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Sarah Iannarone picked as new leader of The Street Trust

Iannarone in 2019.(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)


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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