Portland Mayor Charlie Hales offered a very unexpected admonition during an informal, invite-only meeting yesterday. It was a veiled criticism of Portland’s transportation advocates — and bike advocates in particular. Yes, you read that right, bike advocates: the group many Portlanders (mistakenly) assume wields unlimited power in City Hall.
Hales’ comments came at the end of a brief speech he gave while standing in the new Ankeny Plaza on SW 3rd in front of about two dozen advocates, city staffers, and other local leaders. His remarks were mostly about his support for Better Naito, the importance of great public spaces and the city’s new “livable streets strategy.” But then he ended with a plea for more support from advocates — many of whom were standing right in front of him.
I happened to have my recorder on. Here’s the transcript (with my emphasis added):
“Let me make a brief political announcement for those of you who are advocates. And that is, when you have a progressive city government with progressive city bureaus, that doesn’t mean that the good things will always happen on auto-pilot. Advocacy is still necessary. The enemy of this kind of progress generally is not loud opposition. I mean, everything we do has some backlash; we do get some phone calls to my office complaining about Better Naito. But that will happen whether we do something or we don’t do something. So the problem isn’t opposition, the problem is just inertia and taking things for granted. So for those of you who are advocates, even though this is Portland, remember that a lot of the success we’ve had as a city is because bike advocates have been loud and clear about where we should go.
So my political advice to all of you as bike advocates is keep being loud and keep being clear because that will empower a council that already wants to do the right thing, to do so. And don’t just assume it will happen without advocacy because drift is the enemy. That’s my political admonition and good advice to my friends.”
I caught up with Hales afterward and asked for clarification. He offered affordable housing advocates as a model to follow:
“Complacency is the enemy. Just because we’re Portland, just because we have a progressive city council and progressive transportation bureau doesn’t mean we’ll go at the pace that we should. So advocates need to advocate.
And if you need an example of how spectacularly successful that can be, take a look at our housing agenda. We just committed 45 percent of all available urban renewal money to afforable housing. We did that because we do have a housing crisis and everyone recognizes it; but the housing advocacy coalition has been very loud and very clear about what the city needs to do and that has helped advance that agenda. And I think the transportation advocacy community needs to be similarly vocal.”
And have you seen this playing out during your time in office? I asked.
“Yes. Again, I don’t want to be critical of my friends and allies; but it’s easy to get complacent… ‘Oh it’s Portland, of course they’ll do the right thing.’ Well, we should [do the right thing].”
He said that last part as we walked away, smiling, as if to say council will do the wrong thing unless advocates step up and speak up. And in my book, when someone says, “I don’t want to be critical of…” that means they do in fact want to be critical and they’re just trying to soften the blow.
“I don’t want to be critical of my friends and allies; but it’s easy to get complacent.”
— Charlie Hales, Portland mayor
It was a fascinating glimpse into the mind of Portland’s most powerful elected official. Three and-a-half years into his four-year term he’s imploring transportation reformers to do better so he and his council colleagues can move more quickly in their efforts to remake Portland’s streets.
Hales’ comments reminded me of similar remarks made by his predecessor Sam Adams. In June 2010 at the annual fundraising event for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Adams also tried to light a fire under bike advocates’ feet after not feeling enough love when he needed it. “What got us to the dance, won’t keep us dancing,” he told the crowd, who surely expected to hear nothing but effusive praise for the BTA on their big night. “Our success has not come without pushback,” he added.
Adams asked bike advocates to be louder and more supportive of city council, who were getting clobbered with negative feedback about the mayor’s proposal to spend $20 million from the city’s water bureau to help jump-start the Bike Master Plan. The BTA had just hired a new leader (Rob Sadowsky), and Adams sensed the time was right for a bit of prodding. “The new leadership of this organization combined with the existing advocacy can take us there,” he said. “City government cannot do it on our own.”
There was a similar context to both remarks. So, do they have a point? Or are they just scapegoating advocates for their own mistakes and lack of accomplishments in the area of bike infrastructure and innovative street designs?
I often think of a chicken-and-egg scenario as I watch this interplay between electeds and advocates:
ADVOCATE: Please do more!
POLITICIAN: No, you do more first, then we’ll do more!
ADVOCATE: No, you do more first then we’ll do more!
POLITICIAN: Ugh. I’ll go work a different issue then.
In the end, this might be a case of unrealistic expecations — on both sides of the equation.
As citizens (and especially as passionate activists) we want everything right away and we expect politicians to make it happen. That’s not a realistic expectation, but some of us still get frustrated with the pace of change. And mayors probably have unrealistic expecations of advocates — especially in a city like Portland where the reputation of a “bike lobby” is much more myth than reality. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a politician say, “We are really going to need the bike community’s support on this!” I wouldn’t have to worry about paying the bills.
From my experience, absent a major tragedy or funding/project opportunity to rally around, it’s very rare for advocates (regardless of the issue) to coalesce around a single demand. This is especially true in today’s world where community activism has become disintermediated and democratized away from the traditional, institutional advocacy groups and toward individuals and the grassroots. In other words, if you wait around for unanimity from “the bike community,” you’ll never get anything done.
I’ve been very critical of Hales in the past, but I’m glad he spoke up about this. It’s an important discussion to have, especially as we welcome a new mayor to town, PBOT seems to have gotten its groove back, and the BTA is in the midst of a major re-structuring.
Stay tuned for details about an upcoming Wonk Night where we’ll discuss how we can all work together to move forward faster.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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I have some advice for Charlie: listen.
To expand on this: I had a face-to-face meeting with someone from PBOT and brought up many things, including my desires to have the NE 15th Ave Bikeway (especially since it is on the 2035 plan, and there’s no technical reason preventing it from being built – i.e. no new bridges are needed, etc.).
However, PBOT said that they couldn’t and wouldn’t do it because it would require removing parking. I wonder how many people showed up to a face-to-face meeting with PBOT and asked them to keep those parking spaces?
Why is it necessary to “be loud and organized” if you want something that the city has promised? When I spoke to the person at PBOT, this was right around the time that they had removed part of the bike lane on Rosa Parks. I asked them why there was no public process for removing a bike lane, but that they wouldn’t even consider removing parking. They did not have a good answer for that.
The tone I got from PBOT is that if you bike or walk anywhere, you have to practically scream at the elected officials for decades to get something, even if it was promised and funded. But if you drive a car, don’t worry about it – the city will save your precious on-street parking, even if they have to remove some of the sidewalk to do it!
At first I was insulted at Hales’ insinuation that transportation advocates aren’t already constantly putting ourselves out there and emphatically pushing for what we think if the right thing for the city, despite enough disappointment*–especially from city and state officials–to conclude that we must all be masochists to keep at it. Instead, though, I’m going to assume this is just a veiled shout out to BikeLoudPDX, you know the bicycle advocacy group that has “loud” in its name. So if you feel like you’ve been too quiet lately in your transportation advocacy, take Charlie’s advice and check us out.
*actually this month has been pretty good in the Portland cycling world! Here’s to hoping the trend lasts…
Nicely made lemonade. Love it.
Advice I got from Lore Wintergreen, staff advocate of the East Portland Action Plan, when addressing elected officials, in any 3-minute spiel:
1. First, thank them. This can sometimes be difficult, especially when you are upset enough to testify at Council. Find some reason to praise them, something sincere, then do it. This not only stokes their ego, but it gets their attention. If you start by bitching, they ignore everything else you have to say.
2. Focus on just one theme, and state that theme within the second sentence. They are busy folks with short attention spans.
3. Tell a story, preferably personal and true, about what you are talking about. Make it short and to the point. They are hearing 30 other speakers, what make yours different?
4. Stick to your point. Don’t wander. Try to make eye contact with at least one Councilor. Pretend you are having a conversation with them.
5. Finish by thanking them again, politely, on time, but ask “do you have any questions for me?” Be ready in case they do.
Each time you testify, vary your style and theme.
Trust me, this really works.
Most bike advocates I’ve observed do everything wrong, every time.
“Most bike advocates I’ve observed do everything wrong, every time.” – I disagree. I’ve been to several meetings in which bike advocates speak up, and most of them do follow the guidelines you’ve listed.
Bike advocacy aside, I’d also say that those guidelines are not some set in stone requirement for being effective. Yes, that’s one way to be effective, but I’ve witnessed people get fired up at meetings or rallies and be very direct about what they want and why they want it, not always doing their due diligence to thank everyone. Often, these are the people that get covered by the press and ultimately bring more attention to issues.
Yes, you are right. Both methods are useful, especially when they are used in conjunction with each other, with coordinated efforts. “Good cop/bad cop” is what I call it. “Bad cop” yells and harangues about lousy infrastructure, slow pace of change, etc, preferably in a loud vocal demonstration with hundreds of like-minded folks and good media coverage. “Good cop” offers reasonable solutions in a calm and conservative way at City Council testimony, preferably with different testifiers with different voices, saying different things, but with the same basic message. It helps to have a variety of different ethnicities, languages, cultures, genders, and gender identities, each person speaking with personal passion.
Practical and helpful, David–thanks! Gerald’s points interesting, too.
Or perhaps its directed at the BTA? (And the on again off again debate about the use of the threat of a legal suit)
3 1/2 years of not doing squat about anything, and now it is our fault……
The two are unrelated. Hales has a valid point, the Portland bike advocacy sphere is fragmented, has no unified voice or direction, and over the last 5 years has been largely ineffective at showing up en masse to demand something. If you (the generic “you”, the reader) disagree, let me ask this – when was the last time any of us saw a group show up for a protest or demanding action which was as large as those when Brett Jarolimek or Tracey Sparling was killed? Or when Siobhan Doyle was hit? 2006-2009 had a lot of activists showing up for a lot of events, and had some really dynamic people like Elly Blue (who is a tireless activist in her chosen cause) working for the city. That’s not happening now.
This city is where is is because of the efforts of Portland Transportation in the past (thank you Mia, Roger, Greg, Jeff, Timo, Janis, Linda, Kirsty, and a ton of others!), and because advocates and activists (Elly, Jonathan, Steph, Meghan, Dutch, Sysfail, Carl, Mark, the “old” BTA, Shift, and tons of others!) held the city’s feet to the fire and demanded change. Hundreds of cyclists showed up for protests against unsafe streets, in support of Share the Road and other initiatives, and served on city and county committees, stakeholder groups, and advisory panels. There are well over 100 cyclists I could name who were intimately involved in pushing bike advocacy, and they did – loudly and often. Most of those people have moved on to other things or places, and while a lot of very awesome people have filled the gap (and not meaning to minimize their own accomplishments, which are many), to me at least, it seems like the community as a whole is less engaged, less pushing the agenda, less showing up en masse with one voice.
Additionally, city staffers have moved on, or become more senior – and seniority comes with additional constraints and challenges, and less time in the actual trenches pushing the change directly. Again – not meaning to minimize the efforts of people like Roger Geller, but Roger isn’t on the line anymore, and the days of Mia Birk and Roger Geller striping pavement ad hoc wherever they could however they could are long gone – there’s more constraints on the bureau, there’s more oversight, more restrictions on how and when money can be spent – and more consequences when it’s not adhered to. It’s not just a matter of fewer people showing up and resting on our laurels, the game has changed – and I don’t think we as an advocacy community have changed with it.
This community needs a voice, and honestly – the BTA isn’t it. it CAN’T be it, because the BTA is a recognized nonprofit which has to adhere to funding restrictions and not destroy its political and social capital. The community needs a voice that isn’t dependent on funding, isn’t responsible to a specific political agenda other than its own advocacy, and represents the interests of the community as a whole. And honestly, I don’t know if that’s still possible in the current climate, and at the level of maturity (time-wise) that we’ve reached, since the community now represents a much broader range of opinion and interests. One thing is sure, and that’s that what we know from the past doesn’t seem to be working anymore at the same level it did in the past.
Vic Rhodes, a past PBOT director until about 2001, used to describe the huge number of yellow-jacketed loud bicycle activists showing up to Council as the “Bike Nazis”. Those days are long past, alas.
I have a different perception of why “loud” advocacy went into partial hibernation. IMO, some bike-focused advocates responded to the 2006-2007 bikelash by internalizing overly harsh criticism of bike “scofflaws” and “anarchists”. “Bikes in the streets” and “people on bikes protesting” were replaced to some degree with “bike fun” and being a “bike ambassador”. And, today, there is still relatively little overlap between advocates who work on “fun” and those who focus on “protest/assertive advocacy”. I hope this changes.
* The 26th and Powell protest of Alistair Corkett’s amputation.
* The “No More Ghost Bike Ride” in memory of Mark Angeles.
*~100 people who showed up at city hall early in the am on a workday for BikeLoudPDX’s “Follow the Plan” protest.
And I’ll finish by stating that Portland’s two newer and louder active transportation groups need volunteers and event participants:
BikeLoudPDX.org (assertive advocacy and direct action)
betterblockpdx.org (transportation prototyping and tactical urbanism)
This. A thousand times.
I, for one, thought the Commission might very well institute new NW Portland parking requirements.
But then — the Portland Shoupistas organized. And showed up. And allies showed up.
And the majority of those speaking were against boosting parking requirements. And they spoke thoughtfully, and respectfully, and reminded folks that housing affordability is truly impacted – in the hundreds of dollars a month range – when you require everyone to pay for car storage.
The Commissioners listened. And they were given the space to do the right thing. And they did the right thing.
Endless pressure, endlessly applied. – Brock Evans
It’s tiring. And electing the right people in the first place is a huge, huge impact. But organizing and speaking out is what creates change. (And Better Naito is going to be a huge battle).
Kudos to Mayor Hales for his candid words and leadership on this.
Get louder and more organized? I think he meant get BikeLoudPDXer and more BikeLoudPDXorganized!
Portland pushes back Springwater Corridor cleanup to Sept. 1
It is like he is the Michael Jordan of Kick the Can.
HAH! That is perfect.
Obviously it’s because people didn’t complain enough about it, right?
🙁 I feel terrible for the people of Lents.
How about a district-based city council?
That is so badly needed here.
disjointed, small, fiefdoms controlling portions of city budgets, instead of overarching themes and commissioners beholden to all citizens for the bureaus they manage?
How about our elected leaders just do their jobs instead of asking constituents to take a day off and come testify twice a week to say the same thing over and over? Drivers are not loud and organized, and they don’t even pay their way. Bike infrastructure pays for itself months after opening and we need to get loud about it? Let’s have a weekly “don’t forget to do your jobs” rally outside city hall?
I guess the mayor will be stepping into a new role as sustainable transportation advocate when he leaves office?
Precisely. In Seattle, our leaders also make excuses that they don’t want to make our streets safe and comfortable for citizens without hearing even louder, organized demands from neighborhoods.
No matter how much organizing you do (with dozens of activists, like Andres, effectively working half-time jobs for the city as organizers), they always make some new excuse for why we, as citizens, haven’t done enough to coax them into doing what is supposedly their job in their first place.
But then when they really screw the pooch and mess things up big time, they get unhappy when you criticize them directly or publicly for their genuine failings.
Personally, I just gave up. I think the whole system is just a structure they’ve created to plausibly pass the buck onto others for not doing their job, while burning through incredible amounts of community members’ time in the process.
We already have a bike plan in place that the city is ignoring. Why bother, when all the hard work, showing up to testify, and endless surveys simply get ignored because “well, people might get upset”? We need to keep pushing our elected officials, but if the city can’t see why people get burned out and get quiet about the issues, then they are living under a rock.
Look, Charlie Hales has been a “safe” mayor. In my time here in PDX, we’ve had 2 safe (Katz, Hales) and 2 shake-em-ups (Adams, Potter). Safe mayors don’t speak to the emotions of a city, they count the beans. And they often do more, at least from a bean-counting viewpoint. But advocates are singularly focused , passionate, and see more the bright shining future, less the slightly larger pile of beans they didn’t want to eat in the first place when this boring Melvin was elected 3.5 years ago.
At least, that’s my perspective.
So it’s that perspective that makes me see his comments in a different light. To have a safe mayors say this to a group of advocates in a public setting (even though it was invite only) says this to me:
1-He knows what we want. Bean counters don’t make such a big statement without knowing what they are talking about. And he’s been to slow to act on infrastructure changes, but there’s a lot that he’s actually laid the groundwork for. 82nd is getting better crossings. Clinton & Ankeny have diverters. And despite the minor gripes (frontage owners, corporitization, a bad EULA) you have to give him props for delivering bike share where so many before have failed.
2-He’s telling us there’s a divide in the electorate that can only be overcome by one side convincing the other side. We all know that there are people on both sides who HATE the other side. No facts will change that, on either side. But we also know there’s still fundamental misunderstandings in what auto-only citizens think this debate is about. I’m amazed what I will hear in response to “Yeah, I’ve been hit three times, all 100% other parties fault per the insurance company. It’s life threatening out there.” It’s usually something like “I SAW THIS HIPSTER WITH NO LIGHTS ON!” I think he’s saying “They don’t get it, and they won’t get it until you beat it into them”
3-He’s giving us a game plan. Remember 2012? I know housing is bad, we haven’t done great with a burgeoning homeless population, etc, but we were #1 for unemployment in the nation during the recession. I drew unemployment for the first time in my life in 2012. It felt like Portland (and Oregon) didn’t know how we were going to pay for the coming school year for, like, three years running. Comparatively, we have wiggle room right now. I think he’s telling us “Get it now. Don’t back off, now is when you can get it, so keep yelling”.
I can tell you how this played out in Seattle. We got loud, we got organized (Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and others), we managed to pack tons of open houses, we wrote blog posts/op-eds, helped get the 2014 Bike Master Plan to focus on All-Ages-And-Abilities, helped focus our billion dollar transportation levy on safety projects … And then our DOT kind of gave up in 2016. Projects were over budget or delayed, the downtown bike network is on hold indefinitely, numerous bike projects were dropped from the 5-year bike master plan implementation plan, etc.
So the loud and organized advocates turned on the city. We complained bitterly about the bike plan delays, the city’s lack of commitment to safety, the lack of VisionZero progress, the insane wasteful spending on the projects we do have, the ridiculous prioritization of projects (SDOT seems to really love creating bike lanes that connect to no other bike lanes)..
And so now the city is scrambling to figure out what to do (in june: “we’ll get back to you in july with a new implementation plan”, and then in july “whoops, heh heh, we were too hasty – we’ll get you a new plan soon; we only just started”). And those loud advocates have become the enemy. We’re being alternatively ignored and placated with promises that don’t actually happen.
Point is, be careful what you wish for.
Thanks for sharing. Just curious, if Seattle’s bike advocates could rewind to two years back, do you think they’d do anything differently? It sounds like there’s plenty of momentum despite the hurdles. Maybe another high-profile death or a change in city leadership could be the tipping point. My inkling is that the advocates should keep pushing, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Speaking purely for myself (and not even as an advocate at this point), I don’t think it’s about more awareness. The city simply fails to execute, and sets a culture of low standards and excuse-making around their failure to deliver — and nobody is holding them prominently accountable for it.
A few examples:
* Our really badly run Sunday Parkways-inspired event last year had perhaps a few hundred people attending, with a city subsidy per-attendee well over $100/head (I think it was $300, I forget). And this was deemed a success!
* The new Central District greenway is so narrow you have to stop and move aside any time a car meets a bike — and unless the city now plans to fix it, there’s no diverters to cut out traffic. The speed bumps were improperly constructed, so they’re jarring to ride on (I think these are being corrected due to activist work). Overall, it’s the least useful greenway I think I’ve ever ridden on. I would never use it.
* The new Westlake protected bike lane, on which we’re spending, I think, $1.7 million dollars on, is so narrow you can basically fit one person in each direction. It is literally obsolete pre-construction through having a substandard width that does not even support the ridership it has today as a city-owned parking lot. And it will again cost millions of dollars to demolish and reconstruct to the modern standards it should have been built to in the first place, should that ever happen. This is, again, considered a success by our city leadership, rather than a misuse of taxpayer money.
In other words, the Seattle process appears to be:
1. SDOT ignores major problems until citizens are so fed up that they work 20 hour/week volunteer gigs as community organizers to get them to pay attention.
2. The city then makes excuses that not enough community members are working 20 hours/week to demand that they fix problems, so they don’t need to actually fix them.
3. Eventually, someone dies (like Sher Kung) or gets really badly hurt from the well-known problem that the city ignored
4. Finally, the city maybe does something, but it typically involves a half-baked job that doesn’t correct the problem, but costs a ton of money. Then they lose attention and don’t do the rest.
5. SDOT and city leadership then gets outraged when community members aren’t grateful for it.
6. Community members (like me) get sick of spending 20 hours/week and sacrificing our personal and professional lives when the city repeatedly fails to deliver on quality infrastructure, and move on.
On that note, I am in the Netherlands on vacation. Have fun everyone.
Sounds exactly like Portland!
Hales received over half his campaign contributions (a quarter mil) from the real estate industry and asssociated developers.
Do they have to show up and yell at all the council meetings to get what they want?
No, they quietly set up personal meetings with him and each of the commissioners, which any Portland resident can do, but very few ever do. EPAP has been doing this for the past 7 years, to eventual huge success, but it does take the “20-hour weeks” that Eli rightly writes about for Seattle, to prepare the resident’s “talk” or speaking-points with the elected commissioners. What works for a 3-minute spiel also works equally well for an interview with an elected official. Stay calm, focused, polite, focused, coordinate what you are going to say, stay focused, etc.
So I have the same access as Homer Williams? Gotcha…..
Reminds me of the rules for approaching the Soup Nazi… 😉
Advocacy = political contributions.
Hales is hanging a for sale sign, despite how he wants to phrase it.
Isn’t this what the Portland Bicycle Plan is for? It was adopted unanimously by the City Council. Do they not have their own metrics & checkpoints to follow, like any other people with regular jobs do? I see they gave a 1-year update in 2011, but nothing since then.
There is also the Portland Plan, the Comprehensive Plan, the Climate action Plan, the Cully Action Plan, the East Portland Action Plan, and hundreds of other plans, all incomplete, going back over 100 years. They all more-or-less conflict with one another. And besides, there is no money. But you already know that.
Southwest in Motion is going to be a new kind of plan — a plan for planning plans.
How about running a blog post about updates about the Portland Bicycle Plan? Perhaps with some questions to city officials about current updates?
We hear you, Mayor! Do you hear us?
Also, whining on this blog is not advocacy, so if that is your entire contribution don’t be surprised when nothing changes.
In principle I agree, but “whining on this blog” is a pretty harsh criticism. Knowledgeable people – people who are actively out using more of the streets of Portland than I am – come here to vent and argue. Ideas coalesce, positions shift, information (even whiny complaining information) accumulates, and a narrative emerges.
I’m speaking for myself here. I would have no idea what to say in messages to Council about local transportation issues without the “whining on this blog.”
This is just a clever way to move the blame off himself. Bike advocates have been anything but quiet in this city, but the leadership just isn’t listening hard enough. So we got a few diverters put in? Great! Let’s keep asking for more!
I applaud those people who continue to attempt to make moving around safer for everyone. As J.E. said above, this may be a thinly veiled nudge to bikeloud who (along with better block) has moved Portland out of a consistent stagnation. Remember why this stagnation existed? While it was by no means singlehanded, Hales did virtually nothing for safer streets for years. So as ethan intimated above, Hales’ comment reflects more about the views of city council and Hales than about people’s ability to raise hell. Silver lining: he’s listening now.
Having almost been run over by a 10-ton truck while riding up on oh-so safe Williams (!) with my two kids (!!) on a large cargo bike (and lights on!) this morning, because the driver of the truck did not think that he needs to pay attention to bike riders, I feel appetite to help the mayor and other city officials by writing an email to them about the incident.
Perhaps others can follow up with emails and similar stories about how we frequently encounter harassment, are ignored, face unsafe road conditions, etc., and how it is only because of us paying close attention that not more of us get injured or killed by car or truck drivers in Portland, and how this impedes any real progress toward a city where people can bike or walk safely and where many will do so.
And just think, this happened in the inner city where the bike infrastructure is supposedly good! For a real good time, come on out 122nd way! It’s a hoot on a bike.
Thanks, Charlie, for the encouragement to make our wishes as bicycling constituents heard.
For all the folks complaining in previous comments, consider:
It doesn’t take much time. In fact, if you’re already reading BikePortland, it doesn’t take any time at all.
Here’s how you do it:
1) Once a week, when you’re reading a topic of interest to you, stop reading the “comments” at about comment #20.
2) Take the 5 minutes of your life you’re now “saving” by skipping 40 comments, and pen a quick email to one of the public figures referenced in the story.
3) Tell them if you like their position or if you don’t, why, and how that decision will affect the lives of you and your friends.
4) Hit “send”.
If 100 of us all did this, city/county/state staff and elected officials would collectively get 5200 comments on their positions.
We’d see results pretty fast.
Next time you’re reading a BP post that matters to you, give it a shot. And again and again.
Ted, you’re a class act. Though my curmudgeonly personality would seem the polar opposite of yours, I am grateful you’re on bikeportland.
Rachel, thanks for the thumbs-up. I appreciate the curmudgeon crew too.
I’m not sure how effective emails are – they’re really easy to ignore. For example, if you email Amanda Fritz, you will get a canned response back that essentially states she is too busy to read all her emails.
However, showing up to city council all wearing matching shirts seems to work well. The Multnomah Village residents somehow managed to convince the city to downzone many commercial zones across the city using this method.
Also worth noting that I have never gotten a real human response from Commissioner Fritz.
I got a short ‘n’ tart challenging response the one and only time I’ve written her, asking me how I’d solve the (mammoth) problem I was writing about. I didn’t forget the appreciation and thanks. Still got a snotty, sharp response.
That does seem to be a big go-to tactic for officials anymore– foisting their job back on citizens. “YOU fix it, why don’t you?” Hales seems always to be calling upon citizens to shoulder and solve the problems he refuses to seriously grapple with. We’re even supposed to somehow just deal with crimes our now-hobbled, underfunded, shorthanded police force used to be counted on to protect us from.
I’m going to start using this exciting tactic on clients.
Totally agree. I’ve had many people tell me that the city essentially wants you to come to them with an idea and detailed proposed solution. They want to be presented with a nicely-packaged proposal to vote on, without doing the work themselves. It’s simply not enough to continuously tell them “we want safer bike infra” or “we need housing security”. IMO, relying almost entirely on volunteers to do the hard work while the Mayor goes around town posing for photo ops is a recipe for burnout. At some point, we need city council to work with us rather than asking for more more more. WE voted for you, and WE trust you to lead. Advocates must push city leadership in the right direction, but it’s ultimately up to city council to finish the job.
Maybe Amanda Fritz isn’t particularly great about reading or responding to emails, but that doesn’t mean other officials aren’t reading our emails. In my experience, Portland does a much better job than most cities at responding to citizen input, whether this be through 823-SAFE, email@example.com, emailing the mayor and other commissioners, the TSP email address, BetterNaito, etc, etc.
On multiple occasions I’ve had the city make infrastructure fixes within one week, sometimes within 24 or 48 hours. For example, fixing bike racks that have been unbolted, or redoing a sharrow that was errantly placed too close to a curb.
Perhaps email isn’t at the top of the hierarchy of effectiveness, but I would argue that it has a strong bang for the buck. Only five minutes needed, and many of those emails will get read and taken into consideration.
I agree with Ted that we could move mountains if we were to spend the amount of time emailing the city that we do commenting on Bike Portland. Obviously many of the Bike Portlander commenters do send in emails and attend meetings, but I feel the bike community as a whole has room to improve.
Or maybe we just need to get city leadership to read Bike Portland comments? I know many people from PBOT do. Entire political movements have been started over Twitter – if our elected officials are willing to listen, they should be coming to where our opinions are already being voiced. By limiting themselves to only people who email them or people who show up to City Hall on a Wednesday afternoon, they are not hearing all the voices they could be.
I’m guessing it’s easier to get BP commenters to email officials than it is to get officials to read BP.
Why? Because there’s 100s of special interest groups out there. They can’t monitor them all. But they always monitor their inbox…
Well, I definitely have room to improve and I know it. But I haven’t had such great luck w/ my admittedly short-lived attempts to go through the proper channels. I did contact SAFE (after a tip from paikiala here) about the obscured speed signs (25mph) on SE 26th near Clinton, and I did it more than once (three times in all, I think). Last I looked, they’re still obscured. And people are speeding like crazy here.
I called the PDX Noise line repeatedly when they quietly started altering and lowering flight paths (in the case of cargo and general aviation planes esp.) and it became clear really quickly that their sole job was community wrangling–to project “caring” at the community and people being driven crazy by the giant thing they weren’t actually talking about–the national switchover from radar to GPS, a huge issue distressing communities all over the US. I did quite a bit of research on it once I realized I was getting nowhere w/ PDX.
“Message: We Care” is one of my most hated governmental mantras. We moved once because of the air traffic noise, and another time because of train horn noise (the blessings of the dreadful FRA Final Rule + a big hike in the number of trains running through Portland, all day, all night). These were not blithe decisions. We were desperate. It was costly and caused untold stress, and all because we felt completely impotent to make even the smallest dent against such impossible behemoths as the FRA, Union Pacific and PDX.
I have to note that Josh Alpert responded personally when I contacted the Mayor’s office, and he offered to lend his support w/ the air traffic issue, more than once. I dropped the ball. I’d done some reading up by that time on neighbors’ grinding and futile efforts in NY and California and MInneapolis, and on Oregon’s own excellent Miki Barnes (Oregon Aviation Watch) and her protracted, doomed battles w/ PDX/Hillsboro Airport. I decided I wasn’t up to that kind of all-consuming fight.
How do you, Gerald and Ted and ilk, find the energy? I honestly fear getting mired–something I try to avoid anymore for the sake of my sanity and my health. Is there some trick to pecking away at this stuff that doesn’t grind you into a nubbin?
Thanks for your post, Rachel. I understand your frustrations about not getting proper or quick responses to certain things. About a month ago I reported tree/shrub overgrowth at the intersections of NE Going & 15h as well as NE Everett and 47th. I believe this was the second time I emailed
… continuing my post … the second time I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org about this issue, and I believe I also left a voicemail on the hotline applicable to tree overgrowth. Still no response. Next I plan to post photos on twitter, which is public, and copy folks like PBOT. I’ve had success with this in the past (sometimes). If someone gets killed at one of those intersections, not only will I be able to point to my emails, but I’ll also have the very public request made on twitter.
Regarding finding the energy, the truth is sometimes I don’t have the energy. I have burned out at times, so I try to give bursts of energy periodically. Also, posting issues to forums such as the BikeLoudPDX google group and facebook group is refreshing in that many others often respond and help in building momentum for quick action.
Thanks, Gerald. I’m grateful for folks like you and many more here who keep up the battle, despite the frustration and fatigue.
Adam — emails may not be the most effective way for one person to make a strong statement.
But it’s a very effective way to mobilize support from armchairs.
I’m guessing a single email has 1/10 the impact of showing up at city council. But it only takes 1/30 the time — 3 mins vs. 1.5 hours.
So, in reality, a flurry of emails from constituents is a more effective use the time of bicycle constituents than getting a handful of people to city council.
Also, just because you don’t get a Rey doesn’t mean your opinion hasn’t been tallied.
And, if you’re only hitting city council members your losing the opportunity to reach out to 25 PBOT staff, various council advisors, everyone at the county, everyone at the state, the Feds, etc.
Adam & Rachel, you use the resources you have, in the context of the community you live in. Portland has a huge number of politically passive bicyclists – people who are happy to bitch online, but very few ever attend city council meetings nor talk with city officials, so Ted’s “email flurry” makes sense in Portland. I believe that if the bike community got organized enough to have a relay system of different bicyclist going to every city council meeting every week, 3 times a week, and giving “open testimony” at the beginning of every session, you would see results. But the Portland bike community is not organized that way, with that sort of capacity. Instead it is left to a handful of dedicated and talented bike activists, mostly unpaid volunteers, working with various splintered groups, to advocate the best they can.
As a counter-example, here in Greensboro, the entire bike community numbers a few hundred, in our city of 288,000 and a metro of 1.6 million. Our part-time city council meets twice a month, evenings only, so our activists only need to testify twice a month collectively, so it is relatively easy to get different voices to testify, and have it stick. In addition, the overall community (beyond bicycling) has a much lower participation rate in government than Portland (at the city budget meetings, only 15 people showed up at all the hearings combined, 3 of whom were bicyclists – Portland had hundreds.) However, at best we can only get about 2 dozen folks to write emails to councilors and to the city manager. I have lived here now for 8 months and I already have set up a relay system on council testimony, and we have gotten about $15 million dedicated to new and additional bike/ped infrastructure that no one was expecting, just from a few focused voices. It’s a drop in the bucket of what we need, but it is a start.
Only today did I learn that the signed routes we have here on neighborhood streets were created ad-hoc by a bunch of bureaucrats looking at traffic counts on a map, rather than getting local input from cyclists on the ground. Apparently they are open to “corrections” and “suggestions” from the community for additions. If we give them a set of streets to mark, they will run their traffic models, then mark any routes that meet their criteria on their map, and then send out a work crew to mark the routes, using funds from their existing operating budget. Kind of like a bureaucratic version of PDXTransformation. Getting infrastructure improvement will be more challenging politically (this is an unabashed car-centric community), but much easier bureaucratically than in Portland.
“Portland has a huge number of politically passive bicyclists – people who are happy to bitch online, but very few ever attend city council meetings nor talk with city officials…”
🙂 Hmm, yes, er, that would be me. Cough. 🙂 I can see where it would be less daunting to do any of this not alone, but in numbers. I struggle w/ how to parcel myself out in such a way that I’m not left a worthless husk for, well, my life. I’m awed and perplexed and humbled by the energy you and some others here seem to be able to muster for these efforts. The rest of my life already wears me out.
The research, time, effort and political navigation seemingly required to “make a difference” on matters in your community—often against significant resistance–feels like it can blot out and sideline much of the rest of your life. I referred earlier to Miki Barnes of Oregon Aviation Watch, who’s fought so tenaciously for her community and all of us re: air traffic and pollution issues. I was heartened to read about her efforts but also dismayed, as they are all-consuming and have taken a heavy toll on her life (and spirits, I imagine, though she just keeps going). I appreciate her beyond words, but I wouldn’t want to be her.
I’ve grown a lot more conservative and wary with my energy expenditure as I’ve gotten older, having burned the candle at both ends for too many years previously and paid the price. I can’t compartmentalize very well and so DO get consumed when I’m pursuing some issue, which has proven in the past to be good for a cause but terrible for me. That’s why I was asking about tips on how to shift self and do some actual good without benubbining yourself in the process. 😉
Ted’s email flurry tip was a good one. Showing up in force w/ like-minded folks at meetings is another good idea, as you say. Despite my enjoyment of many people here on this blog I don’t show up for bike community events because I don’t like crowds (most “fun” bike events just sound exhausting to me) and prefer one-to-one interaction. You wouldn’t know it from seeing me in a social situation–I can appear quite gregarious, and I know how to mask my discomfort—-but being around groups completely, utterly wipes me out. One social/public outing can leave me used up and done in for days after. Again–have learned to conserve self these days and really don’t want to go back. Any special ideas for shut-ins activism? 😉
Do you write well? (Judging from your posts, I’m guessing you do.) Can you collaborate well with others writing online?
The reason I ask is that many passionate activists speak well, have good ideas, and are gregarious, but are not particularly good writers, or are, like myself, good writers who are sometimes snarky or sarcastic when we shouldn’t be or when it is hurtful or counter-productive.
Basically, in any good productive group of activists are many people with varying talents. Good writers are always in demand, but often under-appreciated. Good editors are even more prized.
“or are, like myself, good writers who are sometimes snarky or sarcastic when we shouldn’t be or when it is hurtful or counter-productive.”
🙂 I, too, must control the snark.
I work as a proofreader, editor and writer. Counterproductive is one word, no hyphen, for example. 🙂 Sorry–that was obnoxious but I couldn’t resist (and now I have only to wait for someone to catch one of my errors. Damn you, karma!).
Will focus even more on emailing. Very helpful when Ted, paikiala and other folks post contact info here on bikeportland! Much appreciated. Thanks for the advice!
It’s absolutely ridiculous to use housing advocates as an example of how the council will respond. How long have housing advocates been incredibly vocal? It’s taken a total crisis that is probably too late to fix before the council has taken action. So by Hales’ logic, we’ll get action on transportation when road deaths reach crisis level.
I do not care whether the mayor is right or accurate or fair in calling out the bike advocates. He just told us that if we get louder and more active, we are more likely to get at least some of what we want.
What more do we need? Hales is begging for us to do something and promising he’ll do something in return. Let’s do it, and see if he does his part. Either he will follow through, in which case: YAY! MORE BIKE STUFF!; or he won’t, in which case we can just get louder still, and make life more uncomfortable for everyone.
I was told privately earlier this week from a good source that emails about #BetterNaito would help make it permanent, so I went out on Twitter and whipped up some emails from the community, as did others. I could have said “why should we have to do this; it’s so obvious!” But I didn’t, because that would have wasted time.
By the way, it’s STILL a good idea to send emails in support of Naito. Stop reading this, and do that. Thanks.
Hales is just deflecting blame onto the advocates for not working hard enough. He needs to own up to the responsibility, as it’s his job to actually get stuff done. Taking advantage of advocates and accusing them of not working hard enough is not going to win him any allies.
Plus he’ll be leaving his job in November.
I’ve been in Portland for 5 years and I’m constantly surprised at how minimal of a presence the BTA has. Why aren’t there quotes from the BTA president in, like, 90% of BikePortland stories? Bike Portland serves as a public meeting sphere for both the dedicated and the curious bicycle rider/advocate, yet we rarely hear the BTA’s voice in the articles in these pages.
Same thing goes on the street level, unless you’re attending a Sunday Parkways or Filmed by Bike event, I just don’t ever see BTA interacting with cyclists.
I came from Chicago years ago, and ActiveTrans was always commenting in media, always providing bike corrals, and were often working with partners to do light giveaways and other small, but positive outreach events for commuters and riders. From my viewpoint, the BTA appears disorganized and powerless, and until I start hearing and seeing them more often, I’m going to continue to assume that this appearance is reality.
Yet the BTA is more than happy to ask you for money, invite you to swanky parties, or chime in in the comments to correct you.
BTA is no Cascade Bike Club either. Pretty impressive organization (yes, I’ve lived there, been a member, et)
What is Charlie’s home address? If some people show up with megaphones (before the noise ordinance kicks in) and demands that the 2035 bike plan be funded and built immediately, how far would that get us?
Not to nitpick, but it’s 2030. Of course, we’ll be lucky if it’s done by 2035….
Ah, I’m mixing it up with one of the other plans (Central City, I believe).
100 people is nothing compared to what there used to be. I’m talking 300-500+ people showing up.
Wow, did we really get that many from volunteer organizing? I know in the short days of Michelle Poyourow rabble-rousing from the BTA, they organized a largish rally or two. But my feeling is that it’s really hard to do on an all-volunteer basis (which is one reason why I think BikeLoudPDX needs staff…)
When the Bike Master Plan was approved in 2010, Council chambers were full of bicyclist both downstairs in the main area, upstairs in the balcony, and there was a huge chanting crowd outside, with lots of press. It was the last time I saw such a spectacle in Portland that I recall by the Lycra Mob.
David — the grassroots element of the 2010 rally was done by AROW.
… and they did a terrific job.
Is Hale’s suggesting that bike advocates go and find developers to influence city hall to provide money for active transportation?
That’s not so far fetched. An alliance of bike hipsters and over-priced apartment /condo developers has worked in many other communities, so I don’t see why it couldn’t work in Portland. You might even be able to hit them up for donations, bike racks, and easement dedications.
Here is the reality. Even the most liberal, tea tolling, educated old lady owns a Volvo. These closet car owners continue to hold in high esteem their right to drive. Wherever and whenever. And…they vote. What is hales saying?
“Stop whining, start backing candidates and give money”.
Complaining brought us this far. Advocating will get us to Copenhagen.