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Last week, the Willamette Week ran a photo of Multnomah County Sheriff write-in candidate Paul Van Orden holding a helmet. Since then, several people have emailed and called me saying this guy is the real deal and that I should interview him. I eventually heard from Paul himself. He sent this photo of him and five of his bikes (he owns eight).
The photo is great, but there’s a big difference between being a bike geek and making an impact on Portland cyclists from within the Sheriff’s office. I figured, if this guy really stands a chance of winning (which apparently he does) the bike community should know specifically, in writing, how he felt about several important issues. So, I sent Paul some questions that I hoped would shed light on how he sees bicycles in the mix of law enforcement and safety issues.
Now, I realize that answering questions doesn’t equal changing or executing policy, and it’s not like the County Sheriff is the biggest mover and shaker in City politics. But read what this guy has to say and I think you’ll be impressed with his intimate understanding of bike issues and his enthusiasm for improving our plight.
If you’re pressed for time, here’s a quick rundown of things he mentions in the interview (scroll down for full interview):
- He’ll use custom designed Burley bike trailers on the campaign trail.
- He wants to convene a bike safety task force.
- He’ll make bicycle-specific issue training mandatory for officers.
- He wants to improve bike crash investigation follow-through.
- He would work to decrease fine amounts for cyclists charged with traffic violations.
- He would “explore the possibilities” of changing some traffic laws for cyclists.
Here is the full interview:
How might your successful election to County Sheriff impact the cycling community?
Paul Van Orden:
…the Sheriff has direct impact on the entire metro region. As your Sheriff, I will direct our enforcement to focus more time and energy on the issue of moving forward with citing drivers who endanger bicyclists or are clearly at fault in the traffic accidents.
I will convene a task force with the Chief of Police in Portland and other surrounding jurisdictions to discuss a regional approach to the addressing the growing concerns of safety vocalized by most cyclists. We will not reach larger then single digit (approximately 3 % currently) ridership percentages in Portland without making the entire community feel safer on the roads. The most common reason I hear people tell me that do not commute to work is not the rain and the logistics of rain gear, it is the concern for safety.
A second solution to get buy-in from enforcement officers is focused re-education. Many enforcement officers in our County are avid cyclists. I would work with these committed and knowledgeable staff to do mandatory training for all staff that deal with the public and their needs as cyclists. The training could become a model for the region and our nation.
I am dedicated to creating a safer environment for cyclists. Drivers have buzzed me on far too many occasions, I had a close call this weekend on a training ride. The number of cyclists is increasing and we set the tone in the Portland Metropolitan area for the rest of the county. I plan to be a leader in making citizens feel more safe when they ride a bicycle in our community.
Is there any specific bike issue that you are particularly concerned about?
I have two specific concerns I wish to address when I am elected as your Sheriff.
The first issue is improving the investigation and follow through on accidents that involve bikes with other modes of transportation. My fellow sworn officers at the Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Enforcement Division are doing good work in serving the community in this area, but with a regional approach and dedicated resources from the County, we can see greater improvement in our entire region.
Again, I would look to find Deputies who have a willingness or specific experience as bike riders to serve the community in helping make improvements on the topic.
What is your opinion of targeting cyclists in traffic enforcement actions and giving them the same fines as motorists?
A few years ago City of Portland Commissioner Charlie Hales made a brilliant move in supporting alternative modes of transportation. He changed enforcement codes that significantly reduced penalties for skateboarders in our city. In essence he decriminalized the activity.
I would turn to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Shift to Bicycles, the Portland Wheelman, and a number of other active bicycle groups to explore recommendations on reasonable code changes to reduce the penalties that cyclists face. I am aware of a number of cases where citizens were cited or even just pulled over on their bikes. In many of these cases an officer’ energy would have been more effectively applied writing tickets against excessively loud car stereos and mufflers. These are bigger community livability and health / safety issues then pulling over a rider who has a fixed gear bike to discuss the technicalities related to balancing on your bike at a stop light and where or not that qualifies as officially stopping. Loud stereos and cell phone drivers with one hand on the wheel are hear safety issues, not sigle track riders and other cyclists.
I do believe that the County, the City, and the wonderful list of cycling advocacy groups need to do a better job educating the public about the issue of better visibility of cyclists and the use of lights.
I do not feel that there is any excuse for riding with no lighting. I would propose spending money on an education program similar to the one I have seen back in the Netherlands when I visit there. I keep a cheap single speed Dutch bike at a friend’s home in the Netherlands. It has lighting that is very basic, but better then a significant portion of riders in our County.
I have 7 or 8 bikes at last count. Even the classics I ride like an old Raleigh and a Peugeot are set up with lights. I will be very interested in making a positive impact on the issue of safety in regards to increases in the number of cyclists that have visible lights. Drivers will not be partners with our efforts to increase bike ridership if we do not do a better job at getting folks to be more visible.
Do you think bikes and cars should follow the same rules of the road?
This is a tough question from an enforcement side, but not as a bike rider. Creating a separate set of codes for bikes can be a fiasco for enforcement staff in the County and region, but we do need to begin making a shift that is more in line with the approach in the Netherlands. Bikes have the general right of way there, even over pedestrians to an extent. I would begin to explore the possibilities for passing a regional law that permits a bicyclist a bit more leeway when, lets say, you approacha stop signal and there is clearly no other traffic. The most important issue will be safety. We live in a terribly litigious society, so the changes will be quite a challenge. I am willing to be a part of exploring the possibilities and making changes that better serve my fellow cyclists.
Any final comments?
I am taking this write in campaign very seriously. I am not a one issue candidate. I have 15 years working in this field. My experience may have focused primarily on Environmental Law Enforcement, but in this capacity our work has always been under-funded and we have still served the community very effectively with our funding. We will have a few fun bike specific events such as a ride and coffee discussion with the future sheriff through the community. And wait until you see the Burley trailers that we are preparing for the campaign!!!!! My campaign is intended to keep all of us excited, but still stay focus on the main issue. Bernie is not a choice, he is a liability.
So there you have it. Remember, if you want Paul to be the next Multnomah County Sheriff, you’ll have to write-in his name on the ballot.