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Bike Plan: Media spin round-up

Posted by on February 4th, 2010 at 11:14 am

Today’s headlines:

  • Riding into the future
    on two (expensive) wheels
  • City council to vote
    on $600 million 20-year
    bike plan
  • Portland’s $1 Million a Mile
    Bike Lanes: Vehicle Owners
    Get the Bill

Today is the Big Day for Portlanders — the day City Council holds a special hearing on the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030. We’ll have lots of coverage to come, both live from City Hall today and plenty of analysis tomorrow. For now, let me direct you to the conversation in greater Portland being furthered with help from our local media outlets.

Overnight there was a lot more coverage of the plan that I want to bring your attention to.

First, the Daily Journal of Commerce gave their take with, Bike Plan Funding Starts Small. It was quite a contrast to the hysteria-inducing front page debacle in The Oregonian yesterday. Of note were comments by bike plan project manager Ellen Vanderslice in response to how funding for the plan would trickle out:

“We don’t have that amount of discretionary funding for any mode of transportation,” Vanderslice said. “To get to a place where we can take funding from cars and give that to bikes, we need to prove that the demand is here first.”

This is a new line of response that I haven’t heard before and it makes me wonder whether Mayor Adams is feeling heat from all the “hefty price tag” rhetoric being spewed in the local media. The big problem I see with this response from Vanderslice is this: The plan says it wants to attracted the “interested but concerned.” These are folks who are not riding because the network does not adequately serve them — so how can the City show demand before new infrastructure and policies happen?

On to The Oregonian. Their all-powerful Editorial Board weighed in on the plan to solidify their position on the plan. Continuing their tone from yesterday, the title of the editorial is, Riding into the future on two (expensive) wheels. Here are a few choice excerpts:

“A great idea, right? Well, let’s hit the brakes for a moment and maintain a sane speed. The hitch is money.”

As I explained yesterday, it’s simply insane to characterize the plan like this. I repeat. This plan is just a blueprint, it does not commit the city to anything. It simply gives planners a framework for the future. The funding is a separate conversation.

I love this next line:

“… it would create familiar striped lanes on roads we now drive;”

So there it is. Plain as day. The Oregonian thinks of “we” as people who drive. No wonder they are having trouble getting behind this amazingly thoughtful and important bicycle transportation plan. Those darn bicyclists are going to take over our roads!

Oh, but lest you think The Oregonian is anti-bike:

“We like bikes just fine. Fulfilling our aspirations to be a great biking town can start today with passage of the plan as long as it carries a commitment that only the truly necessary paths be built with financial burdens carefully considered and spread widely.”

Do they realize that the plan actually calls for “carefully considering” the funding sources? The City is all about careful consideration — that’s exactly what this plan is all about, but The Oregonian makes it seem like that’s their idea and that somehow the bike plan includes radically aggressive and irrational spending schemes.

“Let’s proceed slowly, block by block, as we release the brakes.”

Sounds like a great idea. Actually, that’s exactly what PBOT plans to do as per the article yesterday in the Daily Journal of Commerce.

And the unfortunate “hefty price tag” meme has spread from the papers to the airwaves. KGW reported on their prime-time news last night that:

“At 2 p.m. the Portland City Council will vote on whether to spend roughly $600 million dollars on about 650 miles of new “bikeways” over the next 20 years.”

Again, that’s just not true. The vote is to pass a plan, not to pass a $600 million expenditure. But even so, let’s ask some “taxpayers” what they think and let’s throw out the ever-popular “$1 million per mile” line:

“But with a price tag nearing $1 million per mile, many are asking – is this responsible spending? Near the Lloyd Center Portland taxpayers weigh in.

“I think the money could go to something a little more important like job creation,” Anthony Wilson said.”

And finally (for now), there’s right-leaning radio talk show host Victoria Taft, who rips into the plan as just a bunch of “pork barrel spending” that the “vehicle owners” will be stuck with.

See you at the rally!

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  • Dave February 4, 2010 at 11:29 am

    A certain song comes to mind… “…your old road is rapidly aging. please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand, for the times they are a’changin’.”

    here’s hoping.

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  • Craig Bachman February 4, 2010 at 11:54 am

    It is terrific that the humble, efficient, inexpensive, healthy, fun bicycle gets this much attention even though some of it is wrong headed. If the city counsel adopts the plan and it is implemented Portland will be seen as the forward thinking progressive,healthy, strong city we all want it to be. If the plan is not adopted we will be seen as stupid wasters of a fabulous opportunity. BUILD IT.

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  • Nick V February 4, 2010 at 11:57 am

    The Oregonian is a sinking ship. How can they be so arrogant and condescending and yet so desperate for more readers and money?

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  • rixtir February 4, 2010 at 11:58 am

    If transportation dollars are that scarce, then the only rational course of action will be to immediately stop spending on all other transportation projects and only spend on 2030 Bike Plan projects. It’s the most efficient use of our transportation dollars (5% of the budget yields 25% of all trips, 631 miles of bikeway – 10 miles of MAX or 12 miles of freeway). We simply can’t afford to waste our scarce transportation dollars on less efficient projects.

    Or we can try to figure out how to fund this AND other, less efficient transportation projects catering to those for whom efficient use of scarce transportation dollars and cost-benefit ratios are not the primary factors in spending choices.

    But doing it the O’s way is the least rational course of action.

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  • Joe Rowe February 4, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    The Oregonian loves attention more than they love reporting on both sides of a story. Many things seem to cost too much up front. Most reporters are from my parents’ generation, and my parents were blind to the true cost of never insulating our attic. I had no college help from them because it went up in smoke, and into local lungs.

    Hey reporters…What’s the true cost of building a city like Houston or Phoenix in terms of all the income spent on gas and cars, road funds, heath problems? The Burnside/Couch facelift? etc etc.

    Most of Portland is smarter than this past. Let’s hope the city council hears more than the old, short sided, money up in smoke hype.

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  • Carl February 4, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Oh Joe, I misread your last name…by one letter. One can dream, right?

    Thanks, Jonathan, for this meta-coverage. Nice work.

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  • Joseph Rose February 4, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks Jonathon,
    A couple pieces of coverage that you may conveniently left out, since they don’t fit the narrative:



    And The Oregonian’s guest column from Mia Birk:



    Joseph Rose
    The Oregonian

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  • carlos February 4, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    @ Joseph Rose: And where were these stories placed in your newspaper? Front Page?

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  • Jackattak February 4, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    That wasn’t Joseph Rose (at least not the “writer” for the Boregonian).

    He wouldn’t have misspelled Jonathan’s name.

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  • […] « Bike Plan: Media spin round-up […]

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  • Craig February 4, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    So Joseph, Blog posts and opinions are now the same as front page news story? Goes to show how far the the Oregonian reporting has fallen. Sad, and a perfect example of why the big general daily’s will not survive.

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  • Case February 4, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    It’s the truth, construction projects do not create jobs.

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  • rixtir February 4, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Joseph Rose still has a problem acknowledging the FACT that he compared 20 years of bike spending with 1 year of all transportation spending, and did it in a way that would mislead the casual reader.

    That, and where does he get off stating as a “fact” that Portland is already a world-class bike city (and therefore, presumably, doesn’t need to spend more money on biking)?

    Sorry Joseph, feel sorry for yourself all you want, but your hit piece was not “balanced.” The reaction you got was well-deserved.

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  • Joe Metal Cowboy Kurmaskie February 4, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Again with the apples to oranges Joseph – you toss out blogs and a guest op ed to cover the fact that you ran a front page unbalanced, story with an alarmist headline – then your ed board follows up with an offical board editorial in a similar vein- and we read and watch other media outlets – tv , print – the science monitor and papers around the country resonate the high cost mantra. I ask you – are they picking up mia’s reasoned op ed – or michelle’s q&A on your blog? let’s not be all “Who me? I’m writing all this counterpoint stuff over on my blog defense… b/c it doesn’t ring true and it doesn’t look and feel like apples to apples exposure but with 7 years at a daily paper and 25 years in journalism, whhat do I know? It’s weak, dime short cover. My take on it, and this is giving you respect for balanced articles you have written in the past – my take is you had a bad day at the office or were forced to have one by editorial changes at the O in recent months – you wrote an unbalanced, alarmist article and it’s what got picked up around the country- and is doing no one service regarding factual/balanced debate and discussion and you’ve done damage to your rep, atleast with me, The slant is so blatant – using the cpi as your main source – that it gives people championing the plan and bicycles as transportation in general some solid ammo – something tangible to use to clear up bad math etc. so for that I suppose thanks are in order, but a solid balanced article on the front page would have been the better call.

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  • rixtir February 4, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Well, at least the anti-bike slant in the Oregonian’s coverage of the Bike Plan has got me motivated to go down to the rally now and show my support.

    See everybody there!


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  • Paul Souders February 5, 2010 at 10:15 am


    That is the exact reason I went.

    I hate rallys. (The City Council mtg. was really interesting though, and now I’m all curious about what happened to the Children’s Levy)

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