Mayoral candidate Ted Wheeler: The BikePortland interview

Wheeler in our office earlier this month.
(Photo: M. Andersen/BikePortland)

Ted Wheeler started changing Portland on the day he started running for mayor.

When he said that day that the city’s number-one problem was homelessness, Wheeler said one reporter incredulously asked him to repeat the statement. Today it’s one of the top issues of discussion in Portland.

When another reporter asked about his preferred transportation funding strategy, Wheeler endorsed the temporary 10-cent gas tax that had been backed, earlier that day, by the Portland City Club. Two weeks later, Mayor Charlie Hales shifted his tone to support it too; today, all three top mayoral candidates are in favor.

“The problems that seem to be taking us by surprise are problems that have been with us for a long time. They’ve been building. And they have now reached a crisis stage.”
— Ted Wheeler

The former Multnomah County board chair and Oregon’s sitting state treasurer, Wheeler was clearly angling for a run at governor until Gov. John Kitzhaber’s resignation last year elevated Gov. Kate Brown instead. Running at the city level, Wheeler can come across as a big fish in a small pond — but also as someone for whom City Hall would be a consolation prize.

Wheeler got points among people we’ve talked to for initiating a meeting with biking advocates early in his campaign, though he also lost some credibility by admitting at that meeting that he didn’t know what Sunday Parkways is. In our interview this month, he struggled to come up with the name of the Safe Routes to School program, though he knew what it was.

Despite those occasional challenges, Wheeler has set the tone for the city’s 2016 mayoral campaign. And his tone has included good things about biking.

Wheeler stopped by our office March 9 for a one-hour interview about the race. Here are some of the things we learned:

• Like his opponents, he supports expansion of protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways. Though he backs the gas tax ballot issue, he thinks it won’t raise enough for those projects to make the investments he thinks are needed.

• Though the Portland Business Alliance, the regional chamber of commerce, announced its endorsement of Wheeler the day we spoke, Wheeler said he’s never discussed transportation policy with them. He said he does not agree with the notion (sometimes expressed by the PBA) that auto capacity should not be reduced on major arterials.

• He stepped back from a previously reported statement that as mayor he would take the transportation bureau; he said that was an “offhand conversation” and he’s made no decisions.

• His plan for transportation funding is to pass a gas tax in the short run, then get the 2017 state legislature to allocate more state and federal road taxes to cities like Portland. In the long run, he doesn’t think the city should let any of its pavement degrade, and thinks the city needs incremental steps to improve its credibility among voters.

• His first priority for all transportation investments is safety improvements east of 82nd Avenue. He doesn’t think all new transportation investment should happen there but he thinks East Portland should get the large majority to make up for decades of underinvestment.

• Though he supports increasing housing density by re-legalizing duplexes and garden apartments in residential zones, he thinks there’s some validity to the argument that new tall buildings can make nearby housing more expensive. He doesn’t see a tradeoff between “historic preservation,” which he values, and keeping housing affordable.

• Unlike his opponent Jules Bailey, Wheeler sees “training” as inadequate to addressing apparent racial profiling of people biking and walking by officers in the Portland Police Bureau. Deeper cultural change in the bureau is necessary, he said.

To learn more about Wheeler and his views, check out the lightly edited Q&A below, or you can listen to the audio file here:


(Note: At a few points in our conversation, Wheeler’s deputy campaign manager and main staff advisor on biking issues, Nathan Howard, steps in. His words are labeled with his name and marked in italics.)

Michael Andersen: What’s your animating force here? What’s the story of your campaign?

Ted Wheeler: The animating force writ large is about solving the community’s problems. The community is not lacking for smart candidates, it’s not lacking for 10-point-plans, it’s not lacking for top-three priorities or first-hundred-day strategies. It’s lacking for leadership. The problems that seem to be taking us by surprise are problems that have been with us for a long time. They’ve been building. And they have now reached a crisis stage. So my theory for running is that we already know what the questions are that the next mayor needs to address.

Wheeler riding across the Tilikum Bridge during
Sunday Parkways last September.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

There are lots of people moving to our community. Where are they going to live? Where are they going to work? How are they going to get around, given that we’re not building more infrastructure? How do we maintain and expand infrastructure opportunities that we already have? How do we protect the livability of the community? How do we protect the environment that we live in? And with the current urgent issues, how do we begin to address the homelessness crisis — which by the way was not an emergency until I got in the race and made it an emergency — or the housing affordability issue, which had only been partially talked about? The city council has finally adopted some strategies to improve and streamline and lower the cost of bringing workforce and affordable housing online.

We’re six years into an economic recovery, and a lot of people aren’t participating in that recovery. And it seems like we’re missing the bigger picture about having to connect people to the education and skills training required in an increasingly skills-based economy. And infrastructure — you know this as well as anybody — has been a problem 20 years in the making and yet the city is acting surprised. So I guess if I had to say one thing, I’m running for mayor so our city can stop being surprised and reactive to the crisis du jour and focus on getting ahead of the curve again. And to be deliberate in the strategy, in helping to build the community we want to live in.

You’re interested in the question of alternative modes of transportation to vehicles. This is really important. If 300,000 people are going to be moving to Portland and we’re not building more roads and we’re not building more infrastructure, the question then becomes, how do we create the kind of infrastructure that makes it work?

How do we create the kind of infrastructure that makes it work?

Well, first of all, let’s prioritize it. It was prioritized and now it’s not. When Sam Adams was the mayor, it was a clear priority. It was a stated priority.

What was?

Sam Adams, when he was mayor, championed the separation of bicycle from traffic. He also improved in my opinion through the greenway program pedestrian safety. The — what’s the name of it? The walk to schools program.

Deputy campaign manager Nathan Howard: Safe Routes.

Safe Routes to Schools program was something he championed so that within a mile radius of every school you’d have bikeablility, you’d have walkability, you’d have safe crosswalks. I thought that was smart. Jonathan gave me a little bit of a ribbing the other day online, but I’m going to stick to my guns: when you have the neighborhood greenways program and you connect them and you have the bicycle throughways and you’ve reduced the volume of traffic, you’re creating not only safety for bicycles and more certainty for automobiles — because people who drive don’t want to be hitting bicycles — you’re also creating safer crossings for more older adults and kids who are going to school. And there is an opportunity in places where we don’t really have a lot of green space to include things like microparks. It’s a very low-cost option.

Like Holman or something like that.

Exactly. Bring some canopy into a neighborhood. And it’s also traffic-calming, it also helps with the safety of intersections. That’s what I was referencing; Jonathan didn’t have a chance to talk to me.

Glad to put it on the record; that makes sense. You said we have to anticipate crises rather than react to them. What are the crises we’re not even reacting to right now?

Well, the homelessness situation, weeks ago, the city was saying has stabilized. I call bullshit on the table on that one. I think it’s gotten a lot worse. And if you go and talk to people at Central City Concern, New Avenues for Youth or Outside In, they’ll tell you they’re seeing not only the chronic homeless, we’re seeing more families with kids; we’re seeing more people of color; we’re seeing more couples; we’re seeing more older adults; and there’s a diversity of reasons why people are homeless. I think only recently did the city wake up to the reality that it is a crisis, that it is an emergency. And on day one when I got into the campaign, I said that the homelessness crisis was the No. 1 issue facing this city. And the newspaper in which I made that pronouncement, they had to ask me twice, because they couldn’t believe I was serious. I believe it is. I believe it’s a humanitarian crisis. I believe it’s a moral imperative that we address it.

What do you think caused it?

You know, I think it’s a combination of things. First of all, there’s no question that the collapse of the global economy has caused a lot of people to be economically forced out. The cost of housing is going up five times faster than wages in this community. Even if we’d gotten to the $15 minimum wage today, that still only gets you to 40 percent M[edian] F[amily] I[ncome], which means you effectively need subsidized housing to be able to live in the City of Portland. Of course, minimum wage is nowhere near that point. So that’s a part of it.

Another part of it is our nation’s failure to address mental health issues. We still ascribe a stigma to it; we have not really owned the problem. We haven’t funded it or supported it at the community level as though we believe it is the widespread crisis that it is. There’s no question that drug and alcohol is contributing. Meth has made a comeback. Heroin is more prevalent than it’s been in many years. There’s more youth on the streets. I forget the percentage, but a large percentage of them identify as LGBT youth, I want to say it’s somewhere near half. And a lot of them have been kicked out of their homes. Others have abusive or neglectful backgrounds, and some come from the foster care system.

Lots of different problems, manifesting in similar ways.

Lots of different problems. One size does not fit all.

Let’s stick with housing. Obviously we talk about the affordability crisis; usually our angle on that is that we talk about affordable proximity. How do you get not only general affordability, general wage-to-housing-cost ratios healthy. But also if somebody wants the option to live close to the place where they work or shop or go to school or whatever, how do you make it possible for more people to be able to do that?

“We’re creating this situation where people who are poor or lower-income are moving farther and farther away from their place of employment and into areas that have worse transit. That does nothing but contribute to congestion and economic problems.”
— Ted Wheeler

Well, if I want to sort of start at the top of the pyramid, the long-term planning has to take into account that housing community centers and places of employment need to be in close proximity. I support the urban growth boundary, FYI; you should probably start at that broad level. Density isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Density’s efficient. It’s more sustainable. It allows us to live in a more compact environment with a smaller carbon footprint. It gives us the opportunity to live in these more livable, walkable, compact communities. But that’s just the vision. The reality is that people are moving east to chase housing affordability. A lot of the jobs, particularly low-income jobs, are west. So we’re creating this situation where people who are poor or lower-income are moving farther and farther away from their place of employment and into areas that have worse transit. Certainly that does nothing but contribute to congestion and economic problems for families that can least afford these kind of problems.

So what’s the answer?

Well, there’s a lot of answers. One is that at the JPACT and MPAC table we’re actually co-locating town centers and employment opportunities close to where people are living. That’s sort of thing No. 1. Think No. 2 is look at our own policies around housing and see whether they’re consistent with the espoused value of letting people who work in our community actually be able to afford to live in our community. We still in many circumstances outlaw duplexes, triplexes. Garden apartments haven’t been legal for a long time in this community. Smaller, denser, lower-cost options are in high demand right now, and yet our own zoning codes don’t allow for the kind of housing situations that a lot of people frankly would clamor for if they had the opportunity, that are more affordable.

At a debate last month.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The second area, and Commissioner Saltzman I think has begun to address this really well, is how the city’s own policies around design review, permitting, the inspection process can sometimes contribute to both the length of time and the cost of getting housing online. I of course testified at the legislature in support of inclusionary zoning. I thought that was a very important tool for us. We got less than what I would have wanted; what I was hoping for was that we would just lift the prohibition. That’s what I asked for, that’s what I testified in favor of. They didn’t do that. They decided to give us a prescription. We’re going to have to spend some time to figure out what we can actually do with that.

And the wage piece of this is important too. I would argue that we hear very little about this from policy leaders. The standard I’m hearing from the presidential level on down is “I’m going to create good middle-class jobs.” In Portland, people have been saying that for how many generations? And the reality is that we have a lot of low-skill low-wage jobs and a lot of high-skill high-wage jobs and very few middle-class jobs. And the few that we have, the preponderance of middle-class sustaining jobs that do not require a college education are in the Columbia Corridor and the Portland harbor. And if you overlay the housing maps, you’re going to see that the people who work in those blue-collar working-class jobs are actually being forced to move farther and farther east.

Would you envision duplexes, garden apartments in some R5, all R5?

I’m no great expert on this but I think that in R5 you can do a duplex on a corner.

As long as their doors are facing two different directions.

I think that’s right. And the question is, is it really detrimental to the community, given that we want more density, given that we want more affordable housing, to allow that in other areas? I think the answer is absolutely. And garden apartments.

You’re saying “absolutely” that’s good for the community?

Yeah, in my opinion. And then there’s the basic stuff that we’re not even implementing particularly well. Auxiliary dwelling units, ADUs — granny flats. That is a city policy at this point. I think it’s a great policy in terms of appropriate density of neighborhoods that fits in with the character of the neighborhood. It’s relatively low-cost. Allows for what I think is thoughtful and appropriate infill. You have the city over here pushing it, you have the county tax assessor saying but if you do it I’m going to reassess your primary residence. So you have these examples of people spending $170,000, $200,000 on an ADU and seeing their property taxes go up fourfold. I think part of the job of mayor is to help bring together not only the regional level but also the local level, to help write some of these policies and make sure we’re not working at cross-purposes.

I launched this campaign on day one — I supported a gas tax. That’s very unpopular — people don’t like taxes. We have watched our ability to fund infrastructure in Portland, in Oregon, frankly nationally, deteriorate. Congress has not been doing their job. The state legislature — God bless them, they’re my friends — all got together and said the No. 1 thing the Ds and Rs all agree on is the transportation package that ultimately they did not pass. Here at the local level I’ve said we’ve got to do our part too. And I have supported Steve Novick in his efforts around the gas tax. I was there before the mayor. I was there before the city council. Was not a popular position, but now it seems like it’s at least in the short term it throws us a life raft. But it’s not a good long-term solution. Long-term solution we’d better be talking about carbon taxes, we’d better be talking about regional and statewide solutions that actually can raise the kind of funds to support our infrastructure.

“It’s terrible for bicyclists. It’s terrible for people who walk. And it’s terrible for drivers! As far as basic safety goes it’s a really ugly situation.”
— Ted Wheeler on East Portland streets

Do you think there’s appetite for anything else at the local level?

Depends on what it’s for. I always believe that at the local level, if you can make a value proposition, people will hear it out. People in Portland are pretty smart. They’re sophisticated voters. They’ll hear you out. So the question is, if you’re going to tax me, what do I get in exchange? What’s the value proposition? People know we have a problem with infrastructure in this community. You can look out your door and you can see the problem. When I co-convened the East Portland Action Plan with Jeff Merkely and Tom Potter, people were already up in arms about the lack of sidewalks, street crossings that repeatedly had accidents. It’s terrible for bicyclists. It’s terrible for people who walk. And it’s terrible for drivers! As far as basic safety goes it’s a really ugly situation.

I believe that if you make a case to the voters and sell them a specific package and it’s the package they want, they’ll support it. If you just say ‘I want more money–

Sure. So what’s the package you think people want?

I’ll tell you what people are telling me. No. 1: Safety. No question about it. Sidewalks, crosswalks, we need more physically separated bicycle lanes.

So you say No. 1 is safety. More than half of the gas tax is going to maintenance. It’s sort of an artificial divide, I realize, but how do you square that?

You need all of the above. Our streets are falling apart, which certainly isn’t a good thing today. And we need more new infrastructure. I’m actually proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish around infrastructure. On 148th, the Sellwood Bridge, working to complete the Sauvie Island Bridge — in every one of those cases, I think they were a big win for infrastructure. For bikers, for people who walk and for people who need to transit by car. I think we did a good job. Sellwood Bridge is actually rail-capable, so when the time comes that we’re ready to connect east and west over there, we’ve actually got the infrastructure to handle it.

Howard: Just before we got here, we were talking about a compelling package: Vision Zero. If you want to get people behind something, it seems like almost everyone is behind–

“The thing I like about Vision Zero is that first of all it’s a community-wide effort. Regulating is certainly a piece of it but it’s also about the infrastructure, it’s about education, it’s about bringing the community along to make the community safer, more walkable, more livable.”
— Ted Wheeler

People are behind it. The thing I like about Vision Zero is that first of all it’s a community-wide effort. It’s not government just regulating. Regulating is certainly a piece of it but it’s also about the infrastructure, it’s about education, it’s about bringing the community along to make the community safer, more walkable, more livable. And I would argue that as our city is growing, that’s the opportunity through SDCs and other development fees to get that sort of development to happen in our community. And it is.

So I’m still trying to figure out, if that is the top priority — nobody’s opposed to road maintenance, right? It’s going to drain the system dry and we won’t be able to improve safety unless we either (a) raise a lot more money than the gas tax is ever going to or (b) decide which roads are going to crumble. Right? And maybe we have to do both. Probably we have to do both. So you’re saying safety is the No. 1 priority–

I believe so.

–but there’s the simultaneous need to make some decisions and/or actions on maintenance. What do you see as that long-term vision?

So I think we need to stop snowing East Portland and start delivering. First of all, I’m no great road maintenance expert. But when a street in East Portland that has a high volume of pedestrians has no sidewalk, and we see through the crash data that people are getting killed in large volumes in certain intersections, that should be our priority. In my opinion.

Sure. Okay, so in that case, what sacrifices are you willing to make on long-term maintenace in order to add those sidewalks?

None! We need to stop bullshitting ourselves.

Okay, then where does the money come from?

Well, that’s a great question. I was the first person in this race to suggest a real source of funds. If I’m elected mayor I’m not going to sit around and wait for Salem to act. The people in Salem know me well and they know I will be pushing hard for a transportation package. I also want to reform the way that money is spent in this state. There are reliable sources of funding where money is coming in from the federal government. And ODOT takes half of it off the top. I agree with David Bragdon — who by the way is a supporter of my campaign, and I’m very proud to have his support — we need to reallocate resources so that communities around the state get a larger portion of the funds coming from the federal government for transportation purposes. Because this is where the lion’s share of the problem is: in Portland, in Eugene and Medford and in Bend.

This is relative to ODOT?

Absolutely. I’m not saying our state highways aren’t unimportant. But I would argue that our biggest need, both in terms of maintaining the infrastructure that we have and improving new infrastructure, it’s here.

OK, so the money comes from a transportation package in 2017? That’s the goal? And that includes whatever they can figure out on gas tax or weight-mile or some combination?

Yeah, but there’s another story to be had here. Portland deliberately defunded its streets. That’s a story I haven’t heard much about. 20 years ago, the Portland City Council made a deliberate effort to take funds that were allocated towards transportation and reallocate them toward the general fund, to other priorities. And now we’re sitting here and we’re acting as though we’re surprised that we don’t have the resources for the kind of safety improvements, bicycle improvements, pedestrian improvements, road improvements that people want.

Even if we had that utility money, though, we wouldn’t be raising $100 million a year, would we?

Probably not.

So if that’s the case, then don’t we still need a decision? Like, it seems unlikely that the state’s going to give us another $100 million a year. We still need to make some decisions about which roads fall apart.

So let’s start and let’s show the public that we can actually do with the resources that they give us what we say we’re going to do. Let’s build some credibility here first. And if we show that we are credible and we are responsible with the funds, I think they will be more inclined to support us with the revenue going forward. We’ve got to start somewhere. We’re digging ourselves out of a very deep hole here. And right now if our collective infrastructure is a patient lying on the table, our patient is bleeding to death. And we’ve been the doctor in charge for the last 20 years. I think we need to prove to them that we can stanch the bleeding before we ask them for a brand new operating room.

That makes sense. A column in the Oregonian quoted you as saying that you want to take the transportation bureau.

That was back in August. I’m not making any decisions about any bureaus. That was an offhanded comment I made to David Sarasohn in a conversation we had this summer. I’ve not made any decisions about any bureau assignments other than the Police Bureau. I will take the Police Bureau.

That’s useful. Other things I wanted to talk about include the question of ridership and coverage: inside vs. outside. Or the reductive way to put it is rich neighborhoods vs. poor neighborhoods. If you wanted to maximize the number of people using things other than cars, you’d probably use the central-city neighborhoods that were already built for pre-car transportation and invest a lot in making that super convenient. If you wanted to maximize the number of people who have the option, you’d probably invest in 122nd having a better bike lane than a piece of paint. So what’s your way of thinking about that tension? Obviously you want to spend both places; eventually you’re going to have to make a choice about which place a dollar goes.

You know, it’s a Sophie’s choice. Because ultimately you need to do both. Working-class people in this community have been wronged for a long time, and I think it’s important that we start making good on some of the promises that have been made over decades to the people in East Portland. And we already know that lower-income people are moving farther to the east, farther from their place of employment. And the roads are much less safe — whether you’re driving, whether you’re biking, whether you’re walking. I would like us to show some good faith to the people east of 82nd by starting to improve not only their opportunities around commuting, around public transportation, around access to bikeways and sidewalks, but I think we need to demonstrate through an investment of resources. And frankly we haven’t been doing it.

So that’s your top priority going forward — that walking, biking, transit investments should all be east of 82nd — or not all, but the priority.

Not all. But I’d like to show a good-faith effort to do that. We have not made that good faith investment. The East Portland Action Plan — and by the way, they’ve made some really good headway. Amanda Fritz, I’ve got to give her a shout-out, has worked with the East Portland Action Plan group, and she has made firm commitments and has realized many of those commitments. She has talked about the work around parks and other things that she has been doing. I’m really appreciative of that and want to continue to work with her in that regard. But there’s also a lot of things that we have not done around investing in East Portland that we should be doing. There’s even a disproportionate reduction in tree canopy in East Portland. And there’s public health disparities. That is very much part of this city and it’s been ignored for too long.

Speaking of that, back to development for a minute — OPB had you walk to a neighborhood that exemplified the problems, you took them to Montavilla and talked about how we should be developing on 82nd, and that would take some of the pressure off historic neighborhoods like this one. What other historic neighborhoods do you think shouldn’t be redeveloped? And isn’t there a problem if you sent development to 82nd when it wants to be on 28th?

I think it is a huge mistake that you cannot reverse if you take a historic neighborhood or an historic business district that has unique architecture and you take that unique architecture away — because it’s not protected unless it’s in an actual historic district — and you put in cookie-cutter modern architecture, then you are robbing the community of its uniqueness.

Aren’t you robbing people of their homes if you don’t build it, though?

What do you mean?

If a rich person doesn’t have somewhere to move, then they move into a middle-class person’s, and so on down the line until somebody’s in a tent. Right?

No. No, I don’t think by protecting our historic assets we’re condemning anybody to poverty. I think what Montavilla shows is just the opposite is true. Montavilla is one fo the few neighborhoods in this community where you can still buy a house for under $300,000. There aren’t many left. I’m talking single-family homes with a yard. And what we’re seeing in Montavilla is a lot of young entrepreneurs who are locating businesses in those buildings, renovating those buildings —

–driving up the prices for the people nearby? I mean, every investment is going to cause displacement, right?

I guess you could look at it that way, that every single time we save an historic asset it increases the prices in the surrounding the community. There’s ways to mitigate that, though. And one way to mitigate it is to make sure we have a supply of workforce and affordable housing.

I guess I don’t disagree, I just feel like there is intense pressure to not change. Under the comp plan, the block across the street from my house is rezoned for R1. I don’t want noisy kids to be up all night there. But I also know that I helped my friend move from 32nd into a tent off 78th. Do you buy the concern that if you’re prioritizing aesthetics over supply that you’re just making the problem worse?

“If we’re at the point where we’re choosing between protecting the historic and unique character of our city and people living in tents, we’ve got bigger economic problems.”
— Ted Wheeler

I don’t think protecting historic architecture, which is part of our history, is just about aesthetics. I think it’s about protecting who we are as a community. There’s a lot of historic architecture in this community that could have been destroyed based on economic justification, like the central library. The highest and best use of that piece of property is probably a 40-story building. But if that had happened, we wouldn’t have the trees. We wouldn’t have the light. We wouldn’t have the historic and unique architecture. It says something about who we are as a community. And frankly if we’re at the point where we’re choosing between protecting the historic and unique character of our city and people living in tents, we’ve got bigger economic problems than just preserving historic architecture. That says something about jobs, it says something about housing supply, it says something about how we are zoning for affordabiliity.

I mean, it seems to me as if we should be able to preserve about what’s unique and special about our community’s historic architecture and allow people to be able to live in a decent home and put a roof over their heads and feed their family. That’s a complex array of questions around jobs, training, wages, education, the kind of jobs that are available. I think there’s more there than just jumping from if I choose to preserve a building by putting a small business in it — I guess my bigger view is, how do we encourage — improvements are going to happen. Developments are going to happen. We can’t really stop it.

Well, we can.

Well, how?

You just say that we have to have six parking spaces for every home, or you can only build one story, or whatever. Then development will stop, right?

I thought you were talking about commercial development, like in the Montavilla neighborhood. It’s still America.

Howard: We recently met with a group in Northwest and their concern was if you take down a historic building that’s seven stories tall and replace it with one that’s 22 stories tall, you increase the cost of housing all around it, all the other buildings.

Wheeler: Right.

Howard: And you actually displace people. So they pushed back on the notion a little bit that every time you say you want to save a historic building, you’re talking about the preservation of a neighborhood which a lot of people see as NIMBYism, or in the worst cases racism.


Well, I think we’re going pretty far if we say that by “preserve the unique business district in Montavilla” that we’re somehow racist. I think that’s a preposterous leap of logic. The reality is that you have a lot of young entrepreneurs. There’s two young women, I’ve gone in and toured their garment factory. They’re part of a movement to try to bring garment manufacturing back to America. And they hire recent immigrants to be their employees. There are some venerable institutions on that street like the Nonpartisan Cafe. They’ve been a great supporter of worker’s rights.

Howard: Love that cafe.

There’s a microbrewery, there’s some new businesses in the area, there’s a food cart pod. And on balance I think they’re doing a really good thing for the community. And if we’re raising prices to the point where people are moving into tents, I think we’re missing the step of how do we as a community preserve and protect affordable housing.

The gas tax would create standing budgets for neighborhood greenways and protected bike lanes: $2.4 million and $3.2 million over the four-year life of the tax, respectively. Does that seem like the right amount to you, total, to accomplish your goals? Not enough? Too much?

Not enough. While the $2.4 million for neighborhood greenways and $3.2 million for protected bike lanes that would be generated over the four-year life of the tax is a good start, it’s not enough to put us on track to building a world class bike infrastructure.

I’d like to see more and improved greenways that better connect our neighborhoods to the city center and make bike transportation more viable for people of all ages and abilities. And to those concerned​ ​with worsening congestion, it should be made clear that it would be much worse without bicycles; that should be reason enough to substantially invest in increasing neighborhood greenways and protected bike lanes.

What’s a belief you have that you’re afraid might be wrong?

In the context of the political situation facing the city, my biggest fear might be that people are more enamored with the status quo than I think they are. I believe people are looking for a new direction for our city. At the end of the day, my concern would be that people really aren’t willing to make the changes necessary that people aren’t willing to make the changes necessary. I’m running on the assumption that people want to see change.

We closed the conversation with a sort of lightning round of a few other issues, notably the transportation attitude of the Portland Business Alliance and apparent racial profiling of people walking and biking by officers in the Portland Police Bureau. On the first issue, he said he’s never discussed road capacity issues with the PBA but believes that we should be reducing the auto capacity of some roads in order to improve biking and transit capacity. On the second, he said he feels “training” wouldn’t be enough to address what he sees as cultural changes needed in the police bureau.

plus a short discussion about Wheeler’s own bicycling. Unfortunately the audio of that segment didn’t take. The gist: Though he’s a triathlete who we’ve spotted on two wheels before, he said he couldn’t remember the last time he took a bike to go somewhere. He said he looks forward to getting into better shape after the campaign.

He did, however, have strong memories of his very first bicycle.

This is the second in a series of interviews with Portland mayoral candidates; we previously spoke with Jules Bailey. The primary election is May 17. If no candidate gets a 50 percent majority outright, the top vote earners will advance to the November general election.

Update 3/23: Thinking more about our exchange last night, I realized that the missing audio had contained more than I’d remembered, including valuable conversation about the Portland Business Alliance and police bureau. (We also touched briefly on parking policy and mountain bike routes.) I am kicking myself for somehow not recording the last 10 minutes of the conversation, but I didn’t. I’ve summarized what I remember of the exchanges at the top and bottom of this post.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

BikePortland can’t survive without subscribers. It’s just $10 per month and you can sign up in a few minutes.

Switch to Desktop View with Comments