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The political arm of Portland’s biking movement is back and organizing for 2016

Posted by on February 2nd, 2016 at 8:26 am


A Bike Walk Vote event at Crank bike shop in February 2013.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The national political season may have officially begun with Monday night’s Iowa caucuses, but the local political season is well underway.

And Bike Walk Vote, the political action committee that has helped elect politicians in 23 Portland-area races since 2004, will be back at it in 2016.

That’s a change of direction since six weeks ago, when an organizer described the group as “currently dormant” despite a big election year for transportation issues coming up. But since then, its leaders have recruited some fresh blood and the new team hopes to have a kickoff meeting in the next two weeks.

The first big election, which will see races for Portland mayor, two other City Council positions, two Metro Council positions and a local gas tax, is May 17. The voter’s pamphlet deadline for that election is March 21 and ballots are mailed April 27.

In November, the local races will go into runoffs if necessary and state races will take the lead, giving voters their only channel of indirect influence over the Oregon Department of Transportation.

One of Bike Walk Vote’s new leaders is Roberta Robles, who has also been active as a volunteer and organizer for advocacy group BikeLoudPDX. Robles answered some questions by email over the weekend.

roberta robles

Bike Walk Vote leader Roberta Robles, speaking at a City Hall rally last June.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

BikePortland: When, approximately, do you hope to have kickoff meetings?
Robles: We hope to have a kickoff meeting in the next two weeks. Still polling volunteers.

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Who is the leadership? Has a formal board been selected yet?
We are retaining the existing board chair Jodi [Jacobson-Swartfager]. [Editor’s note: Jacobson-Swartfager writes in to say that she wasn’t actually the chair before, only a steering committee member and treasurer.] She has had a change of family plans and is now more available. She and some original members are reawakening old accounts and checking organizational status. We have a new legal “box checker” Alan Kessler who is going to make sure we are keeping up with the legal details. We are establishing a new board structure. Likely 5 to 7 members with some sub-committees driving policy and fundraising.

“We need to address homeless issues on transport corridors. ā€¦ Iā€™m not in favor of homeless sweeps on corridors unless we have actual homes to put them in.”
ā€” Roberta Robles, Bike Walk Vote PAC

Do you aim to raise money, or mostly just to endorse candidates?
We are putting together a snappy 3-5 point questionnaire and hope to have the questions on our website in the next couple of weeks. Assuming we can reach consensus as a group. We have limited time before the March election, but I’m really aiming for the November election to see if we can move the political needle in the fall.

Do you aim to use the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s survey [of candidates] or create your own?
I’m all about copying good work. I haven’t reviewed their survey yet, but we are hoping to pull in a BTA advisor to wear a new hat as a PAC advisor. There is so much to keep track of we definitely need better coordination between nonprofits and advocacy groups.

Have you made contact with the previous BWV organizers?
The old leaders reached out to BikeLoudPDX leaders. We are keeping the old crew who want to stay on board and some new BikeloudPDX members who are new to advocacy. We are all learning a bunch as we go, being mindful of the past. We need to change our transport system towards a more fair and equitable network for vulnerable transport users. I personally want a candidate question regarding transport corridor sweeps on homeless camps. It’s a tough issue. But we need to address homeless issues on transport corridors. … I’m not in favor of homeless sweeps on corridors unless we have actual homes to put them in.

Politicians often say that the most valuable thing Bike Walk Vote does is endorse, so truly bike-friendly (and walk-friendly) candidates can differentiate themselves from opponents who say nice things about bikes but avoid substantive promises for reforming transportation. Robles said BWV currently has “more than enough volunteers,” but if you’d like to help out it seems unlikely that they’ll turn you away. The group’s email is bikewalkvote@gmail.com.

ā€” Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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  • EricIvy February 2, 2016 at 9:59 am

    great to see! I liked this quote: “Politicians often say that the most valuable thing Bike Walk Vote does is endorse, so truly bike-friendly (and walk-friendly) candidates can differentiate themselves from opponents who say nice things about bikes but avoid substantive promises for reforming transportation.”

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  • spencer February 2, 2016 at 10:03 am

    I’ve found BWV to be excellent in providing information regarding candidates. As a daily bike commuter, I find my local political decisions tend to be skewed by whether or not I was nearly killed on the way to work. This is exciting news and valuable contribution to the community.

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  • Reginald February 2, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    Are my eyes deceiving me or was that crowd 100% white?

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    • JeffS February 2, 2016 at 2:47 pm

      Guess the minorities don’t care about bikes or walking.

      Oh wait. Did you mean for white people to take offense? Maybe next time.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley February 2, 2016 at 4:21 pm


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      • Active February 3, 2016 at 6:10 am

        So many are men, too. Of course the photo could be deceiving but it’s depressing to see if accurate.

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    • Roberta Robles February 7, 2016 at 8:30 am

      You are just not looking closely enough to notice the cultural references in the picture with me in it. That was the Halloween rally where I came as the Mexican icon Frida Kahlo. I’m Latina and reject most commentary on skin tone as important to the conversation and challenges we all have as bicyclists and cyclists.

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  • Katherine Gray February 2, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Exciting! I’m really interested to see an approach to our city’s policy issues from the angle of transportation advocacy. Thanks for this great reporting, Michael.

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  • Reginald February 2, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    A bike shop filled with cyclists, most wearing dark, low-visibility clothing. Does not bode well for vision zero.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. February 3, 2016 at 10:36 am

      Vision Zero has absolutely nothing to do with telling people walking and riding bikes what clothing they should wear.

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  • Ted Buehler February 3, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    It should be noted that while Roberta is indeed a volunteer and organizer with BikeLoudPDX, there will be no formal relationship between BWV and BikeLoudPDX. And there are no informal relationships planned, either.

    Thanks for volunteering to breathe life back into BWV, Roberta, and thanks to BikePortland for the coverage — both of BWV’s inactive status six weeks ago to raise awareness of the need for volunteers, and this story to let the bicycling constituency know things are humming again.

    Ted Buehler
    Co-Chair, BikeLoudPDX

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    • Roberta Robles February 7, 2016 at 8:34 am

      I’ll be focusing on BWV for the time being. BikeLoudPDX now has an awesome volunteer base and I’m proud to be one of the founding members. Now it’s time to breathe some life into BWV. Thanks for your support Ted and BikePortland.

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