(Photo: Lillian Karabaic)
Energized by a dynamic young leader with deep ties to local bike advocates, the Portland area’s lead walking advocacy group has changed dramatically in the last four years. It’s about to find out where those changes will take it.
Oregon Walks, known until last year as the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, has seen rapid changes to its board of directors and just said goodbye to its first-ever full-time executive director, Steph Routh. With its annual party and fundraiser Oct. 26, Oregon Walks will be rallying the supporters who ultimately drive its decisions — and, no doubt, feeling out its new direction.
Saturday is the last day when “early bird” tickets ($37.91 per person) will be available online.
Oregon Walks Board President Aaron Brown said Thursday that Routh had moved the organization’s identify from “one of transportation planners to one of social empowerment.”
Brown cited the group’s relationships with Adelante Mujeres, Elders in Action, AARP, Upstream Public Health and the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon as the beginning of a new way the organization might operate once it recruits its next full-time staffer: as a sort of fundraising and coordinating service for other groups who want to build walking advocacy into their own missions.
For example, Oregon Walks’s recent “Photovoice” program used a grant from the Kaiser Permanente Community Fund to give cheap cameras to 20 women in Adelante Mujeres’ English class to take photos of the walking environment in their neighborhoods, showing why good sidewalks and street crossings are important in their lives.
It’s an interesting concept, and one that’s very much under discussion. This transition at Oregon Walks comes at an interesting time for local transportation advocacy in general. As we reported back in July, a significant new public transit-focused nonprofit is in its early stages, opening new possibilities for multimodal collaboration among that new group, Oregon Walks and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.
Brown said he personally likes “what Oregon Walks has going” and thinks its best course is to remain independent while looking for limited ways to team up with other groups.
In this new arrangement of organizations, Oregon Walks will have a key asset to offer its partners: public opinion. Though walking doesn’t tend to be great for fundraising, walkable neighborhoods are a hugely popular idea — one that, for whatever reason, doesn’t tend to get tangled with the sort of identity politics that biking, unfortunately, seems to.
“We’re really uniquely poised to bring new folks into the advocacy tent,” Brown said. “It’s an exciting time. … Buying a ticket is your way of saying you support a broader tent of transportation advocacy.”
— Tickets can be purchased online.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.