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Checking in with the Mayor’s transportation policy czar

Posted by on April 24th, 2009 at 11:06 am

Catherine Ciarlo with Mayor Adams
(Photos © J. Maus)

Yesterday I met with Mayor Sam Adams’ Transportation Policy Director Catherine Ciarlo. Ciarlo was the executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) from 1998-2005 and is a former member of the Portland Planning Commission.

In a rapid-fire conversation that lasted just about an hour, we touched on several topics, including the Mayor’s Transportation Cabinet, the budget, and the Columbia River Crossing project.

The Mayor’s Transportation Cabinet is a 24-member group that includes representatives from a wide range of interests and perspectives (including of course, bicycling). Ciarlo said the group (whose formation was listed in Adams’ “First 100 Day Action Plan”) is Adams’ “kitchen cabinet” that is full of the people he turns to for strategic advice and to help him set priorities.

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“[Sam] believes that bikes are a good investment in the community…and that it’s about health, livability, less wear-and-tear on our streets, etc… All these things don’t have to do with special interest demands but more about what’s good for the city.”
–Catherine Ciarlo

The cabinet met for the second time last night. I was unable to attend, but I spoke to member Chris Smith (Chair of Portland Streetcar Citizen’s Advisory Commitee and former candidate for City Commissioner) about what was discussed. He said there was a fair amount of discussion about bike funding and the budget. Smith told me that Adams will try to hold onto a transportation funding idea he first proposed as part of his failed Safe, Sound, and Green Streets initiative. The idea is to dedicate a portion of the city’s utility franchise fees back to transportation (they were taken away from transportation in the mid 1980s). This revenue stream is said to total several million dollars a year and Smith says Adams might “carve” $500,000 of that money specifically for bicycle and pedestrian programs.

The Mayor is scheduled to release his budget next week and he’s under pressure from the community to find money to restore funding of the popular Safe Routes to Schools program that was cut down 40% from previous years in the Bureau of Transportation’s budget released back in February.

When I asked Ciarlo about what we might expect from the Mayor’s budget next week, she was hesitant to confirm any details. When I reminded her that Mayor Adams made a campaign promise to triple bike funding and make the bike funding match mode share (which is currently 6-8% depending on who you ask), Ciarlo stopped short of saying he’d fulfill that promise.

“Our office would love to see us move in that direction,” she said, “and Sam is committed to seeing us move in that direction.” Ciarlo then said that “he believes that bikes are a good investment in the community…and that it’s about health, livability, less wear-and-tear on our streets, etc… All these things don’t have to do with special interest demands but more about what’s good for the city.” (Ciarlo also said the above could be said for pedestrian spending as well).

Ciarlo and the Mayor’s office have made one thing perfectly clear. When his budget comes out, and if it includes dedicated money for bike funding, he’ll need strong political support to hold on to it.

I then asked Ciarlo about Mayor Adams’ stance on the Columbia River Crossing project. Adams has been in the news a lot lately with strong concerns about the design of the bike/ped facility on the bridge. CRC project staffers have recently put a “stacked bridge” design on the table that would put the bike/ped facility underneath the main bridge — something that Adams and the BTA are opposed to.

Ciarlo said that Adams is “against an ugly design that the community is not supportive of…he wants to come up with a beautiful bridge.”

CRC Rally-159

Adams’ stance on the CRC has not
been popular with some Portlanders.

I shared with Ciarlo how Adams’ opposition to the bike/ped facility design seemed ironic, given that many in the community wished he shown the same concern for the discussion about the size of the bridge. Back in March, Adams reached a controversial compromise plan with Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard to allow the bridge to be built “to accomodate up to 12 lanes” as long as a new “Mobility Council” was formed to manage traffic on the bridge.

That move shocked and irked many Portlanders, including the BTA, who helped support an anti 12-lane CRC bridge rally and said in a statement detailing their opposition the project that their leaders (which would include Adams) had “failed” them.

Ciarlo defended Adams’ decisions, saying that this project has a lot of different perspectives at the table. “The environment in which we’re working on this is a bi-state environment which includes very different priorities,” she said, “the priorities in Portland are very different than in Vancouver.”

As for Adams’ decision to compromise with Pollard on the lane issue, Ciarlo said that it was made “in a climate of deadlock” and that Adams “believed taking a leadership role was a good trade…where Sam is coming from is a belief that active management is the only way we can get what we want out of this bridge.”

When I asked how their office answers to local advocacy groups that are disappointed in Adams’ decision, Ciarlo said, “Leadership is difficult under any circumstances, but infinitely more difficult when you’re in a situation where not everyone has the same values.”

— Ciarlo and I plan to meet monthly from now on. If you have specific questions or concerns about bike-related issues that you’d like me to bring up, please email them to jonathan[at]bikeportland[dot]org.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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    Scott Mizée April 24, 2009 at 11:55 am

    good article. Thanks, J.

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    Anonymous April 24, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    How about talking about the Sellwood Bridge quid pro quo Adams wanted from Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler.

    “The mayor had previously stated several times the Sellwood Bridge is the City of Portland’s top transportation priority,” Wheeler told WW after his meeting with the mayor. “In meeting with the mayor today I asked him again whether they were prepared to make any kind of a commitment with regard to a local match on the Sellwood Bridge, and the mayor indicated he would be willing to support it provided that I would agree to support the headquarters hotel by Thursday. As you can imagine I told him ‘no.’ I would need more time to look at a project of that complexity.”

    Is the bridge his top priority or just a bargaining chip to on the way to obtaining his pet projects?

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    Spencer Boomhower April 24, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    “As for Adams’ decision to compromise with Pollard on the lane issue, Ciarlo said that it was made “in a climate of deadlock” and that Adams “believed taking a leadership role was a good trade…where Sam is coming from is a belief that active management is the only way we can get what we want out of this bridge.”

    Of course, the most powerful negotiation strategy in any deal is the ability to walk away. Is it conceivable that Portland would be able to do that in the case of the CRC?

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    metal cowboy April 24, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    “Compromising ” to build the largest version of a megabridge goes against any sustainability platform Adams campaigned on. No matter what his czars want to say about leadership and trade offs and difficult decisions he made a politically caluclated decision and in the process agreed to increasing sprawl, inducing future demand for single occupancy vehicles and spending 4 billion dollars we don’t have. Pete Defazio put it best in this wek’s WW when he said that from the beginning he’s been urging decision makers to think small and inexpensive. And if I hear the word beautiful followed by bridge from Adams office one more time, I think I’ll puke.
    I’m hearing nothing new or any shift from his office based on this article. Except that he doesn’t like putting bikes and ped underneath the megabridge. You’re on the wrong side of this one and all the kings horse and all the kings mobility councils won’t change that. As promised at the rally, we’ll be hosting a series of demonstrations at overpasses throughout the month of May. Planning meeting at my house next week. Date and time TBA.

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    BURR April 24, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    what’s with the Czar crap? Do we live in a totalitarian state? Ronald Reagan started it, and it’s way past time to put it to bed.

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    steve April 24, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Sam is not the peoples mayor. He is now beholden to powerful business interests as a result of desperately clinging to his job.

    I sure wish the recall could happen sooner. We need a mayor with real power, not a puppet.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) April 24, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    hey BURR,

    didn’t mean anything by it.

    it was just a word that worked when I thought of it. didn’t realize it was sensitive for some folks. sorry you don’t like it.

    do you have a suggestion of a different word?

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    DJ Hurricane April 24, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    So basically Adams’ lies to get elected weren’t just limited to his personal life, they extended to bike funding and supporting a giant 12-lane freeway into Portland. Basically, all of the “values” he pretended to hold while he needed votes.

    If Ciarlo thinks this is “leadership,” she is either clueless or as as manipulative as Adams.

    What a disgrace.

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    steve April 24, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    She is neither clueless nor manipulative. She is simply doing what she has to do to keep her non-working job.

    The people with integrity already left Sam weeks ago. What you have left are people terrified of trying to find real work. And they will support him no matter what type of crap he is up to.

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    BURR April 24, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    how about ‘transportation policy advisor’?

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    Bjorn April 24, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    I had until recently opposed any recall attempt because any recall of sam is so tied up with homophobic interests and I find it fairly repulsive to be in league with those people. However I am more and more finding it difficult to determine why I would continue to support the mayor. Support through a scandal that I think should have been a non-issue does not equal a free pass to come through on 0.0% of his campaign promises. I was also pretty disappointed that when I wrote him after the CRC rally his office didn’t even bother to respond.

    Perhaps we should start trying to determine who should be running/we should be supporting in the special election after the recall.


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    Jim Lee April 25, 2009 at 9:01 am

    I am an OBRA member, ride fixed, no car but Zipcar, anti-CRC, anti-Paulson, anti-convention hotel, pro-small new Sellwood bridge, pro-new schools, pro-new courthouse…the list goes on…

    Maybe people will pay attention to all the good stuff this time!

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    peejay April 26, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Dear Sam Adams:

    “Promises,” “initiatives,” “roadmaps,” “active management” — I’m not buying any more of it. You say you want the support of the bike community before you’d be willing to do anything positive for the city; I think that sounds a lot like extortion. Sorry. If you do something as catastrophically bad as the CRC, I’m not going to support you in the faint hope that you won’t go back on every promise that you made to the community during your campaign.

    A recovering Sam Adams voter

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    peejay April 26, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Let’s start a “Draft a better Sam Adams” committee!

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    steve April 26, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    So, you are sitting down with this woman once a month Jonathan. Would you mind actually asking her some tough questions? Then, how about an even tougher follow up question.

    Then, when she blows a bunch of BS at you as she did to every question in the above article, why don’t you point that out and call her out on her crap?

    Otherwise, all you are is a conduit for more of this patently absurd, rubbish. Please grow a pair already, man!

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) April 26, 2009 at 1:09 pm


    Thanks for the feedback. I’ll keep that in mind. I’m not sure how much experience u have in trying to get good information from political players, but it’s not easy. I tried to ask good questions and to keep the conversation productive. We also covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

    Interviewing is an art and it’s something that takes years to master. Thanks for sticking around as I work to improve.


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    steve April 26, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    It does not take years of experience to counter someone evading you with BS. All it takes is the willingness to point out their behavior. A willingness that you routinely fail to exhibit.

    These people are not in need of another platform to disseminate their propaganda. Your readers however, are desperately in need of someone with access who is prepared to hold powerful people to account.

    The line of questioning above shows you are either not ready, or not prepared to take that role.

    We don’t need any more press releases, we need someone hounding these people and applying pressure. Otherwise, you might as well be on the staff and receiving a salary. Why diminish yourself by working for free?

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    BURR April 26, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    I’ve actually got to agree with Steve here, Jonathan. You seem to take what people in Sam’s office an at PDOT say at face value and too often defer to their ‘expertise’ without critically questioning their judgement in the least. Putting them up on pedestals by calling them ‘czars’ and ‘gurus’ certainly doesn’t help, either.

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    Jonathan Maus (Editor) April 26, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Steve and BURR,

    I hear you both. Thanks for the feedback. But please realize that, as I make clear in the story, this was a check-in. I did not go into this prepared for an in-depth interview with Ciarlo about a particular topic.

    And BURR, the “czar” thing was simply a word, I did not intend to put Ciarlo on a “pedestal” by using it. I also don’t completely agree with your assessment about how I handle people in Sam’s office and at PBOT.

    You both must realize that, as someone who came from the community (versus coming from being a professional reporter), I have much different relationship with the people I cover (whether I like it or not).

    I have certain style and if you don’t like it, that’s your choice. I have a high bar I feel someone must hit before I begin to get critical of them or “call them out on their BS”. I believe that’s good journalism. I can’t go calling everyone a liar and being critical of them unless I feel I have very solid evidence that they’ve messed up… Otherwise, I risk losing credibility, access, etc…

    Remember, it’s easy to be critical of someone’s work in a comment, but you’re not in my shoes. I have a lot of things to weigh when approaching a story. I think it’s more difficult than you imagine.

    I’m not simply trying to defend myself, I realize I could do a lot better. I am trying to improve all the time.

    Also, both of you should know that it is not as simple as you think to get a political staffer to be candid and frank about the issues (especially controversial ones). They are political and they are careful with their words… that’s their job.

    Sorry to derail this topic.

    Again, thanks for the feedback and i will keep it in mind for the future.

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    metal cowboy April 26, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Well said, Jonathan. Steve and BURR. I hope to see you at the CRC commuter hour overpass actions coming up in May. It’ll be a chance(s) to put your feelings about how Adam’s office has handled the megabridge into words (on signs) and to take a public stance on the issue. If you’re so inclined.

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    steve April 26, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Is the bar so high as to overpass campaign promises?

    I actually thought your article was somewhat balanced. In the post you made some effort to call out the distortions and backstepping. You even included a picture of a sign saying ‘Scam Adams’. I applaud you for that.

    Perhaps next month at your meeting you will be as candid with her, as you are with all of us. Why is it alright to be critical after the fact? It is possible to do more than swallow these droids gibberish without being rude or combative. Unless you are interviewing people from a fanboy perspective..

    You do not need the support of political insiders for access at this point. Your readership and community backing is strong enough to stand on. I have a hunch you will not lose their support by looking out for them.

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    BURR April 27, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    I already went to the anti-bridge rally in the Park earlier this month, I’m not pro-bridge in the least. And I like Catherine, I think she was the best executive director the BTA’s had to date. I just think Adam’s office and PDOT, despite all their rhetoric, have some misguided ideas about what is actually best for cyclists, and are still a motorist-first organization.

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    matt picio April 27, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I’m not getting warm fuzzies anymore about Sam Adams.

    “Sam is committed to seeing us move in that direction” is way too passive. “Sam is committed to moving us in that direction” would be much better, and “Sam has promised to move us in that direction, and intends to keep that promise” is what I expect given the high bar he set for himself during his campaign.

    Has Sam lost political clout? Probably. Are there interests arrayed against bicycling? Probably – many see transportation as a zero-sum game, and don’t understand that the more people out of cars and into transit and on bikes, the less congestion there is for the remaining cars.

    Sam Adams needs to start acting more like the executive he IS, and start doing things rather than “committing to see” others do things.

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    DJ Hurricane April 27, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Matt, whatever you think Sam “needs” to do, it should be obvious to you by now that it isn’t going to happen. For whatever reason, he has made his position clear. He no longer represents the values that Portlanders hold and it is time for him to go. The same goes for Ciarlo.

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