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Low-car voters flex muscles, eat pizza at ‘Bike Walk Vote’ kickoff

Posted by on December 5th, 2011 at 2:29 pm

U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenaur (L) and Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen were among the many politicians that attended the event.
(Photo: Art Almaguer)

This guest post is by Michael Andersen of Portland Afoot, PDX’s 10-minute newsmagazine and wiki for transit commuters.

About 100 Portlanders, nearly all of them under 40, met a who’s who of local politicians in a bike shop on SE Ash Street on Sunday night to rub elbows, talk politics and raise $1,000 to $2,000 more than $3,000 (revised Monday morning estimate!) in political donations.

The cause: Rebooting a political action committee, Bike Walk Vote, that’ll back elected officials who understand and support low-car life. The result: the group raised more in one night than it has in all previous election cycles combined. (Read more about the group’s relaunch here.)

“When I hand someone a flyer that says that ‘Bike Walk Vote endorsed me,’ it says something about me.”
— Jeff Cogen, Multnomah County Chair

By political standards, the haul was still tiny. But politicians present said that in Portland, being perceived as friendly to biking, walking and riding transit is a gift money can’t buy.

“Most people aren’t [politically] active,” said Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen, one of 12 candidates Bike Walk Vote successfully endorsed since 2004. “But people in this community share these values. So when I hand someone a flyer that says that ‘Bike Walk Vote endorsed me,’ it says something about me.”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (L)
and Multnomah County Chair Jeff
Cogen on stage.

Since 2004, only four of Bike Walk Vote’s 19 endorsed candidates lost. After that election, the PAC slowed down; in 2010, they didn’t endorse candidates at all.

Also present Sunday: mayoral candidates Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith; Metro council candidate Bob Stacey; Portland city council candidate Steve Novick; and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer.

Blumenauer’s political advice to the crowd, delivered in blue jeans and turtleneck: “Have more parties. You guys know how to have fun.”

You’ll find more info about Bike Walk Vote on our new wiki page about the group, but I’ll leave you with a few more photos.

Bike Walk Vote organizer Peter Welte, left, takes a donation from Metro candidate Bob Stacey, center (the stickers on their foreheads were prizes for folks who donated):

Partygoers enjoyed pizza donated from Hot Lips, other snacks from Crema bakery and Whole Foods, wine from Vino, beer from Coalition Brewing, and bike parking from Shift. The host was Crank, the bike shop at 2725 SE Ash:

Conversation roared on for more than two hours, from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Southwest Portland pedestrian advocate Roger Averbeck spoke to BWV steering committee member Beth Flanagan beside the Christmas tree:

Evan Manvel, a founder of Bike Walk Vote in 2004 and a returning co-chair, went over the transit cuts, unfunded bike plans and what he described as 164 pedestrians killed on local roads in the last 15 years.

One wall was lined with questions to be asked on BWV’s questionnaire for mayoral candidates. Attendees used stickers to vote on their favorite questions:

And one subject emerged as the clear favorite:

And I thought folks who were there might appreciate this short film about Steph Routh, the remarkable activist who had the task of collecting money from donors. Though most of Portland Afoot’s work is licensed Creative Commons, I’m happy to release this one into the public domain:


(Merry Christmas, Steph.)

Finally, a serious observation…

One more thing.

Of the more than 100 politically involved Portlanders there, about half of whom I’d previously met as a reporter, I saw one person who is primarily a public transit advocate: TriMet lobbyist Aaron Deas.

The event’s organizers gamely included public transit commuters, who outnumber bicycle commuters two to one, in their literature. Manvel went out of his way to mention public transit before he mentioned bicycles.

But in a room that held one politician for every 17 voters, nearly no one whose main interest was mass transportation showed up. Maybe they hadn’t heard. Maybe they didn’t feel welcome; the nearest frequent service line was seven blocks away. As at most bicycling events I attend, just about everyone was white and U.S.-born.

In any case, Portland’s transit riders lack political organization, social capital and, I think, anything approaching Portland cyclists’ will to win. Thanks in part to 20 years of work by bicycle activists, dozens of friendly politicians are yearning to hear from us – eager to get our views on things like transit passes for high schoolers, rail lines to Sherwood and three-hour transfers.

But until we figure out how to speak for ourselves, transit riders will be no politician’s first priority.

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. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Vivian December 5, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    “But in a room that held one politician for every 17 voters, nearly no one whose main interest was mass transportation showed up … As at most bicycling events I attend, just about everyone was white and U.S.-born.”

    I agree with this statement and would like to know how attendees heard about this event. For myself, this is the first time I knew of the event. Are they being advertised through Facebook (not everyone has an account or internet access)? What shops are getting fliers? As someone who works with diverse and non-English speaking populations, I often head-desk when I see materials being printed in only English, being distributed through social media, and being posted at boutique-y stores. And everyone wonders where the diversity is ..

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    • Champs December 5, 2011 at 2:59 pm

      Somehow I missed it, too, but it was indeed posted here. Maybe I was counting on a better Sunday afternoon at the Holiday Ale Fest.


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    • -J December 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm

      As someone who owns multiple cars and bikes (and two feet), I wish that I would have heard about this too…

      I think the thing that a lot of people overlook in the discussion is that a lot of the policies that make pedestrians, transit riders and cyclists safer also makes motorists safer. Because no one really wants to be in an accident of any sort, and infrastructure that prevents accidents is good for everyone. And the fewer people in cars means that there is less traffic when I do chose to drive…so this is perfectly aligned with all my interests. BTW – I’m sort of brown, not on FB, and I did not hear about this.

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  • Evan Manvel December 5, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    For regular Bike Portland readers, there was an article that talked the re-launch three weeks ago:

    As well as the weekend event guide.

    But yes, we’re rebuilding from the ground up, so we’d love to get the names/email addresses/Facebook connections from everyone who’s interested. Find us on Facebook or email us at bikewalkvote>at<gmail and we'll sign up up.

    And if folks can volunteer to help us get the word out beyond the current channels, we'd love some help with that. Until last night we were a couple handfuls of people…

    We'll have more events in the future, and we'll make sure we invite you!

    As far as the numbers above, we won 3 of 4 targeted races in 2004, 6 of 7 in 2006, and 6 of 8 in 2008 – meaning we were 15 of 19 in those races. We also endorsed in several races that weren't targeted, hence the differing numbers for 2004. And the 164 pedestrians killed is over the past 15 years (to be clear).

    Thanks to all who made it, and for Michael for the coverage and that sweet GIF!

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    • Michael, Portland Afoot
      Michael, Portland Afoot December 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm

      Thanks for this, Evan — I’ll fix it on our site and get a note to Jonathan. I was comparing numbers in his archives to last night’s figures in the wee hours.

      Also for the clarification on 15 years — I missed a few beats in my notebook.

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  • 9watts December 5, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    I’m sorry I missed it too.
    “Portland’s transit riders lack political organization”
    don’t forget about OPAL http://www.opalpdx.org/

    And what about that phrase ‘low-car life’? I don’t know. It doesn’t work so well for me.

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    • Vivian December 5, 2011 at 5:38 pm

      +1 for OPAL. There are many community organizations and organizers working in this town and if there’s a desire to work towards equity in the policy world, outreach to the people who are already doing so much of the legwork can be invaluable.

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  • Aaron Deas December 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Being the primary transit advocate (who FREQUENTLY rides transit), I have to say I rode my bike to the event — the night was too nice not to! 🙂

    That said, I would be surprised if most all of the folks in the room didn’t strongly support transit. Transit doesn’t work well without good support for pedestrians. And biking is made much better when transit supports better bike lanes, capacity to carry bikes on MAX and bus, and state of the art bike lockers. We are all linked together.

    Also I am not sure I agree with you Michael about the extent of cyclist political influence. I think one of the reasons the Bike Walk Vote group is needed is BECAUSE cyclists and pedestrians are not even close to having their needs met.


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    • Michael, Portland Afoot
      Michael, Portland Afoot December 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm

      Fair points, Aaron (and others who’ve noted, here and on BikePortland, that most people who ride bicycles are also transit users or at least pro-transit).

      I think there’s a big difference, though, between people who primarily identify as transit riders and those who primarily identify as bicyclists. When you’re asking politicians for goodies, you’re almost never going to get two things on your list. You’re going to get one.

      Also, I should add that unions and (no offense, Aaron) TriMet itself regularly claim to speak for riders’ interests. Though there’s overlap, they don’t; they can’t.

      Finally, just to be clear: I love OPAL. They don’t have the bandwidth to be everywhere and their scope is just East Portland, but they’re a very important organization, IMO.

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  • Ryan December 5, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    I disagree that most people were under 40. White and US-born, yes, but under 40, no. Many were, sure, but I think that the 40 and over crowd was well-represented also.

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    • Michael, Portland Afoot
      Michael, Portland Afoot December 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm

      You may be right, Ryan. I was eyeballing this. There certainly were a substantial minority of over-40 folks.

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      • CarlB December 5, 2011 at 8:31 pm

        It’s because we look younger than many over-40 folks who don’t walk or bike.

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      • Ryan Good December 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm

        Substantial minority is accurate, I think. This is an interesting subject. I think that those of us who are on the same page about these issues sometimes forget that not everyone is with us. And one of the criticisms I sometimes hear from coworkers, family members, conservative acquaintances, etc., is that sustainability, sustainable transportation, livability, etc. are “just issues for young, white, middle class people who don’t have real problems to worry about.” Obviously that’s nonsense, but it’s important for us to remember that some people think that.

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    • matt picio December 7, 2011 at 12:13 am

      I’d say there were a good 20 or so of us 40+ folks, and of the rest, well over half were at least mid-30s. Really, what’s the definition of “young”? Because honestly, I don’t see a lot of representation from the under 25 crowd.

      Really, though, is it a surprise that the “average” person showing up is white, early 30s, unemployed or profesional, and single with no kids? That’s practically the defining characteristics of those with energy and free time. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s just the natural constraints on time (or lack thereof). The real question is, what can we as advocates (or “advocrats” as recently coined on this site) and as governmental agencies do to encourage participation from those who can’t attend due to time or family commitments? How can we lower the barriers to participation?

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      • Ryan Good December 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm

        Matt, well said- as usual.

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  • Todd Borkowitz December 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Michael… I too consider myself an equal advocate for transit, walking and bicycling – and saw many individuals in attendance who also participate in Rail~Volution, and other transit-focused events. Let’s not make such distinct divisions – many of us, including the politicians at last night’s event, are advocates for livable communities where bicycling, walking and transit ridership are all pillars of an equitable transportation system.

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  • jim December 5, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    How many of these politicians biked or walked to the event?

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  • spare_wheel December 6, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Eating cheese pizza is not environmentally sustainable:

    See also:

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    • 9watts December 6, 2011 at 8:18 am

      neither is blogging, unfortunately.

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    • Hart Noecker December 6, 2011 at 1:58 pm

      There were lots of vegan snacks, too. A great night enjoyed by all.

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    • ... December 6, 2011 at 9:28 pm

      Well then, it’s a good thing they had vegan pizza there as well.

      As for sustainability, if we can find a way to harness the power from people over-reacting in blog comments on Bike Portland…I’m sure we could light more than one lightbulb.

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