Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Mercury, Bus Project to host bike/car debate

Posted by on July 24th, 2007 at 11:44 am

As part of their monthly Debate Club series, the Bus Project and the Portland Mercury will host a bikes versus cars debate next Tuesday.

The debate will include interim BTA director Scott Bricker, me, Sreya Sarkar of the Cascade Policy Institute’s Wheels to Wealth Program and Mel Zucker of the Oregon Transportation Institute.

The debate will be moderated by City Commissioner of Transportation Sam Adams.

Despite the Mercury’s attempts to start a fight between us I plan to enter this event with a cooperative spirit. There are challenges in creating a safe, balanced and efficient transportation network and the solution must include the needs of all users. We have a big job ahead of us, and antipathy between user groups is just another barrier to reaching our goals.

I look forward to meeting Zucker and Sarkar and I hope to learn more about their perspectives.

You’re invited to join us for dialogue and drinks. Here are the event details:

    Tuesday, 7/31 @ 7:00pm
    Rontoms (SE 6th and Burnside)

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you β€” Jonathan

  • Chris July 24, 2007 at 11:58 am

    You are a braver man than I Jonathan! I would be hard pressed to hold back my rage in such a debate! I wish you and Scott lots of luck and will be there to offer my support (hopefully a few beers will keep me from putting suger in anyones gas tank… yes, just kidding.)

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  • Minda July 24, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    I am glad you are the one doing this. You have the right attitude. Attacks and antagonism will NEVER lead to an evolved society, because that ALWAYS makes the \”other side\” defensive. Good communication and mutual respect for each other\’s perspectives is the the only way we will ever hear each other.

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  • Antonio Gramsci July 24, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    It might pay to bone up a little on this \”Cascade Policy Institute.\” They are a rightwing Libertarian \”thinktank\” whose positions are entirely predictable: no matter what the issue, the \”free market\” has all the answers. These are self professed \”public policy experts\” who invariably recommend \”public policies\” in which all things \”public\” are thoroughly eradicated or expropriated, to be replaced with \”solutions\” that ensure the profitability of private business interests.

    They will make loads of specious arguments backed up with specious statistics to \”prove\” that public transit, or promoting cycling, or any other policy not profitable to business interests is \”ineffectual,\” \”doesn\’t pay,\” etc. To debunk their arguments does not require rocket science, but tedious accounting work and close reading to notice the factors they\’ve left out to \”prove\” their tendentious arguments.

    A very good overview of some of the economic benefits Portland has enjoyed from promoting alternatives to private automobiles for transportation is http://www.ceosforcities.org/internal/files/PGD%20FINAL.pdf

    This one also hints at some of the \”quality of life\” issues that are profoundly important too. To me, two of the biggest are social equity, and what I call \”density of daily activities.\” When people can ride bikes or use public transportation to readily get to a wide variety activities in their lives, it greatly reduces the cost of transportation as a component of their daily living expenses, which improves social equity. And when cities encourage development around transit and walkable and bikeable neighborhoods, residents are able to engage in more (and more varied) activities per day, because the destination endpoints of those activities are closer together, which has a big impact on quality of life. These are not outcomes that can magically and spontaneously be produced by allowing the whims of the \”free market\” to dictate the layout of cities, a \”free market\” in which dollars vote, instead of people.

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  • organic brian July 24, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    I plan to be there. Let\’s not let motorists get away with that \”cyclists don\’t pay their share for roads\” myth. Cyclists, unless they earn no income, usually subsidize motor vehicle use, not the other way around. Below are some quotes from an article by Victoria Transport Policy Institute. Does anyone have any detailed info on this topic for Oregon transportation funding? I\’ve found the funding/use characteristics are extremely complex, and it\’s really difficult to find out where the funds come from and where they go.

    Also, I once researched what fuel tax would be if it paid for 100% of all transportation infrastructure and other costs for automobiles. Depending on what factors were considered (military support for oil pipelines, sidewalks and grass strips, health consequences due to auto pollution) various studies found that gas would cost from about $2.50 to $7.00 MORE PER GALLON THAN IT DOES if the only funding source were fuel taxes, and this was from BEFORE the Afghanistan/Iraq invasions.


    Two neighbors each pay $300 annually in local taxes that fund roads and traffic services. Mike Motorist drives 10,000 miles annually on local roads, while Frances Footpower bicycles 3,000 miles. The table below compares the costs they impose with what they pay in taxes.\”

    (chart on page 9, it turns out that Mike Motorist is subsidized by Frances Footpower by about $236 per year)

    Another comment from the article:
    \”Virtually all studies that use appropriate analysis procedures conclude that motorists significantly underpay the costs they impose on society (FHWA, 1997; Delucchi, 1998; Litman, 2004a).\”

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  • David Dean July 24, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    There are people (over at Sam\’s blog) who think that personal automobiles are the only legitimate form of transportation and that all other investments into alternative modes of transportation come at the expense of motorists. They often cite Mel\’s work, so be careful. I would encourage you to hope for a reasoned discussion, but prepare for gratuitous demagoguery ala AM radio.

    If you stick to your mantra of \”the right transportation for the right kind of trips\” I think you will do well.

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  • Antonio Gramsci July 24, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    One nice little statistic I always like to cite is from (I believe) Jane Holtz Kay\’s ASPHALT NATION. She found that something like 80% of all public emergency response calls where ambulances, etc, have to be dispatched involve motor vehicle incidents(!) In any major city, this will be funded entirely out of the GENERAL FUND, which is financed by everyone without regard to their mode of transportation. Cyclists, bus riders, everyone is paying these costs even if they\’ve never driven a motor vehicle in their entire lives. That\’s a HUGE subsidy.

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  • Scott Moore July 24, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Thanks for getting this up here and thanks, BikePortland readers for chiming in already–if any of you have got some questions for the panel you want to suggest, shoot \’em over to news@portlandmercury.com.

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  • Scott Moore July 24, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    p.s. Why do I always feel like such a damn square when I comment over here?

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  • Rasputin July 24, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    I\’m a cyclist and sometimes automobile user. I rode my bike for everything for two years, and have now added a car to my repertoire.

    Drivers and riders are both massive pricks. About 1 out of 10 drivers is a total bastard. Unfortunately, most cyclists are. If the same percentage of drivers blew through red lights, (or treated them as yields) the roads would be covered in blood. The number of cyclists riding THE WRONG WAY down the road is increasing, dangerous and absolutely prickish.

    As much as I love cycling, I can\’t stand most cyclists. πŸ™

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  • […] Jonathan is going to be in the Portland Mercury’s Car vs. Bike debate. From Jonathan on this debate: Despite the Mercury’s attempts to start a fight between us I plan […]

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  • Brad July 24, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Rather than rage against the machines, why not politely state why we like bikes and why we want drivers to help make things better for bikes?

    Sell the merits of less congestion and road damage if we encourage more bike riding. Recognize that businesses and some individuals need cars/trucks but getting folks on bikes and mass transit makes driving easier and more productive (the free market!) for those users. Convince the auto crowd that limiting superfluous auto usage is better for business, the environment, public health, tax burdens, etc. (the free market again!) and we all win. Lastly, show a little humility and ask for the help of motorists (tougher laws on reckless and drunk driving, more courtesy training, stricter licensing regulations, better infrastructure and other safety minded initiatives) to create a safer road environment for both cyclists and drivers.

    You always attract more flies with honey rather than manure. Going into this so-called \”debate\” with flaming angry rhetoric and anti-car factoids just validates the inevitable argument the car advocates use to convince fence sitting citizens that bike riders are nutcases out to destroy \”The American Way\”. Kill \’em with kindness and a good dose of reasoned logic – that\’s how we attract non-riders to our side.

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  • Jean Reinhardt July 24, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    I hope someone brings up geopolitical issues–such as the very unfriendly countries (Saudi Arabia, for instance, who can be no more separated from terrorism than Eddy Merckx can from cycling!) from whom the US buys oil, and how there\’s really no getting around the fact that whenever any of us step on the gas, we are committing a little bit of treason. I\’d like to see the car-chauvinists defend treason for the purpose of their beloved fiction, the \”free market.\”

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  • Thom July 24, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    This sounds awesome. Adams is a great moderator choice in that he\’s extremely knowledgeable, but we also know which side he leans toward.

    I can\’t wait for the transcript. Good luck.

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  • BURR July 24, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    It sounds like two against one to me.

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  • Cabbol July 24, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Go right to the heart of the Cascade Policy institute mission by pulling out the creation of the US hwy system. Simple put the US hwy system is nothing more then the largest single Government subsidy ever created.

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  • bicycledave July 24, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    I think you and many of the comments are on the right track Jonathan. Kill them with kindness. As bicycle advocates we are in a great position because most everything that\’s good for bikes is good for drivers because it reduces congestion, improves quality of life and all the other above mentioned reasons.

    It makes me think about our country\’s position in the world and how it would be different if we were building schools and hospitals instead of military bases.

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  • revphil July 24, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    what was that I used to say. \’I may not be the worlds safest biker, but i would be a make a horrible driver.\’

    only it sounded better. I think Stumptown Bob actually said it when referring to me.

    Personally I think taking in the long view is critical in these talks. They do have lots of impressive statistics, but none of them address simple questions, like \”who wants to live next to a freeway?\”

    Building the society we want requires more than looking at the carrot dangling in front of us.

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  • heather andrews July 24, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    Another statistical tidbit that might be good to mention when deflating certain arguments, is that 98(?)% of Portland cyclists also own a car. This number came from Mia Birk\’s presentation at the downtown Bike Master Plan meeting.

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  • Antonio Gramsci July 24, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Beyond citing statistics against transit or other public spending, \”freedom of choice\” is one of the buzzwords that the procorporate Libertarians will always tend to pull out as the \”moral argument.\” As in, \”It\’s self evident that there are a lot more people driving cars, because people LIKE TO DRIVE! And who the hell are you to tell them they can\’t??! Quit trying to shove something down people\’s throats! If you want to ride a bike, no one is saying you can\’t do it. But don\’t try to coerce the majority of people with \’authoritarian\’ government programs that force them to fund stuff like bike paths, or lightrail lines, that they\’ll never use.\”

    It\’s important to come up with counterarguments to this kind of pseudopopulist rhetoric. They will always extol the \”free market\” as the best way to let everyone decide for themselves, and claim that it does not require any \”coercion.\” The reality is very different, of course. The reality is that if Starbucks opens up a new store in my neighborhood, and my favorite hangout across the street sees their rent triple, they will be forced out in favor of a business that serves the upper classes that can pay those rents, that like to drive in their SUVs and swill $5/cup cappuccinos. And if I try to keep hanging out there like I did in the cozy little lowrent coffee shop but can\’t pay up, then I will asked to leave. And if I don\’t, then my ass will get hauled off by the cops. Sounds like coercion to me!

    And likewise, for a lot of people who feel intimidated riding a bike on public streets, they may feel quite coerced into driving a shitty car, that gets shitty gas mileage, just out of fear of getting flattened by the guy in his SUV on his way to Starbucks for his caffeine fix.

    So whether we\’re talking about public spending on transportation, or the problem of gentrification, or a lot of other issues where the \”free market\” is concerned, there\’s a lot of implicit coercion, based on social class, built into the system on a daily basis. The struggle to build affordable transportation, bikeways, public amenities, and all the rest, like the struggle to build affordable housing, stop gentrification, etc, etc, is part of a larger one: it\’s called the Class Struggle.

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  • N.I.K. July 24, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Thanks for stepping up, Jonathan. Though I would advise you to remember the car-centric cranks who bitched and moaned about the congestion everyone else was causing them at the town hall meetings last month, and how much more heavy-handed the paid professionals will try to be -so don\’t be *too* nice. Civility doesn\’t equate with letting wildly inaccurate statements, strawmen, and the like fly. πŸ™‚

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  • N.I.K. July 24, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Antonio Gramsci – where did you come from, sir, and can we somehow coerce you into stressing these well-reasoned points relevant to cycling more regularly? πŸ™‚

    \”But don\’t try to coerce the majority of people with \’authoritarian\’ government programs that force them to fund stuff like bike paths, or lightrail lines, that they\’ll never use.\”

    Yeah, that\’s the classic big-L camp argument – that providing something means something is getting taken away, and that that provision has no secondary or even tertiary benefit to those it doesn\’t directly benefit. Damn if they don\’t somehow manage to side-step their inconsistency on, oh, I dunno…government subsidies to big industry, or, in the situation at hand\’s case, \”Freight vehicles, ra, ra ra! Everybody relies on great big trucks to get their stuff to them!\” Uh, right…and that fellow at [x business] you patronized, the one who biked in and saved money and keeps his health up and thus is there and making the biz stable for one more day…no benefit at all, right? No, because he\’s eating up the *entire* width of the right of way and causing congestion and stealing your money. Right. πŸ˜›

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  • rixtir July 24, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    I think the problem with letting the \”free market\” determine transportation needs is that there\’s an enormous governmental subsidy of the private automobile that makes it the \”rational choice.\” If you tear out the streetcars, build roads designed for the automobile, make land use decisions that favor the private automobile, and subsidize the costs of everything from the fuel to power the automobile to the roads it runs on, and– voila!– the free market will choose the automobile.

    Take away the governmental support, and the rational choice will change.

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  • rixtir July 24, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    One more thought– if Libertarians want to see the free market in action, internalize the automobile\’s externalities, and watch what happens…

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  • Antonio Gramsci July 24, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    In a capitalist society, of course, capitalist ideology says that any product of \”free\” market outcomes is ipso facto best. I actually think it\’s more important to challenge capitalist ideology itself, irrespective of whatever \”market distortions\” might exist. To recognize the myth of \”market distortions\” in a capitalist society is to observe that they are not really \”external\” to the market itself, some kind of regrettable, accidental little glitch that somehow spontaneously \”creeps in.\”

    No, they are a wholly predictable and inevitable byproduct of a class society in which those who are making the \”public policy\” decisions at the highest levels are the servants of the wealthiest and most powerful social classes. If our national infrastructure, fiscal, transport, energy, land use, and other policies favor the automobile, this is not accidental. It is because doing so is profitable to and desired by our society\’s ruling classes.

    More importantly still, though, the point of \”public policy\” is to do things that benefit \”the public,\” ie, the greatest good for the greatest number, irrespective of how much money particular members of the public have in their wallets. Fanatics of the \”free\” market, on the other hand, believe that dollars should vote on public policy instead of people. But dollars, one will observe, are highly unevenly distributed, even in the best and most \”undistorted\” of \”free\” markets.

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  • Robin July 24, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    If they want to bring up paying a fair share of road damage, studded tires should be brought up. A small number of drivers cause a non-proportional amount of damage to the roads each year in a climate that doesn\’t require them.

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  • Anonymous July 24, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Definately do you\’re research. Here are some quotes from the two websites. Maybe you should ask them if they would enjoy their commute more if there were 3000 more cars on the road each morning. Or go after the \’damn bikes\’ responce with, \”How would our roads be if those wackos were operating a car?\”
    In response to O Brian, Sam\’s research has shown that 34% of Portland (not Oregon\’s) roads are paid for by auto user fees. The rest is a mixture of federal funds, PDC funds, grants, and local taxes.

    Oregon Transportation Institute:

    Observations by the Oregon Transportation Institute on some rural interstates with a speed limit of 65 MPH showed the 85th percentile speed at 71 MPH. The speed limit change merely legalized the speed at which 85 % of drivers were already driving. The reduction of fatal crashes may well be due to the fact that fewer drivers hit the brakes when they saw or thought they saw a law enforcement vehicle.

    First, automobiles were a major force behind the geographic explosion of metropolitan areas, extending a long-term historical trend. Autos, like telephones, permit direct connection from everywhere to everywhere, and that\’s what allows our contemporary suburbs to thrive economically and socially. It would be a great loss if that widespread connectivity were to be weakened by anti-auto mandates constricting free use of cars.

    Cascade Policy Institute:
    Wheels to Wealth Project

    A journey toward self-reliance

    The goal of the multi-year Wheels to Wealth project is to disseminate information to policy makers and the public regarding the positive role private automobile ownership plays in creating and strengthening economic opportunity for the low-income and welfare dependent population.

    Research has shown that automobile ownership is an empowering tool that can have a significantly positive effect on employment, especially for the low-skilled and low-income population. Numerous policy studies have concluded that owning a vehicle is a viable solution to transportation barriers to employment for low-income people. For example, Kerri Sullivan of Portland State University examined the effects of car ownership on employment and wages for adults without a high school diploma in Portland. She found that \”Car ownership improved the likelihood of being employed by 80 percent.\” The effect on average weekly wages was approximately $275, and the effect on weeks worked was approximately 8.5 weeks.

    Lack of reliable transportation is a crucial barrier for low-income and welfare dependent people in escaping intergenerational cycles of poverty. For these individuals and families, car ownership plays a positive role in acquiring employment, raising income and participating more fully in family and community life.

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  • Hawthorne July 24, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    First, this is a false \”debate\” that only plays into the hands of Zucker and the CPI. It\’s not about cars vs. bikes, it\’s about wanting a balanced transportation system that allows us to access all modes. The issue is that we currently have a very unbalanced systems that does not allow people to safely access those choices.

    Second, why legitimze a person like Zucker and his so called \”institute\” by giving him a platform and according him respect that he does not deserve? His facts are weak, he calls people names…really.

    This whole set up plays entirely into the hands of people who promote an autocentric worldview and does nothing to advance a transportation system for everyone. I understand why a publication that may seek more heat than light would sponsor this…but why would the Bus Project and so many other good people be party to it?

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  • N.I.K. July 25, 2007 at 2:16 am

    I understand why a publication that may seek more heat than light would sponsor this…but why would the Bus Project and so many other good people be party to it?

    Oh, gee, I dunno…because when a popular local publication chooses to re-publish the ill-reasoned opinions, questionable facts and figures of a bunch of pro-auto-anti-everything-else crusaders tied to organizations with official and authoritative sounding names, you step up and do everything you can to make sure that the more naive folks in their readerbase don\’t go around repeating conclusions from bunk studies and the like? πŸ™‚

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  • Lenny Anderson July 25, 2007 at 11:06 am

    A couple of thoughts:
    There is really no argument…a transportation system that only accommodates motor vehicles does not work and is unsustainable.
    The Portland we know today is the result of three experiments in transportation, all three born at the grass roots.
    1. Let\’s not build a freeway thru SE (Division/Clinton) and build MAX instead; this came in the 70\’s, led by neighborhoods, not by City Hall.
    2. Let\’s join our new Mayor, Bud Clark (the tavern owner who came out of nowhere to throw out the establishment incumbent), and try getting around by bike; this started in the 80\’s and really got going in the 90\’s with the BTA.
    3. Let\’s build a local neighborhood connector as envisioned in the Central City Plan of the 80\’s. This really got traction in the 90\’s in NW District and Streetcar opened in 2001.
    How have these experiments turned out?
    Transit ridership in TriMet\’s service district is 13th highest in the nation, while our market size is 27th.
    Portland has the highest % of bike riders in the nation.
    Streetcar has attracted investment, riders and customers for retail.
    And don\’t forget the sacrifices made to accommodate the freeways in the 60\’s…Goose Hollow and Lower Albina destroyed, access to the River lost on the eastside and north Portland cut in two by I-5.
    Good luck, but the debate is really over and those who can\’t accept the results, need to \”just get over it.\”

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  • VR July 25, 2007 at 11:10 am

    I would like to note, that the \”wheels to wealth\” project is not explicitly anti alternative transportation. And they do have some very good points.

    It today\’s society – car ownership *is* beneficial to gainful employment.

    That is the whole problem we are trying to solve. The whole point would be to make it so that car ownership was *not* required for gainful employment.

    Even in Portland, for most people in most places, they need a car to get to and from most jobs. In many other cities in the USA you absolutely HAVE to have a car.

    So the \”Wheels to wealth\” viewpoint has some validity. But we take somewhat different approaches to the problem. They would like to get everyone cars. While the alternative camps (transit, bicycle, pedestrian) would like to enable people to be able to get around WITHOUT REQUIRING a car.

    The basic concept is that if we can build a balanced infrastructure – the cost of a person requiring an automobile for work goes away. That means that they can either earn less, or have more to spend on other things.

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  • Antonio Gramsci July 25, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    I heard about another study someone did recently, promoting more ammunition and heavy weapons for Iraqis. Some excerpts from the study:

    \”Researchers found very strong correlation between ownership of heavy weapons and adequate bullet supplies and average survival rates in Iraq. On average, Iraqis with above average bullet supplies and firearms skills had half the longterm mortality rates of those without, when adjusted for age and other factors…\”

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  • David Dean July 25, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    rixtir\’s #22 and #23 posts hit the bullseye.

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  • mykle July 31, 2007 at 11:23 am

    jonathan, you are walking into, if not an ambush, at least a premeditated bar fight.

    the mercury just likes to stir shit up — they really don\’t care about the outcomes. that\’s been their modus operandi for as long as they\’ve been publishing.

    if you read the portland transport blog, you\’ve heard all the specious pro-car anti-everything arguments, and you probably go well-informed. but is this going to be a shouting match or is anybody going to change their mind?

    it\’ll be easy for the bike side and the car side to just preach to their respective choirs. if i were in your shoes (and i\’m glad i\’m not) i\’d be trying to reach out to the car people. (Not the speakers, but their audience.)

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  • Elly July 31, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    Here\’s a write-up I did of a seminar about one of the programs represented in this debate, Wheels to Wealth. Pretty crazy stuff. Good luck Jonathan and Scott! Don\’t let \’em see you sweat.


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  • Bjorn July 31, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    KATU.com is hosting a hostility increasing poll right now in response to the debate, \”Which causes more problems on local roads? Cyclists or Drivers. It is running about 50/50 right now which considering that the split of viewers is probably more like 90% drivers 10% cycists really shows you something…

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  • Antonio Gramsci July 31, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    It\’s amazing, when you read the garbage these motorist fanatics spew, you have to wonder, \”If Portland is so horrible and you hate it so much, why are you here??! Why don\’t you just get out and move back to Orange County???\” They love to talk about \”freedom of choice.\” Well, use it! Get out!

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  • revphil August 1, 2007 at 11:37 am

    a report would be awesome, i went to the bar on SE 3rd and Oak, \”the rature\” or something.

    [le sigh]

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) August 1, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    just published my thoughts on how it went.

    here\’s the post.

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