With primary elections just over one month away, it’s time to get serious about who will be our next mayor. In an effort to shed light on the top candidates, I’ve sat down and interviewed all three of them (you might have already read my interviews with Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith).
I recently sat down with Eileen Brady (who, it should be noted, was the only candidate who brought along an adviser). Brady, 51, was born in Chicago and came to Portland after going to college in Washington. She worked in the grocery business and played a role in the launch of New Seasons Market. She currently lives in Southeast Portland with her husband and four children. Read the interview below…
“I started a club when I was a kid called the Speed Racer Club, in the 70s, north of Chicago. We had a newsletter and all the kids were in it. I am a bike commuter, a long-distance biker. I actually blew my knee out biking and took a couple years to recover. I think of myself as a multi-modal transit person. I have a Trek that’s my commuter bike. I’m a fair weather biker, probably 2-3 times a week. Winter? Won’t do it. I have a road bike too. I have done Cycle Oregon… love the Monster Cookie Ride.”
“For some people, there’s a war going on against bikes. There’s an anti-bike sentiment in Portland. I personally think it’s unnecessary. It didn’t have to get to this point.”
“I’ve been in 54 of 95 neighborhoods, in over 200 community meetings and I can tell you something, people talk about bikes. Some people are passionate, they love the bikes and it’s their lifestyle and it’s the symbol of Portland. That’s how I would look at it myself.
And for some people, there’s a war going on against bikes. There’s an anti-bike sentiment in Portland. I personally think it’s unnecessary. It didn’t have to get to this point. For instance, if I go to an event in north or northeast Portland, I might hear, ‘You’re going to spend millions of dollars in my neighborhood and you’re going to put in a bike lane?! Do you have any idea what this neighborhood really needs?! We need affordable housing, we need our historic retail to be maintained, we need food for our kids!’ Those things are much more basic. Or in a community of seniors, I might hear the following question: ‘Do you like bikes?’ and if you say yes, they might not vote for you.
And it’s just a reflection of the sentiment that’s out there. it’s gotten to be too divisive, there’s too much conflict over something that should simply be an accepted part of our community.”
“One of the key issues facing Portland and the bike community is rising above this conflict; that I think in many ways is unnecessary. 90% of the BTA members also have a car. This is really not about bikes versus cars, this is about, how do we all coexist together?
Why has this happened? I think we’ve had some unfortunate communications from City Hall around the bike projects. So I think there’s some responsibility there — those seeds get planted and they permeate.
For example, the 2030 Bicycle Master Plan, great plan, I’m very impressed with it; but if I had been the mayor when we were rolling it out, I would have focused on the piece of it that’s really about rolling out the neighborhood bike boulevards, sometimes called greenways. And the 80% rule, which basically says that 80% of the citizens should be within a half-mile of a low-stress bikeway*. And that’s a very cost-effective program. I would have focused on the fact that these have multiple benefits — for the neighborhoods and for the bike riders themselves. And it’s a low-cost, high return option; so probably would have focused on rolling that piece of it out first to create some real positive feelings about what bikes in the community can actually do.”
[*Brady is referring to the “80 percent implementation strategy” outlined on page 122 of the Bike Plan for 2030 that states: “at least 80 percent of Portland residents being within one-quarter mile of a developed, low-stress bikeway.”]
“You asked me about the communications part… How we got to bike war and what I would have done. In terms of what you roll out and talk about, I feel that [neighborhood greenways] would have been a real win-win for the community. Is that the only thing you do for biking? No. You say, where are the shared values? Where does everybody win? Everybody wins on safety, everybody wins on traffic calming, everybody wins on Safe Routes to Schools.”
“Absolutely, the City should provide services that include bikeways; but there are some people that would say having a bike and bikeway is not a basic service. I was answering the communications question.”
“Here’s what I say: One of the basic services that a city can provide is public safety. And where the bikers and the car people intersect, safety has got to be number one. And in every community meeting I’ve been in, when you talk about public safety, you get a lot of nods. Drivers do not want to hit bikes, bikes don’t want to get hit by cars. That’s universal. Safety really is what the mayor, the community, should focus on. I think to bring some shared concerned and alignment around the bikeways.”
“I think Portland is and will be known as being a great, multi-modal city. And we’re constantly improving it. One of the things I give Sam credit for is that he knows when you have a new transportation program, it’s O.K. to experiment. It’s O.K. to experiment with the bike boxes and they might work or they might not work and I think that we’ve had an orientation towards experimenting that needs to continue because, you know what, we don’t know how to make it perfect. So you know, all pieces of it can be improved.
Do we need more sidewalks? Yes. Do we need to pave our roads? Yes. Do we need to increase the amount of bikeways and bike miles? Yes. Should we actually continue to build out or light rail system, like the light rail to Vancouver? Yes. Do we have some problems moving freight around the city? Yes. Portland has had an approach, and I think it’s the appropriate approach, that this is a whole system and they need to operate together. We need to do more in every case.”
“My number one priority is efficiency in the City. Before you raise the money, you have to show that you can be efficient before you raise revenue sources. So, should we have a leaner city? Sure. We need to look at middle management in the city very closely. Since 1992 the auditor has been saying there are too many people reporting to too many other people. Can we flatten that organization and create some efficiency in both quality of service and costs? Yes, I think you can.”
“So, we have this gas tax, which contrary to popular opinion is at the current moment of time actually increasing at the City. It’s not sustainable over the long haul because theoretically if we ever move into a Peak Oil moment we’re going to have to deal with that. So let’s not forget that our revenue is increasing and we need to use those revenues effectively. Would we at some point consider a street maintenance fee? Lots of other municipalities have done it and that’s something certainly worth considering. Moving from gas tax to a vehicle-mile-tax program is something to consider. Those are all things you’re going to consider in a package moving forward.
But you have to earn the trust first. I think there’s a real broken trust between city government and citizens. That’s one of the reasons I’m running.”
“Well, I think saying you’re not going to pave major arterials for the next five years causes a broken trust, and it also causes people to get mad at the bikers, frankly.”
“You and I had a Twitter discussion about this! Yes there’s a difference between patching and paving.”
“You’re absolutely right.”
“Let’s outline the trust issue. We’ve committed to projects, good projects, but we’ve committed to them, whether it’s the Milwaukie Light Rail project or the Sellwood Bridge, but by doing that we’re reducing the dollars we have for maintenance. We didn’t have that community conversation. We have a streetcar system, which i think is cool by the way, the new loop that’s going to be on this side of the river, it will drive tourism, but the operating budget for that streetcar is now a new cost inside the transportation bureau. That’s a second example of a place where we didn’t have the community conversation. We said, ‘Yeah we should have that streetcar, let’s get that.’ Then we have to figure out how to operate it. That’s a secondary question and that question should occur and be discussed forthright at the beginning of that process.
I think the Sunday Parkways — great program, I love it, I do them regularly — I think at this point they can be equivalent to the Bridge Pedal where they have a sponsor, like a Kaiser, outside of the city. Those are the kinds of things that break the trust I would say, of a community with the Bureau.
[Editor’s note: Kaiser has been Sunday Parkways presenting sponsor for several years. This year, two-thirds of Sunday Parkways’ total budget will come from sponsors, grants and donations.]
“I want more transparency in the budgeting process. And I think the city of Portland deserves that. Here’s an example in the bike community: We’ve spent half a million dollars in the sharrows program at least. But we didn’t build in the maintenance portion; so when the sharrows wear out we have to pay to redo them.”
“The question is, where are those dollars dedicated to? We don’t have a dedicated fund. So when we do new projects, I believe we need to put in the maintenance management program that goes along with those projects. Build them in Day One so the citizens can see that.”
“I think it’s iconic. Yes. Absolutely. And I would just say that where we can accelerate immediately is the design side. We need the other pieces. I think the bike industry, from a percentage perspective, is one of our highest growth opportunities here in Portland. We have an estimated $100 million industry, and that’s going to do nothing but grow. We’ve got early adapter customers here — whether it’s helmets or components or bikes themselves, or apparel. Those can then become traded-sector businesses, where products go outside the region and money comes in to the region and creates a more prosperous, healthy economy.”
“Let’s talk bike manufacturing specifically, food processing, the emerging fashion industry — three industries that have something in common. There are entrepreneurs here that want to participate, there is small business excitement, they are creative class entrepreneurs, they are high design. They can design or invent the product, and they might be able to make one or two or three of them but they can’t scale it. So the obstacle is not talent, the obstacle is the actual micro-manufacturing facilities and how do you pay for them?
One of the things that Portland can do, and as mayor I will do, I will create a program where the city helps finance shared manufacturing centers. So, if you have multiple food processing folks, we can have a community kitchen, where you’re sharing the expenses for scaling it. Same thing with bike manufacturing, or bike components manufacturing.”
“Well, there’s never enough. You know, I sat on Metro’s Blue Ribbon Committee for Trails…”
“Exactly. And I’m dreaming of those bike cities.”
“Right, but I think there are ways that we have not clearly looked at. Let’s talk about trails for a second. If you look at trails, there are approximately 500 miles of trails we’d love to create in the Metro region. One of the things we know is, we are holding trail development to the same standards as road construction and it’s very expensive. The overhead required from the federal and state level is extraordinary. We can reduce those things. If you do more than one segment at a time, you reduce those costs dramatically. The cost efficiencies you can gain by having a flexible standard that’s appropriate for trails, reduces overhead, and does multiple projects at once, leverages a lot more miles.”
“Yeah. If we do that, there’s magic in them thar’ hills! There are dollars to be saved, therefore miles to be built.”
“Like I said, there’s never enough. But we have to balance what we have right now. We have a multi-modal system, a certain amount of resources and we have to make sure we are balancing those resources appropriately.”
“I would just say, I’m a huge supporter of the bike plan and I’m a huge supporter of getting those neighborhood greenways in and slowing the traffic and I think we’re on the way. We certainly have a budget for it this year and I would imagine we would continue to allocate dollars so we have incremental progress each year.”
“Let’s put it this way, I’m committed to implementing the most cost-effective pieces of that plan as soon as we possibly can. Then, as more dollars become available we can look at more of the costly pieces of the puzzle. You can’t do it all at once. You’ve got to be incremental.
We’re not in an era — and it’s hard to remember this, you didn’t live here in the 90s, it was a boom-time economy, you had federal dollars coming in where you didn’t need as big of a local match as you did today — we’re in a different era. We’re in an era that’s going to take local people working together, in partnership, to do as much of this as we possibly can. Would I like to pave all 59 miles of unpaved roads in east Portland tomorrow? Sure. Are we going to be able to do that? No. We’re going to have to go about it incrementally.”
At this point in the interview, Brady adviser Neel Pender interjected: “When you talk about a broken trust and people see you are spending money on bikes and some areas don’t have sidewalks, there’s a rub there.”
“I think it’s absolutely real. We have not paved enough streets. We have not put in enough sidewalks. We do not have safe routes to school for kids all over the city. Those things are very real.”
“The easiest thing for me to have done, given my natural constituencies in the sustainability world — I’ve been working in sustainability for 25 years — would have been to oppose that bridge project. But I took a hard look at it. I read everything I could possibly read and talked to a lot of people involved in that project. And really said, actually, we should do this project. Even though we’ve spent $150 million and we haven’t even laid any of the road — and that piece of it has been government run amok so far — but if we can get a record of decision, which we did, and we can skinny-down the project, which we are in the process of doing, we should move forward with it so we can end up with light rail to Vancouver, end up with pedestrian and bike access, seismic upgrades, increased freight mobility, all of those things make sense in a project that fiscally matches the times. And right now we’re looking at the legislature to make the next move on that.
So, how’s it different than Charlie and Jeff’s position? I’m going to leave that to you to figure out.
I would add that I have been a leader in proposing the congestion tolling side of this equation. I think we should do it now. Just like London or Stockholm are managing traffic and emissions, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be doing that right now.”
“You know the way that question works online? You had to put “yes” or “no” and then answer the question.”
“I’ve said we should proceed forward with the project and it will have to be skinnied down.”
“I supported the project to submit it for the record of decision. Yes. Because that was the next step for them. But you’re right. The project itself is a huge highway project with a bridge in the middle and that project was never going to be financeable ever, or necessarily appropriate in total. But, a version that makes sense, that’s value engineered, and meets our basic criteria is a project I’ve supported.”
“I stand with the governor on this. We need to move through the process and let the wiser minds come around it in this next phase of this project which is to look at, O.K. now, where do we make the adjustments so that it works.”
“First of all, those guys — George Crandall and Don Arambula — are brilliant. But if we pushed the restart button, it’s likely another ten years before we have access to the federal funds. So I say we make this project as value-appropriate for the region as possible.”
“No. That’s what’s interesting to me. I know that there was a line printed in the Willamette Week that said I was on opposite sides. That is simply not true.”
“I fully support opportunities to increase access to bicycling and am optimistic by the prospect of establishing a sustainable bike share program in Portland. I know there is a tremendous amount of local expertise and hard work has been put into this effort. I think it’s a great resource for visitors to Portland and holds promise as a driver for local economic development. I’m sure you’ll see me out and about on one of the bicycles.
From a fiscal standpoint, it’s also important that we proceed with eyes wide open to ensure that not only are the program’s mission objectives clear, but also that we’ve fully vetted the business plan, including factoring in any anticipated costs to the city. The major cautions I see at this point include:
1. Understanding the financial impacts to Portland’s existing private bike rental vendors such as Kerr Bikes, Waterfront Bikes or Portland Bicycle Tours; and
2. I’m concerned about the safety of users, especially first time riders or visitors not familiar with city, when traversing our streetcar tracks (especially those right angle turns!), which are causing too many wipeouts for riders. I know that the City is working to address this problem in future designs, but additional safety measures like adding flange liners may be needed to improve safety on existing tracks.”
“I love my bike. I love the bikeways that have been created thus far and I want to implement that 80 percent rule. We’re going to do that.”
— Follow our ongoing coverage of the 2012 mayoral race here.