On Tuesday I joined City Commissioner Randy Leonard on his ride home from work.
I requested the meeting/interview/ride because I’ve heard he’s a dedicated bike commuter, and more importantly, because one of the lessons I learned during the Bike Master Plan funding fiasco is that if we really want bikes to get to the next level in this town, we’ve got to go beyond the friendly confines of Commissioner Adams’ office.
Not that Leonard’s office isn’t friendly. Far from it. I instantly felt at ease with him and his staff, including his bike commuting office manager Jane Prideaux.
Once Leonard had “dressed down” into his cotton tank-top and long cycling tights, we smiled at the sun and rode out to SE Foster and 91st, where his biodiesel-powered Jeep Liberty awaited.
“I shocked a lot of people when I started doing this.”
Randy lives up on Mt. Scott, but depending on how his morning is going, he’ll park and ride anywhere from 91st & Foster to as close in as 50th & Clinton.
Leonard got interested in both biodiesel and bikes when gas prices spiked about two-and-a-half years ago (he’s the man behind a new city ordinance that goes into effect July 1st of this year that requires that all diesel products sold in Portland must contain at least 5% biodiesel).
The ride gave me the chance to not only learn how passionate Randy is about alternative fuels (he waxed endearingly about how biodiesel is produced and how proud he was that Oregon farmers will now grow more of it), but also how he thinks about bikes and the bike community.
When I brought up the Bike Master Plan issue, he was quick to share that he felt the response from the cycling community were highly effective. He said it wasn’t just the sheer quantity but more importantly, the quality of the letters written. He was very impressed with how reasonable and well-thought out the responses were.
As we rolled away from City Hall and onto the Hawthorne Bridge, he said initially turned to bikes when gas prices spiked, but he was quickly hooked. For a man with 25 years as a firefighter, the move was unexpected by his family and friends. “I think I shocked a lot of people when I started doing this.”
He said he just rides for exercise (and he gets plenty of it, judging from the steady stream of sweat coming from under his helmet as we rode) not to make any grand political or environmental statement.
But cycling has changed more than just his waist size. His experience of riding has brought him face-to-face with the safety hazards and issues Portland cyclists face every day. On our route out of the city, we pedaled through a diverse range of bike environments; from the idyllic bike boulevard of SE Clinton to the unimproved gravel and potholes of outer southeast (I forget the exact street) and the high-speed boulevards near Eastport Plaza.
Avoiding major streets at all costs, Randy said he gladly goes out of his way for safer routes. He also pointed out that the recent bicyclist fatality at SE 112th and Foster Rd. was very close to his daily route. Earlier this year, Leonard joined PDOT traffic engineers and bike planners on a ride to survey the new bike boulevard planned for southeast Portland.
Toward the end of our ride, Leonard shared a story about his grandson Cole,
“When I’ve got a slow Friday at work, I’ll bike to work with Cole. He loves going over the Hawthorne Bridge. Last week we drove in to town to see a movie and as we came over the bridge he said, “Grandpa…isn’t this the bridge we ride our bikes on?””
As Commissioner of Public Safety and a grandfather of a bike-riding eight year-old, he’s got a lot riding on the safety of biking in Portland.