Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 4th, 2009 at 9:04 am
transportation initiative contributed
(Photos @ Adams Carroll)
Last night about 40-50 Portlanders (and at least one Vancouverite!) packed into a room at the back of Floyd’s Coffee Shop in Old Town for a mini town hall discussion on the state of bike activism in Portland.
We had pitched it as an informal Social Hour, and I wasn’t sure what form the event would take. As people trickled in and I took stock of the vibe in the room, I decided to turn it into a moderated (by me) discussion of the issues surrounding how Portland can most quickly make a major leap in bike-friendliness.
I was really excited at not just the turnout (especially given all the other events last night) but at who showed up. Here’s a sampling of the brains in the room:
- Metro’s top active transportation initiative staffer Lake McTighe,
- Community Cycling Center board member (and Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder staff person) Kathryn Sofich,
- Evan Ross, Ryan Hashagen, Will Heiberg, Jed Lazar, and others from the surging Bicycle Business League,
- Jocelyn Sycip, executive director of Oregon Manifest,
- John Ossowski, who’s working on his PhD in social work at Portland State University,
- A rep from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Michael O’ Leary,
- West Side citizen activism legend Jim “K’Tesh” Parsons,
- Moses Wrosen, a veteran bike activist and founding member of Bike Temple,
- Executive Director of the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition Steph Routh,
- Founder of Cycle Wild (and active community member) Matt Picio,
- Portland Police Bicycle Liaison Officer Robert Pickett,
- Portland Mercury news reporter Sarah Mirk,
- Portland State University Cycling Team member and advocate Peter Welte,
- and many others.
Much of the conversation revolved around directed feedback about the role the BTA could/should play in galvanizing broad support for bicycling. Michael O’Leary was a good sport and took a fair amount of tough questions and critical feedback in stride, busily scribbling notes to take back to the rest of the BTA staff (most of whom were at a previously scheduled meeting and couldn’t make it last night).
I posed the question to the crowd of whether or not it’s possible to make big gains for bicycling with the conservative and friendly advocacy approach the BTA (and for the most part our entire community) has taken in the last several years. I wondered if perhaps we were at a point where more aggressive activism is needed. Some in the room bristled at my suggestion that maybe we need another Critical Mass type effort to break through the complacency I sometimes feels going on. O’Leary said we can expect the BTA to get more “bold” in the future, especially around a campaign for more funding on the Bike Master Plan.
“If you had $500,000 (and had to choose), would you spend it on bike infrastructure or a pro-bike advertising campaign?”
Kathryn Sofich spoke of the importance of having a unified voice. She shared that, whether or not the voice is conservative or more forceful, politicians are more likely to act when they hear citizens asking for change in a singular, focused way.
On that note, I shared my thoughts that Portland is in dire need of a campaign, an organization, or a rallying message that can somehow capture the broader community. My point was that while just 6-8% of us bike regularly, a strong majority of Portlanders are supportive of biking but don’t get involved in pushing for it because they are either too afraid to try it and/or they have nothing to attach their support to.
took an active role in the discussion.
(Photo © Adams Carroll)
We all agreed that unifying a massive, groundswell show of support for bicycling should be a priority. Then, we discussed the importance of having the right type of message to coalesce that support. Whatever the message, many of us agreed on the importance of needing clearly defined campaigns that could garner support for very specific projects.
Officer Robert Pickett said a big problem in broadening the support is the us vs. them divisiveness perpetuated by the local media. Given that the bike/car culture clash is such a common topic, I put forth the question, would people be willing to spend precious transportation dollars on a large and professional media/advertising campaign? Even if it meant one less bike project could be completed? The room was split on this decision.
Another topic that I proposed was whether or not Portland’s bike activism interests were being adequately served by just the BTA. Do we need/want a more nimble/aggressive/grassroots activist group? Can the BTA become that group or is a new group necessary? This question sparked comments about the impact of Portland’s sizable “bike fun” movement, symbolized for many as 5,000 naked people taking over the city once a year.
I thought the discussion was inspiring and I hope it was helpful and informative to all who attended. If you were there, please consider adding your thoughts in the comments below. If you weren’t there, consider this post your virtual invitation to join the conversation.