Podcast: Council Candidate Steph Routh at Bike Happy Hour

If you didn’t make it out to Bike Happy Hour on Wednesday night, you missed something special. A few dozen Portlanders sat and stood in the crisp, cold night in a plaza on a public street (thanks PBOT!) to take part in an interview with a candidate for local elected office.

I planned to interview Portland City Council Candidate Steph Routh inside Ankeny Tap & Table, but it was such a nice night that everyone was already camped out in the plaza. So we decided to just go with it and I brought the speaker and mic outside, set it on a wooden picnic table, and went for it. We talked for about 35 minutes and then took questions from the audience. It was delightful and I think you’ll really appreciate learning more about Steph and her thoughtful approach to important issues.

Steph, who was born in Parkrose and now lives in Lents, has been a part of our cycling and transportation advocacy community for many years. In 2006 I photographed her bike wedding (yes she married her bike, she wore a veil and kissed the bike and everything) and have followed her ever since. Since then she’s been a leader in our community. Steph was the first-ever executive director of Oregon Walks (where she led the org on an office move by foot!), she worked in communications for Community Cycling Center, Sightline, and the Portland Bureau of Transportation. In 2013 she authored a book on how to move by bike (and has taken part in over 80 bike moves). Steph is also an adjunct professor at the PSU School of Urban Planning and was part of the strategy team that helped win Portland’s local gas tax increase campaign in 2016. In 2017 she interviewed women for a series on BikePortland. And since 2019 she’s served as a member of the Portland Planning Commission (service she called a “love note to my city”).

Asked by someone Wednesday night why she’d never run for office before, Steph said she always assumed being a planning commissioner (a position she “begged to be on”) would be her highest calling. But then she saw that major policies she worked to pass hit road blocks at city hall. “And then when I saw the council district lines drawn and I saw that, on Day One of the new administration, east Portland would have more representation than in the cumulative history of Portland City Council — that was just so meaningful. And I couldn’t say no.”

Here are a few other notable exchanges from our interview:

What can you bring to council so that we make sure great programs and policies [like bike infrastructure plans, Portland Street Response, etc…] aren’t diluted or dismantled?

“I think it’s important to remember I am running for city council because I care and I want to be part of a solution. No one candidate, no one politician is going to solve our problems. And government cannot be the hero of our story. Communities are the heroes of our story. And it has to be. The town is the hero. And the goal and the role of government and I think of politicians, is to create the conditions where communities can thrive and community-based solutions can find purchase and endure.”

I’ve seen activists gain power and office, then become silent and a part of the machine. Are you confident that you can be an elected official in a position of power and still sort of like, keep it real?

“You just described all of my nightmares!… I’ve also started to try to build a ‘Team of Rivals,’ if you will. People who are naysayers, people that I have disagreed with; because I think it’s important to have people who can call me to account… I think it’s important to seek the honorable opposition.”

On her opposition to federal funding for bike share in 2011 because it would only serve the central city, and the argument bike share advocates made that downtown has some of the lowest income census tracts in the city:

“I think that we were right on this, and I am very glad that we got bike share, I love it. But being near poor people, is not the same as being for poor people, there is a difference… We don’t get to say that something that excludes people who are unbanked, at that time, is a social justice project. We just don’t get to say that.”

In response to an audience question about how to reach our cycling mode share goals:

“Making the case for cycling is a lot easier when you have places to cycle to. And I think as the former executive director of Oregon walks, I think walkability and roll-ability is the elegant solution to so many of our issues and makes the abundant case for cycling clear. And I think there’s that triptych of transit and walkability and cycling, and we need to do all three. I think we need to really look at how transit is funded and how, how we’re working on operations, because transit is the backbone to a land-use that makes both cycling and walking inevitable.”

I hope you listen to the full interview. Steph is someone who gives me hope for the future of Portland and I always learn something when I talk with her. I think you will too.

Listen in the player above or wherever you get your podcasts. You can read a full transcript below or download it here.

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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Karstan
7 months ago

I’ve known Steph for 8-10 years and have always been in sort of awe of her. I can’t think of anybody better suited for City Council. I only regret that I’m in a different district and will be unable to vote for her. I can only hope we get some candidates even half as qualified as Steph in my district.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Lisa Caballero
7 months ago

I’m definitely going to listen, but she already said two things that have won me over: the team of rivals and the bit about the triptych of transportation.

As someone who is disabled, can’t ride a bike and can no longer walk the mile downtown, gee what I would give for a bus. My husband bike commutes all over town, but I have to drive everywhere. Not so when I visit other cities! I love the bus, maybe I should marry it.

Without adequate bus service, I’m completely cut-off from Portland’s public transit system. It’s to the point that I am more familiar with the public transportation systems in Europe than in my own hometown.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
7 months ago
Reply to  Lisa Caballero

Sadly the truth is mere converting 40′ rattletrap city buses to EV is fraud.
EVs must from frame up chassis/suspension drivetrain. OLD bus chassis
DO NOT convert to EV very well what so frickin well if at all. Paratransit AND Yellow School Bus fleet ALSO do NOT convert to EV very well at all, damnit!

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
7 months ago
Reply to  Art Lewellan

With an 83% FTA discount coupon on all new city buses, why would any public transit provider even think about converting an old rattly bus to EV? True, our 20-30 brand new Greensboro NC EV buses are $750,000 each, plus another $700,000 for each of our 3 chargers, but between various FTA and CMQ pork-barrel grants, all of our buses have been more or less free.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
7 months ago

So the city has a wonderful bicycle plan from 2010 that envisions 25% ride-share and we’re stuck at 7%…

3% is the new 7%.
.
I was frustrated for years by the tendency of cycling subculture folk to describe cycling mode share as “stagnant” even though there was clear evidence that mode share was in decline. This continuing refusal to acknowledge the precipitous decline in transportation cycling is a hallmark of a walled-off subculture that has become detached from reality. it’s hard to make progress in transportation mode shift when you are furiously pretending it’s still 2013.

Joesurfer
Joesurfer
7 months ago

I’m concerned that we would elect another “advocate/activist/non-profit worker . Portland’s recent history had brought us some really bad leaders by electing these type of folks (Chloe Eudaly, Carmen Rubio, Jessica Vega Pedesron, Joann Hardesty). I’m all for bikes but we need less ideology and more pragmatism in Portland.

Joesurfer
Joesurfer
7 months ago

I hear it on the “internet” as well Jonathan but more importantly I hear it when I talk to my neighbors and friends in Portland. It’s clear to me from those conversations that we need a course change and more “activists” trying to govern is not the answer. More of the same isn’t what most Portlanders are seeking.
But instead of understanding a desire for a change and a better community you accuse me (and others) of being intolerant. It appears like you’re the intolerant one with your labeling and jumping to conclusions. Just sayin’.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
7 months ago
Reply to  Joesurfer

Joesurfer, “instead of understanding desire for change a better community you accuse others like me of being intolerant. It appears more like you are the intolerant one, your labeling conclusions.”
(really thought that stream of thought could live on) Gracias.

Aaron Brown
Aaron Brown
7 months ago
Reply to  Joesurfer

It sure is uncanny how the four people you have the biggest beef with are all women, three of them women of color, and curiously you don’t seem to have any acknowledgement of the fact that Rene Gonzalez was a self-described “activist” for the schools reopening campaign and Dan Ryan was the ED of a *huge* nonprofit coordinating fundraising with PTAs.

BB
BB
7 months ago
Reply to  Aaron Brown

It’s uncanny that you mention a person of color and a Gay man in a derogatory way..
See how this works?
Tell us how Rene was wrong about the school openings, BTW.

SD
SD
7 months ago
Reply to  BB

He was 100% wrong, but I and most people who value their time would not waste their efforts discussing COVID revisionism with Rene supporters that are not interested in good faith discussions and have often been anti-public health.

His anti-teacher positions then and now were mostly to get workers back to work to please his benefactors.

BB
BB
7 months ago
Reply to  SD

Aaron Brown brought up the Covid revisionism…and I never stated I am a Rene supporter.
Pointing out the hypocrisy that demanding criticism of public officials be gender neutral apparently goes over your head…
Sorry.
If he is 100% wrong so was Finland, the Netherlands and most of Europe.

Aaron Brown
Aaron Brown
7 months ago
Reply to  BB

my point was less about Rene’s positions on Covid and more to the point that he’s just as much an “activist” as any of the other elected officials that were originally mentioned.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  SD

“He was 100% wrong”

Was he?

I know that’s the popular political conclusion on the left, but I’ll wait for some real data before making my own assessment. I am pretty convinced closing schools at the beginning was the right move given what we knew, but given the educational deficits accumulated during the closures, I am less sure that keeping them closed as long as we did was the right thing, even working with what we knew at the time.

If you know of any “nonpartisan” data on this, please share. And if you don’t know of any, how do you conclude with 100% certainty that Gonzales was wrong? I doubt there is any data in existence that would give you 100% confidence that the decision was right or wrong. Unless, as I started with, your conclusion is primarily political and not fact driven.

Joesurfer
Joesurfer
7 months ago
Reply to  Aaron Brown

You can add Dan Ryan to that list. He needs to go as well. Do you feel better now? Oh but now I’m a homophobe? LOL. You are using identities as a way to try to limit and prevent criticism of elected representatives. Democracy doesn’t work that way.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  Joesurfer

What about all those who have criticized Millicent Williams and Mingus Mapps recently? The identity filter for thee and not me, because I’m not racist.

John V
John V
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Well, could be that Mapps and Williams both just suck independently (as you could say about all the women listed in the original comment, I guess). But luckily we have a counter example, Hardesty is someone who a lot of (who knows how many really) people like me was in favor of, so you can’t really point to race as the common factor of the criticism for Williams and Mapps.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John V

Well, could be that Mapps and Williams both just suck independently (as you could say about all the women listed in the original comment, I guess).

Yes, exactly. We should give everyone the presumption that this is what they mean (because it probably is), though it is probably much more satisfying to call someone a racist or misogynist than to simply have a different opinion.

But luckily we have a counter example

So if I dislike Hardesty, all I have to do is proclaim to like Millicent Williams or Condoleezza Rice to escape accusations of racism and sexism? Isn’t that like “having a black friend”?

(who knows how many really)

47.15%, give or take.

John V
John V
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You like to live in this fantasy land where nothing can be known unless it is mathematically provable to be true or false. In reality, we usually don’t have that luxury, so we have to go on the evidence we have, which is lacking. Always assuming people are not racist is going to bias things towards ignoring (i.e. encouraging) racism, systemic or otherwise. Thing is, even if there is plenty of racism all over today, there are very few people who will publicly say “I’m doing this because I’m a racist and I think black people are bad” or whatever. You have to judge based on their actions or other words. And my judgement is that there are way too many people who suspiciously don’t like the women or people of color on city council, and that reeks to me of some kind of bias.

Your comment suggested people criticizing Williams and Mapps may have this bias (based on Aaron Brown’s reasoning). Undoubtedly, some do. But a lot of the people who are criticizing them now (me for example) were in favor (voted for) Hardesty, so it can hardly be said that the reason for the criticism is race. At least not for all of them.

Again, we can’t mathematically logic our way to this conclusion, we live in a world of imperfect knowledge where even mathematics itself is on a shaky foundation. We have to use judgement, and Aaron’s point, which is convincing to me, is that it’s suspicious how much of the hate of council members is directed at certain kinds of people.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John V

We have a different world view: I tend to assume the best about people I don’t know. You tend to assume they’re racist without knowing anything about them except some politicians they don’t like.

Maybe I do live in a fantasy land (I’m the most optimistic person here, after all), but I’d rather see the good in people than assume everyone is bad. It’s a nice fantasy to inhabit.

It’s not about math, it’s about empathy and compassion.

John V
John V
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I don’t want to drag things out more, but I absolutely do not assume people are racist, I take it as evidence they are racist if their words and actions follow a racist pattern, even if I can never actually know the inner workings of their mind.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John V

but I absolutely do not assume people are racist

Good. You are doing better than some of the folks here, who are willing to judge a person by what they can divine from a short posting.

maccoinnich
maccoinnich
7 months ago
Reply to  Joesurfer

It’s almost a year since Hardesty has been on the city council and almost three years since Eudaly has been. At some point the blame has to be on the current members of city council. (And in that spirit I do think JVP as County Chair deserves a lot of criticism.)

Joesurfer
Joesurfer
7 months ago
Reply to  maccoinnich

Fair point. But it does take a while to reverse damage done. I agree though that our current batch of ideologically obsessed leaders like Rubio, Ryan, Vega Pedesron and Jayapal are not helping us.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Joesurfer

Hi JoeSurfer,

What’s damning about your list is that those women don’t share political views. Eudaly and Rubio are not cut from the same cloth at all.

What is Rubio’s “ideological obsession?” Rubio is in the middle of undoing some things Eudaly fought for.

The only thing they have in common is that they are both women. That is why you are vulnerable to being called sexist.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
7 months ago
Reply to  maccoinnich

Hardesty wholeheartedly supported the SW Corridor MAX debacle. An almost classic example of corruption ala incompetence. Worst reail engineering proposal for decades. Voters said NO. Ted still wants Portlanders to believe a lie.

John V
John V
7 months ago
Reply to  Joesurfer

“Less ideology”

I can’t even. What does that even mean? Everyone has ideology. Everything you and anyone governing is guided by ideology.

What you mean is you want a different ideology. Fair enough. But what is it that you want different? You want less worrying about poor and minority people, less concern for housing people? You people complaining about “ideology” never get into specifics about what you mean, most likely because it would be really embarrassing and paint you in a pretty bad light.

BB
BB
7 months ago
Reply to  John V

So the people Joe mentioned care about poor people and have concern about housing people?
What track record do any of them have that displays this?
I will wait….

Aaron Brown
Aaron Brown
7 months ago

Go Steph go!

Polite reminder that Steph is running using the Open and Accountable Elections program – every donation up to $20 is matched *9* times, if we can get Steph up to 750 donations. She’s on her way but every single donation, no matter how small, has a *huge* impact on her fundraising. Not just in a “feels good to see the donations come in” sort of way, but in a “the open and accountable election program will give her even more money if she gets 750 donations” sort of way, so please chip in a few bucks if you haven’t already!

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
7 months ago
Reply to  Aaron Brown

Aaron, your math is a bit off. According to the City election website, that theoretical $20 donation could yield as much as a 20x match ($20×250=$5,000 for the first $100,000 tranch = 20x; $20×500=$10,000 for the next $100,000 tranch = 10x; $20×500=$10,000 for the final $100,000 tranch = 10x; maximum 1,250 donations of $20 = $25,000 raised for a $300,000 match = 12x) I’m sure if my math is off, someone will no doubt correct me.

$300,000 is the most a city council candidate can receive from the city program – up to $750,000 for mayoral candidates. Donations can come from anywhere, but only those from Portland residents can be matched, and only up to $20 per donor, so if you are giving to more than one candidate, the later donations may not be useful for match if you go over your $20 donation limit.

There’s lots of paperwork involved.
https://www.portland.gov/smalldonorelections/how-run-under-sde

mh
mh
7 months ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Are you quite sure there is a matchable limit on donors? I asked someone unofficial, and they said not. My first $20 donation to any or all candidates who qualify under the program should be matched.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
7 months ago
Reply to  mh

From the city website:

From a donor who has not already had $20 matched to a candidate in the same race. Donors can give to multiple candidates in the same race. But our office only matches their donation up to $20. So if they give $20 to two candidates in the same race, we will match whoever collected the donation first. If they give $15 to one candidate and $5 to another candidate, we will match both donations, since the total was still at or under $20. Each donor can have up to $20 matched, regardless of whether they gave that $20 to one candidate or many candidates in the same race.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
7 months ago
Reply to  Aaron Brown

There’s also a website for tracking who has gotten what so far, and from how many donors, if they were in-city or not, for all current listed candidates.
https://openelectionsportland.org/?startDate=Sun+Jan+01+2023+00%3A00%3A00+GMT-0500+%28Eastern+Standard+Time%29

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
7 months ago

I’ve seen activists gain power and office, then become silent and a part of the machine.

Someone who has been a paid proponent for the interests of filthy rich developers and predatory tech companies is, by definition, part of the machine.
.
I have zero faith that Ms. Routh would prioritize the interests of those who are suffering the most from the built-in and desired inequity of our “free”-market system. This hardly makes Ms. Routh unique in our thoroughly corrupt electoral system where the rich and their corporations can spend virtually unlimited sums on PACs and 501c4 “think tanks”.

blumdrew
7 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

If you are expecting city council candidates to overthrow the capitalist-wage slave system, you will be terminally disappointed. And if you are waiting for a candidate who will break the shackles of the proletariat and found the Portland soviet, you will be waiting your entire life.

The question for a political candidate is rarely “are they the perfect candidate?” but rather “are they the best option I’ve got?”

pierre_delecto
pierre_delecto
7 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

who will break the shackles of the proletariat and found the Portland soviet,

Chloe Eudaly was no Marxist-Leninist but she did make protecting the rights of low-income Portlanders a policy priority. I’m waiting for another candidate who will make addressing Portland’s festering low-income housing crisis a priority. I expect to be disappointed.

John V
John V
7 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Come on, don’t bring that “best option I’ve got” stuff into this, that trope is tired and plenty of people are done with it. In this case, we don’t have people saying this or that candidate is the lesser of two evils, we have people gushing over her and how wonderful she sounds (even being swept away by Obama-style “team of rivals” nonsense), so pointing out that she’s likely going to be motivated by the same things that causes all our other disappointments in people like Mapps is a welcome counterweight in my opinion.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  John V

“Team of rivals,” I was thinking of Lincoln and JFK, I had forgotten that Obama thought it good advice too.

blumdrew
7 months ago
Reply to  John V

If you are voting, you should pick the best candidate available to you – rather than saving your vote for a future perfect candidate. It’s a general statement, rather than one specific to Steph Routh.

Are there cases where both/all candidates are so bad that it’s better to abstain? Yes, there are! Is the forthcoming Portland City Council election one of them? No.

John V
John V
7 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Yeah maybe. It’s also a general statement that always just voting for the best option presented to us gets us to a bad place. But I agree, this Portland City Council election probably isn’t one of those cases. I just don’t think “are they the best option I’ve got” isn’t a strong argument for anyone other than whoever already agrees with you.

Watts
Watts
7 months ago
Reply to  John V

voting for the best option presented to us gets us to a bad place.

Voting for the worst option isn’t likely to work out better.

John V
John V
7 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Voting at all isn’t the only political action possible.

one
one
7 months ago

I’ll be volunteering for Steph!

one
one
2 months ago

I met Steph sometime before the 2008 Towards Car Free Cities Conference. She is absolutely my #1 candidate in ANY district. I already donated $5 to her campaign and I’ll be looking to volunteer for her (And she isn’t in my district) soon.