Election open thread: There’s a ton at stake for cycling today

Election open thread: There’s a ton at stake for cycling today

Portland City Hall welcome bicycle riders at the 2008 Carfree Cities Conference.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

What happens tonight could play a huge role in whether cycling moves up the local political ladder or remains a third-tier issue.

The moment of truth is here. The fate of candidates and issues that earn the support of voters today will have vast consequences for cycling, our streets, infrastructure projects, and a range of mobility issues.

We have a multi-billion dollar transportation infrastructure and program funding measure at Metro and one of the most promising Metro council races in years.

We have a race for Portland mayor that could be the difference between more of the status quo, or a serious boost of new ideas and energy.

We have a very consequential race for a seat on Portland City Council that could give an incumbent more time to fulfill her vision, or give a new leader a chance to step up and start his political career.

We have a chance to elect a promising new leader to the state legislature who’s steeped in east Portland transportation issues.

And even on the national level, a Democrat in the White House and a stronger majority for Democrats in Congress would lead to better transportation policy and more funding for projects and programs that encourage bicycling.

Here are just a few things on my mind today:

— There are millions in potential cycling-specific infrastructure investments in the Metro measure (26-218). Protected bike lanes on major arterials, funding to build (and plan for) new multi-use paths regionwide, the complete funding of a network of protected bike lanes in downtown Portland, and more. If it doesn’t pass, there will be plenty of blame to go around. But in terms of moving forward, one consequence could be more urgency for congestion pricing. Covid has decimated local budgets and the need to pay for transportation isn’t going anywhere.

— Metro council candidate Chris Smith is not just a long-time reader and supporter of BikePortland, he’s an everyday bicycle rider who relies on an electric cargo bike to get around town. His direct involvement in many cycling events and activism initiatives combined with his policymaking skills and intimate understanding of the issues bicycle users face would make him a clear champion for two-wheeled transport on an already bike-friendly Metro Council. Smith’s laser focus on the connection between transportation planning and climate change could help our regional government take the difficult steps necessary to start moving needles away from driving and toward cycling, walking, and transit.

Iannarone (in 2019) and Wheeler (in 2009).
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

— The race for Portland Mayor could be the most consequential for cycling in over a decade. Incumbent Ted Wheeler, an occasional bike commuter who spends most of his cycling time training for triathlons, came into the job with lots of promise. But beyond being a reliable “yes” vote on any cycling projects that come up at council, he hasn’t been proactive on the issue (in his defense he doesn’t oversee the transportation bureau, so it’s not really his job).

— Wheeler’s challenger, Sarah Iannarone, could be much different. While she too isn’t likely to oversee PBOT as Mayor, her knowledge of cycling and her daily use of a bicycle to get around will very likely give cycling a more powerful position in local politics. Iannarone doesn’t just ride a bike for transportation, she’s a certifiable bike activist and wonk. You might have met her at one of our Get Together events (she was a regular) or heard her hold PBOT accountable as a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee. Iannarone’s lived experience combined with her urban planning chops could deliver the most bike-friendly leadership Portland has seen since former Mayor Sam Adams got the job in 2008.

In recent years cycling has taken a back seat to other important issues in Portland (housing, homelessness, racial equality, police brutality, and so on). There are a lot of reasons for that, but we might be at a point now where a new type of cycling advocacy — one that’s evolved by listening and learning instead of dominating the conversation — is ready to emerge. What happens tonight could play a huge role in whether cycling stays in the shadows or comes back into the light.

What’s on your mind as you watch returns tonight?

(Note: If you want to hang out with some fellow nerds, don’t miss The Overhead Wire’s livestream with experts from all over the country discussing transportation measures. Stream starts at 3:00 pm and can be watched on their YouTube channel.)

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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