Blumenauer not worried about legacy, says city is poised with policy and political potential

Blumenauer at a press conference in southeast Portland this morning. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer walked slowly into an office building on Southeast 7th Avenue this morning, about one mile south of the carfree bridge that bears his name, and answered questions from reporters for about 30 minutes.

We showed up on short notice after Blumenauer announced yesterday he would not seek another term in office and that his nearly 50-year political career will be over at the end of 2024.

The congressman donned his customary neon bike lapel pin and wore a large white bow-tie with black bikes stenciled on it. He didn’t make a speech and instead opted to simply open it up to questions from about a half-dozen cameras and local reporters.

At the entry to the event there were three stacks of issue papers: “Bikes”, “Cannabis”, and “Livability.” To say Blumenauer was the biggest bicycling champion on Capitol Hill is so obvious it almost doesn’t need to be said.

Given the notable decline in two of three of those high priority issues in Portland in recent years, I wanted to ask Blumenauer if he’s worried his legacy was being squandered — and whether he planned to help Portland get back on track. Before I even got a chance to ask my question however, Blumenauer brought up the subject himself. “I’ve spent a lifetime working on livable communities. And I’m proud of what we did in Portland,” he said. “But the last few years, no one’s going to confuse us with the most livable city in America. And I want to work with people here to change that.”

When I asked him to expand on that and share his thoughts on his legacy being damaged by a lack of local political champions for the issues he cares most about, he said, “I’m not going to abandon bike-partisanship, whether it’s here or around the country.” Then he continued:

“I think what we’ve done in this community is establish a bike culture, and you can’t avoid it. Walking or biking or — God forbid — driving around Portland, it’s pretty firmly embedded. And we’ve got some people who are strong advocates and the infrastructure here is good and it’s getting better.

We’ve got opportunities in a way that we’ve never had before… This last Congress produced more money for biking, for transit, for Amtrak, than ever before; and a very ambitious agenda to reduce carbon emissions. So we’ve got these pieces in place with federal policy.

We’ve got some amazing advocates here. I think it’s a matter of putting the pieces together. I think in the next election there’ll be more people who are willing to embrace and move it forward. So I think it’s it’s just a little below the surface.

We’ve got tremendous opportunities in cycling and transportation infrastructure. Extending the streetcar one mile to Montgomery Park opens up 5,000 housing units! What we’re doing on 82nd Avenue, the number one transit street in the entire system, and the commitment to improving traffic safety, which I hope becomes a higher priority for the general public. And I’m sure it will be for the people who run for office this next year.”

When I chatted with Blumenauer privately before the event he gushed about a recent trip to Bentonville, Arkansas, a city that has fully embraced bicycling and the mantle of America’s most bike-friendly city thanks to a huge infusion of cash and enthusiasm from Walmart.

In many ways, Bentonville is doing what Blumenauer — and many of us in local advocacy circles — were trying to do in Portland before the wheels fell off around 2014 or so.

It would have been impossible to imagine Portland losing its cycling stride back in those heady days in 2008 when Blumenauer was pumping his fists on the House floor after we were named a “Platinum” bicycle-friendly city. It will be just as hard to imagine Portland losing its bicycling champion in Congress.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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dan
dan
6 months ago

Sorry to see him go, but I appreciate him for making way for new blood. Hope he’ll find an encore career working on issues close to his heart around Portland / Oregon

SeaTacgoride
SeaTacgoride
6 months ago

“Poised with potential”.
My how fall Portland has fallen…..

Jerry Knicht
Jerry Knicht
6 months ago

In many ways, Bentonville is doing what Blumenauer — and many of us in local advocacy circles — were trying to do in Portland before the wheels fell off around 2014 or so.

Okay, raise your hand if you’re willing to go back to the office…

https://www.cnn.com/2021/10/23/business/walmart-return-to-office/index.html