Rob Sadowsky, Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s new director, looks ahead to the organization’s next 20 years
By Israel Bayer
The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is 20 years old this year. The organization has helped foster a bicycle movement in Portland that is looked at as one of the most forward thinking in the country.
In the past decade the organization has gone through tremendous change, tripling its budget and helping foster pro-cycling policies in Portland and legislation for Oregonians across the state. Among their work, the BTA has helped pass legislation, from lower speed limits on specific residential streets to stricter rules to protect pedestrians and cyclists injured by motorists convicted of careless driving.
In short, the BTA has been a leading voice in creating a movement that continues to grow and have influence locally and around the region.
The organization has also gone through a tremendous amount of change and staff turnover. Some critics say the BTA is soft and too close to those in power; others say it’s too dogmatic. The organization recently hired a new executive director, Rob Sadowsky, who led the Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago for the past six years. He also serves on the national boards of the Alliance for Biking and Walking and the League of American Bicyclists.
Sadowsky has more than 23 years of experience in nonprofits, mostly working on affordable housing and economic development issues. He offers a fresh perspective for the BTA and Portland on a range of subjects, which was clear from the moment our conversation began.
Israel Bayer: Can you talk about some of the program work the BTA does and how it’s benefiting the community?
Rob Sadowsky: There are three main areas that we work on. The first is advocacy around creating the best network that can be there for cycling. Be it bike lanes, bike corrals, parking facilities — just encouraging all of our local partners like the Bureau of Transportation to do the best that they can.
The second thing is around safety and education to both encourage people to look at bicycling as an option whether it’s for getting healthy and physical fitness or environmental reasons or both.
The third is trying to build a movement around bicycling so that it becomes an integrated part of our culture and who we are.
On the advocacy side we’re doing a lot of activity to try to move the Bike Portland 2030 Plan. It’s a very bold bicycle plan the city recently passed. We’re trying to keep the heat on and make sure the city is taking the proper steps in partnership with us to raise money for the plan. On the face, it seems expensive, but in the world of transportation dollars, it’s not expensive at all.
On bicycle safety and education we’re focusing on a lot of education in schools trying to encourage kids and parents to bike or walk instead of using cars. We’re also working through both policy and legislative means to try to create the safest streets possible.
For example, I’m representing the bicycling community on Tri-Met’s Safety Task Force that is looking top to bottom on how Tri-Met could change the culture of safety so that we don’t has as many accidents, etc. in the community.
Then around the movement, Portland and the state are really blessed in terms of its integrated movement. We have events and activities every single night. We have representation in a variety of communities from folks who “zoo bomb” to the people that do parties and “coffees” on the bridges to individuals that want to get formally involved in something.
One of the things we’re exploring is what role we (the BTA) play in building that movement. Having a place to share ideas is important and when the movement needs to speak with one voice, we are prepared.