“As our population booms and we have smaller and smaller right-of-way to share, biking really needs to have a lot more direct focus from the Commissioner.”
— Jamey Duhamel, policy director for Commissioner Chloe Eudaly
A big thing happened at last night’s Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting: A current City Commissioner (via a staff person) expressed a direct interest in bicycling and said they want to make it a bigger part of their portfolio.
Why is this big news? Because bicycling as a political issue has receded into the shadows here in recent years. Thanks to a mix of controversies (some fake, some real), political dynamics, the dominance of more important issues at City Hall, and a slew of other factors — no local politician has been able and/or willing to step up and profess true love for cycling.
That all changed last night when Commissioner Eudaly Policy Director Jamey Duhamel addressed the committee. Here’s what she said:
I want to let you know I will be attending these meetings more regularly and taking a more hands-on approach with the bike mode in Portland, and really getting into what it is that our projects and plans are failing to do and help make future plans better.
I think it’s pretty clear to the people in this room that when the Commissioner was assigned PBOT about a year ago we immediately laser-focused on increased transit. It was the issue that was most complementary and intersectional with our social, environmental and economic justice issues; and so we really went big and bold for increasing transit service [Duhamel is the architect of the Rose Lane Project, Eudaly’s effort for dedicated bus lanes citywide].
But along the way over the last year we’ve learned a lot about how the different modes in Portland intersect with each other and what really was going to need more of our attention than others. Bicycling is one of those modes where, when we first came into it, we believed it was living and breathing on its own within PBOT: There’s a lot of really good plans in place; there’s a lot of really good advocates working on this issue. But what we’ve recognized over time is that as our population booms and we have smaller and smaller right-of-way to share, that biking really needs to have a lot more direct focus from the Commissioner. Not only so we can support the staff and identify resources and make bold moves; but so we can put political will behind the plans and what advocates want to see.
My job here is to listen and learn. I will serve as a liaison between this group, PBOT staff, and the Commissioner so we understand when projects are coming forward, what the complications are, and how we can assist in untying those knots for you. Please consider me to be in direct service to you. I’m here to make the bicycling mode better in Portland.
Upon hearing this, my first thought was: Wow. I can’t believe I’m actually hearing this! It finally happened.
My second thought was: Why now? Excuse me for being so cynical in BikePortland Year 15 that I think everything is political.
“It’s time for some bike love from the commissioner who has demonstrated she has political will in abundance.”
— Duhamel on Twitter last night
But seriously. Was this a gambit from Eudaly to wrest the “bike champion” label from former Mayor Sam Adams — her main challenger in her re-election bid and one of the most bike-friendly politicians in Portland history? Was this an attempt to curry favor for the Rose Lane Project from BAC members and the “bike community” more broadly since there’s grumbling about how bike riders will/won’t share transit-only lanes, and how “transit only” lanes might hurt bikeway quality in some projects? Or, was Eudaly simply inspired by 10th anniversary of the 2030 Bike Plan and the rally outside her office a few hours earlier?
After Duhamel responded to a tweet with these questions last night, I gave her the chance to clarify her answer to the “Why now?” question.
Duhamel said beyond the fact that Eudaly’s Fair Access in Renting (FAIR) ordinance and Rose Lane Project plans are off-and-running, their office is ready to show some “bike love” in part because they’ve added staff that allows her to focus on transportation policy. She also mentioned a recent BikePortland article. “Recently, you published an article that gave feedback on a project that pitted bicycles with parking and buses. We recognized that these are the types of decisions that don’t always make their way to our office, and we decided to take a more direct role so that we can jump in quickly to provide resources and political support.”
Related to the bus/bike interaction issue, Duhamel also announced last night that she wants a cycling representative on the Rose Lane Project Internal Advisory Group that will start meeting again in March.
It’s been a long time; but if these words are followed up by action, we will finally have a true champion for bicycling in City Hall once again.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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