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Oregon’s bike/ped coordinator responds to fourth-place ranking

Posted by on September 9th, 2008 at 10:46 am

“If I had $1000 dollars for every community that’s contacted me about their bike trails plan, I could fund an entire system.”
— Sheila Lyons of ODOT

Sheila Lyons, the bicycle and pedestrian program manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has responded to the League of American Bicyclist’s Bicycle Friendly State rankings that put Oregon in fourth-place.

Lyons, who has held that position since January of 2007 when she took over for Michael Ronkin, was the official contact person with the League and was responsible for filling out the 57-part questionnaire that the League used as a basis for their rankings.

In a comment left on this site yesterday, Sheila defended Oregon’s bike-friendliness and pointed out that the “specifics” of the questionnaire “did not necessarily reflect how much enthusiasm and support there is for bicycling statewide”.

>

Sheila Lyons, shown here on the
Eastbank Esplanade, is ODOT’s bike and
pedestrian program manager.
(Photo © J. Maus)

Grey areas about Oregon’s mandatory sidepath law, an outpouring of interest in biking from around the state, and broad support for biking from state tourism and parks agencies, are all components of a bike-friendly state that she says could not be captured in the League’s questionnaire.

One League spokesperson cited Oregon’s “mandatory sidepath” law (that says if a bike lane or path is present, it must be ridden on) as one reason we fared so poorly in the legislation category (one of six categories used in the rankings). On that topic, Lyons wrote:

“We don’t know how many miles of separated path the DOT maintains and the “sidepath” law may be misinterpreted by some law enforcement officers.”

She points to a growing interest in biking in every corner of the state and says,

“If I had $1000 dollars for every community that’s contacted me about their bike trails plan, I could fund an entire system.”

In her comment, Lyons also shared that she feels Oregon has, “a very high degree of motor vehicle driver awareness and courtesy,” and pointed to a recent discussion she had about accommodating bike traffic through an intersection in the city of Roseburg, a discussion she says would, “not even (be) conceived of in many other states.”

Oregon also enjoys interest and support of bicycle tourism, she says, with agencies like Travel Oregon, Oregon State Parks, ODOT, and Cycle Oregon all working together in a major bike tourism partnership.

Fortunately, Lyons will have the opportunity to share more about these and other reasons why Oregon is indeed the “Land Bicycles Dream About” (a slogan created by the aforementioned partnership). The second phase of the League’s program will be a written application that will allow states to go more in-depth in making their case.

For her part, Lyons is optimistic and doesn’t seem to be letting the fourth place ranking get her down. She wrote that,

“I’m very encouraged about where we are at, where we are going and confident that we’ll get there… and with our collective interest in making it better, it will get better and better.”

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steve
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steve

Yup, no need to fix it if you can just pretend it\’s not broke. So defensive and so much denial. Excellent leadership, yeah?

“If I had $1000 dollars for every community that’s contacted me about their bike trails plan, I could fund an entire system.”

Did she ask those communities for $1000? If not, why not?

djasonpenney
Guest

IMNSHO I think that issues regarding the sidepath law (ORS 814.420) are more than compensated by the multiple exemptions in the very next section (ORS 814.430), especially 814.430(2)(c). This essentially allows us to take the lane (in a safe and cautious manner) pretty much any time we feel like we need to in order to be safe.

(2) A person is not in violation of the offense under this section if the person is not operating a bicycle as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway under any of the following circumstances:

(c) When reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or other conditions that make continued operation along the right curb or edge unsafe or to avoid unsafe operation in a lane on the roadway that is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side. Nothing in this paragraph excuses the operator of a bicycle from the requirements under ORS 811.425 or from the penalties for failure to comply with those requirements.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

hi steve,

Ms. Lyons is not expected to show leadership. she is a state employee, not a politician or an advocate.

Also, I don\’t hear a lot of defensiveness in her statement. Is she a bit riled at getting fourth? You bet…. and that\’s because she is trying to make Oregon #1.

is she pretending \”it\’s not broke\”? Did you read my other story? She said she feels Oregon has a long ways to go.

\”Did she ask those communities for $1000? If not, why not?\”

It\’s not in her job description to ask communities for money. However, I personally know that she does encourage communities to go after grant money and then helps get their projects funded.

I hope you can appreciate that the head of our state\’s bike/ped program is cool enough to leave a somewhat candid statement in the comments of this site.

I for one think that sort of willingness to engage the community is very important. Many agencies have policies that forbid leaving comments on blogs (which is a very bad policy by the way!).

I appreciate your passion for making Oregon a better place to bike and your energy for holding our state employees accountable for doing great work.

steve
Guest
steve

If she is the head of our states bike/ped program, I would say that is a leadership role.

My dictionary would as well.

I would add, that you now seem a touch defensive. Her words are her own and doubtfully need an addendum by you.

\”It\’s not in her job description to ask communities for money.\”

Then why did she bring it up in the first place?

joe adamski
Guest
joe adamski

Portland is Portland, not the sum of Oregon. Outside our City there are a wide array of attitudes and desires regarding pedestrian and bike issues. In part, our standing in the rankings is a result of Ontario or Coos Bay, as well as Portland. I do not find rating 4th as a failure. I regard it as a challenge, as a State to examine our choices and move forward.

As for leadership, it needs to come from all quarters. To expect a single department of government, with narrowly stated goals and limited resources to be the \’be all,end all\’ is absurd. Leadership needs to come from our bike community, driving local leaders to drive regional and State leaders. To effect a shift from car-centric to bike/ped centric will need to be a grass roots effort. Simply, they may have good intentions, but will not totally deliver till the mob on their doorstep demands it.

I think many in Oregon understand that already,hence the 4th place instead of the 50th . Its just a case of ramping up the heat.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

\”If she is the head of our states bike/ped program, I would say that is a leadership role.\”

Yes it is, in some respects. I was just trying to say there is a balance to how much leadership a state employee and member of a massive bureaucracy can be expected to show.

\”I would add, that you now seem a touch defensive.\”

Yes I am. I love Oregon. I have been a part of trying to make this state #1 for bikes and I also appreciate the work Ms. Lyons does.

My comment also comes in the context of the many many negative comments you\’ve left on this site over the years.

\”\”It\’s not in her job description to ask communities for money.\”

Then why did she bring it up in the first place?\”

In my read of it, she seemed to simply making a candid statement or maybe even a joke (god forbid).

Thanks.

steve
Guest
steve

I agree Joe. I also feel that we are lucky to be in the top ten. I feel we have way too much self-congratulatory posturing here in Portland. We should be attempting to change, instead of so eager to declare victory.

Hopefully this will take some of the shine off our supposedly \’platinum\’ status and remind us of how much more there is to do.

This is not the best state in our country to ride a bike. Our country is not the best country in the world to ride a bike. We have a lot of work ahead of us, honestly I wish they had rated us even lower.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

\”We should be attempting to change, instead of so eager to declare victory.\”

steve,

I don\’t think anyone is declaring victory.

Many people are working for change (with different methods and varying effectiveness) and occasionally those people stop to recognize a job well done… then they go back into their cubicles and get back to work.

steve
Guest
steve

Hopeless positiveism will only get us so far Jonathan. At some point reality has to set in. Sorry you perceive that as \’negativity\’.

Let\’s all turn our frowns upside down! Lead, is now platinum. I didn\’t see you when I ran you over, is now a shiny new bike path to heaven. Yay!

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

\”Hopeless positiveism will only get us so far Jonathan. At some point reality has to set in. Sorry you perceive that as \’negativity\’.\”

steve,

as I\’ve stated many times before… I have never said that the absence of positivity is negativity. The key is in how you present those negative thoughts.

also, as I\’ve stated many times before, I share your negativity about Portland\’s complacency… however, I do not choose to resort to the same negative tone that you have.

you and i simply have different ways of taking on this battle for creating the change we want to see.

also remember that I leave about 95% of the comments you make in their entirety … and because of the platform I have created, you are now able to share your opinions with a large and diverse range of people.

thanks for the comment.

steve
Guest
steve

Id say it is closer to 99% of my comments are untouched. Which is one of the many signs that point to your awesomeness.

Steven J
Guest
Steven J

\”Oregon also enjoys interest and support of bicycle tourism, she says, with agencies like Travel Oregon, Oregon State Parks, ODOT, and Cycle Oregon all working together in a major bike tourism partnership.\”

Ask Oregon state parks why don\’t they honor hike and bike campsites along the Gorge & interior of Oregon byways.

Only along the coast. there\’s a bit of Complacency for you.
lead follow or get the hell out of the way…just don\’t be complacent.

….steps off his soapbox….

a.O
Guest

I\’ll make an observation here, and that is that this sort of back-and-forth is something that Jonathan frequently says drives away readers. I\’ll take his word for that, but I for one find it interesting.

Among those who understand the sea change required for people to be safe and feel comfortable riding bikes, there is real tension between the need to be constructive and the tendency to get lost in the hype. It\’s good for all of us to reminded of the pitfalls of either approach.

I have learned a few lessons over the past few years: (1) the doing of the heavy lifting on bike advocacy is harder than it looks; (2) the tone we set is important (remind myself of this daily); and, perhaps most importantly (3) the \”leaders,\” politicians and bureaucrats, are not going to take up this mantle and run with it. They are going to need constant pressure from the actual riders. That\’s democracy in the 21st century for you.

Jonathan Maus (Editor)
Guest

\”I\’ll make an observation here, and that is that this sort of back-and-forth is something that Jonathan frequently says drives away readers.\”

sort of, but not really. Just to clarify, the type of back-and-forth that I really abhor (and that drives away readers) are when a string of comments gets personal, childish, and insult-driven.

I like your \”lessons learned\” a.O.

Just remember that the \”constant pressure\” from actual riders must have a platform to be heard.

The way for that pressure to work is by: contacting your local and state representatives, showing up to testify, comment, etc.. when needed; responding to calls for action from the BTA; commenting here in a thoughtful way; telling your friends and co-workers how you feel about certain issues; contacting local media outlets when you have an opinion to add or correction to offer; etc… etc., etc.,

a.O
Guest

Amen.

Eileen
Guest
Eileen

Steve, have you ever worked with people who shoot down every idea that comes across and so nothing ever gets done? At some point you have to say, this idea isn\’t perfect, but it\’s something so let\’s get started. Then you use that momentum and keep going with better and better ideas. Right now there is positive forward momentum and spending too much time getting mired in everything that is wrong is actually just going to hold us back. Keep pushing forward and thinking positive (which helps keep the creative juices flowing) but don\’t get too comfy.

bicycleMike
Guest
bicycleMike

In the grand scheme of things who really cares, 1st, 4th, 10th big deal. Portland keep on doing what your doing, it\’s working. I live in the Midwest and I truly value your city, I love visiting it and riding there as well. I\’m certainly not seeing much in the line of \”But I want to be #1) but I am seeing some \”how dare you\” so to speak. Big deal, it\’s just a ranking. The huge vast majority of you in Portland do such a great job, almost to the point of being above rankings. In my opinion the next time around the survey should be sent back blank, not because your pissed but because surveys are like trophies… they look good but at the end of the day they mean nothing. Keep on keeping on Portland, I think you do a good job and that is what counts, not \”survey people.\”

steve
Guest
steve

That is all well and good Eileen. Unless one does not feel that there is \’positive forward momentum\’ as you put it.

I think people are already too comfy. They are positively comfy in fact.

I understand the desire to see something, anything done. But when that desire replaces the desire to have actual progress, then something is amiss. I think something is amiss, though I understand how others do not. Though I think they are deluding themselves, and in many cases others.

As far as I can tell, our forward momentum is painting a white glossy line over the problem, while congratulating one another about how awesome we are cause no one else is using paint yet.

The problem remains and worse yet, people have decided that it is fixed, even though it ain\’t.

You feel free to be \’positive\’. I am thankful for being able to be real.

matt picio
Guest

I think it\’s great that Oregon got 4th, and I think that Washington does not deserve 1st (they have a LOT of issues, including a lack of hiker/biker camps in the state parks, poor infrastructure in Seattle, Tacoma, and Vancouver, etc). Oregon probably deserves 3rd on that basis – I believe that Oregon as a state is doing a better job with cycling.

Of course, this is what happens when the League\’s decision is based on applications by the states, rather than sending people out to ride in them, or poll people in the states in question. (if the League DOES this, I\’d love to be corrected on this)

Oregon has a ways to go before being #1 – ODOT is still hostile to bikes, at least in the Portland Metro area. There are no good routes to Seaside / Cannon Beach / Tillamook (Nestucca River Rd is NOT a good route for a 100+ lb. loaded touring bike), all the state parks in the Gorge are seasonal, and there is a lack of hiker/biker facilities in the off-season. Our single scenic bikeway has no bike camping facilities along its entire length. If you give me an hour, I\’ll think of a dozen more areas for improvement. We have a tremendous opportunity here, if we can get enough motivated individuals to hold the policymakers\’ collective feet to the fire and tell local and state agencies and authorities what we want. (politely, but firmly)

Oregon CAN be #1, and being #4 gives us some leverage to work with.

a.O
Guest

Steve, FWIW I generally agree with you. Most pointedly, I think Ms Lyons\’ comment that the questionnaire \”did not necessarily reflect how much enthusiasm and support there is for bicycling statewide\” really misses the point.

Enthusiasm and support, as great as they are, don\’t improve actual biking conditions on the roadways.

Now, I know this may seem nitpicking or negative, but biking is a special kind of issue politically. It\’s like education or health care or saving endangered species – nobody who gets taken seriously purports to be against it no matter how regressive their policy ideas or how little they actually do to improve bike conditions.

And this is why you have an education system in shambles but Orwellian phrases like \”No Child Left Behind\” that destroy education and \”Blue Skies Initiative\” that actually increase air pollution.

Plenty of people will stand up and talk about how great bike boulevards are and how good biking is, but there isn\’t a single ordinance in the Portland City Code that actually protects cyclists more than the minimal protections they receive under state law.

I don\’t want to be misconstrued as criticizing Ms Lyons because I\’m not. I\’m just saying that I agree that there is a very real and important danger of becoming complacent and accepting press conferences and vague reassurances for something they\’re not, and that\’s real change.

On the other hand, you\’ve got to stay constructive. And by you I mean you and especially me.

peejay
Guest
peejay

And me!

Eileen
Guest
Eileen

Well, I may have a different perspective since I am not living under the bike bubble and although I know lots of people who are bike commuters, the majority of my close friends and family are not. I do see people\’s attitudes changing and I think there is a greater openness to change right now. I haven\’t ever heard anyone who believes that the current situation is ideal and I hear of lots of plans to change/improve things. I agree with you though – I think 4th place was a good ranking for us right now. It reminds us that we\’re not there yet. And for goodness sake, you see these rankings of cities and states for different things all the time and they all have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Tom
Guest
Tom

Bike \”friendliness\” among American states/cities is like virtue amoung prostitutes. It\’s just a relative term. Thus there is no glory or shame in being first or last. By the way, I had a wonderful time riding my bike in North Dakota (a unfriendly state according to the rankings).

There is no city or state in this country that is truly bike friendly. So being ranked #1 is like being king of the midgets. It\’s a title but, not very prestigious.

We must all ride on. No state or government will be the answer.

007
Guest
007

When drivers start yielding to bicyclists in bike lanes and when they start getting ticketed for not doing so, Oregon might deserve the no. 1 spot.

Erik Sandblom
Guest

Regarding \”a very high degree of motor vehicle driver awareness and courtesy, etc\” this is very important. I live in Sweden where driver awareness is high, and there are bike paths everywhere. But courtesy is crappy, especially from pedestrians. And that\’s a big deal.

In contrast, Copenhagen, Denmark, with its heavy car, bike and pedestrian traffic just knocks me out, because absolutely everyone knows how to deal with cyclists. So even though there\’s lots of traffic, and the cyclists are going pretty fast, everything runs very smoothly and calmly. It just knocked me out how smooth it was.

So when Sheila Lyons talks about awareness, enthusiasm and support, don\’t disparage that. It\’s really important. Without it, you don\’t have much use for the all those thousands of dollars in facilities!

One of Oregon\’s assets are those events where you dress up in costumes and have fun on bikes. Sweden has more of a top-down structure which gets us the facilities, but not the fine culture you appear to have in Oregon.

Hats off to Oregon!