“She is excited about the assignment and ready for a new challenge.”
— Marshall Runkel, chief of staff for Commissioner Chloe Eudaly
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has chosen City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly to oversee the transportation bureau. Eudaly’s office confirmed the news to us yesterday after a “major bureau shakeup” was reported by The Oregonian. She’ll take over the agency from outgoing commissioner Dan Saltzman.
Eudaly is a relative newcomer to City Hall who unseated Steve Novick in a runoff election in 2016. A former bookstore owner and activist who has lived in Portland since 1988, Eudaly will take the reins of an agency with 850 employees and an annual budget of around $320 million. PBOT will be the largest bureau in her portfolio by far. With Wheeler taking over her current assignment of the Bureau of Development Services, the only other agency in Eudaly’s portfolio is the Office of Community and Civic Life (formerly the Office of Neighborhood Involvement).
Eudaly’s Chief of Staff Marshall Runkel, told us yesterday that the Commissioner is, “Excited about the assignment and ready for a new challenge.” (Eudaly is currently out on vacation and unavailable for comment.) That sounded like typical spin, until I read what Runkel typed next: “Me and the Commissioner are signed up for the PSU Traffic and Transportation Course.”
Runkel is referring to the free (if taken for no credit) Portland State University course established by former commissioner now U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer. As we reported in our profile of the class in 2016, it has a sterling reputation as one of the hidden forces that makes Portland’s ecosystem of activists, planners, and transportation engineers so vibrant and healthy.
The fact that Runkel knows about the class and took the step of signing himself and his boss up for it, bodes very well. I’m also happy to report that Runkel has already inquired about a possible bike ride later this summer to learn more about cycling issues.
“Since most of our cities were designed around the automobile, it’s hard for a lot of people to conceive of why we’d want it any other way. We need to start showing them.”
— Chloe Eudaly
Given her short tenure on Council so far, and her distance from transportation-related issues in the past, Eudaly doesn’t have a long record for us to examine. We do know however, that she has a strong understanding of urban cycling and that accessibility for people who use mobility devices and adaptive bicycles will be a priority issue. Eudaly’s son uses a wheelchair to manage his severe physical disability and she was an activist on that issue for years prior to working at City Hall. It was then-candidate Eudaly who, in May 2016, first raised the question about how Portland’s forthcoming bike share program would not be accessible to people with disabilities. Two years later, Eudaly will inherit an agency that recently settled an ADA lawsuit for $113 million.
Interestingly, the most we’ve heard from Eudaly about cycling came from a comment she left on BikePortland while she was running for City Council. In it, she shared how she lived carfree for most of her 20s. “I own a wheelchair van and a bicycle,” she wrote. “I drive about half as much as the average person, and I rent more fuel efficient cars for my very occasional road trips, but I am dependent on the van until or unless I can create a life for us where home/work/school/medical services are close-in and reliably accessible by public transportation (which probably means living near a Max or streetcar line).”
Here’s the most salient policy position Eudaly stated in that comment two years ago:
“Safe and accessible streets for pedestrians and cyclists are a priority for me and we need to be creating them across the city. I’m interested in what Bike Portland has to say about equity across our neighborhoods in regards to things like sidewalks, crosswalks, and bicycle infrastructure. When people cannot safely walk in their neighborhoods and many people with mobility challenges (growing in numbers with our aging population) are virtually housebound due to living in inaccessible neighborhoods, it’s hard to get them excited about spending $$$ on bike paths. I’d personally love to see continued and increased collaboration between bicycle advocates, disability advocates, and neighborhoods around these issues.
I’m also interested in incentivizing living close to home (some cities have special home loan programs for people who commit to this), improving our public transportation system including making it more affordable for low income riders like Seattle is doing, preserving and increasing housing in the central city for low income and moderate income earners in order to reduce commuting among other things, and creating more events along the lines of Sunday Parkways where we at least temporarily take back our streets for other purposes. Since most of our cities were designed around the automobile, it’s hard for a lot of people to conceive of why we’d want it any other way, we need to start showing them.”
Eudaly’s priority on equity and housing affordability could lead to even stronger connections between transportation and land-use issues.
When it comes to urban cycling, Eudaly’s formative experience came from “a few days tooling around Amsterdam” with friend and In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist author, Pete Jordan.
Portland parking reform activist and daily bike rider Tony Jordan has met with Eudaly’s staff several times a year since she took office. “I think her staff have good perspective on other modes of transportation and I think as long as we continue to highlight how inequitable car-centric policy and design are, this could be a good thing for like minded Portlanders,” he shared with us yesterday.
For the past 17 months, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman hasn’t wowed transportation reformers; but he’s been regarded as a “steady hand at the wheel” (according to Jordan). Saltzman has given very reliable and strong support for Vision Zero projects and seemed to have a strong working relationship with former PBOT Director Leah Treat.
Replacing Treat will be just one of Eudaly’s big jobs. She’ll have to steer PBOT through a potentially tumultuous era that will include decisions about the role of electric scooters in our mobility mix, the future of our bike share system, and the passage and (hopefully) implementation of some the most significant bike infrastructure projects we’ve seen in years.
The good news for her is that PBOT’s coffers are relatively full for the first time in decades. The bad news is, spending that money on anything other than maintenance and paving has often been controversial. With an activism background and an understanding of how transportation connects to social justice and other big issues, Eudaly seems like a great choice to move the conversation forward and take PBOT to the next level.
In related news, Mayor Wheeler has decided to remove Commissioner Amanda Fritz from the helm of the Portland Parks and Recreation Bureau and give it back to Commissioner Nick Fish. Read Wheeler’s executive order on bureau assignments for the full details.
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