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Sarah Iannarone picked as new leader of The Street Trust

Posted by on January 10th, 2021 at 10:46 am

Iannarone in front of Portland City Hall at a rally for the 2030 Bike Plan in February 2020.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Transportation activist and two-time Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone will lead The Street Trust into their next era. Iannarone has been hired as interim executive director on a six-month contract. Her main focus will be a strategic planning process that will help the nonprofit advocacy group determine what type of leadership model they need.

Iannarone, who’s often seen at community events riding her electric bike with an Ortlieb pannier slung over her shoulder, comes to the position fresh of her second mayoral campaign where she garnered a respectable 41% of the vote (to incumbent Ted Wheeler’s 46%). No stranger to cycling advocacy, Iannarone is an outspoken member of the City of Portland’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. She also represents cycling on the Portland Bureau of Transportation Budget Advisory Committee.

In a statement released today, The Street Trust board member Thomas Ngo said, “Iannarone brings the global expertise, commitment to equity, and passion for the work these times demand.”

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Here’s more from The Street Trust:

“An urban climate policy expert notable for her candidacy for Portland mayor in 2020, Iannarone’s visionary leadership will help The Street Trust tackle unprecedented challenges facing transportation in the Portland region. Traffic fatalities are at a 24-year record high; the ongoing pandemic has gutted transit ridership and funding; and the current recession has exacerbated disparities for BIPOC and low-income communities around jobs, housing, and transportation. As local jurisdictions tend to the most immediate crises, they’re struggling to make the necessary investments to advance mobility justice and tackle climate change.”

After The Street Trust’s previous executive director Jillian Detweiler stepped down last summer, the organization named three staff members as co-directors. It was an “embrace of a new leadership model” that “reflected the changes we would like to see in society.” the organization said at the time.

Iannarone will not be a co-director. Asked whether she sees herself staying on past the six-month contract, Iannarone shared with me this morning that, “If it’s a good fit for me depending what comes out of the strategic plan… I’m committed to this work. I want to make sure the organization is stable because there’s such a strong need for leadership in this space.”

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Iannarone at a BikePortland Wonk Night event in 2016.

Before running for mayor in 2016 and 2020, Iannarone was associate director of First Stop Portland, a program at Portland State University that showcased local urban planning innovations to visitors from around the nation and globe. An urban policy expert, Iannarone is also well-versed in politics. Late last year she launched the Our Portland Political Action Committee (PAC) to promote progressive policies.

The Street Trust launched a PAC of their own in 2017 when they changed their name from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Iannarone’s mix of political acumen, experiences in community organizing, and passion for cycling and transportation advocacy should make her an effective addition to The Street Trust at a time when they’re in desperate need of vision and leadership.

In recent years staff turnover and departures have become the norm at The Street Trust. They’ve struggled to find a balance between appealing to donors and conservative elements of the community while still being effective with the type of activism needed to move the needle for cycling growth in Portland.

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In 2017 the organization had 15 paid staff. In May 2020 that number was down to 10. Back in August when Detweiler stepped down, The Street Trust named their existing development, advocacy and financial directors to co-director roles. All three of those former directors are now gone. Before Iannarone was hired The Street Trust was down to just three full-time staff: an education program manager, an events director, and a communications director (who joined the organization in November).

Iannarone speaking up at a Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting in 2018.

According to 2018 tax filings (for a period through August 2019), The Street Trust earned $963,092 in revenue and spent $972,972 — a loss of $9,880. Their revenue included $97,606 in membership dues and $457,958 in government grants.

If Iannarone is able to work on advocacy strategy in addition to the strategic planning work, her style would mark a major departure for The Street Trust. Since its scrappy roots in the 1990s, The Street Trust has become much more conservative in recent years. Past leader Rob Sadowsky told us in 2014 that the sidelining of an aggressive advocacy style was an intentional strategy to forge productive, long-term relationships with electeds and policymakers. Detweiler, who came from a background in real estate development with TriMet, continued that trend.

That shift to the center at The Street Trust gave rise to Bike Loud PDX, an all-volunteer group that has tried to fill Portland’s bike activism gap. While Bike Loud has done impressive work without any paid staff, the need for a respected and feared cycling advocacy organization in Portland has never been stronger. Cycling has been flat for years in Portland. The latest U.S. Census bicycle commuting numbers put Portland’s bike commuting rate at a paltry 5.2 percent, down from a peak of 7.2% in 2014. 2019’s bike commute rate was down from an average of 6.3 percent over the previous five years and the lowest single-year estimate since 2007.

Iannarone isn’t likely to stand on the sidelines while current trends continue. She’s one of the most ardently progressive voices ever to be taken seriously in Portland political circles and has made a reputation for herself in taking on the local status quo. One of Iannarone’s main policy planks in her recent mayoral campaign was a detailed Green New Deal plan that blasted, “tepid leadership and centrist incrementalism”.

If The Street Trust’s board of directors give Iannarone the green light to do for cycling and active transportation advocacy what she has done for progressive politics in Portland we could be in for a very interesting next six months.

Iannarone has an opportunity to set The Street Trust on a new path at a very opportune moment. With the incoming Biden administration promising big investments in infrastructure, several new faces at Portland City Hall, and new leadership at sister nonprofits Oregon Walks and the Community Cycling Center, Iannarone will take over a once-powerful organization in a city that used to be known as one of the greatest cities for cycling in the world. If Portland is to ever shake itself out of its cycling stupor, Iannarone could be just the type of fearless, focused, and experienced leader to do the job.

— 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 welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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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Roberta
Guest
Roberta

Congratulations. She will do great. But we don’t need an elongated strategic planning process. We need the Bike Bill guaranteed funding legislative push in the next 2-3 months. Then do a strategic organizational plan. DO NOT LOOSE THE MOMENTUM OF THE PROTESTS with another internal strategic plan. GET the GANG started in Salem for a big bike bill. I would like to remind everybody this is a statewide organization with statewide responsibilities. Make sure you are pushing for all Oregonians. Not just Portland specific projects. GO BIG SARAH!!!

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

They are a perfect fit for each other.

However, I don’t quite see how this is going to help the larger community in general or the bicycling community in particular – both she and the trust are rather neo-conservative in a bidenesque sort of way – nothing new nor innovative is expected out of either.

Christian Samuels
Guest
Christian Samuels

Not expecting much from Sarah “I am ANTIFA” Iannarone. She’s in the same camp as other divisive local politicians such as Chole Eudaly and JoAnn Hardesty. I am afraid her adversarial nature will reduce the effectiveness of the organization’s stated goals of making walking, biking and transit safer, cleaner and more efficient for all.

I also have to wonder If she is such an “urban climate policy expert” why has she not finished her PhD in instead of just falsely claiming she has?

The Street Trust made an error with this hire.

https://www.opb.org/article/2020/09/18/mayoral-candidate-sarah-iannarone-hit-with-election-complaint-for-phd-statement-in-voters-pamphlet/

One
Guest

Great for the Street Trust. I wish she was our mayor!

Jon
Guest
Jon

Hopefully this works out. I let my membership lapse after their name change. They appeared to have lost their way when they decided to widen their focus beyond bicycle transport. Time will tell. She can’t do any worse then what they have done recently.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

Just renewed my long lapsed membership! Very excited about having strong leadership and vision in this important executive director position. I hope Sarah is able to make the position a good fit and stay for awhile.

Would love to see the Street Trust eventually find ways to bring in and support the many other transportation advocacy groups and energy in Portland.

It has been a long week but I optimistic about the future.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

I would urge Sarah to take the Street Trust in the direction of Transalt (Transportation Alternatives), and go so far as to invite members of that org to train and implement advocacy models. Transalt has created an incredibly robust and organized group of advocates that engage local partners, provide training, regularly release initiatives and are consistently in the news.

Cory P
Guest
Cory P

This is Great news!

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

Sadowsky quietly sidelined advocates within the organization by doing things like just ceasing to schedule meetings. I was on the legislative committee at the time, it was never disbanded, nothing was ever said, meetings just were cancelled for a couple months and then emails asking when they would resume weren’t answered. It was extremely unprofessional.
The bigger problem though was that he didn’t just harm advocacy from within TST/BTA he actively opposed the efforts of advocates outside the organization. There is a reason the street trust is a gutted shell of what the BTA was and while it shouldn’t all be laid at his feet he did real damage imho. I have been starting to wonder if TST is salvageable or if we should be trying to grow another organization to replace it, in recent years it seems like they just kind of vacuum up limited resources without a lot of positive outcomes. I hope Sarah sticks around awhile and has some success, the constant churning of staff is part of the problem at TST and if they are looking for another ED in 6 months, well…

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

This is a meaningless appointment. If the Street Trust was serious about her, and if she was serious about the job, they would not have been made an ‘interim’ appointment. She is a placeholder that will, if she is lucky, not make Street Trust even more irrelevant.

squareman
Subscriber

I guess it’s “put up or shut up” time. I’m hoping she silences the naysayers in the end about her aptitude for making a positive change with active transportation. Then again, I find the Street Trust to be mostly toothless these days – go Bike Loud!

David R Burns
Subscriber

This afternoon, I renewed my long-lapsed BTA membership. I’m very glad to see things looking up.

Hotrodder
Guest
Hotrodder

Wasn’t it Sara who suggested that Portland should relinquish the Springwater to the homeless with the city’s blessing? I know, it’s the Street Trust, not the Springwater Trust, but it always seemed to me that for cyclists who no longer feel safe on what used to be one of the best and safest connections to all parts of the city, that statement alone should have dismissed her from any consideration as a community leader. It did for me.

BELPRIVATE
Guest
BELPRIVATE

I’m thinking of dropping my membership. I’ve been a long time member starting when 1st formed by Rex Buckhalter. Disappointed with with Sarah selection. Seems like orgroup as lost focus. Sarah more interested in turning over the bicycle commute paths to the homeless, supporting antifa like violences.

Brendan
Guest
Brendan

I still struggle with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance becoming the Street Trust. I think this rebrand and focus on too many items has made the org meaningless. If anything, a simple return to the BTA and clear focus on cycling issues would be a step forward. We have Oregon Walks and Bike Loud PDX which are clearly named and focused on their subjects.

Jake Robbins
Guest
Jake Robbins

What a great reason to not give any money!

Fred
Guest
Fred

Before I read the 73 comments posted here, I’ll just say that I became disenchanted when BTA became the anodyne Street Trust, which doesn’t seem to stand for anything. Even the name means … nothing much (I like streets, we all like streets).

My wish would be for Sarah to steer the organization toward a specific identity – something cycling advocates can really get behind and support. I’ve never felt TST has a real identity, and Bike Loud (and others) have moved into the cycling-advocacy space in a more effective way.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

Congratulations, Sarah!