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Portland Biz Journal editorial: "Bicycling serves as economic tool"

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 12th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

A reader just made me aware of a recent editorial in the Portland Business Journal that deserves wider attention.

Given the fact that there remain some powerful business interests who feel that Portland's inevitable march toward better bike access on our roads is at odds with their bottom lines, the PBJ editorial board stood up and blew that idea out of the water. (This is especially great to see from the PBJ because when the Bike Plan for 2030 passed in February 2010, I called them out for a misleading poll.)

In a piece titled "Bicycling serves as economic tool" that appeared in the July 6th edition, the paper makes a compelling argument for why bikes are not only good for business, they're key to Portland's economic future. The article is behind a paywall, but a reader was nice enough to send me the hard copy so I can share more of it with you.

In the opening lines, the PBJ writes, "Portland’s often-mocked passion for bicycling is looking downright prescient. Now, the rest of the nation is starting to catch on."

The piece mentions Portland's thriving local bike making industry, "led by companies such as Zen Bicycle Fabrication and Ti Cycles." It also recalls the the fake controversy that surrounded the passage of our Bike Plan for 2030 back in February 2010 (remember "sewer money for bike lanes" and the unfortunate reporting that led to many people feeling the City had committed to spending $613 million on bike lanes?):

"While many residents heaped scorn on Mayor Sam Adams and city officials for their ambitious 2030 bike plan a couple years back, bicycling is clearly the wave of the future, in Portland and elsewhere."

Explaining that the health and environmental benefits are usually front-and-center around bicycling, the paper correctly points out that, "The economic impact is often overlooked." In the article's conclusion, the PBJ editorial board says "Building a bicycle-friendly infrastructure... must be part of any comprehensive transportation plan."

They also point out the ridiculous fallacy spread by The Oregonian (and unfortunately perpetuated by leading mayoral candidate Charlie Hales), that spending on "bike routes" is leading Portland down a "road to ruin". Here's what the PBJ piece says about that:

"Many Portland roads in woeful condition, but funding for bicycle pathways constitutes just a tiny portion of Portland's $177 million budget."

And the last line is my favorite: "Portland's emphasis on bicycling is a sound investment in the city's future."

It's true. Given the foundation of our local bike industry, and the fact that with each passing year we are manufacturing more and more bikes and bike-related products here in Portland, it's time that the local business lobby sees the economic side of this transportation debate. When we invest in bike-friendly streets, we save money (in health care, street maintenance costs, personal expenses (that are then spent locally) and so on). When we invest in bike-related business, we make money. That's a win-win every politician and bureaucrat should get behind.

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  • q`Tzal July 12, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    When their money is evaporating around them even the most conservative 1%'er finds that they are willing to reconsider some of their preconceived notions.

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  • GlowBoy July 12, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Nice to see this. I hope more people see the light, even if it takes dollar signs to make it happen.

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  • 9watts July 12, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Very pleased to hear about this. Thanks for writing about it, Jonathan.

    "The economic impact is often overlooked."
    That worries me too, and it was the gist of my critique recently of the focus of the Travel Oregon survey here--narrowly defining the economic impact as measured in tourism related expenses.

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    • Kenji July 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm

      9Watts- the purpose of that survey is narrowly defined on purpose as was discussed in that last thread.

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      • 9watts July 12, 2012 at 5:09 pm

        I understand that is how it was intended. My concern is with defining studies of this subject this way over and over again. Luckily Kelly Clifton's ongoing study is an exception.

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  • dwainedibbly July 12, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Somebody buy the Lloyd TMA a subscription, please.

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  • Joe Cortright July 12, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    Nice to see the PBJ picking up this theme. Bike Portland is right that cycling provides big economic benefits, but not just in terms of bike industry jobs. Cyclists spend less money on transportation overall and contribute to the $1 billion Green Dividend that Portlander's reap because they drive about 20% less than the national average. Because cycling is cheaper than cars and gasoline, cycling consumers have more money in their pockets to spend on other things they like (not just bikes, btw), and they spend a good chunk of that money locally--which stimulates the creation of local jobs (unlike spending on cars and gas).

    Anything that keeps more money in consumer's pockets that they can then spend at local businesses is a boon for the Portland economy . . . and cycling does just that.

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  • Joe Adamski July 12, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Until someone can make a profit off it by investing as opposed to working, cycling will be the bastid stepchild. But give it time, Bain Capital will buy out Bike Gallery and send Jaye into servitude in China.
    I'm not sure I would want the PBJ singing praises... those folks scare me.

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  • Steve Brown July 13, 2012 at 7:43 am

    Nice to see and hear the real story is sneaking out. Sad truth, many business people are small minded and focused. (It is a good trait to run a business) They also sat in the back or were asleep during economics class.

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  • Lenny Anderson July 13, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Just think of all the hydo-carbon fuel we don't buy when we go by bike...money that would disappear into the oil empires here and abroad. That money stays here, goes into beer, restaurants, start ups, etc. fueling the local economy in a very significant way. Read Jane Jacobs, "Cities and the Wealth of Nations." Its all about "import replacement."

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  • Elliot July 13, 2012 at 9:02 am

    I don't understand the snark and skepticism coming through in some of the comments here. If the Portland Business Journal has come around on bikes, let's welcome them into the fold! I'm looking forward to picking up a copy so I can read the full article myself.

    The next time a business expresses opposition to a bike project, point them to this editorial. It will be a lot harder for them to ignore when the reasoning comes from a publication within their own business community and not just BikePortland or the BTA.

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  • Lillian Karabaic July 13, 2012 at 9:02 am

    This is what I'm doing my economics thesis on, though with more relevance to rental market/property valuation for businesses along bicycle infrastructure. Glad to see an op-ed on it :-)

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  • Evan Manvel July 13, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Yay for PBJ! Great news - and a key demographic to be hearing it.

    Technically, it's an editorial, not an op-ed, when it's written by the paper itself. Op-ed is the term for "opposite editorial," traditionally appearing on the opposite page from the editorial itself.

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  • AJZ July 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    ALso, OP-Ed morphed into Opinion-Editorial in the 1960s. Which technically, like Evan states, was most often on the right hand side of Western language papers opposite the editorial page on the left (physically, not politically) in the days of newspapers...Ed-Op never caught on...

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  • Charlie Hales July 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Jonathan,

    I don't agree with the bikes versus cars view of the world and I don't agree with the Oregonian's critique of the bicycle transportation investments we have made. I have always supported progressive transportation policy in Portland and I'm proud of the role I have played and will play in making Portland a great bicycle city.

    I've been talking to thousands of residents all over the City, and believe we need to maintain our streets better than we have; we all - no matter how many wheels - need a smooth street surface. But this position isn't a slam on bicycles. I ride, my family rides, and we are all in this together in creating a healthier Portland.

    I'll be riding in SW on Sunday Parkways next weekend! I hope to see all of you out there and look forward to hearing your views on funding and implementing the 2030 Bicycle Plan.

    Charlie

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) July 13, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      Hi Charlie. Thanks for the comment.

      I never said you had a "bikes versus cars view of the world". My concern, as I've expressed to both you and to Nancy directly in recent months, is the context and tone you are taking. If you don't agree with The Oregonian's critique, why are putting one of their most "bikes versus cars" articles ever, front-and-center on your website (UPDATE: Hales has edited that page and there is no longer a mention of The Oregonian article - see this post for more info)

      The Oregonian has a long and inglorious track record of stoking the "cars vs bikes" flames and — because you feature that article so prominently as to suggest you endorse it — I don't think you have done enough to distance yourself from their framing of the issue and its very negative consequences.

      My feeling is that you are trying to play both sides here, touting your active transportation credentials, while sending rhetorical signals to those people who don't understand bicycling and whose gut reaction is to be against bicycling because they feel something is being taken from them to support some left-wing/Sam Adams/bike-centric agenda.

      The peril in that stance is that it stokes the flames of division and the false dichotomy between bikes and cars that has existed in this town for far too long. And that divisive public narrative — and the political dynamic it creates — is the biggest barrier to moving forward with bicycling in Portland right now.

      And I am not concerned that you are "slamming" bikes. Obviously you (nor any other serious candidate in this town) would ever do that because you could never be elected here if you did.

      The reality is, yes, we are all in this together; but we are not all treated the same in the eyes of our transportation budget, in our policies, in decisions about projects, and about priorities in general. Car-centric thinking and a car-centric status quo remains more powerful than anything else in this town (except rail transit perhaps) — and that makes it much harder for bike access improvements to happen. It also makes it much more difficult to ever get over the hump we find ourselves looking up at right now.

      We need leaders who can articulate to all the citizens of Portland that the way we do road projects in this town is going to change and that providing quality bike access on all our roads will be the top priority — not just in rhetoric and ribbon-cuttings, but in actual, difficult, on-the-ground decisions and funding allocations. Why? Because it's the only transportation mode that will provide our city with a significant financial, economic, environmental, and public health boost (among other benefits). I know/hope you understand that, and I hope you are able to impress that upon voters in a more convincing way in the future.

      Thanks for the comment. I look forward to more exchanges in the coming months. Unfortunately I'll be out of town for this month's Sunday Parkways; but I hope you enjoy it. Give my regards to Nancy.

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    • 9watts July 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      we all - no matter how many wheels - need a smooth street surface.

      I have made a habit of disagreeing with this rather common assertion here.
      Even as I might look for the cheapest gas station if I were driving a car, or pick the smoothest route on a street that has deteriorating pavement riding a bicycle, this doesn't mean we need cheap gas (cars) or smooth pavement (bikes). Some day we may not have either, and as a bike rider neither is (or will be) a problem in my view.

      We humans are able to evaluate our own preferences, and recognize when what we may prefer as a consumer conflicts with what we might prefer to prefer as a citizen. I'd prefer to prefer higher gas prices because I know something about its overall societal and environmental cost. Similarly I'd prefer to prefer streets and roads that didn't require frequent reapplications of asphalt, and think I would/will do just fine on them when our access to cheap asphalt and the infrastructure required to extract, deliver, refine, and apply it runs out.

      At various times in my life I've commuted considerable distances by bike on gravel roads and dirt tracks. You need to reduce your tire pressure, but it works just fine.

      I'm afraid that the 'everyone needs smooth streets' mantra is a thinly veiled attempt to claim as a universal good something that is in fact a subsidy to the auto-bound.

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      • Spencer Boomhower July 14, 2012 at 3:13 pm

        9watts:

        "I'm afraid that the 'everyone needs smooth streets' mantra is a thinly veiled attempt to claim as a universal good something that is in fact a subsidy to the auto-bound."

        Yeah, I wish there'd be more questioning of the automatic assumption that streets need to be smooth, and more appreciation for imperfect roads. Sure, potholes suck, and they can damage cars and bikes, and even knock people off their bikes. But that doesn't mean fresh asphalt is the only solution. Old roads can be maintained, and potholes can be filled.

        Even dirt roads can be fine if well-maintained. People complain about Portland's dirt roads as if they're a mark of shame. They are pretty bad, with small lakes forming in the potholes, but the problem isn't the fact that they're dirt, it's that they're so poorly maintained. I grew up in a state where probably a majority of the roads were dirt, but I rarely encountered nearly impassible dirt roads like the ones you see within the city limits around here.

        The street I live on now used to be that ancient rutted concrete you see around Portland's side streets; all cracked and obviously patched and repatched over the course of decades. A couple years ago the city repaved it in the process of making improvements for the 50's Bikeway. Those improvements are much appreciated! But I have to say I kind miss that old rutted concrete. It made it so you could hear cars coming, which was nice because lots of kids play around the street. And the sound provided a feedback loop to the speedier of the drivers, letting them know they were going too fast for a quiet side street. But at the same time it was pothole-free, so it wasn't causing bent suspensions or anything. And it had a weathered charm, at least in my eyes.

        Of course it used to be pretty painful to ride a bike down my street. A welcome improvement to those old concrete roads - and to dirt roads if at all feasible - would be something like foot-wide strips of smooth surface that could accommodate bike tires without losing the otherwise traffic-calming quality of the rough road surface.

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        • 9watts July 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm

          You make some great points, Spencer.
          It is strange how abysmally neglected those unpaved sections of presumably public roads within the city limits are. As if all we knew how to do within the city limits was pave; and if there is no pavement then, well, we don't have anything in our bag of tricks. The other day I came upon a lake the size of a house out near NE 62nd and Sumner. Amazing. The whole width of the 'street' was a lake of unknown depth. As if no one had come through with a road grader in about 30 years!

          I grew up in SW Portland on one of those sections of gravel road, and in ~1978 my dad and his buddies rented a road grader on a Saturday morning--I guess you could just do that back then--and graded the road smooth. Voila!

          This phenomenon of wretchedly maintained non-paved roads and the undeservedly bad reputation they (may) bequeath to everything that isn't fresh and smooth asphalt reminds me of folks who wish to whip up some special ambiance and stuff wet wood into their fireplace and stink up the whole neighborhood. A small, and not very representative sample of what we might agree is deplorable behavior ruins the reputation of a perfectly adequate if no longer standard way of heating or, in this case, road surface.

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    • Andrew N July 14, 2012 at 1:24 am

      Charlie, have you considered changing your "paved streets" mantra to "complete streets", which is more generous and inclusive in scope and doesn't echo the sort of divisive rhetoric that the Oregonian seems to specialize in? I don't think the vast majority of Portlanders are as simple-minded or reactionary as you seem to think. As it stands now, this looks like the first mayoral election in a long time that I won't be participating in.

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  • Lois July 13, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    There is at least one more way that Portland's bicycle mojo brings economic prosperity: with more and more people working from home via computers instead of commuting to an office, some employees can choose to live pretty much anywhere because their job is portable. People want to live in places where it's easy to walk and bike. Those who can tele-commute generally bring payroll and property taxes with them so when they work from home it increases the tax base of places like Portland which is a bikable, walkable city where people want to live.

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  • Lenny Anderson July 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    A reminder to Charlie...the number one issue for Portlanders and their streets is "too much speed!" Not too little. Adams is right to have made safety his first priority. I hope you will too.
    I grew up with pot holes in SW Portland and have come to think of them as "God's own speed bumps...free and random." They kept traffic slow on our play ground...I mean street! Even my dog slept in them waiting for cars to chase.

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