Election Notes: The race for City Council Seat #1

Yesterday, I shared some thoughts (and asked for yours) on the race for Council seat #2. Today, we move to to the other hotly contested battle for City Commissioner being waged by six candidates, five of which are likely to garner a significant number of votes.

This race features several impressive candidates and two — Chris Smith and Jeff Bissonnette — that have major upside for the bike and alternative energy/sustainability crowds. In fact, even the Bike.Walk.Vote political action committee couldn’t make up their minds and decided to endorse both of them.

Below are my thoughts on the candidates (three of whom I’ve met with personally to discuss bike issues).

Chris Smith – CitizenSmith.us


Chris Smith
(All photos © J. Maus unless
otherwise noted).

No candidate in any race (perhaps with the exception of Sam Adams) has more, on-the-ground, bike street-cred than Chris Smith. Smith has been a fixture in the bike advocacy community for years — through his role in helping with technology (he archived and hosts the KBOO Bike Show podcast) and providing a forum to debate bike and transportations issues on his blog, to attending countless bike and transportation-related meetings.

I still recall Smith’s testimony in opposition to the Columbia River Crossing project before a key vote held last year when he cautioned that the project was too focused on “building an icon” and that the billions would be put to better use in smaller projects throughout the region.

Smith is a true “multi-modal” advocate who’s main expertise lies not with bikes, but with streetcar (he’s the Chair of the Portland Streetcar Inc Citizen’s Advisory Committee). This knowledge of streetcar (and how to best design tracks around bikeways) will certainly be an asset as Portland add new lines in the near future.

Learn more about Chris Smith by reading an interview I did with him back in September or listen to him at the City Club Debate (links to MP3 file) held last Friday.

Jeff Bissonnette – PortlandersForJeff.com

Bike Back the Night-19.jpg

Jeff Bissonnette has been working as a social service advocate and has been learning how to change and influence public policy for 23 years. As a student at University of Oregon in 1985 he took the reins of a project to create the Citizen’s Utility Board — a non-profit that represents utility consumers — and eventually became its leader.

I’ve seen Bissonnette at several bike-related events during this campaign and I sat down with him a few weeks ago.

During our conversation he called the (now defunct) plan to relocate the Sauvie Island Bridge as a crossing over Flanders Blvd. in Northwest Portland “an opportunity we must act on.” He also said that advocates and the City need to look for similar opportunities in other parts of Portland.

Bissonnette likened the funding picture around the Sauvie project as a “short pass to move the ball down field.” He said it’s important for the city to demonstrate it can be “an effective manager of resources”. Assuming that project like the Sauvie span relocation was completed on budget, he said, “it would have transformed the neighborhood” and “people would have said, ‘oh this does make a difference.”

I then asked Bissonnette how other city bureaus could integrate bicycling into their policies.

He said the Office of Sustainable Development and the Bureau of Development Services should take a closer look at bike traffic. He said he would challenge developers to consider bike traffic to and from their buildings and would work toward smart land-use planning that would encourage biking.

Bike Back the Night-6.jpg

“As we plan our city,” he said, “we need to create our districts so most people can live, work, and shop by bike.”

A multi-modal bike commuter, Bissonnette says bus bike racks are full way too often. His plan is to add more frequent bus service. “Every 15 minutes [TriMet’s current “frequent service”] is not frequent service. I’d like to have buses coming ever 5-7 minutes.”

While knocking on doors during this campaign, he said that he heard that many people are concerned about bike safety — mostly people who drive that are afraid they might hit someone on a bike. His answer to that fear? Bike boulevards. Bissonnette told me he sees a lot of potential in using bike boulevards as a way to create a bridge between bikers and non-bikers.

As a St. Johns resident and frequent bike commuter Bissonnette has taken a personal liking to the North Portland Greenway Trail (that would connect Cathedral Park to the Steel and Esplanade). He says the bike routes from North Portland to downtown are not safe enough — “I’ve seen several near misses on Greeley and the I-5 onramp” — and that a safer, more connected route is needed. “If just one place on someone’s commute make them afraid, that’s a problem.”

As for the Columbia River Crossing, he’s convinced that the current bridge is “not sustainable on many levels” and that “something needs to be done.” Bissonnette says he won’t support the CRC if it doesn’t have light-rail and that he supports a congestion pricing element (but only if it’s more expensive than public transit). In the end, he says “there are a ton of questions that still need to be answered.”

Bissonnette has been endorsed by the Portland Mercury, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, and many other groups and individuals.

[NOTE: Smith and Bissonnette showed up at Bike Lunch for an informal debate. You can watch a video of it here (links to .mov file)]

Amanda Fritz – AmandaFritzForCityCouncil.com

Amanda Fritz-1.jpg

When I sat down with Amanda Fritz last week she said the #2 issue she has heard about while knocking on doors in Portland is what she refers to as a “backlash” against bikes in Portland — and she said she’s the best candidate to be able to bridge the divide.

Why? Because she doesn’t ride.

“We have to recognize lots of different perspectives. I can help different people listen to each other and feel like they know there were heard. I’m not a biker and thats why I can be heard.”

Fritz told me that right after she’s elected, she would coordinate a series of community discussions about key issues — with the bike/car divide being one of them.

Fritz was not supportive of the Sauvie span project and shared her thoughts about it on her blog (by the way, I give Fritz major kudos for being such a dedicated and gutsy blogger). Her campaign mantra has been to represent “all 95” Portland neighborhoods and she opposed the Sauvie project because she felt, “Portlanders who live in areas with few sidewalks, bike lanes, or paved streets, deserve basic urban services first.”

Instead of chasing projects like Sauvie, Fritz says more mundane (less-sexy) investments (like basic sidewalks and bike lanes) would be just as effective in getting more people to ride.

I think Fritz represents an interesting conundrum for bike-oriented voters. If you agree that there is a large population of Portland that does not get the bike thing — and you agree that we need to reach those people to make the giant leap in bike usage we’ve been working toward — what kind of leader can most effectively deliver the message? One that is already labeled a “biker” or someone who the non-bikers will see as their equal (like Fritz for instance)?

Fritz has been endorsed by the Willamette Week and the Oregonian.

John Branam – John4Pdx.org

Branam on a bike as a kid.
(Photo: John4PDX.org)

I have not gotten the opportunity to meet John Branam yet, but from what I’ve seen and read, he seems like a solid candidate. I like his charisma (which I feel is an important political asset) and he has some detailed bike-specific language in his transportation platform.

On his website, Branam says he wants to “push forward bicycle and pedestrian commuting in Portland” and that he would work for these initiatives: designate a Bicycle Safety Awareness Month to include a PR campaign, events, etc.., a city-wide “Make a Commuter Program” to be seeded with $10,000, and he would support the completion of the Bicycle Master Plan to “create continuous bike lanes throughout the city.”

Mike Fahey – FriendsofMikeFahey.com
(I don’t know much about Mike Fahey and his campaign did not make an attempt to contact me.)

Charles Lewis – CharlesLewis.com
(I don’t know much about Charles Lewis and his campaign did not make an attempt to contact me.)

This race is sure to go to a run-off between the top two vote-getters. Fritz, with her name recognition (she ran against Commissioner Dan Saltzman in ’06) and history of civic involvment, is likely to be one of them. The other? That’s anyone’s guess.

If you haven’t voted already, I hope you found this information helpful. If you already voted, who did you vote for? Who do you think will be the top two?

Next up: The most important race of all — Sam vs. Sho.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Helen Wheels
Helen Wheels
15 years ago

Jonathan, thanks for providing information on council positions 1 and 2. We have so many good choices this election – public financing has empowered qualified people who wouldn\’t ordinarily have the resources to run for office – that it has been really hard to choose.

I had already decided on Jim Middaugh for council pos. 2, but I could not decide on pos. #1, even after watching the City Club interview/debate. Thanks for narrowing it down for me. I like almost everyone who is running for pos. 1 but several have expressed a ridiculous amount of concern about potholes, of all things. If anyone should be whining about rough roads, it should be we cyclists, but we don\’t whine because the roads simply are not that bad. If these candidates think we have potholes they should get out more and try driving the eastern Washington or elsewhere where it gets cold and the streets freeze and thaw and freeze and thaw and freeze and … I think they are pandering to some of their constituents/bike haters possibly? Am I digressing? Anyway, thanks.

Desk Jockey
Desk Jockey
15 years ago

The notion that Fritz will be a useful ally in bridging the gap between those who get it and those who don\’t specifically because she doesn\’t ride is preposterous. If you spend no time in the saddle you can\’t possibly relate to the reality of bicycling in Portland. You can be intellectually supportive, i.e. your head can understand it, but your heart cannot.

There is an important difference. And when tough votes are called, elected officials vote with their instincts more than their heads.

The conventional wisdom says Fritz will place first of the top two in a sure runoff to November. From a cyclist/sustainability voter perspective, my hope is the most important race of all, the mayor\’s race, ends in May for Sam. Then Middaugh makes it into a runoff with Fish that we can influence between June and July 15.

And between July 15 and November people can focus on just one race: supporting Fritz\’s opponent, as long as it\’s anybody but the seriously crazy Charles Lewis. (Fahey won\’t make the top two – don\’t worry.)

All you have to do is read her campaign propaganda. It\’s all negative, and it\’s all \”back to the basics.\” Change to accommodate bicycles, and a push towards sustainability in general, is not \”back to the basics.\” It\’s change.

15 years ago

the streetcar sucks for cyclists

15 years ago

busses mostly suck for cyclists too.

I\’m all for public transit, but it shouldn\’t put other modes, and specifically cyclists, in harm\’s way.

15 years ago

Yeah, I\’ll politely decline Fritz\’ offer to be some sort of liason for managing the \”backlash.\” After these races are over, we\’ll have three strong advocates on the Council, which is a majority, and Fritz and her ilk will be wondering why they didn\’t represent the interests of the progressive Portland majority.

Based on what I have heard from politicians, police, and others talking about transportation policy and traffic enforcement, I seriously doubt whether anyone who doesn\’t ride regularly in traffic can understand what it\’s really going to take to make Portland a safe place to ride a bike.

And BURR, aren\’t you making a bit much of the impact of streetcars and buses on bikes? I mean, assuming they\’re driven properly, which apparently is a big \”if,\” buses shouldn\’t have any conflict with bikes. And just take the streetcar tracks at a right-angle – how hard is that?

15 years ago

I\’m very divided in this race. I cannot support Fritz due to a number of comments I\’ve read on her blog, and the idea that her being an non-biker will help support the bike community does not jive with me. I will admit that I have very limited knowledge about this race, but both Mr. Bissonnette and Mr. Smith seem like very strong and qualified candidates. I know very little bit about Mr. Branam.

BURR, I most definitely agree the streetcar sucks for cyclists and that many bus drivers are unconcerned about putting cyclists in danger (Trimet has gotten a number of nasty calls from me about specific buses/incidents), however, I think that the streetcar/MAX and other mass transit options can be a powerful tool for this area if the system is properly designed. I believe Chris Smith will listen carefully to cyclists concerns about the streetcar and try to make sure that there are still ample corridors for cyclists to travel down.

Anyways, I look forward to hearing other peoples\’ opinions concerning this race. I hopefully will come to a decision soon.

15 years ago

a.O – you wrote as I was writing. The problem, as I see it, with the streetcar tracks is that in some areas it will severely limit the cycling corridor. Take for example the proposed streetcar line running along NW 18th and 19th. These streets are part of a very strange couplet system with one lane and a bike lane on each street. Parking could be eliminated but it is heavily used and would be an unpopular decision (lots of small businesses without other parking options). Adding streetcar tracks would make another situation, like Lovejoy, where bicycles are wedged between the tracks and parked cars. A lot of cyclists make left AND right turns off these streets and the narrowness of them prevents you from swinging out wide to take the turn at a more perpendicular angle. While even a 45 degree angle is ample to cross the tracks while dry, turning over wet tracks causes entirely different problems. Streetcar tracks are definitely not the worst obstacle cyclists face, but they are a significant one.

15 years ago

Way to boil this important vote down to one issue, Jonathan. I know your readers are smart enough to elect a candidate that is interested in serving 100% of our community, not 10%.

15 years ago

I hope pro-bike voters won\’t write off Smith because he\’s a streetcar advocate. He seems to understand the importance of designing routes and tracks so that bikes and streetcars can safely coexist. We\’ve had this discussion elsewhere on BikePortland: bike riders and streetcar advocates should be allies because we\’re both committed to changing the car culture. In alternative transport European capitals, it\’s the combination of streetcars / light rail and bikes that make it possible for people to actually give up cars for most or all their trips. There are plenty of people who can\’t/won\’t bike but will vote for alternative transportation-friendly policies, and we need to work together in the real battle. Both Smith and Bissonette seem like bike-friendly candidates but I\’m leaning toward Smith because the biggest decisions facing the council and our future involve his area of expertise, and he\’s got a strong record on alternative transportation policy.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
15 years ago

\”Way to boil this important vote down to one issue, Jonathan\”


I\’m not trying to boil anything…. I cover bikes… therefore I try to provide my readers with a bike-specific perspective on the news.

And yes, BikePortland readers are smart enough to elect the best candidate, regardless of their bikey credentials… but it just so happens that bicycles touch on many other issues that are important to Portlanders.

15 years ago

How can someone who never rides possibly understand the issues to the degree a city council member needs to do her job?

I\’m supporting Chris Smith, but I\’ll gladly accept Jeff Bissonette as a second choice (it\’s very close).

Elly Blue (Columnist)
15 years ago

It is a tough race, but I\’m voting for Chris Smith. And not just because of his bikey credentials (which are unarguably the best).

I am worried that Amanda Fritz will inadvertently become a seriously polarizing force by focusing on \”the car-bike divide.\” It sounds like her advisors (Jasun???) forgetting to remind her that most people who bike also drive, and that a full 60% of Portlanders have a bike in their garage, want to use it…and would, if they felt safer in traffic.

Elevating this supposed conflict to a campaign issue will only make sure that the perception of there being an actual divide continues to grow. We need leaders on city council who are able to see through the myth (cf recent article on gentrification) that \”bikers\” and \”drivers\” are divided into two different classes with different interests.

Everyone wants to be able to get around without being afraid for their or others\’ lives, period. Right now, we can\’t. Blaming the situation on a conflict between road users is only going to create exactly that conflict. Taking the steps Smith and Bissonette are talking about to connect bikeways and improve transit so people have real options will turn the bike-car divide into the nonissue it really ought to be already.

Someone needs to take Amanda Fritz on a bike ride…I think she\’d find the interactions she has with others while biking are far more complex than people (mostly nonbikers?) are able to convey to her in a 2 minute conversation on their front porch during dinner.

Jasun Wurster
Jasun Wurster
15 years ago

First off let me get all the disclaimers out of the way:

1) I am speaking for myself

2) I am the full-time non-paid deputy campaign manager for Amanda Fritz

3) I ride a bike everyday and would like to think I \”get it\”

Being a city commissioner is not about what mode of transportation you use. It is about listening to all citizens, being honest and accountable.

That is why I support Amanda. She is not afraid to speak out against politically popular topics, i.e. the Sauvie Island bridge (which in retrospect was DOA months ago), the Sit-Lie ordinance and The Tram (when she was on the planning commission). She not only listens but also ask questions about what is important to residents of our city.

This is why she \”get it\” about issues facing Portland as a whole.

For me it is very difficult to relate to people who drive. I need a leader who will ask me for mine and others experiences. Then present it in a perspective that the majority can understand. In return I also need a leader that can relay back to me their response.

If you look at the Supporters page:


Near the bottom of he page you will find Amanda\’s email address. As with all politicians that you are considering I suggest contacting them directly and deciding for yourself if they represent what is most important to you.

We are lucky to have such a great number of qualified candidates like (Jeff, Chris, Mike and Amanda) in the position #1 race and I am very proud and honored to support Amanda Fritz.

Jasun Wurster
Jasun Wurster
15 years ago

Hey Elly,

You make a really great point about me. Their are some things that I am unable to objectively advise Amanda on (though I am working on it). This is why I really like the fact that she relies on a vast pool of public input before making decisions.

I have also taken Amanda on a bike ride where it was just her and I on city streets to provide her perspective on what it is like to ride a bike in \”America\’s Most Bike Friendly City\” (I think she got the point). She won a lot of my respect after the conversation I had with her as a cyclists when I came into the office after getting \”right hooked\” at the beginning of the year.

Personally I don\’t want this to goto a runoff because I really want get back on the street doing bicycle advocacy and help out however I can with CFC and PP events. Well that and working on campaigns are not nearly as fun as doing bike stuff.


15 years ago

What Elly said. I am also voting for Chris Smith.

And Jasun, I\’m really glad Amanda \”is not afraid to speak out against politically popular topics\” because it\’s much easier that way to see how she\’s been consistently wrong.

Daniel (teknotus) Johnson
Daniel (teknotus) Johnson
15 years ago

Hey no mention of the bike lunch debate. Video here.


Evan Manvel
Evan Manvel
15 years ago

Just to clarify, when you say Bike Walk Vote \”couldn\’t make up our minds\” it\’s actually more \”Bike Walk Vote decided there are two great candidates who would be very strong on our issues and urging cyclists to choose one over the other would be irresponsible.\”

There are six candidates in this race, five of whom applied for our endorsement (Lewis did not). Two stood out as excellent, and we think the others could be allies. Amanda has a history of pedestrian activism, for example.

The other group I\’m involved in, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, picked Bissonnette.

Good luck choosing; but make sure you vote!

Kari Chisholm
15 years ago

Hey – just one minor correction. Jeff Bissonnette is certainly *a* leader at the Citizen\’s Utility Board, but he\’s not *the* leader.

The executive director is Bob Jenks. Jeff is the organizing director, which is a critical position for a grassroots organization, of course.. Staff list here.