a lack of major political will around funding for serious bike/walk projects. This tells me we need to be more vociferous in letting Adams & staff know we all expect better, smarter infrastructure investments going forward, and that means bike boulevards along with main streets.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 14, 2011 at 2:42 pm

      Exactly Steve. I found it strange that he personalized his responses with my name. The truth is, I'm probably the only one he's heard stuff like that from.

      And yes, there needs to be more and louder voices for these things if we expect anything to change.

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  • Wendy Ann Wright April 14, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Very good point Steve B

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 14, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Just published what I think is a great companion article to this interview. Read incoming PBOT Director Tom Miller's opinion on many of these same issues. I think you'll notice some important differences.

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  • April April 14, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Am I the only cyclist who really likes MAX and streetcar lines? I much prefer them to the bus, they're comfier and faster and easier to get my bike on and off. I'd rather ride the MAX than a bus any day. And they're great when you really don't want to ride the whole way, either because you're tired or the weather's bad. When I'm going places in North Portland or NE I often take the yellow line to Rose Quarter and then catch whichever line is heading east, since I live near all three lines going east. My parents live in Beaverton, and when I go out there I always take the Blue Line. Often, the train + biking is faster than just biking the whole way. And not everyone is willing to bike ten miles each way to a friend's house or work or whatever.

    Also, as a person on a bicycle who lives east of 82nd, I've really loved the new infrastructure out here. Several roads have been given speed bumps and sharrows. Inexpensive and un-fancy but effective.

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    • Thomas Le Ngo April 18, 2011 at 11:01 pm

      This is me being nitpicky, but unlike streetcar, MAX actually extends the range of a cyclist's trip. And you don't have to share the same lane with its tracks as a cyclist.

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 19, 2011 at 9:11 am

        MAX also has big trade-offs... like cutting off neighborhoods by putting up fences and making crossing of streets very inconvenient, like taking up a large chunk of public right of way, like costing a hundreds of millions of dollars, like not being free to ride.

        I'm all for MAX, just saying that I'd also like to see us try other (non-rail) solutions when it comes to creating neighborhood transportation corridors.

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        • Thomas Le Ngo April 19, 2011 at 2:36 pm

          Technically Streetcar isn't free either. At least we can all agree that we need to increase and improve our choices for active transportation.

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  • Wendy Ann Wright April 14, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I also think Sam has his friends in the media and darlings he likes to talk to and you are one of them Jonathan. Not that I think that is a bad thing, but I know Sam personally and his ego is huge and he is totally self destructive. I am not trying to derail this thread from the original content, but I was harassed by the police and when I went to Sam's staff about it they did nothing, even though I used to work for him. Long story short, after this happened I got PTSD, lost my home, my job, and temporarily my kid. Swear to god. No joke. I'm way better now and have been going to therapy, but am I mad as hell at our mayor right now. You betcha! Sorry for derailing. Please feel free to go back to talking about bike stuff if you like. i LOVE BIKES. My son Linus and I rode our tandem bike friday with Sam Adams in the gay pride parade two years ago.

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  • Joe Rowe April 14, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Not a single question of the Common Sense Alternative to the CRC. Not a mention of the $10 billion CRC freeway. 40 reader comments and no mention. The apathy and cronyism is more depressing than the 5 mile freeway project. I know, it's a strategy. A gamble. Don't ask the tough questions.

    J. Maus: "What's the best thing the average Portlander can do to help move bicycling forward in this city?

    Sam Adams: Get involved with their neighborhood association and neighborhood business association. "

    I've got friends who were on their neighborhood association and the next level up. These involved people said Sam's suggestion is just a facade for the city to say the public is involved. When the associations speak up in a way that does not agree, the city ignores the associations.

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  • dmc April 14, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Mayor Sam Adams is an awesome Mayor. I cant explain how badly I want to goto a Sunday Parkways event.

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  • Wendy Ann Wright April 14, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Wow dmc You have obviously drank the Kool-Aid. Good luck with that.

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  • Paul Tay April 17, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Who paid the tab?

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