Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 17th, 2008 at 2:01 pm
You can meet Jim this Sunday night at an event being hosted by Congressman Peter Defazio at the Lucky Lab Brewpub in SE from 5:30 – 7:00 (bring $5!).
(Photos © Jonathan Maus)
Jim Middaugh is probably the most bike-centric City Hall staffer that you’ve never heard of.
We all know Commissioner Sam Adams loves bikes, and Commissioner Randy Leonard rides to work on occasion, but Middaugh — who announced his run for City Council just four days ago — is truly one of us. He loves bikes (he owns four of them, including a fixed gear), he rides rain or shine, and he “gets it”, plain and simple.
Currently the chief of staff for Commissioner Erik Sten, whose council seat he hopes to occupy when Sten steps down in April, Middaugh is now facing the ride of his life. In order to qualify for public funding, he has only 14 days to receive 1,000, $5 contributions.
Insiders think he’s not only got a chance to raise the funds in record time (he’s already got over 3,000 contribution forms on the street), but many people both inside and outside of City Hall, think he’d make one hell of a Commissioner.
On such person is U.S. Congressman Peter Defazio. Defazio is set to announce his official endorsement of Middaugh later today and he’ll be in Portland this Sunday night to host a public fund-raising event for Middaugh (details below).
To say Middaugh has the support of a lot of smart people in Portland (and beyond) is an understatement. Since he announced his candidacy, I’ve gotten several emails and phone calls from bike and transportation insiders urging me to take a serious look at him.
So yesterday, I met with Middaugh to find out for myself if this guy is the real deal.
Middaugh is 45 years-old and has lived in Northeast Portland with his wife and two kids (6 and 11) since 1992. He says he’s been riding his bike around town, “since before there was congestion in Portland’s bike lanes”. He showed up to our meeting on a Lemond hybrid bike, sporting a yellow Burley jacket, a messenger bag, khaki slacks and dress shoes.
What impressed me about Middaugh is his breadth of experience on a range of issues that are complementary, but not solely focused on bikes. In fact, for most of our chat we didn’t even mention bikes or the bike culture at all.
With Middaugh, it seems we have the opportunity to elect a city commissioner that can broaden bike issues far beyond the “Four E’s” of engineering, enforcement, encouragement and education.
If we really want to take bikes to the next level here in Portland, we’ve got to talk about them in a larger context than just bike lanes and Bridge Pedal; and it seems Middaugh is precisely the type of guy that can help us do that.
Make no mistake about it, Middaugh loves bikes both as transportation and recreation (he’s the “ringleader” of a yearly, multi-day bike tour with his friends); but it’s the environmental, urban planning, and community development issues that he says are in his “DNA”.
As a boy growing up on the suburban fringe of San Jose, California he saw first hand how unbridled sprawl impacts livability.
“As a kid, I watched as my backyard — which used to be oak trees and wineries — got gobbled up by development. I didn’t realize it until I got to college, but that had a profound impact on me.”
That experience led him to work at the Oregon Natural Resources Council (now known as Oregon Wild) and to the Northwest Power Planning Council, where he put his University of Oregon journalism degree to use as public affairs manager.
Since his Portland City Hall tenure began in 2000, he has done everything from work on Commissioner Sten’s efforts to stem global warming and climate change to balancing budgets and managing Portland’s response to the Endangered Species Act (his work protecting Salmon led to new road maintenance practices and a revision of how the Parks Bureau uses pesticides).
Middaugh has formidable experience and he says he’s learned to “navigate between all the city bureaus and agencies to get things done”.
During our conversation, we also got onto the topic of congestion pricing and tolling, which Middaugh has studied extensively as part of his work on Portland’s Climate Action Plan. Middaugh referred to the controversial Columbia River Crossing project as a “snake swallowing an elephant” and that the project would only “move the elephant [traffic] further down the snake’s body [the freeway]”.
Middaugh, who once hired noted transportation pricing guru Michael Replogle to speak in front of Portland’s climate change committee, said he’d be in favor of “at least testing some sort of congestion relief measure” before work begins on the CRC project.
He also knows what it’s like to be in the crosshairs of the media and the public. As the Multnomah County appointee to the Columbia River Gorge Commission, Middaugh has fought battles on sensitive issues and has stood ground on sometimes controversial laws in order to protect that National Scenic Area.
“He’s been pushed around before…he knows what’s it’s like to be in the spotlight,” is how one City Hall staffer put it.
There’s no question Middaugh’s got the track record and experience to be an effective City Commissioner; now all he needs is our help.
But wait! What about his ideas for bikes? Isn’t this a bike website? Yes it is and here are two ideas (out of several) he sent me in an email:
- The City Council needs to consider new policies that use both incentives and regulations to get more businesses to promote cycling among their employees. For example, car parking subsidies need to be reconsidered. Bike parking and other facilities should be required components of development approvals. The City’s Bike and Walk Bucks program, under which employees receive cash payments for choosing bikes and feet over cars should be used as a model for private employers. The Council should consider changes to the Business License Fee to reward employers who implement similar programs.
- An idea I like a lot is establishing some “Bike Only” days on selected routes throughout the City. When I lived in Washington, D.C. my friends and I really enjoyed riding Rock Creek Parkway when it was closed to cars. Creating a similar stretch of car-free pavement on a regular basis in Portland would give new riders the confidence to get on their bikes and provide existing riders with a great way to enjoy their habit.
In the end it’s clear to me that Middaugh’s leadership and decisions would be colored by his time on two-wheels. At the end of our walk, he put that in more basic terms…
“I ride every day and I’ve ridden all over the streets of Portland for over 10 years. I think that creates a basic empathy that just wouldn’t be there in people that don’t do it every day. I’ve pulled up to bloodied bodies from crashes, I’ve been doored…Others may be sympathetic to bike issues, but it’s just not the same unless you’re out there, riding every day.”
You can learn more about Middaugh on his campaign website, or come to the event this Sunday night:
Jim Middaugh for Portland City Council
Hosted by Peter Defazio
Lucky Labrador Brewpub (915 SE Hawthorne Blvd.)
5:30 ~ 7:30