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BTA: Bike Master Plan "does not live up to Portland's potential"

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 9th, 2009 at 5:08 pm

"We ask that an immediate analysis, reevaluation and reallocation of transportation dollars spent by the City of Portland become an action item in this Plan."
-- The Bicycle Transportation Alliance, in a letter to PBOT

In their official comments on the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) says the City is not doing enough to realize bicycling's potential. The BTA is also calling for several "near-term benchmarks" to keep the City on task before 2030.

In a letter to the Plan's project manager Ellen Vanderslice, BTA Executive Director Scott Bricker and BTA Board Member Jim Middaugh write that in the fifteen years since the previous Bicycle Master Plan was adopted in 1996, the City "has not demonstrated a sufficient commitment to bicycling investments nor to making the fundamental shift required to make bicycling a realistic travel option for all."

Bricker says Portland has the potential to be a world-class bicycling city, but that, "At current investment levels Portland will never realize the vision and potential described in the draft plan and will achieve only few of the objectives endorsed by the community at large and the City Council itself."

Also in the letter, the BTA lists specific comments and proposals they want to see put into the plan. As we mentioned in a story last Friday, the BTA wants the plan to have more near-term benchmarks instead of the 20-plus year horizon of 2030. Specific benchmarks proposed by the BTA are:

  • 130 miles by 2013: Installation of all "Tier One" projects listed in the plan.
  • Two Trails by 2020: Completion of both the Sullivan's Gulch and North Portland Greenway Trails, which are mention in the plan as "Tier Two" priorities.
  • 20% by 2015: 20% of all trips made by bike by 2015 (the Plan currently calls for a 25% mode split by 2030).
  • Four Times Safer by 2014: By 2014, the crash rate for people bicycling in Portland will be one quarter what it is today (based on a rolling 5-year average).

Another criticism the BTA has of of the current Plan is that the language used is too passive and that the Plan itself -- not the City -- is too often cited as the body to take the actions. For instance, at the end of each part of the Master Plan PBOT lists a series of what they refer to as "Recommendations". The BTA wants them to change that word to "Plans".

The BTA also recommends the City delete labels referring to people as either "bicyclists", "pedestrians", or "drivers", saying these labels are "already out-of-date today" and that their use in the Plan "wrongly gives Portlanders the impression that one group of people ("bicyclists") stands to benefit from its implementation at the expense of another."

As for funding, the BTA wants PBOT to reflect in the plan that all discussion of funding for bicycle projects not new sources of funding. Instead, they call on the City to re-allocate existing transportation funding "based on the City’s existing and new policies, including the Green Transportation Hierarchy."

"We ask that an immediate analysis, reevaluation and reallocation of transportation dollars spent by the City of Portland become an action item in this Plan. If the City is always waiting to make incredibly modest investments in green transportation until it has "enough" funding to do so, we could easily wait until 2030 and beyond."

It will be interesting to see how/if the City responds to these comments by the BTA. And, whether the BTA will follow-up this letter with a campaign to help turn their comments into reality.

The official public comment period for the Bicycle Plan ended yesterday and the Plan is slated for a hearing at City Council on January 20th.

Download the letter and a summary of the BTA's comments on the Bicycle Plan here (PDF).

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Comments
  • JR November 9, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    The City is relatively progressive in it's funding allocation. But clearly that's not enough. As the City and region wake up to the realities and hard choices we face now as a result of a century of dependence on fossil fuels, prioritizing investments in bicycle, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure must rise to the top.

    For one thing, we need to stop relying so heavily on Metro's travel forecasting model which, although elaborate and sophisticated, only repeats the old travel behavior it's based on. We need a fundamental shift in ideology and approach. Perhaps we're closer to it in this region than most, but it's still too far to touch. Unfortunately, we seem to lack the leadership necessary to take us through this next fundamental step.

    With each problem comes a solution, but we have far too many problems and far too few solutions at this point.

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  • PDX Rider November 9, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    The question is whether BTA can create and sustain the grassroots pressure necessary to push city council to allocate more funding for bikes in the budget for next fiscal year. That decision is made in the spring, so BTA has between now and then to prove they can act on their letter.

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  • Joe Rowe November 9, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    The BTA is still not being direct enough. What they are saying is this:

    The city must direct PDOT and ODOT staff to produce, in writing, a list of changes to meet the bike plan, including the dates of completion. Those changes will de-fund single occupancy cars and their parking, and shift funding to a priority on alternates which includes bikes, buses, rail, pedestrians and freight. PDOT/ODOT shall NOT repeat their tired excuses of precedent to veto new projects.

    original quotes quotes:

    Shifting existing resources away from the car-dependent practices of the past
    too often the language relies on passive
    voice, weak language and words that don’t require commitment and action.

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  • BURR November 9, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    why did the BTA wait until the last minute to make these comments and why wasn't the BTA saying these things earlier, when the plan was still in the development phase? didn't they have at least one if not more representatives on the steering committee? BTA is not being assertive enough on this and other issues like the CRC, this is why I am no longer a member.

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  • old&slow November 9, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    If this wasn't pandering, I don't know what is. At last, the BTA seems to get it (losing membership tends to focus the fundraising,er, the mind). All the benchmarks are worthy goals, too bad the BTA had to lose all the momentum, membership, and fervor that would have come from an engaged leadership in the last two years. It is not too late, but a total change in leadership is required for the bike community to again really get behind this group and the goals they have just now realized are important.

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  • batya November 9, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    I admit I'm with Burr on this one. The BTA was late to the party before and its timing isn't really any better here. And I am also not renewing my membership.

    I think getting out there and riding my bike in all weather provides a better example of what can be done in the face of a car-centric reality than ANYthing the BTA has to offer now.

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  • joe adamski November 9, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Burr.. BTA WAS there at the Planning Commission with their discussions about how weak the vision is. Michelle Poyereau (sp?) spoke in detail of how BTA viewed the Draft Plan as being timid and afraid to reach for the possible, instead settling for the immediately achievable.
    If you have a long term memory, before BTA was established, there really was no policy/advocacy group for cyclists in Portland. There were bike clubs,but they had little clout. Before you beat up on the BTA, remember that their goal is to be here today and tomorrow, working to make Portland and all of Oregon better for cycling and cyclists. There are forces out there that would happily toss every bike into the rubbish heap. Those same forces are often whispering into the ear of their legislator,their bureacrat,their City Council. A group such as BTA may not please 100% of their constituency, but rest assured they are closer to that than Rep Krieger who wanted to force licensing of bicycles.And the BTAs job includes whispering into those same ears and giving a reality check. In short, we have enough enemies, lets not beat up on our band.
    To sum it up, BTA has been engaged in the public comment as well as Scott Bricker being on the Steering Committee. BTAs written testimony is an eloquent cap to the basic foundation laid by earlier testimony. We, even the Steering Committee did not see the final product until its public release. Nobody exept PBOT staff knew what the Draft plan actually said,detail-wise, until it was released. And it takes time to digest that much information. BTAs public comment and written testimony are timely and appropriate.
    Beat up your enemies, not your friends.

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  • BURR November 9, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Well, personally I'm a bit disappointed and underwhelmed all around by the plan, and, while I certainly don't want to lay the blame for that at the BTA's feet, I do expect them to be a bit more assertive at the appropriate times.

    In other words, there's a time to be polite and cooperative and there's also a time to bang your fist on the table; playing the warm fuzzy game of Portland politics doesn't necessarily earn you any points when the chips are down, and I still think the BTA has been a day late and a dollar short on a lot of important issues recently, including this one.

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  • are November 9, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    I wonder if some of these forward looking people have tried to become involved in BTA politics, run for the board, etc.

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  • jim November 10, 2009 at 12:12 am

    The BTA also recommends the City delete labels referring to people as either “bicyclists”, “pedestrians”, or “drivers”, saying these labels are “already out-of-date today” and that their use in the Plan “wrongly gives Portlanders the impression that one group of people (”bicyclists”) stands to benefit from its implementation at the expense of another.”
    What do they want to call bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers? It sounds like bta is trying to be sneaky and dishonest? Correct me if I'm wrong.

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  • are November 10, 2009 at 12:42 am

    the idea is that walking and biking become so commonplace, and within the imagination of ordinary people, that one thinks of oneself not as a pedestrian or a cyclist or even a motorist, but as a person who is traveling in one or another mode as the occasion requires or permits. so that person over there is no different from me, except maybe in my private judgment as to whether their choices are appropriate.

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  • Zaphod November 10, 2009 at 12:55 am

    Joe #7 +1 Well said.

    Jim #10, the labels are divisive. There's nothing sneaky, but referring to a person by their mode isn't really helpful and can change by the hour. Suppose I drive to buy building materials, then I bike to get some lunch and later I walk to the park. Or maybe I commute by bike but run random errands by car... whatever. The classification tries to apply a category when it might not make sense. Most people are at least two categories

    Furthermore, and this is at the core of all of it, the point is to increase mode split. So what does this mean? It's taking the people who previously were classified as "motorists" and giving them the tools and inclination to give the bike a try. If the infrastructure is perceived as safe, easy and quick, you'll see people on bikes who you'd never expect. The labels help perpetuate the status quo of limited choices for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians aka citizens.

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  • Steve B November 10, 2009 at 3:45 am

    What are the preferred terms to help group and generalize mode users in conversation?

    I'm a cyclist, motorist, and pedestrian, at different times of the day. I understand linguistics are important, but the alternatives seem a bit convuluted to me.

    "People on bikes" "people walking" "people driving"? I like the idea, but doesn't it mean the same thing? Or is this an issue of connotation? Of a lifestyle choice?

    I look up the definition of motorist and I get "a person who drives or travels in a privately owned automobile." I look up pedestrian and it's "a person who goes or travels on foot."

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  • Elly Blue (Editor) November 10, 2009 at 8:25 am

    It's been BikePortland's policy for some time to use what disability activists call "people-first language," which is what the BTA is describing here. The idea is to avoid labels that can be heavily loaded with prejudice and myth. For instance the idea of a separate, strange class of "cyclists" that are either very elite or very poor and either way consider themselves different from everyone else, above following the rules, etc. is quite mythical.

    The most telling illustration of this is the difference you hear in public response when you talk about a person being hit by a car vs when you talk about a "cyclist" being hit by a car. Aren't you a person first and foremost, whether you're on your bike or whatever? You wouldn't necessarily think it to hear the varied responses to these tragedies.

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  • BURR November 10, 2009 at 8:55 am

    @ are #9 - I can't think of anything more mind-numbingly boring that being a board member of a non-profit like the BTA. Besides, I'm officially retired from front-line bike advocacy, after serving on the BAC for 12 years. I just like to snipe from the sidelines occasionally on BikePortland now.

    ;-)

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  • 007 November 10, 2009 at 10:30 am

    To all the BTA naysayers: Talk is cheap. Rock on, BTA.

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  • Vance Longwell November 10, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Jim #10 - I too feel this is disingenuous. I play the same games sometimes, but readily admit to it. If bicycle riders stand to disproportionately benefit from public spending, well then just say so and provide a rational, logical, reason why this must be so. A group calling itself the voice of all bicycle riders in Portland must be held accountable, and not allowed the same forgiveness afforded fringe, wing-nut, boat-rockers; like moi.

    What are the expectations of this group? Numbers are not only up, they're off-the-charts-up. That can be viewed as progress, and subsequently redeemed for tokens, or it can be viewed as equity.

    The bicycle riding community is in an awesome position right now. If we could stop grabbing with both hands long enough to look, you'd observe this equity. This community now has within it's collective power the equity to offer up a sacrifice. Now's the time to give something back, and it won't cost anything but the egos of leadership that has failed each, and every one, of us. Support and opposition alike.

    Let them build the CRC and coerce and extort top-notch alt-mode facilities. Spin it like the, "Bicycle riding", community seeks compromise, or something. This hypothetical is a half-loss weighed against how much potential good-will?

    The CRC is a hypothetical. The point being, there may be extra stuff for us right now where there has historically been none at all. Given that the numbers are up regardless, why not? I'd like to see the BTA further marginalized, and quite publicly so, at that.

    The goal was to raise ridership. That goal has been reached. Now what is the expectation? If it's about the future, I sure hope folks are considering an olive-branch. Sometimes progress isn't measured in green thermo-plastic guys.

    Burn the BTA at the stake. Build the CRC, and then return to grabbing with both hands. Or, support the BTA, ban the bridge, and spend the rest of the winter riding on thumb-tacks.

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  • spare_wheel November 10, 2009 at 11:05 am

    "The most telling illustration of this is the difference you hear in public response when you talk about a person being hit by a car vs when you talk about a "cyclist" being hit by a car."

    This point cannot be made often enough.

    My major problem with the bike plan was the wishy-washy ambiguity about what precisely would be done for tier 1 projects. We do not need additional pencil-thin bike lanes that disappear at intersections. We need *wide* and *protected* bike ways that facilitate crossing of major intersections safely. (And, yes, I commented.)

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  • Todd Boulanger November 10, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    This tread of topic may need to be spun off to a new page. How to address bicyclists v motorists using the people first language.

    It may also be the time to formally change the name of the BTA in line with the broadening of it's recent advocacy to deal with walkers and straphangers (aka transit riders). Drop the 'B' to become Transportation Alternatives of [X]. [I know there is a TA in NYC.]

    Thoughts from an unmotorist.

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  • Todd Boulanger November 10, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Correction: the BTA would become the Transportation Alliance.

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  • Stripes November 10, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    I agree. I know long-term planning goals are super, super important, not only in their own right, but also to apply for funding for projects.

    But it would be nice to see lots and lots and lots more paint on the ground so to speak, rather than endless plans drawn up and then sitting on dusty shelves.

    I think Portland got a bit burned out on the whole long-term "visioning" thing Tom Potter shoved down our throats, without actually achieving much of anything.

    What I love about Europe, is that they just build stuff. If they decide to improve conditions for cycling, two hundred bike boxes go in OVERNIGHT! I'd love to see more of that here, NOW, and not merely in 30 years' time.

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  • BTA member November 10, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Hmm... I was thinking Active Transportation Alliance, but looks like the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation already ran with that idea, while expanding their scope into pedestrian and transit advocacy:
    http://www.activetrans.org/our-new-name

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  • joe adamski November 10, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    Would we want the BTA to become the activetransportation alliance? Would the BTA want to do that?

    Its an interesting idea. When I look at the evolution from cyclists to 'hey, I'm NOT a cyclist,I'm a citizen/person' thinking that has come to the foreground, it isn't such a stretch to imagine.
    When the un-cyclist joins the non-pedestrian, and the not really a bus rider, only POWER can come from this!

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  • Realist January 21, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Wow, Joe, Elly...keep trying, I'm not falling for it. Can you hear what's going on? what are you arguing and with what foundation? There's a reason people aren't buying into the BTA, there's a reason we in bike shops dont promote BTA any longer. The BTA has lost the confidence of the public. Once again, they unceremoniously fired two of their most public advocates, and why? BTA, you owe us! Oh, kinda funny, BTA is throwing a party for Bricker to highlight their failures! Wow, I'd be proud! Their are local people in Govt, me being one of them, who have no trust in the BTA! and we're the people they should be involved with. BTA, I think it's pretty clear what the sentiment is out there, read, learn, most of all...listen and actually do something. I think it's time to re-evaluate our advocacy groups. Similar to the recent restructuring of PUMP. Another group that was absolutely in-effective. Who is the BTA now anyway? does anyone know these people? Stand up, don't pay the dues, money will talk, maybe if they're smart enough, they'll pay attention and show the public REAL effort. Joe, Elly...keep trying, not buying here!

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