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2010 Recap: Bicycling and Mayor Adams – Updated

Posted by on January 3rd, 2011 at 12:02 pm

For better or for worse, Portland Mayor Sam Adams is tied to bicycling in this city — and in 2010, both took their lumps.
(Photos © J. Maus)

BTA Alice Awards 2010-38

At the BTA’s Alice Awards in June.

Here’s the first of my 2010 recap posts (stay tuned for recaps of advocacy, projects, and big ideas). I held this one until after the holidays because I didn’t want to be a downer (the next ones will be mostly happy stuff, I promise!). Unfortunately, the fact is that — in terms of mayoral politics and its relationship to Portland in general — bicycling had a rough year. So rough that Mayor Sam Adams, who is largely tied to bicycling, now seems to have distanced himself from it.

If Portland wants to get its groove back (find out how we’ve lost it below), we must figure out how to bring our mayor back from the brink. If you don’t agree with my assertions, see the recap below…

Looking back, the first week of 2010 should have been taken as an omen that it would be a tough year for bicycling in Portland.

On January 8th, the Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) released their annual bike counts which showed the first decline since 1995. PBOT blamed the 7 percent dip on two things; the abnormal spike in bike trips in 2008 spurred by high gas prices, and that perhaps we had hit a ceiling of who’s willing to use our existing (and underdeveloped) bike infrastructure.

Adding salt to the wound of our first decline in 15 years was Willamette Week reporter Beth Slovic. Slovic (whose paper broke the story about Mayor Sam Adams’ sex scandal in January 2009 and seems perturbed that it didn’t knock him out of office), published emails between PBOT staffers which she claimed were proof they were trying to spin the bad news. Was PBOT’s handling of the bike counts behind Slovic’s efforts, or was it that the counts were simply a convenient avenue by which to criticize Adams’ competency (since PBOT is his bureau)?

At City Council for 2030 Bike Plan passage.
Due to public backlash about the perceived
cost and bungled messaging from the Mayor’s Office,
these smiles were short-lived.
(Photo © J. Maus)

In February, after years of prodigious effort by volunteers, city staff, and advocates, the Bike Plan for 2030 finally passed. It’s an amazing plan and represents the most thoughtful and comprehensive such plan for urban biking ever produced (in my opinion). But, the celebration was to be very short-lived.

Adams’ plan to “kickstart” the bike plan with $20 million from the Bureau of Environmental Services budget to fund bike-friendly bioswales caught everyone off guard (probably because it was announced the same day the plan came up for a vote). Despite its fiscal and practical merits, the idea became fodder for intense criticism, spawning the “sewer money for bike lanes” meme that still hangs around the neck of bicycling to this day.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the local media also constantly portrayed the bike plan passage as a $600 million expenditure that the City couldn’t afford. (This reached its height with the Mercury’s Blood in the Bike Paths editorial.) The bike plan price tag was thrown around like Mayor Adams had written out a $600 million check for bike infrastructure — but the reality was that the plan was completely unfunded.

The coverage (I don’t think one local media outlet got it right) was irresponsible and inaccurate, but it made for a great sound bite, and unfortunately — even almost a year later — it continues to resonate with the public.

If you’re keeping track, that’s already three bike PR debacles, and the year was still in its infancy…

In April, we got the announcement by Bicycling Magazine that Portland was no longer America’s #1 city for bikes. Regardless of the influence or lack of scientific rigor behind Bicycling’s rankings (and their obvious need to create a stir to sell magazines) the decision wasn’t completely without merit. On paper (in terms of mode split and infrastructure miles), Portland is still the leader, but we’re not out in front by as much as we used to be and there’s definitely a sense that we’ve lost our groove.

Screen grab from KATU TV newscast.

In August, Metro President David Bragdon (who was a stalwart supporter of bicycling and a visionary for a new transportation status quo) decided to jump ship and take a job in New York City’s planning department. On his way out, he landed a few stinging blows on his Portland colleagues, telling the Portland Mercury, “There’s a complacency here that’s really detrimental to our forward progress.” Ouch.

With bicycling in Portland on the ropes, and a Mayor (who is, for better or for worse, largely tied to bicycling in the public eye) still fighting off a major scandal in 2009, it was a perfect storm for bad bicycling PR…

In May, KATU-TV ran an “investigation” of the new buffered bike lanes on SE Holgate in East Portland that was titled, Bike path to nowhere. The segment questioned whether the lanes were even necessary and threw around the “$600 million bike plan” figure even though the project was done with a $30,000 grant from TriMet.

The KATU piece helped spur some latent anger in the neighborhoods around Holgate; and soon, PBOT had a tempest on their hands that they’re still dealing with. (This issue is set to start up again soon, stay tuned.)

BTA Alice Awards 2010-31

At the Alice Awards, Adams made it
clear he was taking a lot of heat
for his support of bicycling.

In June, Mayor Adams attended the BTA’s Alice Awards event and spoke about his frustrations and all the negative push-back he was getting for his support of bicycling. He told the crowd that his office had gotten a lot of feedback from his $20 million bike plan kickstart idea — and that 97 percent of it had been negative. He made it clear that he needs more support from advocacy groups and the community.

His speech at the Alice Awards was Adams’ first clear signal that his ability and willingness to put his neck on the line for bicycling was waning. It was also the last time we’d see him attend a major bike advocacy event or address bicycle policy in a direct and public way.

Mayor Adams at Safe Routes to School ride-10

Adams in Overlook Park in June.

The one small biking bright spot of the year for Adams was a Safe Routes to Schools event in June. To recognize bike safety program graduates at Humboldt Elementary School, Adams hopped on his Sanyo e-bike and bombed down a grassy hill at Overlook Park alongside a teacher — much to the students’ delight.

But cute kids on bikes and a masterful photo-op wasn’t enough to stop yet another instance of bicycles being used as a way to criticize Adams. Who can forget John Canzano’s swipe at cycling back in September? In his award-winning sports column for The Oregonian, Canzano tore into Adams and “those silly bike lanes” in the “$613 million” bike plan. That column earned headlines and it earned Canzano a phone call from Mayor Adams, who called in to Canzano’s weekly radio show to defend himself.

It seemed like Adams and his transportation bureau just couldn’t catch a break.

Adams cut the ribbon on the $17.8 million East Burnside Couch Couplet in October, but not after dealing with some anger from the BTA and others and concerns about bike safety on the project. To make matters worse, the morning after PBOT announced a new bike box at NE Couch and Grand, a woman riding in the bike lane was seriously injured in a right hook collision.

The Canzano episode, followed by the bike safety fixes on the Burnside-Couch project, seemed like the straws that broke the camel’s back for Adams and his willingness to put bicycling front and center (at least publicly). Since then, he seems to be avoiding the issue. In fact, he’s been strangely quiet about it.

In November, PBOT announced that their count of bike trips in 2010 increased 8 percent over the 2009 numbers. Mayor Adams has led PBOT for six years and is widely known as a bike-friendly mayor, but he made no public mention of the numbers. His office did not issue a press advisory about them, and he didn’t even mention the bike counts via Twitter.

I realize transportation isn’t as important as the police bureau, our troubled schools, economic development, or all the other issues on Adams’ plate; but I can’t help but think he’s once bitten, twice shy when it comes to bicycling.

To truly make bicycling a “fundamental pillar” (as per the 2030 Bike Plan) of our transportation system in 2011, Adams must play a central role. The question is, how do we bring him back into the fold?

After thinking more about this story and reading feedback below, I realize I’ve left out a crucial bit of my perspective on this situation. It’s important to understand Adams’ role in creating the situation he is now retreating from. To clarify, the PR debacles and much of the media firestorms that have resulted in a lack of public support and a lot of criticism leveled on bicycling, is primarily due to mistakes made by PBOT and by the Mayor’s Office. The bike plan “kickstart” funding idea was hastily conceived and poorly communicated, the Holgate bike lane situation would have been much more productive if PBOT had given the neighbors proper notification about the project, the Burnside-Couch bike problem should also have been foreseen. So, while I have much more analysis as to why Portland is in a bicycling funk right now — and about the role Mayor Adams, the BTA, and PBOT have played in it — I wanted to at least share this important part of my perspective. Thanks for all the feedback below. We can’t move forward until we identify the problems we face.

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.

  • Jeff Bernards January 3, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    As one who felt his election was based on some allegations that Sam denied & later proved to be true. He also smeared someone’s reputation to get elected, I didn’t support the deceit. That being said, I still support Sam 99% of the time. He has a real pulse about climate change issues and what we really need to be doing about it. If were going to make world changes, it needs to start at the local level, he’s doing that. He did stand up to the Bike Naysayers and got the first $20million approved for the bike master plan.

    Politicians face an adversity of constinuents. I went on a bike ride with Ben Cannon, to explore various projects in the community. Ben said he got emails from people claiming he was a communist for doing the bike ride. Remember these people paid money to take the job.

    I want to take this opportunity to thank Sam for his dedication on the environment in the face of so much criticism. If you can do better, start gathering the signatures. It’s easy to complain, it’s hard to tackle all the issues facing everyone in the community.

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    • jim January 3, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      Does Sam still believe in global warming?

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      • Tansy Ragwort January 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm

        Whatever he believes, it’s time for CHANGE. Looking forward to the next elections.

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  • Zoomzit January 3, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Are you sure that we want Sam publicly “in the fold” with bicycling? Regardless of his effectiveness as a mayor, he has made himself a very polarizing figure.

    Bicycling in Portland may be best served by having his continued “behind-the-scenes” support rather than his using bicycling to create public photo ops and creating further politicization of the issue.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 3, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      Yes, I think we need Sam to be confident and excited/passionate about bikes in order to reach the goals we have. Whether he does it publicly or behind-the-scenes or both is sort of secondary to me. However, I do think it’s important that the most powerful person in our city (not just as mayor but as leader of PBOT) is strong and confident when it comes to bike policy.

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      • adam January 4, 2011 at 8:17 am

        JM, don’t allow the commenters to raise your hackles. you are doing your thing in your way. if someone gets out of line, let them know.

        however, I do not like people being mean to those who are doing their thing. if anyone else has some negative stuff to say, then, well, bring it to the boss.

        stop bothering Jonathan, he has important work to do.

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  • dennis January 3, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    The powers that be, on the right wing, on a national basis, need Sam Adams to fail. It’s required, to fulfill their agenda, and prove that a gay man cannot be mayor. This is quite unfortunate, as except for being hamstrung at each turn, his policies have benefitted Portland, and the surrounding areas. Those forces have eroded his perceived power considerably. This is one of the reasons for his distancing himself from many of his previous passionate issues.

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  • Alex Reed January 3, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Thank you for bringing our attention to the longer-term with this (in my opinion) spot-on characterization of 2010 Portland bike politics. Hopefully the BTA and other advocacy organizations can help 2011 be a better year. And perhaps the major accomplishments of 2011 need to be “soft”—bridge-building and relationship-mending—in order to lay the framework for the future.

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  • Spiffy January 3, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    I think Sam has been doing a great job… it’s a big tough city out there… I haven’t seen any insults at him that held up to researching the actual issue…

    the Holgate bike lane issue isn’t resolved? I thought that PBOT pretty much said they were happy with the slower speed and the extra 30 seconds everybody had to endure because of it… but if they take them out I’ll happily bike in the auto lane and delay motor vehicle traffic if that’s what the local residents really want…

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  • matt picio January 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Not sure why this should be called a “downer” piece. We’re right on schedule:

    First, the ignore you.
    Then, they laugh at you.
    Then, they fight you.
    Then you win.

    Well, they’re fighting now – only one step to go. Maybe 2011 will be that year. People’s Department of Transportation, AROW, BTA – I think we have some people to lead the way, and there’s some fine folk in those groups doing a lot of work. Ditto for the transportation staffs of Portland and Milwaukie, the County advisory committees for Portland, and Multnomah and Clackamas Counties, and great allies like the Northwest Trail Alliance, the Willamette Greenway folks and the WPC. This is the year for Active Streets and Active Transportation. If Mayor Adams chooses not to facilitate the process, the process will continue without him.

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  • x January 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    The public is increasingly savvy when it comes to rooting out these asymmetrical tactics as applied to politics and culture war- cultivating activist darlings like Sam Adams to provide disproportionate political power will, these days, just as often as not result in disappointment when they grow up and face the realities of government. Blame thyself BikePortland- he’s your dog that’s off the leash. I’d laughingly suggest to be more careful next time- but the lemmings penchant for illusion over substance makes for so much better drama. The days of “passionate about” read: “personal agenda” in politics is coming to a close in favor of actually serving a majority constituency.

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  • Nick V January 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I consider myself to be a liberal and I’m sorry but, yeah, I’m still upset about that whole election-time scandal and its aftermath. MORE IMPORTANTLY, I can’t readily think of any major achievements during his tenure. No progress on deciding what to do in the ghost town Rose Quarter, no progress on (stopping) the CRC project, a couplet that was studied, planned, and financed for way too long and still ended up being dangerous, that stupid phone call with Canzano, an acting gig on some pretentious TV program, oh and new bike lanes painted onto three downtown streets.

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  • dmc January 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Interesting read Jonathan. Thanks

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  • beth h January 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I’m hopeful that the 2007 spike in bike usage wasn’t a one-time fluke: gas prices are heading northward once again and, barring any unforeseen collusion from OPEC or multinational corporations, should hit $4/gallon by late spring.
    I am waiting for gas to go toeight or nine bucks a gallon before I throw a party, though.

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  • Gnuut January 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    “…we must figure out how to bring our mayor back from the brink.”

    Better yet, push him off the edge in the next election.

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  • eli bishop January 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    you reminded me to check in again on restoreholgate.com: they watched the tapes and verified the pbot count was accurate — but they -still- don’t believe the numbers (they say it must be a fluke)! argh! they also contacted the Federal Transit Administration and asked them to investigate the funds used to create the holgate bike lanes.

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    • are January 3, 2011 at 4:27 pm

      they actually did raise an interesting point about how the 30k was supposed to be for “reverse” commuting by economically disadvantaged people living in the urban core trying to get to jobs in the burbs. has PBoT given any explanation?

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      • eli bishop January 4, 2011 at 10:23 am

        i read that, too, but it seems pretty obvious to me: economically disadvantaged people were already biking on holgate; this makes it safer for them to connect to other bike transportation corridors like the 205path and 122nd.

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  • Steve B January 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    This is a very important summary of 2010, thanks Jonathan.

    If I learned anything in 2010, it is this: don’t expect bike improvements to come naturally, and don’t assume the city or any advocacy organization is “on it”, there are just too many opportunities for one or two groups to tackle them all. Any advocacy group is only as strong as the numbers of folks it can mobilize to demand better.

    I hope every BP commenter takes this to heart in 2011 and chooses to participate in the movement for better, safer facilities citywide.

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  • John Benton January 3, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    I can’t understand it or put it in perspective reading the comments about the uncompromising bicycle advocacy over everything else here in Portland. This city is faced with really serious problems as the underfunding mental health programs, the highest water/sewer bills in the nation, a billion dollar unfunded fire and police pension liability and high unemployment. Yet you folks support the worst of the worst and totally incompetent mayors Portland has ever had because he is a bicycle advocate. Wake up, Sam is and advocate for only one thing and that is Sam. He will throw anyone under the bus to save his own political agenda. Looking at history I can see similarities to this fanatical advocacy and draw parallels to Germany in 1933.

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    • Zoomzit January 3, 2011 at 4:44 pm

      “Looking at history I can see similarities to this fanatical advocacy and draw parallels to Germany in 1933.”

      I trust that you did not attend the “Rally to Restore Sanity?”

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    • 3-speeder January 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm

      Mr Benton – I’m actually not sure if I agree or not with your sentiment. But your final sentence is in extremely bad taste. Homosexuals suffered terribly under Hitler. I hope you will reply with regret for your final sentence.

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  • BURR January 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    John Benton
    the highest water/sewer bills in the nation


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  • Matthew Denton January 3, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    I agree, Adams is not everything I hoped he would be, but lets look at Potter, what did he do? Or would you rather have Sho Dozono instead of Adams? What this story says is that the actually planing/building/etc of infrastructure moved faster than a certain (loud) section of the population wanted it to. It is far better than the reverse. Ideally that section of the population should have come around, but the story of the last few years is that peak oil killed the economy, the part of the economy that died first was the housing market, the loud section of the population got confused by that and took the wrong lesson away from it, and those people seem intent on bringing back the housing market, instead of dealing with the bigger issue.

    So yes, the mayor should do more, but so should we all*. Of course, with the police killing another person yesterday I can see why we aren’t the top priority on Adams’ list.

    *I think a large part of the problem is infighting. You don’t have to look very far to find people that should be on the same sides of an issue, disagreeing on the implementation details to the point of holding things up so that nothing gets accomplished at all. As Adams said back during Safe Sound and Green: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

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  • Stig10 January 3, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Wow from the latest pics of Sam, he needs to put down the Xmas pud and get back on his bike.

    How does a politician avoid getting flamed for supporting cycling so long as the mode share is comparatively so low? The media knows ~95% of their readership doesn’t ride so it’s so easy to flame away. Perhaps they don’t even need to be accurate or care to be because few will complain.

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  • lothar January 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Lets face it. The “scandal” took away any clout that Sam had collected in one fell swoop. It was going to be difficult enough because of homophobic opposition to Adams but he gave opponents a pass to hide their bigotry behind the allegation of molestation which has a larger audience of disapproval. (and rightly so) He had a serious recall effort early in his term that had support from all sides of the political spectrum but fortunately for him not a lot of people were interested or still on the fence with him. For anyone to hitched their cart to him becomes a part of the whole drama that has encompassed Sam’s incumbency. I am surprised he even took an aim at gun issues albeit he was very careful stepping through that mine field. It mostly became a statement that ” people who are not supposed to have guns shouldn’t be allowed to have guns”. He is the Greg Oden of Portland politics. He was supposed to be our champion but got injured early in the season and has no chance to get back to form.

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    • Chuck Garabedian January 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm

      “He was supposed to be our champion but got injured early in the season and has no chance to get back to form.”

      Truer words…

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  • adam January 3, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    I also recall a meeting in Sam’s office – back in the day – where I told the city we were going to close down Alberta. he was not helpful then, either.

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  • old&slow January 3, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    You have basically banned my comments, deleted anything I wrote here because for 2 years I have chided your website for your blind Adams support.
    You claim you haven’t been a cheerleader, but it is obvious you were and have been.
    So now, after 2 years you basically admit you were hoodwinked when it was obvious to most who live here that Adams has been a phony for the bike community, used them when he needed them, acted like a bike commuter when he wasn’t, and you sucked it in like the PR release it always was.
    Hopefully you will publish this, but I am not counting on it, You and Sam are peas in a pod.

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  • Brad January 3, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    I’m not sure what to say anymore, Jonathan. If you want to find a big reason why bikes are having a difficult time in Portland right now then look in the mirror.

    How can you honestly be advocating that Sam Adams is our last, best hope and that we need to help him back from the brink? I think that it has become very clear that he is a one term mayor that has obviously sought political expediency over vision. I am horribly disappointed that you have chosen to cross your fingers and hope that a severely damaged politician can regain his mojo rather than actively seek a new champion who is truly committed to the cause rather than pandering for the extra 4-5% of voters that ride bikes.

    I dare say that you have lost perspective. You are in too tight with your “friends” at City Hall, PBOT, Alta, BTA, etc. to function as a truly impartial reporter of local bike issues and too close to those with all of the supposed answers to offer a critical evaluation of their plans.

    Go back and read Matt Picio’s post. If this movement of ours is legitimate, has popular support, and can be advanced with equal parts passion and pragmatism, then it will continue without Adam’s endorsement. Where I disagree with Matt is the relative strength and cohesion within the bike movement itself. Too many agendas, too little agreement on strategy, too few voices and numbers.

    Do you know why the media picks on us? Because we’re the easiest target. We want lots of money and respect from the public at large and yet, we only choose to defend ourselves in the echo chamber of this and other blogs. On any of the news coverage you cite above, where was the Mayor? PBOT? The BTA? Any bike advocate that cannot be ignored or written off as a joke? No one went on record or on camera to adequately defend bikes. As usual, we came to BikePortland.org to gripe and snark. We continually get bullied because what have we ever done when attacked? Complain to other bike riders, make up some bike fun event as a protest, or start yet another cutesy alternative transportation blog to further dilute our message. Vey effective stuff, eh?

    I’m done with the collective impotence around here. I am finished with the good ol’ boys and girls network of “advocrats” or whatever term you coined for the tired and unimaginative people who have dominated the conversation for the past decade or more. I hope that you enjoy their holiday cards, social gatherings, and the mutual admiration. It’s produced some painted lines and feel good press but not very much real safety or difference for cyclists.

    The sun will rise tomorrow morning and I will ride. I feel sorry for those of you that cannot enjoy this simple freedom without fear, politics, or the need for outside validation.

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    • jim January 4, 2011 at 1:17 am

      what brad said

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    • adam January 4, 2011 at 8:09 am

      well said, dude.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 4, 2011 at 8:30 am


      I agree with much of your comment (the last parts, not the initial parts that incorrectly judge my perspective)… simply because this one post does not relate all of those things doesn’t mean that I believe the opposite is true.

      I think the mistake in my story is that it absolves the mayor of his role in all of this. I will attempt to clear that up in a follow-up story.

      Again, I disagree with your characterization of my position because you are basing your assumptions on an incomplete picture of my perspective.

      I could write a bunch more posts about why we’re in this funk and who/what is to blame. This is simply one post and my goal was to make the case that Mayor Adams has gotten into hot water on bike issues and now he seems to be avoided bicycling altogether.

      Thanks for the comment.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 4, 2011 at 8:50 am

      Brad, a few other thoughts in response to your comment.

      Please don’t put words into my mouth. I am absolutely not “advocating that Sam Adams is our last, best hope”.

      Adams is the Mayor. As such, he can use the power of his office (and his oversight of PBOT) to push bicycling back into the fore and do some great things. We can choose to write him off and hate him for 2 years, or we can point out the sad state of bicycling in this town, illustrate his role in it, and then try to work out of the funk.

      Am I saying we shouldn’t find a new champion? No. You are saying that. I would love to find a new champion. Believe me, if I could see one I’d be doing my best to share the news.

      As for your assertion that I’m “too tight” with PBOT, City Hall, BTA, etc… well that’s just laughable. Tell me, how are you so aware of the problems bicycling faces in this town? And of the tumult the BTA has been through.. and the lack of big things for bikes that Adams is responsible for? All of those things have been reported on BikePortland.

      If you knew me better you would understand I have not lost my perspective at all and that I have taken great pains to remain 100% independent of the PBOT/BTA/City Hall triangle. In fact, people all of those organizations are disappointed in me because they feel I’ve been TOO negative!

      Is it challenging to balance being critical with wanting to stay positive and help build the movement up? Absolutely. Has my relationship with Adams/PBOT/BTA changed over the years? Absolutely. You have no idea how difficult my role is… to go from team member to outsider trying to report the truth and not parroting the party line.

      Please take care when you judge me and criticize my role… And remember that BikePortland always publishes thoughtful critiques of the powers that be and that I am completely independent.

      Thanks for your contributions.

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  • spare_wheel January 3, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    brad, that was exceptionally well said. thank you!

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  • VIE January 4, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Brad is right.

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  • DK January 4, 2011 at 9:02 am

    It’s not rocket science. We simply need a new, bike-friendly, honest mayor.

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  • Lenny Anderson January 4, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Create a wave and politicians will ride it. BikePortland has done more to create and sustain the “wave” of bikes and bike culture as a path to the future than just about anyone else in town.
    Sam’s biggest failure as commissioner in charge of Transportation was appointing a bean counter instead of a visionary to lead PBOT half a dozen years ago, someone who can clearly spell out to citizens that expanding our transportation options is the only strategy that makes financial and enviromental sense.

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  • Zoomzit January 4, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Too many agendas, too little agreement on strategy, too few voices and numbers.

    So, I agree with what you say, but you say this in the very post where you are shooting down BikePortland and Sam Adams. You are either for your particular brand of advocacy, or you are for unity of message for all bicycle advocates, but you can’t simultaneously be for both.

    Either set aside disagreements and find a common purpose, or go alone and critique all other potential allies, but at the moment you are simultaneously making a call to arms and shooting at your own side. Which is it?

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  • Evan Manvel January 4, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Jonathan – and for being willing to share criticism and your thoughts in a public forum.

    I’d encourage folks not to undersell the importance of transportation compared to police, etc. As we know, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death from ages 1 to 34. They’re usually higher than “crime” deaths like murders, etc. Transportation costs are often the highest portion of a household’s budget – 20% or so. And transportation is Oregon’s biggest contribution to climate change. And so forth. Transportation affects everyone’s life in so many ways. It’s smart to note that it’s just one of many things on the mayor’s plate, but it’s a huge one.

    Also, the media love conflict – it seems that folks haven’t been spending the time to make sure reporters (and editors) get things right, whether it’s television or newspapers. Clearly, reporters are overworked, as are advocates, but much of the summary above is about media chaos, not bike boulevards being built or not. The two are intertwined, so we need to get our communications ducks in a row.

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  • Lois Moss January 4, 2011 at 10:29 am

    I almost hate to make a comment for fear of being ridiculed plus I don’t know the lay of the land or the players involved…but here goes:

    I recently moved from Cleveland to Portland. I used to co-own bicycle stores but sold them in 2005 and started a small non-profit geared towards advocacy and events to encourage people to try bicycling and walking more in their daily lives.

    Part of the reason I left Cleveland was that the majority of the elected officials in Ohio didn’t even acknowledge that a bicycle could possibly be used for transportation. The mayor of Cleveland is afraid to ride a bike…the newly-elected governor is a former Lehman Brothers director and Fox News correspondent…the new OhDOT director was also the director in the 1990s who was pulled out of semi-retirement where he was an asphalt lobbyist…John Boehner is from southern Ohio and has generally been an enemy of bicycling. Columbus has an enlightened mayor who is doing great things for central Ohio, but the rest of the state is looking pretty dismal for cycling and it is about to get worse.

    Another part of the reason for leaving was the sniping, infighting and lack of mutual support amongst various factions of cyclists. I got burned out on bicycle advocacy because it often felt like I was getting shot in the back by other cyclists. I work part-time for Bicycling Magazine and meet cyclists all over the U.S. and this is a problem all over the country. Over and over again I hear about various factions within the cycling community who are nitpicking and criticizing other cyclists.

    In my opinion, we all need to remember that we are basically on the same team. In the scope of things, it is a really small team, so let’s support each other more and criticize each other less.

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    • David Haines January 4, 2011 at 8:39 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lois, and welcome to Portland.

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    • resopmok January 6, 2011 at 8:56 pm

      I did some organizing within the anti-corporate (think 1999 Seattle WTO protest) movement in the early 00’s and can assure you this sort of factionalization is endemic of any small social movement. Without an actual unifying body or majority organization, it’s difficult to put forward a unified, coherent, understandable, media-defendable position no matter what you’re advocating for. Just like the body can’t function without a head, movements need spokespeople to put forward the message (whatever it is), and bicycling advocacy does not really have that either nationally or locally. I know it can be discouraging, but keep believing in your cause and what you know as right to guide you, and maybe one day we can have a voice too.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 4, 2011 at 10:34 am

    I have decided to post an update on this story. Here’s what I’ve added:

    After thinking more about this story and reading feedback below, I realize I’ve left out a crucial bit of my perspective on this situation. It’s important to understand Adams’ role in creating the situation he is now retreating from. To clarify, the PR debacles and much of the media firestorms that have resulted in a lack of public support and a lot of criticism leveled on bicycling, is primarily due to mistakes made by PBOT and by the Mayor’s Office. The bike plan “kickstart” funding idea was hastily conceived and poorly communicated, the Holgate bike lane situation would have been much more productive if PBOT had given the neighbors proper notification about the project, the Burnside-Couch bike problem should also have been foreseen. So, while I have much more analysis as to why Portland is in a bicycling funk right now — and about the role Mayor Adams, the BTA, and PBOT have played in it — I wanted to at least share this important part of my perspective. Thanks for all the feedback below. We can’t move forward until we identify the problems we face.

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    • jim January 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm

      Portland is not exactly rolling in dough these days. I don’t believe the city is spending our (yours and mine)money wisely. Look at how many millions they spent to make Kenton pretty (Sams back yard) and at the same time if you travel on Lombard from Interstate to St Johns there are more pot holes than I can count. He is not maintaining the streets which leads to much more expensive repairs, or eventually if its too bad you have to tear it up and do it all over again at a much greater expense. Lets get back to basics, take care of our infrastructure and ensure us of some public safety. Don’t put off maintenance to pay for public emp retirement plans.

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      • Matthew Denton January 4, 2011 at 6:46 pm

        Lombard is a state highway. The neighborhoods that line Lombard (mine, for instance,) would love for Kenton type improvements to appear along Lombard, we even found a source of money to build them. However, ODOT won’t let us do it, apparently slowing down cars on a highway and making it safer to cross the street is a crime in this state. The only option is for the city to take over the street, which means moving the highway to Columbia Blvd. However, oversized trucks can’t fit under the rail crossing near I-5 on Columbia, mandating expensive changes near a railroad track, a process that as far as I can tell could take decades. In the meantime, ODOT knows that they are going to turn over the road anyways, so seems intent on deferring maintenance on it because it saves them money.

        I can think of a lot of things that are wrong there, (rules that say that through traffic is more important than crosswalks, for instance.) However Sam Adams or PERS aren’t the problem.

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        • jim January 4, 2011 at 9:09 pm

          maybe lombard is a bad example. there are many other streets that we could fix in this city that aren’t owned by the state. do we have to get the governor to fix the potholes on lombard?

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    • Matt January 4, 2011 at 11:02 pm

      JM, Thanks for updating this post. As I was reading the original post, I was thinking that it was missing some key points which you bring up in your update to the post. I’m glad you gave it some more thought.

      I think one reason it seemed like a rather poor decision to take $20 mill from BES to use on the bike plan kick-start, is that the city (BES) had already gone through 3-4 rounds of lay offs. I have never seen this side of the story covered on BikePortland. That $20 mill could have kept people employed, and working to maintain existing (but deteriorating) infrastructure and essential services within the city.
      As much as I like world class bike infrastructure, I find it difficult to see the city use funds on “non-essential” services in hard times. I guess if we were all living in the IFC/Portlandia version of this town, then it wouldn’t be hard times because we’d all “retire young” 🙂

      The bike community does not need this particular Mayor to get things done, so long as we have other supporters on city council and citizen activists to push things along.

      I’m looking forward to less sideshow dramas and more leadership in 2011 and beyond.

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  • Mindful Cyclist January 4, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Honestly, the biggest disappointment to me in 2010 had to do with the high number of pedestrians getting hit and killed.

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  • Mia Birk January 4, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Notwithstanding the various missteps and challenges, let’s take stock of all the positives of the past year. Quick list: The Portland Bike Plan for 2030, dozens of miles of new/enhanced bike boulevards/neighborhood greenways, sharrows everywhere, five awesome Sunday Parkways, more bike boxes and corrals, new buffered bike lanes, national leadership on Cities for Cycling, Safe Routes to School expanded to all elementary schools, Smart Trips expansion, launch of 8 tricky projects (N. Williams, N/NE Halladay, NE 12th, etc…), working hard to procure more funding for bikeway projects through parking and sewer revenues, and pushing hard to get a scaled back CRC.

    The 2009 bike use numbers proved to be but one (low) point of data, as evidenced by the 2010 numbers from the City, PBA, PSU, and U of P showing bike use continuing to rise. And it was a relatively good year from a fatality standpoint. Sure, it wasn’t a perfect year, but lots of good did happen, with the Mayor’s and PBOT staff leading the way.

    Beyond PBOT, PSU added bike-related continuing education courses, the Parks Bureau made progress on Gateway Green, TriMet added a ton of great bike parking, Metro funded numerous trail projects and encouragement programs acros the region, and Multnomah County got federal approval for a radically improved future Sellwood Bridge. And I’m sure there’s much more…

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    • Alex Reed January 4, 2011 at 8:40 pm

      Thank you Mia for pointing out the positive! I am sometimes impatient with the pace of bike infrastructure improvements in Portland, but at least they’re improvements, and over a year or a decade they add up!

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  • adam January 5, 2011 at 7:26 am

    what about the mayor crashing his car while tipsy in the early afternoon thing that happened? did we just forget about that, too?

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  • Mia Birk January 5, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Here’s another way to look at it: SE Holgate bike lanes got bad press, but they are the first buffered bike lanes in outer east PDX, which has been begging for better bikeways. The sewer money – bike blvd conversation went poorly – but we got the $$$ and it’s already been put to incredible use on the new awesome neighborhood greenways. More than 15 miles of neighborhood greenways coming annually! Etc…

    In other words, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this adminstration has made a lot of progress in the right direction from a bicycle transportation standpoint.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 5, 2011 at 9:50 am

      Thanks for your comments Mia. I count on BikePortland readers being smart enough to ascertain that just because I point out what I see as a problem or something that I feel needs to be known by the community… doesn’t mean that I’ve “lost sight” of the context and/or the bigger picture in which that problem resides… although I’m well aware there’s a powerful narrative by some in the community that I am fixated on negativity when it comes to what Portland has done. For those people, I ask that they read through the hundreds of stories I’ve written that celebrate PBOT’s successes and awesome initiatives and projects or that they watch the newsreels and other media I’ve gotten where I am singing their praises!

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    • adam January 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      I do not see the causality here, Mia. Just because something happened while he was mayor does not imply that he did anything to help us.

      Does Sam get credit for the nice weather we have been having, also?

      When its time for a press conference to claim credit, call sam. if you want something done in this town, you can just do it yourself.

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  • adam January 5, 2011 at 10:57 am

    right on, JM, unless you can write a better bike blog than this one, watch the tone of your comments around here.

    I know the owner and i don’t like people talking noise to my friends.

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  • adam January 6, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I read your commentary in the Merc, Mia. I appreciate the way you use language, but I use it more directly. if you want a debate partner or whatever, let me know.

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  • Steve B January 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    There’s no doubt that Mayor Adams has made great strides forward for biking and walking in this city, but that does not mean we shouldn’t be disappointed. Perhaps it’s a dead horse by now, but if we look to what other cities are accomplishing, I can’t help but feel Portland is moving at a glacial pace, and it seems clear that Adams is in some sort of holding-pattern when it comes to pushing bicycle improvements.

    Call me crazy, but we’re at an intersection of many local and global crises we need to mitigate, and these challenges require a radical shift in our travel habits. Portland leads the way in this regard when it comes to mass transit, but our current leadership is uncomfortable pressing forward on this perceptibly contentious issue. And none of this vanguard movement on new transit means much if we don’t dial down our support for SOVs, which is clearly not a priority in our region, let alone Portland.

    I like bike boulevards, but we can do a lot better. Our mode share has quickly outgrown our previous investments. If bikeways were like highways, we would be pushing for bigger and better, but somehow we’ve been conditioned to believe we only deserve a small sliver of right of way.

    Without decisive political leadership on this, we will never reach our established goals of higher ridership, real environmental & economic sustainability, improved health, happiness and world-class status.

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    • adam January 9, 2011 at 11:35 am

      “There’s no doubt that Mayor Adams has made great strides forward for biking and walking in this city,”

      uhhh, there is more than a doubt about that in my opinion. when I was trying to close alberta to traffic, sam adams was busy “mentoring interns”. so, I am a little skeptical that he is such a great person. I bet, though, he would not want to debate a man like me on such a point. if he were not who he is, and he wanted to debate me, anytime, anyplace, “mentor”

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  • Mia Birk January 9, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Thanks Jonathan – not trying to imply that your article wasn’t accurate or needed. In my mind, the Mayor by extension includes his staff as well as PBOT staff – all of whom technically work for the Mayor. So that means that if the Mayor (and the team below him) bears the brunt of responsibilty for the mistakes then he (and his team) also (should) get the credit for the successess.

    One thingI know: the Mayor’s office gets a raft of negative feedback about his (and his staff) pro-bike stance. And they rarely get kudos and/or letters of support from those who support bicycle transportation and want to see more.

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