(Photo: Megan Gray via Subach)
A Northeast Portland couple launched a political action committee this week that aims to push politicians out of office if they support the status quo on American streets.
Chris Anderson and Amy Subach say they were inspired by a local electoral win last year and empowered by, among other things, participating in this month’s die-in demonstration outside the Oregon Department of Transportation.
“I think that there absolutely needs to be the kind of advocacy organization for Vision Zero that’s not-modally-specific and nonconfrontational,” said Anderson. “Sort of like the BTA, but for drivers too.”
“I’m not interested in being that organization,” added Anderson, an entrepreneur who co-founded the software company Couchbase. “The way to get people that need to change their tone to change their tone is to be a takedown organization.”
“We ride our bikes with our daughter to and from school on the Going Street neighborhood greenway, and every single time we are out there a car runs a stop sign, or blasts down the street, because Portland politicians don’t have the will to make the streets safe for all users.”
— Amy Subach, Vision Zero PAC
With that in mind, Anderson and Subach, both 35, have begun tapping their networks to identify politicians from coast-to-coast who are, in Anderson’s phrase, “traffic violence apologists.” He says the organization will then take “gloves off” in raising and spending political money around the country to defeat them.
For example: the new organization is offering a $200 reward for a photo of New York City Council Member Rory Lancman texting while driving.
Last week, Lancman introduced a bill there that would make it harder to charge people with misdemeanors after they hit people in crosswalks with cars.
Subach and Anderson, who met while attending Reed College in 1998, have a four-year-old daughter and a nine-month-old son, and said they’re motivated by trying to move them safely around town.
“When we moved back to Portland two years ago, we were excited to ditch our cars and raise our family primarily using human powered transportation,” Subach, who also volunteers as social media coordinator for the local group Better Block PDX, wrote in an email Monday. “We discovered that Portland is selling a package of goods that it can’t deliver. People continue to get hurt and killed crossing streets. Parents who bike their kids to elementary school have to seek out support from other people driving cars and riding bikes so that they don’t get aggressively passed riding on the Clinton neighborhood greenway. We ride our bikes with our daughter to and from school on the Going Street neighborhood greenway, and every single time we are out there a car runs a stop sign, or blasts down the street, because Portland politicians don’t have the will to make the streets safe for all users.”
“The idea is not to go to the negotiating table with these people. It’s to use them as an example.”
— Chris Anderson, Vision Zero PAC
She said she and Anderson had “started talking about something like this pretty soon after we moved back here.” The effort isn’t affiliated with the recently launched Vision Zero Network or any other nonprofit.
“I think we’re both — the time is now,” Subach said. “It seems like it’s more of a national issue and it’s coming to a head, basically. People care about Vision Zero.”
Anderson said his goal for the organization is to replicate defeats like the one last November that helped keep Scott Barbur, a man who had joked on his Facebook page about killing people on bikes with his car, from winning a city council seat in the Portland suburb of Milwaukie.
“What I think I can do is focus on New York City, San Francisco and Portland, and basically just throw fuel on the fire,” Anderson said. “What happened with Scott Barbur was sort of a grassroots thing and it was overwhelming. He nuked himself. And if we can just make that something that politicians can be afraid of. … A couple of wins, I think it would send a clear message. And it would also help us set up a war chest.”
As for whether Barbur was a man with bad policies or just a man who acted thoughtlessly while using Facebook, Anderson said “it’s sort of not my place to care.”
“The idea is not to go to the negotiating table with these people, it’s to use them as an example,” Anderson said. He raised another example: Oregon State Rep. John Davis, who recently said he was hoping to start “a conversation” by introducing a bill requiring people to ban biking at night by people without reflective clothing.
Anderson sees such proposals (which were also considered this year in the state legislatures of California, Wyoming and South Dakota) as victim-blaming that encourages continued complacency by people about their choices while driving.
“I think there’s a degree to which the kind of conversation that he said he was starting actually just makes me and my family less safe,” Anderson said. “I don’t think I can go on a ski vacation with John Davis and make him understand that. … The way to get that cultural change in politics is to get a changing of the guard.”
Correction 1 pm: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this post misattributed Subach’s words to Anderson in a pull quote.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.