Metro Council candidate Chris Smith
Metro Council candidate Chris Smith

Chris Smith, a longtime Portland transportation activist and member of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission (PSC), is the latest to throw his hat in the ring for an open Metro Council seat.

Smith is running to represent District 5, which includes North, Northwest, and Northeast Portland. The position is currently occupied by Sam Chase, who is running for an open seat on Portland City Council.

In addition to serving on the PSC, Smith has also served on the Metro Policy Advisory Committee, the Portland Bicycle Master Plan Steering Committee, and the Portland Streetcar System Plan Advisory Committee, among other transportation-focused organizations and groups. He runs the transportation blog Portland Transport, and currently works with No More Freeways, a coalition that opposes the expansion of Interstate 5 in the Rose Quarter. Smith ran for a spot on Portland City Council in 2008, but lost to Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

If elected to Metro Council, Smith said he would orient his decisions around one guiding principal: the need to combat climate change.

“We have lots of challenges in our society right now—we can’t house everybody, we’ve got huge income inequality,” Smith told the Mercury. “The one I feel equipped to handle is the climate change piece.”

Smith said that the unique power Metro holds over land use and transportation decisions in the region presents an opportunity for Metro Council to be a leader in shifting away from car dependency and toward more cycling and public transit use. He takes issue with the way Metro has planned for a multi-billion-dollar transportation funding measure, saying it has relied too heavily on polling to determine the priorities, and that the result is a project package that he fears won’t move the needle much on greenhouse gas emissions.

“From a climate change point of view, we’re not there yet,” Smith said about the current project list. “We need much more of a radical transformation… Our elected leaders should be telling people what it’s going to take to deal with climate change, and then telling them what we’re going to do to get there.”

In Smith’s estimation, that would mean taking a focus away from projects that would benefit drivers, and investing more in bike lanes and transit infrastructure.

“As a transportation activist, one of the views I come from are complete systems,” he said. “We have a complete automobile system in the region—you can drive from anywhere to anywhere. We don’t have a complete bicycle network, we don’t have a complete pedestrian network… [and] there are still areas you can’t get to on transit.”

If he takes office after the measure is approved by voters, Smith said he wouldn’t rule out trying to change the project list after-the-fact.

“It’s too big a spending opportunity to not make sure that it brings about change,” he said.

Smith is running in a field that includes former Oregon State Rep. Mary Nolan, Q Center Executive Director Cameron Whitten, and local business leader Karen Spencer.