Portland’s new transpo chief: From bean counter to bike believer, in 1,200 tweets

June 19, 2013

Michael Andersen

Now this is interesting: Portland’s incoming transportation director doesn’t always tweet. But when she does, more and more over the last few years, she tweets about bikes.

Treat, who starts work in Portland July 1, has spent the last two years in Chicago’s bike-loving transportation department, doing low-profile work to “deliver innovative projects and ensure Chicago continues to thrive as the economic center of the Midwest.”

Treat “has been the person behind the scenes making sure that we can move these initiatives through the ‘bureaucracy,'” wrote Scott Kubly, deputy commissioner in Chicago’s transportation department, in an email Tuesday.

Some of Treat’s success in Chicago may be related to her roots: she came to the job not as a policy advocate but as a fiscal analyst. That’s also why Treat’s growing conviction about the importance of bicycling to urban transportation is so heartening.

And it’s pretty clear that Treat’s conviction has indeed been growing.

Since starting to use Twitter regularly in mid-2011, Treat has shared 1,246 140-character thoughts with her friends and followers. For the first two months, Treat didn’t tweet (or retweet) the words “bike,” “biking,” “bicycle,” “bicycling,” or “cyclist” once. Then, in August 2011, she shared seven thoughts or links about biking.

She hasn’t missed a month since.

Lately, one in four of Treat’s Twitter comments is bike-related. Last December, when Chicago unveiled arguably the best on-street bike facility in the country on Dearborn Street, fully half her tweets were about biking.

Yes, it’d be silly to parse a public official’s opinions entirely from her Twitter chatter, in which she also enthuses about Pink Floyd music, jokes about Mitt Romney’s attitude toward women and retweets wisdom from Oprah Winfrey.

But Treat’s casual, earnest tweeting style is what makes this bean-counter’s obviously growing fascination with bikes all the more convincing — and, hopefully, contagious.

Here’s a selection of tweets (including those by other people that Treat choose to echo by retweeting) that track Treat’s gear shift from an expert on city budgets who happened to be bike-friendly to a woman eager to declare in her job interview that Portland’s commitment to “progressive transportation” is “stagnating.” Her two years of tweets paint a picture of a woman whose enthusiasm for bike infrastructure, especially separated green lanes, is rooted in hard numbers; in her own experience as a bike commuter; and in her values of gender equity, social mobility and economic prosperity.

It’s going to be terrific to welcome Treat to town.

Worth re-posting! RT @thisbigcity The Real Reason why Bicycles are the Key to Better Cities http://t.co/IJOUyP3q #urbanism #bikenyc #cycling

? transportdata (@transportdata) September 27, 2011

If residents of 11 US cities ran half their errands by bike, 1K deaths/yr avoided & $7B saved http://t.co/tNySFMuj #PHealth MT @walkonomics

? transportdata (@transportdata) November 7, 2011

This Bike Could Save Your Life: An Infographic On The Massive Benefits Of Bicycling http://t.co/PkaRNXFx via @FastCoExist

? Leah Treat (@leahtreat) December 23, 2011

A Bike To Fix Public Transit’s Biggest Problem – Commute – The Atlantic Cities http://t.co/jFqBjokW

? Leah Treat (@leahtreat) March 23, 2012

More bike lanes = more people on bikes! We’re living at a great time to invest in bikeable streets. http://t.co/RtCIzRNL

? America Bikes (@AmericaBikes) April 17, 2012

The Evolution of the Bike Lane – Neighborhoods – The Atlantic Cities http://t.co/yaqb8C57

? Leah Treat (@leahtreat) June 4, 2012

Chicago’s new protected bike lanes bring civility to the streets, prosperity to the city: http://t.co/xVp7zlZo #bikeonomics

? Rick Risemberg (@BicycleFixation) December 16, 2012

How Britain Is Helping Its Citizens Buy Bikes – Commute – The Atlantic Cities http://t.co/K4dOBn6K

? Leah Treat (@leahtreat) December 18, 2012

How Biking To Work Is Going To Save My Life http://t.co/pTRpBfbx via @BIYourMoney

? Leah Treat (@leahtreat) January 29, 2013

An Explanation for the Gender Gap in Biking – Commute – The Atlantic Cities http://t.co/x4kvKaSb

? Leah Treat (@leahtreat) February 19, 2013

In 1894, the 'New Woman' Was a Bicyclist Who Changed History http://t.co/aUaOgdsGVi

? Leah Treat (@leahtreat) April 16, 2013

John Greenfield contributed reporting.

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