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Outgoing Commissioner Eudaly shares candid remarks, offers advice to cycling advocates

Posted by on December 9th, 2020 at 11:42 am

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly at the Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday night. (Via Zoom)

Outgoing City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly addressed the Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) last night in a wide-ranging address that touched on the death of her father, expressed regret for not pushing cycling further, offered advice for cycling advocates, and much more. Eudaly, who took over as transportation commissioner in August 2018, lost her re-election bid last month.

During her time at the helm of the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) Eudaly was a polarizing figure in cycling circles (and beyond) and her remarks last night likely won’t do anything to change that. As PBOT commissioner she spoke forcefully about the negative impacts of cars and drivers in our city, fought against an unpopular freeway expansion project, stood up for Vision Zero, and pushed a progressive transportation agenda that included the “Rose Lane” bus priority program. But Portlanders seem to be split on whether she did enough to move the needle on transportation reform. Road fatalities are at a record level, cycling and transit use are down, and our road user culture is as toxic and scary as it’s ever been.

On the cycling front, Eudaly’s record is complicated. While she tried to focus on the issue, Eudaly and her staff failed to make cycling a priority and ultimately ran out of time. In Eudaly’s view, many of the issues she did find time to focus on — like housing reform, transit service, and tenant protections — had a positive impact on cycling.

“I do wish we had been able to dedicate more time and effort to bicycle advocacy and building out our infrastructure.”
— Commissioner Eudaly

Her address to the BAC last night was an attempt to cement her legacy with a crowd of Portland’s most influential and engaged group of cycling activists.

Eudaly read mostly from prepared remarks written by her Policy Director Jamey Duhamel (a regular BAC attendee). But in Eudaly’s typical, non-politician style she also riffed off-the-cuff and allowed herself to show emotion and vulnerability rare for an elected official — even tearing up at one point as she spoke about her father who died in a crash. Eudaly spoke about challenges she faced and offered advice — as well as pointed criticism — to bike advocates.

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One of the biggest takeaways from Eudaly’s remarks was that bike advocates need to see their work as being part of a “bigger picture which includes but isn’t limited to bikes.” “When I talk about bikes, I also talk about affordable housing, and our local economy and where jobs are located, and who feels safe using our system and who doesn’t… When cycling advocates become too focused on their immediate issues, decision makers are put in a position to choose one mode over another, which never works out well,” she said.

“… I felt like I wasn’t making anyone happy, but not having strong support from the [bike] advocacy community made it even harder for me to justify the work we were trying to achieve.”

Another theme from Eudaly was how she didn’t feel enough support from bike advocates. She painted a picture that some Portlanders felt she was “waging a war on cars” but that many bicycle advocates didn’t feel like she was doing enough. “It really feels like a no-win situation,” she shared. “I definitely could have used more support from the advocacy community because I felt like I wasn’t making anyone happy, but not having strong support from the advocacy community made it even harder for me to justify the work we were trying to achieve.” (This comment reminded me of similar criticisms of bike advocates made by former Mayor and PBOT Commissioner Sam Adams in 2010 when he was taking heat for his work on the 2030 Bike Plan.)

As I reported in a review of Eudaly’s transportation record last week, race and racial equity played a major role in her tenure. Last night Eudaly praised the antiracism work by PBOT and urged the BAC to follow their example. “My request to this group is that you also do the deep and uncomfortable work of self-reflection and change,” Eudaly said. “Look around at your advocacy groups both here and in other areas of your life and question out loud to each other why more people of color are not at the table with you.” “This may mean that you will hear painful truths about yourselves or your work. And it will require change. But I guarantee you that the more representation you have in your own advocacy, the better your solutions will be and the more likely city leadership will recognize and move those solutions forward.”

This was an important point to hammer home. The BAC has lacked representation from Black Portlanders and other people of color for many years. Despite this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the historical struggle around race that has been present in Portland’s bike planning and advocacy community for many years, the BAC has not addressed the issue. There are currently no Black members of the group and discussions about race and cycling have not made it onto their agenda.

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Eudaly’s comment about race was also tied to a real-life example: PBOT and Eudaly’s office were set to bring several cycling initiatives to City Council in late October, but delayed the plans due to fears that it would look too performative without also showing tangible progress on racial equity issues.

As a politician and an activist-at-heart who understands transportation, Eudaly knows cycling is a potent issue in Portland. She expressed regret for not doing more to push it forward and pointed to internal capacity issues and “unprecedented obstacles” for getting in the way. “I don’t want to walk away with many regrets,” she said. “But I do wish we had been able to dedicate more time and effort to bicycle advocacy and building out our infrastructure.”

Throughout her remarks Eudaly seemed exhausted. She took many deep sighs and her guard was clearly down. There was an informal and wistful air to her presence, as if the finality of her final month in office was starting to hit home. Legendary for her candor and slowly shifting out of elected official mode, Eudaly even used profanity a few times. “I came in, you know, ready to get shit done,” she said at one point. And she also said, “Some people are going to drive like assholes no matter what is going on.”

Eudaly’s guard was almost non-existent when when she spoke on the topic of traffic safety. She shared more about the death her father than I’d ever heard from her before*: “He killed two other people. He was probably speeding. He had been drinking. It was raining, and he was rounding a curve on Southwest Farmington road that the locals called ‘dead man’s curve’. So it was kind of the perfect storm of poor engineering, bad weather, and bad choices.” (*Note: Eudaly has been accused of purposely misrepresenting this story.)

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Saying she was “pretty disgusted” by how many Portlanders are “driving a two-ton weapon irresponsibly on our streets” given that we’ve had 51 fatalities so far this year, Eudaly said she wanted more equitable enforcement. She expressed frustration that her preferred solution of automated speed cameras took so long to hit the streets. “I’ve been waiting for about a year and a half, for the cameras I approved funding for… And people have died because of it. And that’s…. (she became choked up at this point and had tears in her eyes when she found her voice)… hard to accept.”

“I’ve been waiting for about a year and a half, for the cameras I approved funding for… And people have died because of it. And that’s… hard to accept.”

In the end Eudaly said she simply didn’t spend enough time on cycling because she was new to the issue, was overwhelmed by the “extraordinary amount of work” of being a commissioner, had too little discretionary time, and felt a mandate from voters to focus on renter protections and other housing issues instead. “Sometimes it feels like advocates can have some unrealistic expectations about what one person can do, and what one person can do in a relatively short period of time,” is how she put it.

As for her personal future and the future of Portland City Council, Eudaly had some parting shots for those as well. She said her “fingers are crossed” for who gets picked as next PBOT Commissioner. Whoever it is, Eudaly feels Portland’s recent election moved council to the center. “I’m not gonna lie and say I’m super hopeful that we’re going to see the kind of level and rate of progressive change that we have seen, but that just means that advocacy is that much more important,” she said.

“I do think the majority of Portlanders have progressive values,” Eudaly continued. “Where things fall apart is our inability to agree on how to advance those values… We will perish in the chasm between concern and our willingness to change. And I think that is probably going to be the focus of whatever work I end up doing moving forward.”

Correction, 3:48 pm on 12/9: I originally wrote that Eudaly was, “not an experienced or regular bicycle rider”. I was referring to recent years and the fact that she didn’t ride on a daily/frequent basis while in office. However, that’s not a fair assessment of her in general, as she has ridden a bicycle for many years. I regret the error. – Jonathan

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Catie
Guest
Catie

This was a very hard meeting. I am sad Commissioner Eudaly did not get re-elected, as I was excited to see what she would have done with a second term. PBOT is a large ship to turn around. I appreciate her sharing her thoughts so honestly, and I hope people take the time to reflect on them.

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

Sorry, she had her chance and she blew it with her attempt in the last few months before the election to garner votes from groups that might have been sympathetic but saw her lack of action during her full term.
Anyway, wish her all the best in her future.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

This was an important point to hammer home. The BAC has lacked representation from Black Portlanders and other people of color for many years. Despite this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the historical struggle around race that has been present in Portland’s bike planning and advocacy community for many years, the BAC has not addressed the issue. There are currently no Black members of the group and discussions about race and cycling have not made it onto their agenda.

On this issue, it’s worth noting that BAC members are not involved in the selection process for new members. If I understand it correctly, under the new process even the chairs have a very limited role (if any?) in selection of members. BAC members also don’t know what’s going to be on the agenda in any given month more than a week in advance. So while I don’t disagree that the BAC could benefit from being more diverse or having discussions that it isn’t really having at the moment, the committee members lack the power to be able to make that happen.

joan
Subscriber

I made my comment before I saw this. Thanks for this additional information. Who sets the agenda?

maccoinnich
Subscriber

That’s not entirely clear to me, but I believe it’s some combination of PBOT staff and the chairs.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Alternative title: “Eudaly gives her usual empty platitudes to BAC filled with white advocates who thrive on empty platitudes in attempt to stay politically relevant.”

Eudaly is once again displaying that the only skill she really has is telling well-off white people what they want to hear. She didn’t do anything for bikes because she doesn’t care about bikes personally. There is no great mystery there. As someone who lives on a cut-through street and rides throughout North Portland, it’s hard for me to believe she actually cares about speeding or our “Vision Zero” program when PBOT under her leadership has been so opposed to taking basic and cheap safety steps like permanent diverters.

Phil M
Guest
Phil M

Glad to see her go. Though it hardly makes a difference the city is in such a sad state.

joan
Subscriber

Thanks for covering this. I’m curious to hear about more this:

Despite this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the historical struggle around race that has been present in Portland’s bike planning and advocacy community for many years, the BAC has not addressed the issue. There are currently no Black members of the group and discussions about race and cycling have not made it onto their agenda.

I hope this is an issue the BAC will address and begin to correct.

Scott Kocher
Guest

When a public servant is smart, hardworking, capable of learning, capable of getting fired up about things that matter, not in anybody’s pocket, and capable of humanity/humility… that checks a lot of boxes. Thank you for your service Commissioner Eudaly. Onward.

dwk
Guest
dwk

Another article on Chloe..
Wow. I had no idea she was important in this city and state.
Move over Vera Katz…
What a joke.
She was almost a complete failure…

Tommy
Guest
Tommy

Goofy comment. She was the head of the Portland Bureau of Transportation. That’s going to make her relevant to a bicycling advocacy publication, regardless of how she ends up doing in that role.

Jon
Guest
Jon

Her rude remarks on BikePortland’s Facebook post is exactly why I did not vote for her and am overjoyed she lost the election.

Pascual Perrin
Guest
Pascual Perrin

Yep, she is/was Trump on the left. Very arrogant and divisive. Glad to see her go.

John L
Guest
John L

I went to read those comments, but even though that BikePortland Facebook Post shows “23” comments, only 2 are visible. Have the rest of the comments, including the Commissioner’s, been “hidden”? What’s going on there?

Victor
Guest
Victor

I’m one of two Asians currently serving on the Bicycle Advisory Board. To minorities like myself, equity statements and meeting agenda items are not an important metric for civic responsibility. I would rather see everyone demonstrate an authentic culture of inclusion, fairness, and empathy. Emphasis on the sincerity of inclusion.

Another thing to keep in mind: because of systemic racism, it is VERY difficult to convince POC (including Asians) to participate. Our country has history of unfairly targeting POC who are willing to speak up. So please be patient, it will take time to convince POC to step up and join BAC.

In the meantime, rather than pointing out lack of diversity, I encourage our white cyclist friends to mentor their POC neighbors, teammates, and co-workers that they are valued in leadership roles in our community. We all have the capacity to create diversity.

Pascual Perrin
Guest
Pascual Perrin

Yes, we need to re-invigorate the spirit of community. Excellent article from the New York Times on why racial equity has stalled in the US
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/opinion/race-american-history.html

Catie
Guest
Catie

Generally curious about the anti-Eudaly commenters. What do you expect the next transportation commissioner to accomplish within 2 years?

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Most of the comments here make me think the reasons many folks don’t like Eudaly have less to do with her lackluster performance at PBOT than her abysmal performance elsewhere.

But I think your question is a good one to ask; what should we be demanding of the next transportation commissioner?

I’ll start with my two priorities:

Focus on reducing GHG emissions and re-prioritizing safety, in that order.

Zach
Guest
Zach

I’m not anti-Eudaly by any means, but here’s my wishlist:

– Pedestrianize NE Alberta, NE Mississippi, SE 28th, NW 23rd/21st (these could also be a one-way couplet) and many streets downtown
– Quick-build protected bike lane network city-wide (uncompromising 8-80 connection from downtown to East Portland, for instance)
– Total ban on mixing zones and make protected bike lanes and intersections PBOT policy (no more even CONSIDERING unprotected infrastructure)

squareman
Subscriber

I’m not picking a fight here, Zach, but I’m curious about why you’d call out those streets as needing to be improved for people on foot. I feel like N Mississippi and NE Alberta are pretty “pedestrianized” already – at least in the commercial stretches of those two roads. I’ve never felt threatened there on foot or bike like I have elsewhere in the city. There’s so much pedestrian traffic, I feel like more drivers than average mellow out and watch out for sudden crossings. Or are you talking about stretches of those two roads outside of the restaurant/entertainment districts?

Zach
Guest
Zach

“Drivers not posing a threat to pedestrians” (which, yes, is mostly true for these streets) is a FAR cry from pedestrianization. Honestly, I just spent some time in Zagreb, Croatia, and—even during COVID—their fully pedestrianized streets make even Alberta on a Saturday look DEAD in comparison. The problem is that streets like Alberta and Mississippi have ZERO public space to just hang out and chill. You either have to make a purchase to access a restaurant’s table for a limited amount of time, or you need move along and stop loitering on the sidewalk. There’s no space for bands to play, street vendors to set up shop, people to just sit for awhile. Alberta and Mississippi have so much unrealized potential for public space; it’s absolutely insane that we let cars just barrel through them instead.

squareman
Subscriber

Thanks.

Bikers need to obey traffic laws
Guest
Bikers need to obey traffic laws

How about fining bikers who flout traffic laws?

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

We can start with drivers first though, right? And then maybe use the proceeds from that to fund the Bike Police Force? And use the proceeds from that to arrest jaywalkers?

Bikers need to obey traffic laws
Guest
Bikers need to obey traffic laws

We already fine drivers, maybe not enough but at least some. There are zero consequences for bikers who flout traffic laws.

Brian
Guest
Brian

I have been stopped more for disobeying traffic laws on my bike than in my car here in the Portland region. Why do cyclists need to obey traffic laws? Maybe a better question is- why should the police enforce traffic law violations for cyclists as much as for drivers?

Fred
Guest
Fred

We shouldn’t have an *elected* transportation commissioner at all! We need to push for the charter revision, which will ensure that elected officials stick to legislation and leave the day-to-day implementation of policy to transportation professionals. The so-called “calmed” streets are a perfect example of something a non-professional would think is a good idea: they make no practical difference but insult us by implying we should think they are making a difference.

squareman
Subscriber

Yes! Portland is the only major city still using the anachronistic form of government that we do. Not that Wheeler is going to push it. He’s been pretty lackluster on making it a priority already. I went looking for the quote but I can’t find it again. I saw something (might have been Willy Week) where he said something akin to, “well, the voters don’t seem all that interested,” or, “well, if the voters show that they want it,” after it was recommended by a commission that studied making changes. Most voters are probably and tragically unaware of the outdatedness in our form of government.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Eudaly didn’t “have time” to address cycling (and other transportation) issues b/c she was too busy dismantling the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, Neighborhood Watch, etc with her own brand toxic woke-ness. Eudaly is a “politician” in the same sense that T**** is a politician: she divided people with her caustic rhetoric. A politician gets only three or four accomplishments in a term, and needs to bring people together to accomplish them. Eudaly did the opposite.

It’s nice that she took the time to address the BAC and is finally realizing she made mistakes. Let’s hope Mingus learns from her mistakes.

cct
Guest
cct

I supported many of Eudaly’s ideas… but not always her methods to achieve them, or her attitude. Her final council testimony on the SWNI issue is a beaut.
https://youtu.be/JpiXNxr1kRQ?t=10616
She even walked off and left council without a quorum for the rest of the session’s business! A complete tantrum.

And everyone I speak to assumes Mingus Mapps will be given PBOT and will fix everything. There is no proof the first is true, leading to the second being moot. I would like to see the eventual director keep some of Eudaly’s activist efforts alive, and push harder to get rid of the “NO” attitude they have to speed reductions, traffic calming like speedbumps, et al for starters…

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

I know someone who works for the non profit in question, the audit didn’t sound real fair focusing only on equity issues going back a decade rather than on what most of us have heard the problem was which was the money. He is likely losing his job because of the way that she has handled this, something which I think is lost in all this is that her war on this non profit is putting people out of work. Might have been better to have gone more the route the mayor suggested of trying to encourage improvement going forward.

Bikers need to obey traffic laws
Guest
Bikers need to obey traffic laws

So much diversity in this photo, so many shades of white; I am sure this crowd cares sooooooo much about POCs. Your heart must weep over the “Black Lives Matter” signs you see…

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

Representation is important, but the city is overwhelmingly white, and there do appear to be at least a couple of non white people out of 16. I don’t like to assume I can tell what race someone is, and I am not sure that if you asked these 16 people what race they were and compared it to the population of portland as a whole that there would be a statistically significant difference in demographics. It is important to try and improve the diversity of these committees, but as long as Portland is more than 70% white most groups of portlanders are going to be mostly white.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Exactly – what percentage *should* if be?

Bikers need to obey traffic laws
Guest
Bikers need to obey traffic laws

Given how much this page talks about diversity, the burden is on the biking community to beat the spread. It is interesting that the most performative progressives talk about diversity but not at the expense of their own seat at the table.

Brian Setzler
Guest
Brian Setzler

Thank you for writing this. I found it inf.