Ride with Rex

Charlie Burr

Rexbike A few Fridays ago, I had the chance to check out the kickoff of Rex Burkholder's campaign for Metro president. More than 200 folks crowded the ballroom of the Leftbank Project on Broadway, the site of the old jazz club The Dude Ranch from years ago. (The building, by the way, is a great space and home to a lot of scrappy non-profits and creative businesses. If you're in the neighborhood, stop in for a cup of coffee.)

The spot was a great kickoff venue for another reason: Just down the street on lower Broadway is the site where Rex first got the idea to help start the Bicycle Transportation Alliance after a perilous ride with his five year old son nearly twenty years ago. Back then, the region had fewer than ten miles of bike lanes; today, because of the hard work of many folks, more people around the region feel safe riding to work, school and using their bikes as thier prime way of getting from point A to B during their daily lives.

The crowd featured a mix of familiar faces and folks from all over the region. Former Multnomah County Chair Bev Stein introduced Rex, along with Portland City Commissioners Nick FishRandy Leonard, and State Senator and long-time environmental champion Jackie Dingfelder. Others in the crowd included J. Isaac of the Portland Trail Blazers, Bernie Foster of the Skanner, Metro Councilor Rod Park, Better People Executive Director Clariner Boston, Beth Burns of p:ear, environmental advocate Dave Moskowitz, and former BTA director Karin Frost. 

People were eager to share their experiences working with Rex during his decades of service as a teacher, activist, volunteer, and public servant. As Rex put it, "I feel like I am getting married and all the relatives are in town."

"It is rare for me to be as inspired and enthusiastic about a political leader as I am about Rex," said Dingfelder. Judging from the $20,000 fundraising haul at the event, supporters agreed. Combined with Rex's grassroots fundraising, the campaign leads the field with more than $92,000 raised to date.

I had the chance to work with Rex in 2000 against two ballot measures aimed at weakening our land use planning safeguards. We worked to build a strong, diverse coalition of Oregonians dedicated to protecting what we love about our state. What struck me about Rex then are many of the same traits that make me proud to support him today: Rex is an exceptionally hard-working, talented leader capable of bringing folks together for the common good. Rex cares about our state and is about getting things done.

That's what we need at Metro. Rex has the background and heart of an activist, combined with an understanding of how our regional government works and an ability to work collaboratively to solve our shared problems. Here is some of what Rex's work has meant for our area:

Rex has also used the power and resources of Metro to help create more affordable and workforce housing for those squeezed by our hard-hit economy and high cost of housing in the region. Just down the road from me is one transit-oriented, affordable housing development, Patton Place, that probably wouldn't have happened with Rex. Metro doesn't have the biggest checkbook around, but due to Rex's advocacy, the agency was able to provide enough financing to fill an the existing gap and get this MAX-oriented project off the ground.

It's a good example of Rex's approach: More walk-able neighborhoods, more light rail, more transportation choices for everyday folks. Hold the line on the urban growth boundary and work to ensure that families have access to good housing and economic opportunity.

Beyond any one issue, Rex's candidacy is about leadership, problem solving, and how we work together to get things done. Rex, from the kickoff:

"Metro is the regional table we gather around to solve problems: Metro is 25 cities, three counties, [numerous] special districts, and $1.5 million citizens that are wrestling with some really hard challenges. Metro is the place where that happens. The Metro council president's job is to make sure all voices are at the table... all those voices need to be there if we are going to solve anything."

And Rex's priorities as Metro president:

"The things we need to do, and I think that we can do, is making sure we have plentiful, good jobs that pay a family wage and that are good for the earth.

We need to reinvest in our communities. There are many communities now that aren't like downtown and this area of Portland down here.. we have areas that need investment and we need to focus on that -- while we are protecting the farms around the region and the natural areas.

We have to make sure our kids are raised healthy and educated and are able to be good citizens."

This will be a primary election next May. Between the two announced candidates, it's a fight amongst friends. It's my hope that this will be the type of campaign that elevates the discussion, given our two strong choices. Read more about Rex and why I believe he's our best choice here.

  • (Show?)

    Let me raise two issues: (1) My understanding is that Rex supported and continues to support the Columbia River Crossing project. IMHO, CRC is just a gigantic boondoggle that will preempt many other higher priority funding needs all across Oregon. It's just a bad project on so many levels and its too expense to fund. What are Rex's views on this issue? (2) I note that he has had some involvement in educational issue. I'm not aware whether he has done anything to promote more Mandarin or study abroad in China programs in the Metro region schools as a high priority economic development effort. The most recent Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report forecasts that China's economy will be as large as the US economy in 2032 and 20% larger in 2050. Does he think more language programs would help us sell more goods and services in China? Does Rex have a record or thoughts on this issue?

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Thanks for the info! Now maybe I can do like "real politicos", press the flesh, and have a chance to get a face to face with their parks guy after 6 months of his ignoring my letters. When you have a wealthy donor that wants to develop park zoned land for parks...well, who has the time for that!

  • Charlie Burr (unverified)

    Hi Dave,

    1. Rex outlined some of his thoughts on the bridge here. We need light rail and better bike crossing to Vancouver, and the project would have to have a tolling component to be viable. Rex did not vote for, nor does he support, the 12-lane approach developed by the two state DOTs. Rex believes that "we’ve got to build this bridge in line with our region’s goals of sustainability and responsible growth."

    2. Take a look at the Climate Prosperity Project that Rex is helping to spearhead with an eye for what this means for China. I don't know specifically about Rex's thoughts on Mandarin, but part of the goal for this project is to make Oregon a leader in the export of goods and services related to our climate crisis. China, with its surging economy and energy needs, plays an obvious role in this for the reasons you've mentioned.

  • Three Slips and a Gulley and a Silly Point (unverified)

    That's nice. Mandarin is an OK question, but "why is your organization unresponsive" is a troll's question. Classic.

  • (Show?)

    A detailed interview with Rex about the CRC and Metro's RTP is over at BikePortland.

    HT to Jonathan Maus for giving these issues consistently excellent coverage here in the blogosphere.

  • Michelle Bussard (unverified)

    Having worked with Rex at the Johnson Creek Watershed Council and now at the Forest Park Conservancy, I want to echo and underscore Charlie's comment: "Rex has the background and heart of an activist, combined with an understanding of how our regional government works and an ability to work collaboratively to solve our shared problems." Whether it was willingly and delightedly coming out for the Watershed Wide Event (JCWC) or the Days of Stewardship, a bi-annual (September & March) event we created 2 years ago for Forest Park, or thoughtfully contributing to some of the more far-reaching transportation, bond measure and land use policy discussions of the last decade, Rex is always willing, able and thoughtful. He deeply understands the transportation, natural resource, climate change and land use issues facing our region and is an individual equipped with the vision and collaborative leadership skills that will be required to help us all advance mindfully through challenging times ahead.

  • Bev Stein (unverified)

    I've known Rex for a long time and I support him because he is honest, straightforward, and wants to make things happen not just stand on a soapbox. He has the environmental values we want to inform the critical decisions for our region.

  • observing (unverified)

    Rex is trying to rewrite history - he's been a cheerleader on the bridge, and continues to push it forward, despite not having adequately studied alternatives. When you're spending thousands of dollars per resident, it makes sense to think it through.

    From the City Club debate about the Megabridge: If you had $4 billion to spend on any transportation project you want, Cortright asked Burkholder, is this what you'd spend it on?

    Burkholder never answered that question.

    From that same debate A new bridge could relieve congestion that hampers the region's economy and improve safety, Burkholder said. "It's the right thing to do at the right time. It's been studied well."

  • (Show?)

    Charlie, I’ve looked at the links you provided. From one, it seems that Rex supports CRC because the current bridge is “seismically unstable,” is a drawbridge, creates traffic jams, and is not good for biking. My understandings are: (1) that the current bridge is basically sound, it can be seismically upgraded and its useful life extended for far less than the cost of replacement; (2) less costly modifications to the neighboring railroad bridge can greatly reduce the need to raise the drawbridge; (3) that congestion pricing can reduce traffics jams for far less and building a replacement bridge would just move the jams to other place in Portland and Vancouver; (4) spending $ billions seems too much just to improve bike transportation.

    I think there are many higher bridge and transportation priorities (like Sellwood bridge). And CRC should compete not just with other transportation projects for public dollars but with all public needs. Transportation funds no longer come only from gas tax revenues. I have been upset that federal stimulus dollars are being spent to build road and bridges while we are laying off teachers, police and other public sector workers. Those are not my priorities.

    It would cost about $10,000 per high school student to send each of them to China for a year of high school (room & board, tuition, international transportation. For just $1 billion of the $4.2 billion CRC proposal, we could send 100,000 high school students (or 5,000 students per year for 20 years) (Oregon graduates about 36,000 students per year, so for 20 years we could send about 14% of each class to China for a year of high school). I argue that Oregon’s long term economic interests would be better served by spending the $1 billion on the students rather than CRC.

    CRC just is not my priority, and, I’m afraid, funding CRC would suck the funding life out of many more deserving programs.

  • Emily George (unverified)

    For those who've followed the debate extensively, the suggestion that Rex never supported the 12 lane CRC doesn't pass the straight face test. I personally head him do so, and so have countless others.

    If not for Rex's cheerleading for the CRC and giving it political cover, the CRC planning would have been sent back to the drawing board a year ago or more to come up with a sustainable alternative.

    Millions of wasted tax dollars later, Rex is trying to rewrite history and go back to his enviro base to win an election. What's shocking to me is how so many enviros are letting him get away with it.

  • Peri Brown (unverified)

    (4) spending $ billions seems too much just to improve bike transportation.

    For comparison purposes, how much would a bike only bridge + seismic upgrades cost? How about a bike ferry?

  • jim (unverified)

    Sorry Charlie. Your contention that Rex did not support the 12 lane CRC does not pass the laugh test - and the fact that Rex is trying to rewrite history is an indication that Rex must be worried about his prospects. He should be - and even more so, now that you are trying to throw this screwball to the faithful.

    Which part of this article from W. Week 5/21/08 do you or Rex want to scrub from the public record?


    On May 2, the 39-member bi-state CRC task force published a document describing the five options for reducing congestion on the six-lane Interstate 5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver, Wash. Leading the charge for the Cadillac-cost option, which includes a new 12-lane bridge: none other than Burkholder.

    “In terms of congestion, safety and obsolescence, the existing bridge is broken,” he tells WW. Burkholder believes incremental fixes would cost nearly as much as a new bridge and would be far less effective.

    “Instead of patching a leaky roof, it’s better to build a whole new house,” he says.

    Burkholder is Metro’s representative on the CRC task force. Although Metro is but one of eight government entities that must approve the project, the agency’s vote next month on which option to pick is crucial because Metro is the conduit for federal transportation dollars.

    Yet the gigantic project wasn’t much of an issue in the races for Metro—Burkholder was unopposed for re-election Tuesday to his third term on the Metro Council—and two of his colleagues faced only nominal opposition. And even in hotly contested primary races for mayor, City Council or even U.S. Senate, candidates (other than City Council hopeful Chris Smith, a critic) rarely mentioned the issue.

    Despite his decades of work to end the primacy of the single-passenger auto on local roads, Burkholder is now advocating a mega-project to make it easier to commute between Clark County and Portland.

    The $4.2 billion he wants to spend could buy a $21,000 Toyota Prius hybrid and a year’s worth of gas, four new $1,000 bikes, and an annual $1,260 C-Tran pass to Portland for each of Clark County’s 150,000 households.

    Burkholder acknowledges his views have changed during three years on the CRC task force. Hearing Washingtonians’ pain led him to the epiphany that Clark County suburbs aren’t structured like Portland’s Irvington neighborhood where he leads a mostly carless existence.

    “When we started, I said, ‘This [building a new bridge] is not my issue,’” Burkholder says. “But it’s been death by 1,000 cuts.”

    The tectonic shift in Burkholder’s approach—from highway hater to bridge booster—is evidence of just how difficult it is for even the most committed environmentalists to choose between the way Americans live now and the wrenching sacrifices needed to combat global warming.

  • (Show?)

    I'm not saying his critics are factually wrong or anything but... is it me or do they all seem to be working off of the same talking points? I notice some consistency in word choice and phrasing.

    That aside, I'll ditto Peri's excellent follow up questions:

    For comparison purposes, how much would a bike only bridge + seismic upgrades cost? How about a bike ferry?

    Good questions! Anyone have even guestimates?

    Speaking of bike transportation. A bit earlier today I was reading a post at Just Out and clicked on a banner ad for Laura Domela Photography, where I found a delightful sampling of her pics of Amsterdamians biking their city. Found under "Projects", drop down menu then select "Fietsen Amsterdam". Several of those pics made me feel like we Oregonians are pampered and a bit timid in our approach to what is feasible (not to mention pleasurable) with bike transportation.

  • Luisa (unverified)

    SHUT UP about the CRC! Of course he looked at the 12 lane option. He wouldn't be a good candidate if he didn't look at all the options. He is, however, in no way supporting that. The bridge does need to be rebuilt, and Rex will support a pragmatic, progressive solution. Bob Stacy doesn't even want to look at light rail! That being said, the CRC IS NOT EVEN A METRO ISSUE! It is decided by a coalition, and what you should really care about in a metro president is their experience in metro and the changes they will make here in the metro area.

  • Jim (unverified)

    CRC was,is, and will be a Metro issue. Rex played a significant role in the CRC process. His very public role in that process influenced the outcome. Rex's role in the CRC provides an insight into the type of Metro President he will be. I am not sure why these facts evoke such an emotional response.

  • (Show?)

    Rex started BTA; Bob Stacey was with 1000 Friends. Bob's the one who is outspoken against the CRC, and he even made sense in calling for high-speed buses as an economical and efficient way to provide now what will cost more & take longer to get from light rail. both men have serious backing, but it's easy for me to stand with Barbara Roberts and Steve Novick in supporting Bob Stacey.

    but at least we have a good fall-back in Rex.

  • Matt Giraud (unverified)

    Sure, the CRC is a issue relevant to Metro -- that's why Metro was asked to be part of the "Task Force" assembled to make recommendations to the two transportation agencies whose project this is. But that's also why the City of Portland, Multnomah County, the Overlook Neighborhood Association, and 34 other agencies or orgs were asked to participate -- the issue was relevant to them, too. I'll bet that Rex had plenty to say in the Task Force deliberations, but it's hard to believe big personalities like Sam Adams, Fred Hansen, and Royce Pollard (among many others on the Task Force) sat cowering in the corner, speaking only when spoken to.

    It's a key distinction muddied by Willamette Week in the editorial partially quoted above: there's the "Task Force" that made recommendations about the CRC project; and then there's "the CRC," which is the bridge project run by Oregon and Washington's transporation agencies. They're not the same thing.

    Rex, along with reps from 39 other agencies and organizations, was part of a "Task Force" whose recommendations were commissioned by ODOT and WSDOT. Once the Task Force delivered those recommendations, their work was done: ODOT and WSDOT took over and developed the CRC plan we all know and, uh, love today. Rex doesn't work for or represent ODOT and WSDOT (and therefore the CRC) any more than Sam and Multnomah County's Jeff Cogen (also members of the Task Force) do.

    The whole 12-lane issue is perhaps the clearest indication that Task Force and CRC were/are two different things -- it's nowhere in the Task Force reccs (check them out here), but plays a starring role in ODOT/WSDOT's plan. What the Task Force did recommend lane-wise were 3 through lanes in each direction, and "auxiliary lanes, necessary for safety and functionality in the project area, and consistent with minimizing impacts." That ODOT and WSDOT took that leeway and larded on six "auxiliary" lanes was certainly an overreach -- but they own that, not the Task Force.

    So while it's true that Rex "cheer-led" the reccs of the Task Force as the "killer apps" in the project (world-class bike and pedestrian facilities, light rail, and tolling to manage demand), he never cheered for 12 lanes -- that was wholly ODOT/WSDOT's pompom.

    Now, if only I could never type "Task Force" again ...

  • jim (unverified)

    Hmmmmmm. Why, exactly, did Rex lobby to keep "induced growth" effects out of the analysis? Why could that be? Is that the type of leadership we want in our major land use planning jurisdiction?


    Oregonian 6/22/08

    They did so, according to Metro's chief traffic forecaster, to be free of the complex forces driving growth as they designed the five bridge scenarios.

    "Essentially that was a simplifying assumption to assess what the difference might be between the infrastructure changes," said Richard Walker, travel forecasting manager for Metro.

    Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder, who represents North and Northeast Portland, defended the approach, saying it would allow a better comparison among the bridge alternatives.

    "If you let land use change as part of that, then you're not going to be able to compare those alternatives on a fair basis," Burkholder said.

    But simplifying assumptions are "exactly what modeling is not supposed to do," said Todd Litman, of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in Canada, also cited in Columbia River Crossing's own environmental impact statement. "Modeling allows you to do more detailed, case-appropriate analysis."

    Other experts agreed.

    Not taking growth into account is "flat out wrong," said Reid Ewing, a research professor at the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, also a recent guest speaker and adviser to Metro on global warming issues.

  • Doug Allen (unverified)

    I voted for Rex to be my Metro Councilor, and now he seems to think he is entitled to be Metro Council President. He hasn't shown me that he has the skills for that job.

    I get the impression that he is a "people person" not someone capable of making hard intellectual choices based on a combination of values and facts. That was probably fine back at BTA. It hasn't worked too well at Metro. Rex can spout off ideas like eliminating right turn on red, that don't stand a chance in the near term, thinking that will get bicyclists to come back to him, but his "Stockholm Syndrome" act on the Columbia River Crossing demonstrated that he can't be given a higher level of responsibility.

    I have yet to see one area where Rex has more experience or a better, more environmental or more progressive position than his opponent. I have no problem with Rex's friends sticking with him, but I hope they clearly understand his opponents positions before claiming that Rex is better on the issues. I applaud Charlie for sticking with the facts in his endorsement. Some of the commenters haven't done so well regarding Rex's sad performance on the CRC.

  • Lord Beaverbrook (unverified)

    Sounds like a solid candidate to like into, and "jim" only reinforces that perception!


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