Catherine Ciarlo J.D. ’94
Robert M Reynolds
The City of Portland’s Bicycle Plan calls for 25 percent of all trips in Portland to be made by bike by 2030. At present, around 7 percent of trips are made by bicycle—far from the goal that Catherine Ciarlo calls “extremely ambitious.” She would know. Ciarlo is the transportation policy director for Portland Mayor Sam Adams and the former head of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), the state’s leading bicycling advocacy organization.
Ciarlo says her career in transportation policy grew out of a desire to live lightly on the planet—she initially worked for the Sierra Club after college. After she earned her J.D. from Lewis & Clark, Ciarlo worked on water quality issues in the Columbia Basin before joining the environmental education organization Northwest Earth Institute. Then, in 1998, she became executive director of the BTA.
“The BTA was an obvious next step because it had elements of political organizing, legal issues and strategies and also a huge sense of individual ownership and responsibility,” Ciarlo says. “I joined the organization when it had two and a half staff positions, and by the time I left seven years later, we had 12 staff members.” During her tenure, daily bicycle traffic across Portland’s Willamette River bridges doubled.
In 2006, Ciarlo was appointed to the Portland Planning Commission. (She was, at the time, also the executive director of Oregon Women Lawyers.) Three years later she joined the mayor’s staff. “In my years working in transportation, I have been struck by the amount of misery people feel around issues of traffic,” she says. “We try to make the case to the community that everything we can do to address the specter of increasing traffic helps, even if you never ride a bike yourself. It’s challenging, but not impossible.”
For her part, Ciarlo still rides to work daily. “For me, it’s often the best part of the day,” she says. “It’s the best way to deal with a high-stress job, get exercise, be outdoors, and feel a little bit of freedom from the responsibility of everyday life.”
Catherine Ciarlo, the City of Portland’s transportation policy director and former executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.
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Owner of Sellwood Cycle Repair.
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Author and advocate for women building bicycle-related businesses.