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The BikePortland Podcast: The state of bike advocacy

Posted by on April 8th, 2014 at 10:13 am

Bike Summit Lobby Day on Capitol Hill-13
Cycle Oregon Executive Director Alison Graves,
Community Cycling Center CEO Mychal Tetteh and
Humans on Bikes founder Christopher Delaney at the
National Bike Summit in Washington DC last month.
(Photo by J.Maus/BikePortland)

Does Portland-area bike advocacy lack a unifying theme?

That’s one of the questions we tackle in the BikePortland podcast’s latest episode, about the state of bicycle advocacy in Portland and elsewhere.

“We don’t have a short-term goal for how we want bicycling to get better,” co-host Jonathan Maus says in this month’s half-hour show. “We just sort of follow a shiny object. Oh, Barbur road diet has to happen. Over here, there’s been some tragedy, we have to go focus on Vision Zero. Oh, let’s go talk about 20s Bikeway. There’s no fundamental, organizing principle that everybody can rally around. I think that’s a big gap we have right now.”

On the other hand, would a unifying theme really serve the city best? Has the bike movement outgrown political unanimity? These are the questions we explore and debate in this month’s show.


As always, we close with a how-to tip (this one about how to efficiently support your favorite bike advocacy groups) and Lily’s favorite TriMet-related tweets of the month.

I hope you’ll tune in to the next episode too, when we’ll ring in the summer by talking about bicycles and fashion.

You can subscribe to our monthly podcast with Stitcher or iTunes, subscribe by RSS, sign up to get an email notification each time we upload a new episode, or just listen to it above using Soundcloud.

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  • Jim Labbe April 8, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Great discussion. The diversity of bike advocacy is certainly a strength. It means more people tracking and weighing in on a greater number of issues and more spontaneously. I’d like to see more collaboration with pedestrian advocates which taps into an even broader constituency. I agree with changing the face of advocacy and building more neighborhood advocates. But it is important that those neighborhood advocates think and act on a city-wide and regional scale so that regional connectivity between communities (e.g. between East and West Portland) can be achieved. Also a regional strategy is essential to dealing with the inequities and disparities in access to good bike and pedestrian facilities.

    Imagine if there was a sister-neighborhood program wherein Irvington, Madison South and Hazelwood Neighborhoods developed an alliance to implement the Tillamook Neighborhood Bikeway from MLK, through Gateway Green, to East Portland?

    Finally, as to how we get to the next level of ridership. It may take greater inter-city bike connectivity via high speed rail and inter-state trail systems. That is a huge lift but a possible one. High speed rail in the united states needs a grassroots constituency.

    Jim

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  • Granpa April 8, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Another huge concern for cyclists is the real and constant danger of bad drivers. Advocacy always seems to center upon infrastructure, but the wetware between the ears of drivers is something that can (with public will) be updated. Serious driver training. Serious penalties for distracted driving, Serious enforcement of violations. Sharing the road would be a lot less stressful if we were sharing with good drivers.

    Driver Training, strict licensing, penalties and enforcement seem like low hanging fruit compared to the cost of a separate bike path design and construction.

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  • Gerik April 8, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks for having this conversation and sharing it on the blog. I’ve got a couple thoughts listening to your webcast from my personal perspective working as the Advocacy Director at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA).

    I really like the idea of turning the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s Project Advisory Council (http://btaoregon.org/2012/02/bta-launches-project-advisory-council/) into something more like 1000 Friends of Oregon’s Land Use Leadership Initiative. This group of volunteers and community leaders has been working with the BTA to learn how to be more effective at the neighborhood level while representing bicycle issues in neighborhood conversations. We would love to grow the advocacy impact and community reach of that group. Email Carl Larson to volunteer or share ideas carl@btaoregon.org.

    I find Jonathan’s critiques of BTA’s advocacy to be interesting but schizophrenic. Saying the BTA would be more effective if we focused more on community organizing on the street level but somehow failing to mention our Blueprint for World Class Bicycling (http://btaoregon.org/blueprint/) falls short of a real suggestion. After more than a thousand community-based conversations, we have taken on some huge of project advocacy goals. The success of these campaigns will be based in part on our ability to grow significant community support while connecting those supporters to effective advocacy tools. To say we are not conducting community-organizing work is a bit of a misnomer.

    You say that the suit and tie/table of power approach has made the BTA more conservative and that that strategy is fraught with risk. Somehow it escaped your attention, or at least an honorable mention in the podcast, that we can draw a straight line between BTA’s advocacy work over the last 5 years and over $80 million dollars of investment in active transportation projects in Oregon. We won ~$20 million, twice, through ODOT Flex Fund Program and ~$20 million, twice, through Regional Flexible Fund program, plus some untold number of millions of dollars yet to be won in the context of Connect Oregon 5. All of these dollars represent hard fought victories by BTA.

    When you combine the community-based work with the neighborhood level projects and the policy and funding advocacy you have a strong comprehensive approach that has won real results and allowed the BTA to remain a healthy and growing organization that is effective at advancing it’s mission and vision. http://btaoregon.org/about/

    The state of bicycle advocacy is an excellent topic, and near and dear to my heart. Our growth beyond fighting for a seat at the table to a debate about what to do with that seat represents a great place to talk about strategy and tactics. There are clearly hundreds, probably thousands, of distinct roles that people can play in the realm of “bike advocacy.” BTA is only one voice in that conversation and I welcome folks’ advice, engagement, criticism, volunteerism, and membership. If you’ve got an idea for making BTA’s bike advocacy more effective in Oregon, the door is wide open. Email me at gerik@btaoregon.org. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor) April 8, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Gerik, thanks so much for the smart and thoughtful reply.

      And in case there’s any doubt, our thoughts shared here doesn’t suggest anything but our great respect for the BTA and the work and accomplishments of you and your colleagues. That’s why we think it’s worth discussing, and welcome the continued discussion.

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      • Gerik April 9, 2014 at 7:55 am

        Thanks, Michael. I appreciate what you’re doing here. I think the one of the most exciting things in this conversation is the growth of “bicycle advocacy” beyond a single issue or a single constituency into something much bigger and more diverse. Ultimately, the more people who ride and the more people who understand the benefits associated with riding even if they don’t get out on a bike very often, the more faces and voices we will have in the movement.

        An important question we need to answer is, “How can bike advocates create a welcoming environment for people from all walks of life?” As we become more inclusive and diverse, the issues driving our work will evolve.

        You can see this with local community leaders getting involved in bikes and biking economy: http://btaoregon.org/2014/02/verdes-first-community-ride/

        Another recent example from the non-bike business community: http://widmerbrothers.com/2014/03/10/widmer-brothers-keen-footwear-and-the-bta/

        Right now, at the BTA, we are working overtime to support this evolution and facilitate as much involvement and community leadership on bicycle advocacy as we possibly can. And still the growing interest outstrips capacity. I’m excited to see this change and I’m hopeful that standard bearers like BikePortland.org and BTA will continue to evolve and remain effective. I’m also ready to see the next generation of bicycle advocates get organized, build power, found institutions, and command the agenda.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 9, 2014 at 9:41 am

      Hey Gerik. Thanks for the comment. This is a complicated discussion. Keep in mind that I realize how difficult advocacy is and realize that I’m lucky to just be a pundit on the sidelines and not have to actually do the work. I respect what the BTA does, but I feel it’s necessary to share my opinion since there are very very few people in this town that have a voice and aren’t financially and/or professionally tied to the advocacy/bureaucracy/planning sphere.

      I’ll try to share some thoughts to flesh out my thinking…

      You wrote:

      I find Jonathan’s critiques of BTA’s advocacy to be interesting but schizophrenic. Saying the BTA would be more effective if we focused more on community organizing on the street level but somehow failing to mention our Blueprint for World Class Bicycling (http://btaoregon.org/blueprint/) falls short of a real suggestion.

      I do think the BTA could be more dynamic when it comes to engaging people of Portland around specific goals and projects. The Blueprint is a nice document, but similar to the PBOT Bike Plan, it’s just on a shelf and I don’t think most regular Portland bike riders know what it or that it even exists. I’m waiting for the BTA to come out and push for a specific project and activate the vast well of bike love in this town. The Blueprint is almost one year old and I’ve yet to see a proactive campaign based on one of the projects in it.

      You say that the suit and tie/table of power approach has made the BTA more conservative and that that strategy is fraught with risk.

      That’s right. I do believe that there are important pros/cons and risks to consider when advocates cozy up to power. It’s a fine line. I think you walk it well, but I think it’s fair to say it can be a risky endeavor and I feel like it’s my job to point that out and watch how it plays out.

      Somehow it escaped your attention, or at least an honorable mention in the podcast, that we can draw a straight line between BTA’s advocacy work over the last 5 years and over $80 million dollars of investment in active transportation projects in Oregon.

      I might not have mentioned it when speaking live and unscripted on a podcast; but you’ll remember that all of those efforts by the BTA to win money were covered here on the Front Page. Those are great victories! And I look forward to even more of them in the future thanks to the work you are doing.

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      • Gerik April 11, 2014 at 10:41 am

        Jonathan, thank you for this thoughtful exchange. I want to acknowledge and appreciate your additional remarks. Let’s keep this up, over a beer sometime soon and in the public sphere as always. Onward!

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  • kiel johnson April 8, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    One thing I think was overlooked in this discussion is the impact of Bikeportland.org on the state of bike advocacy! It is great to have a transportation class but what about a full time blog that anyone with internet can read?!?! I think I great follow up podcast would be to have Rob, Gerik, Roger Geller, and maybe Joseph Rose, sit in a room alone together and talk about the impact of bikeportland on bike advocacy!

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  • mike April 8, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    In reference to the picture: http://nickidaniels.com/2014/01/06/beardedhipsters/

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  • Cory Poole April 9, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Great Podcast!
    Steve Novick did attend last summers Disaster Relief Trials. Does that count?

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