Guest post: Does Portland need a ‘Bicycle Mayor’?

Posted by on August 21st, 2018 at 10:36 am

Bicycle mayors Katelijne Boerma (left), Lotta Crok (middle) and Areli Carreón.
(Photo: Adam Stones/BYCS)

I’m Robin Scholetzky, an urban planner and southeast Portland resident. This past June I participated in a graduate-level course at the University of Amsterdam on bicycling and urban design called Planning the Cycling City.

One of the organizations I learned about through the course was thetBYCS. The BYCS is an international advocacy organization with a mission to increase the number of trips by bicycle to 50 percent by 2030 worldwide (50by30). This is an ambitious goal and one of the ways they are seeking to gain traction is the development of the international Bicycle Mayors Program.

The Mayor program is designed to provide a platform and resources for individuals to become change agents in major cities across the world. There is one bicycle mayor in the United States in Keene, New Hampshire. Others in North America include Areli Carreón in Mexico City.

Areli was a colleague of mine in the Planning the Cycling City program and when we talked about this program, she explained that “Changing a city is a long-term process that needs team work. The Bike Mayor position helps to build that team spirit and a sense of direction and energy to push and pull for urban changes.” For Areli, the Bicycle Mayor program has, “Been a chance to speak up on behalf of my community so that politicians never forget to design and build the city for us, the people.”

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[Video about the Bicycle Mayor program]

The Mayor program has also rolled out a Junior Bicycle Mayor program. The Amsterdam Bicycle Mayor, Katelijne Boerma pitched the idea of a youth mayor when she was campaigning for her election last year. As a result of her efforts, eight-year-old Lotta Crok was elected as the first Junion Bicycle Mayor from a team of Bicycle Heroes (Fietshelden) in Amsterdam.

When I heard about the (all-volunteer) mayor program from BYCS — and specifically the junior mayor program — I thought it would be interesting to BikePortland readers.

Now I want to gauge your interest: Is this a program we should bring to Portland?

Having a young person as the spokesperson for cycling issues in the Portland region could be a real game-changer by shifting the conversation around safe and accessible bicycling. A Portland Metro Youth Mayor program could establish their own agenda on issues affecting youth and their families: Stronger Safe Routes to School programs, better bike parking at schools, direct access to bike-share systems and more opportunities to play in the streets safely.

Youth can capture attention and communicate in ways that adults can’t.

I’m envisioning a committee of folks who might be interested in exploring what a Young Mayor program would look like for Portland or the region. If there are folks who are interested in exploring this more or you know of a young person or adult that would be a great Mayor, I’d like to continue the conversation.

Learn more at BicycleMayor.org

— Robin Scholetzky

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15 Comments
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    David Hampsten August 21, 2018 at 11:09 am

    I can think of well over a hundred cities in the US that need this program far more than Portland, a city with an already over-developed advocacy culture, where the bicycle mayors would be lost among the crowd of other well-intentioned would-be “game changers.”

    By the way, calling Keene NH a “major city” is a huge stretch – there are more people in metro Portland than there are in the entire state of New Hampshire. My old neighborhood of Hazelwood has slightly more people than the city of Keene, pop 23,406 versus 24,600.

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      B. Carfree August 21, 2018 at 9:29 pm

      Keene is also stuck at the same cycling level it had a decade ago, around 2%. It’s hard to get excited about a place where almost no one rides but has chosen to do a little virtue signal. It’s better than a kick in the pants, but I don’t see it changing the game.

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        William Henderson August 23, 2018 at 7:54 am

        True. But I still got a little proud of my home town when I read this article. Go Keene!

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    David Hampsten August 21, 2018 at 11:12 am

    What I’d really like to know is what you learned from the planning class at Amsterdam U. What were your key take-ways? What did you find applicable in Portland? How about applicable in Peoria Illinois?

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      Mick O August 21, 2018 at 12:01 pm

      “What were your key take-ways? What did you find applicable in Portland?”

      Why would any of that knowledge matter in a city with an already over-developed advocacy culture? Won’t it just be lost among the crowd of other well-intentioned would-be “game changers?”

      My point is that your second post (asking for info) seems to completely disprove your first (we don’t need any help, thanks).

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        Chris I August 21, 2018 at 12:34 pm

        I think he’s just a bit salty about the whole thing.

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    B. Carfree August 21, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    I don’t see the value in an impotent “head of state” for cycling who can be there for ribbon cutting ceremonies and start parades and say bikey things. I’d rather have a real mayor, elected officials and city staff who ride bicycles enough to have real understanding of the facts on the ground so they can contribute meaningfully and be actual leaders.

    If our cycling advocates can’t elect people who ride bikes, then we don’t have a well-developed cycling advocacy community.

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    Middle of the Road Guy August 21, 2018 at 11:39 pm

    Before we have a Bicycle Mayor, how about we get a regular one?

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      Mike Quigley August 22, 2018 at 6:05 am

      Well, there’s one problem. Americans prefer to complain about their politicians, only to re-elect them over and over. It’s national, not just local.

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    billyjo August 22, 2018 at 7:23 am

    What we need is more people behind a single idea and a single vision, rather than yet another “big thinking” idea that will go nowhere.

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      Dan A August 22, 2018 at 8:36 am

      I vote for Idaho Stops.

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    Andy K August 22, 2018 at 9:08 am

    If we can we call him or her the Bicycle Tsar instead, I’m all in

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    Adam Stones August 27, 2018 at 1:01 am

    I work at BYCS, the Dutch social enterprise coordinating the Bicycle Mayor program. Interesting to read the comments so far.
    A few points to help steer future comments…
    1. You can call him or her a Bicycle Tsar, a Bicycle Leader, a Bicycle Guru, a Bicycle Wizard… whatever works for your city. They will then become part of the global Bicycle Mayor network.
    2. Indeed, part of the strength comes from the fact this is a ‘global network’ – BMs share challenges, ideas and new solutions with each other instantly so things that work in one corner of the world might be applied to another.
    3. Keene might not be a major city but we are excited to have a foothold in the US to spread the concept. There are major cities in the network… Rio, Sydney, Bangalore, Cape Town, Sao Paulo… massive cities with systemic challenges.
    4. A Bicycle Mayor is not another advocate. They unite all city stakeholders to make change happen.
    5. A Bicycle Mayor is therefore appropriate for any city, regardless of the maturity it is at. And in a city full of advocates, who better to unite and speak above the noise than a Bicycle Mayor, elected independently by public vote.
    If you’d like to know more, feel free to contact my colleague Migo@bycs.org

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      Robin S August 28, 2018 at 8:39 am

      Thanks Adam for those clarifications on what the program is about.

      When in Amsterdam, I learned about how safety for children formed one of the key tenets of the modern bicycling program in the Netherlands. The stop de Kindermoord (“stop the child murder”) became a rallying cry for those seeking safer streets. See this article from the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/05/amsterdam-bicycle-capital-world-transport-cycling-kindermoord

      Of all the things that I learned, it seemed to me that having a youth bicycle mayor could really shift the focus in conversations around safety and what we, as a community are willing to accept.

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