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
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.
Jeff Bissonnette – PortlandersForJeff.com
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.
“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.
Amanda Fritz – AmandaFritzForCityCouncil.com
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
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.