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The political arm of Portland’s biking movement is back and organizing for 2016

The political arm of Portland’s biking movement is back and organizing for 2016


A Bike Walk Vote event at Crank bike shop in February 2013.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The national political season may have officially begun with Monday night’s Iowa caucuses, but the local political season is well underway.

And Bike Walk Vote, the political action committee that has helped elect politicians in 23 Portland-area races since 2004, will be back at it in 2016.

That’s a change of direction since six weeks ago, when an organizer described the group as “currently dormant” despite a big election year for transportation issues coming up. But since then, its leaders have recruited some fresh blood and the new team hopes to have a kickoff meeting in the next two weeks.

The first big election, which will see races for Portland mayor, two other City Council positions, two Metro Council positions and a local gas tax, is May 17. The voter’s pamphlet deadline for that election is March 21 and ballots are mailed April 27.

In November, the local races will go into runoffs if necessary and state races will take the lead, giving voters their only channel of indirect influence over the Oregon Department of Transportation.

One of Bike Walk Vote’s new leaders is Roberta Robles, who has also been active as a volunteer and organizer for advocacy group BikeLoudPDX. Robles answered some questions by email over the weekend.

roberta robles

Bike Walk Vote leader Roberta Robles, speaking at a City Hall rally last June.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

BikePortland: When, approximately, do you hope to have kickoff meetings?
Robles: We hope to have a kickoff meeting in the next two weeks. Still polling volunteers.

Who is the leadership? Has a formal board been selected yet?
We are retaining the existing board chair Jodi [Jacobson-Swartfager]. She has had a change of family plans and is now more available. She and some original members are reawakening old accounts and checking organizational status. We have a new legal “box checker” Alan Kessler who is going to make sure we are keeping up with the legal details. We are establishing a new board structure. Likely 5 to 7 members with some sub-committees driving policy and fundraising.

“We need to address homeless issues on transport corridors. … I’m not in favor of homeless sweeps on corridors unless we have actual homes to put them in.”
— Roberta Robles, Bike Walk Vote PAC

Do you aim to raise money, or mostly just to endorse candidates?
We are putting together a snappy 3-5 point questionnaire and hope to have the questions on our website in the next couple of weeks. Assuming we can reach consensus as a group. We have limited time before the March election, but I’m really aiming for the November election to see if we can move the political needle in the fall.

Do you aim to use the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s survey [of candidates] or create your own?
I’m all about copying good work. I haven’t reviewed their survey yet, but we are hoping to pull in a BTA advisor to wear a new hat as a PAC advisor. There is so much to keep track of we definitely need better coordination between nonprofits and advocacy groups.

Have you made contact with the previous BWV organizers?
The old leaders reached out to BikeLoudPDX leaders. We are keeping the old crew who want to stay on board and some new BikeloudPDX members who are new to advocacy. We are all learning a bunch as we go, being mindful of the past. We need to change our transport system towards a more fair and equitable network for vulnerable transport users. I personally want a candidate question regarding transport corridor sweeps on homeless camps. It’s a tough issue. But we need to address homeless issues on transport corridors. … I’m not in favor of homeless sweeps on corridors unless we have actual homes to put them in.


Politicians often say that the most valuable thing Bike Walk Vote does is endorse, so truly bike-friendly (and walk-friendly) candidates can differentiate themselves from opponents who say nice things about bikes but avoid substantive promises for reforming transportation. Robles said BWV currently has “more than enough volunteers,” but if you’d like to help out it seems unlikely that they’ll turn you away. The group’s email is

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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As a big election year looms, Bike Walk Vote PAC is looking for new leaders

As a big election year looms, Bike Walk Vote PAC is looking for new leaders

Bike Walk Vote candidate party-11

Future Portland Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick speaks at a 2012 event for Bike Walk Vote-endorsed candidates.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

In 2016, Portlanders will vote on a local gas tax, a new mayor, a transportation commissioner, a regional council and a governor.

If you make between approximately $7,000 and $100,000 a year, you’ve probably got $50 in free money from the State of Oregon to spend in 2015 on a candidate or political committee of your choice.

That’s the fact of Oregon’s unusual but underused political tax credit system.

But for people who believe that Oregon should be reducing its dependence on cars, the odd complication is that no political committee active on those issues seems to be asking for that money — even as Portland heads into an election year that will shape transportation issues for years to come.

A proposed local gas tax that could dramatically increase Portland’s funding for biking and walking improvements is also supposed to be on the ballot five months from last week, but no one seems to be organizing on its behalf yet.

In that May primary and in the November general elections, voters will elect a majority of the Portland city council (including a new mayor) and the governor of the state, who offers the only direct channel of power between voters and the state’s two biggest transportation agencies: the Oregon Department of Transportation and TriMet. The mayor, in turn, will choose a new city transportation commissioner; candidate Ted Wheeler says he’d take that job himself. To our knowledge, his rival Jules Bailey hasn’t commented on this yet.

Meanwhile, all 60 state House seats are up for election, as are 15 of the 30 state Senate seats, headed into a 2017 legislative session that’s widely expected to include another push for a major new statewide transportation bill.

You may also have heard that there’s a national election coming up next year.

In summary: 2016 will matter, and it will keep mattering.

Endorsements matter as much or more than cash, bike-friendly politician says
N Tualatin Mtns open house-8

Metro Councilor Sam Chase, elected with Bike Walk Vote’s endorsement in 2012, speaks at an open house about possible mountain biking trails in December 2014.

Portland does have an existing political action committee dedicated to low-car transporation: Bike Walk Vote, founded in 2004. In the ten years since, it’s endorsed 29 local politicians, 23 of which have gone on to win.

Metro Councilor Sam Chase, who has been an advocate for the North Portland Greenway path since winning Bike Walk Vote’s endorsement in his first run for regional office in 2012, said in an interview Thursday that though getting a little campaign money from biking advocates is nice, Bike Walk Vote would still be “incredibly important” if it didn’t raise a cent.

“The endorsement, and the name, and being able to use that endorsement on the material, helps to provide a third-party source that this person has been evaluated and does not just talk about active transportation but does support that agenda,” Chase said. “The forces out there working on the other end are well-financed and working hard.”

Chase, who is running for reelection in 2016, said he couldn’t comment further about that opposition.

Metro’s council is currently the target of a moon-shot Bicycle Transportation Alliance campaign to get $15 million in regional funding for Safe Routes to School infrastructure and programming.

Bike Walk Vote is currently dormant, BWV board member Lisa Marie White said in an email Wednesday, and not active enough to solicit state-tax-credit-funded donations from people who support biking and walking.

I wrote back to ask whether she’d consider handing over the reins if she were contacted by someone who wanted to take on BWV in 2016.

“YES!!” she replied.

BTA plans to issue candidate questionnaire
Screenshot 2015-12-24 at 11.57.03 AM

A guide (zoomable PDF here) to the difference between 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 organizations’ political abilities.

Even if no one steps in to keep Bike Walk Vote active, Portlanders who care about active transportation will have some other allies.

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance isn’t allowed to endorse candidates, host debates about “a narrow range of issues” or accept tax-credit-funded donations.

But it can do voter education and get-out-the-vote campaigns. Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky said in an email Wednesday that the BTA plans to do that with a “Bike the Vote” program in 2016 that will include a candidate questionnaire.

The BTA co-hosted a candidates’ forum in 2012, and could do so again in 2016.

BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky said last year that his organization was considering starting a political sister group that could endorse candidates. But he also said that the BTA had to weigh the costs and benefits of electing friendlier politicians against the costs and benefits of directly lobbying politicians the rest of the time.

Kransky, who came to the BTA from the environmental movement in 2010, said the BTA has sometimes relied on the Oregon League of Conservation Voters to track votes and endorse politicians in the state legislature. But he said Portland’s biking movement doesn’t currently have an “electoral game” of its own.

“We have great grassroots power, but not yet great organizing,” Kransky said of the local biking movement generally. “The ‘bike community’ has people power in spades and we at the BTA are pushing ourselves every day to get better at grassroots engagement.”

Vision Zero USA pulls back from focus on elections
Candlelight vigil for traffic victims-11.jpg

Chris Anderson of Vision Zero USA at a vigil last week for traffic violence victims.

There’s one other effort worth noting: Vision Zero USA, an advocacy group founded this year by a pair of Portland parents, Amy Subach and Chris Anderson. The couple said in May that they were planning to start a “Vision Zero PAC” to unseat politicians around the country who were “traffic violence apologists.” But they instead settled on forming a 501(c)4 organization called Vision Zero USA, which can endorse candidates but can’t make electoral issues its primary focus.

501(c)4 groups can’t accept Oregon’s tax-credit donations, said local political consultant Kari Chisolm of Mandate Media, who created the explanatory site

Subach explained in an October email to local advocacy group BikeLoudPDX that “when I looked into the laws and regulations and talked with lawyers, I was overwhelmed with the amount of time and effort it would take, especially for someone with no experience or legal training.”

“Chris and I are doing this on a strictly volunteer basis and have limited time and energy to put into it,” Subach said Wednesday. “501(c)4s are simpler all around.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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Comment of the Week: The challenge of speaking up as a woman who bikes

Comment of the Week: The challenge of speaking up as a woman who bikes

Wonk Night - Romp in the Comp Plan-3

Biking community leader Lisa Marie White, right,
leading an advocacy discussion at a BikePortland
Wonk Night in October.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Of all the conversations we’ve had on the site this week — there have been 1,100 comments on 27 posts — the biggest was about the line between journalism and community.

Many people who we respect disagreed with Jonathan’s decision to delete archived references in past stories to a man who, he’d decided, seemed to be using his perceived status to hurt other people.

The One of the most upvoted comments in the thread came from another reader and fellow community member who we respect a lot: Lisa Marie White, a prominent local biking advocate (most recently at Bike Walk Vote) and active community member. Here’s her take on Hart Noecker and, more importantly, on what Portland’s biking communities should learn from this conversation:

First: to those taking issue with Jonathan deleting information from the site, I believe he did the right thing. As someone who knows the situation and the accused (though we are no longer friends), not allowing him to promote himself via this site is important. Additionally, those posts have a tendency to falsely imply he was a leader (which he likely encouraged), though from what I know he was not.

Second: I’d like to echo Esther in thanking you for addressing this publicly. It is not simply an “incident” – at its root is a generally discounted female and minority voice in our bike community. To those who repeatedly tell me “but we’re the most progressive city and most progressive bike culture”, I’d agree… and what does that say about the state of female and minority voices in bicycling? If we have difficulty being heard here, where CAN we be?

The realities of being ignored and discounted (and having to have male board members forward e-mails to me, since despite being a chair, people assumed they must really be running our group) has made me, on more than one occasion, want out of the active transportation advocacy world.

Dismissing varied voices sets the stage for accusations like Byrd’s going ignored and doubted and shut down until the tally of accusers is high enough to force acknowledgment. It also allows Hart and others to dominate conversations at the expense of others. Aggressive speech from him was rarely a problem – aggressive responses from women have been met with discomfort and shunning.

I wasn’t going to comment, but silence and silencing has been our biggest problem and it has allowed egregious behavior to go unchecked.

Speaking up, however, is equally unappealing as a woman. Throughout this ordeal, when other women have spoken up, I’ve heard the real-time responses of “she’s too sensitive” or “she’s a bit intense/needs to calm down” or “why is she taking this personally”. Outside of this particular issue, I’ve also seen women promote great ideas and seen them swiftly discounted for their lack of “experience” or “knowledge”… only to see a guy say the same thing and have his ideas lauded. We’ll hold prominent women up as tokens of our inclusiveness, yet fail to integrate them into conversation and decision making in meaningful ways.

This is a systemic problem of which we have only scratched the surface, and I believe it is one of the reasons bicycling has stagnated in this city – many still feel no place exists for them in this world. I am incredibly thankful to everyone who has spoken up and to the men in the community who have shown themselves to be caring, compassionate, and open to examining their own faults. You give me a whole lot of hope 🙂

“Once you know better, you do better.”

I truly hope we do.

We don’t choose White’s comment because she happened to agree with our course of action on this, but because in this comment she puts her brain, her experience and her heart on the line to explain how things look from her perspective and point the direction we should go from here. If you ask us, that’ll always be the formula for great bike advocacy. Thanks for being one of the many who’ve spoken up, Lisa Marie.

Yes, we pay for good comments. As always we’ll be mailing a $5 bill to Lisa Marie in thanks for this great one.

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