Unlikely Advocate 

Portland's Secret Bike Champion Rises from the East

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BACK IN THE DAYS OF YESTERYEAR, Sam Adams was Portland's ballsy bike champion. But now that Adams is mayor the city needs a new outsider activist. The next big bike advocate may be the city's most unlikely candidate: a 62-year-old inner-Eastside landlord named Randy Miller.

While many in Miller's position might prefer to ride around in chauffeur-driven town cars to avoid a rumpled suit, "he has, in the last year, become a fanatic about biking everywhere," says Metro Council President David Bragdon, who accompanied Miller on a "best practices" trip to Copenhagen in June 2008, when the best bike city in the world converted Miller to the cause.

"And I'm not talking about Lycra on the weekends," Bragdon continues. "But pedaling to work, between meetings, all the time."

Miller is definitively a member of old Portland's establishment: Lithe for his age, Miller is always distinguished looking in smart suits that complement his silver hair. While Mayor Sam Adams once sought to forge links with the business community to pedal his bicycling agenda forward, Miller is the business community. Since selling his consumer electronics and telecommunications business, Miller has focused on managing several inner-Eastside properties. And sitting on 33 corporate boards in the city, he's not short on clout.

"Everybody in bicycling advocacy is really excited about him, because he represents old business, and that's what everyone wants to infiltrate," says Bikeportland.org Editor Jonathan Maus. "The Portland Business Alliance [PBA] has always been this huge dragon that fought against bikes, but here's Randy Miller, and he knows all those guys."

When the PBA handed Miller its annual President's Award this April, Miller took the chance to preach a pro-bike message to the crowd of Portland's most influential business leaders.

"He gets up in front of 900 people and says, 'I want you all to start biking, that's what makes this city great,'" says Bragdon. "And everyone's sitting up asking, 'Is that the Randy Miller we know? He's gone crazy!'"

In Miller's opinion, it's not insanity, it's pure business: Bike industries are the best way for Portland to create wealth and family wage jobs. "That's been my focus all the way through for a zillion different organizations," he says.

Miller organized last year's trip to Copenhagen for 50 local business and civic leaders because he wanted them to see the impact that sustainability could have on Portland.

"And I just fell in love with that culture," he says. "The relationship between bicyclists and motorists there is tremendous."

After the trip, Miller began biking everywhere. Congressman Earl Blumenauer invited him to join the 2009 National Bike Summit in Washington, DC.

"I'm kind of a newbie to this," Miller admits. "But I'm totally convinced. Even in the last year I've seen a shift in Portland from radical fanatical bicyclists to a much higher degree of conduct on the roads, and the relationship with motorists has improved."

"Randy is exactly the kind of convert who is making bicycling mainstream in Portland," says Bragdon. And mainstream support is exactly what it's going to take for Oregon cyclists to win funding and respect in Salem.

More Bike Issue articles here!

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