Last night, The Oregonian’s commuting reporter and columnist Joseph Rose published an article about Portland Mayor Sam Adams’ budget decisions. The article, Portland Mayor Sam Adams boosts funding for bike projects, but now there’s less for paving streets, attempts to make the point that Adams’ decision to allocate a larger percentage of discretionary revenue to “bike projects” comes at the expense of “motor vehicle projects.”
Not surprisingly, the article has spurred hundreds of comments, many of them by angry Portlanders who don’t like the idea of any spending that benefits bicycling and who feel Adams’ priorities are not in the right place.
Seem like a déjà vu? Unfortunately, it’s not out of character for him or for The Oregonian to frame a bike news story in a way that makes readers take sides. Whether it’s referring to a “cold war” on our streets and warning of an impending “backlash” against people who ride bikes, dropping an inaccurate and biased story on the Idaho Stop proposal the day before it was heard by legislators, or sensationalizing road rage to sell papers (which they later admitted to) — we’ve seen this happen time and time again.
This time around, Rose’s framing of the budget is very one-sided. I won’t repeat the details because responses to his article have already been published by The Portland Mercury and by the Mayor’s office.
We can argue about how he presented the numbers all day long, but what’s more concerning to me is the divisive tone the article uses.
Mayor Adams didn’t simply make a change in how he allocates this discretionary money, he “quietly boosted the amount…on bike projects.” Quietly? This is just a few paragraphs after Rose points out that Adams announced the rise in bike spending at a crowded bike event last month.
After “quietly boosting” bike spending, the Mayor then, “slashed” the amount for motor vehicles. And of course, all this money, Rose points out, “is generated entirely by motorists.” Wait. I’m confused. What’s a motorist? I drive my mini-van around town all the time, does that mean I’m paying for these “bike projects” too?! What about my “motor vehicle projects”!
I put those terms into quotes because I don’t think anyone is well-served by dividing money up into “bike” and “car” projects. It’s just silly and it’s a lazy way to create a controversy. Not only that, but it’s an imperfect science to tease out what part of projects are “bike” and what parts are “motor vehicle.”*
I ride my bike around town a lot and I like new traffic signals and repaving; both of which are considered “car projects” in City documents. When I’m driving, I prefer to be on roads where there’s a bit of separation between me and people riding bikes so I don’t have to worry as much about hitting one of them. Therefore, don’t “bike projects” also benefit me when I drive a car? (As we saw on SE Holgate, new bikeways mean fewer people are being hurt and killed.)
Rose also forgets to tell his readers that in the long run, spending money in a way that gets more people bicycling might actually lead to more money for paving. Unlike cars, trucks and buses, bikes have little to no impact on the road surface.
So, let’s see what the community thinks…
To get the pulse on the Mayor’s budget decisions, Rose asks East Portland resident Rick Bradford; the same Rick Bradford who’s trying to mount grassroots opposition to the Holgate buffered bike lane project and the same Rick Bradford who remains opposed to the project despite significant safety benefits that have resulted from it.
Here’s the Bradford mention:
“But unlike sidewalks, many new bike projects seem excessive, said Rick Bradford. The East Portland resident and computer repairman is leading a campaign to remove what he says are hardly used buffered bike lanes on Southeast Holgate Boulevard.
The city reduced Holgate from four lanes to two for the bike lanes from 122nd to Interstate 205 that he said seem to start and go “nowhere.”
From the framing and word choice, to the interviews he chose to highlight, it sure seems like Rose is once again poisoning what could have been a perfectly interesting and important story and turning it into an us-versus-them, bikes-versus-cars, Adams-versus-everyone story.
Makes me start to wonder what’s going on over there.
It seems Rose isn’t the only reporter at The Oregonian who knows bikes versus cars will get attention: Check out the lede below used by The Oregonian’s City Hall reporter Brad Schmidt in a story that highlights Rose’s article:
Few things in Portland are as polarizing as bikes. Throw in more government spending for bike-related transportation improvements — and less for cars — and you create the perfect storm.
With stories like these, The Oregonian should acknowledge their responsibility for creating that “polarizing” environment.
— The Portland Mercury: Here’s the story of Portland’s budget: Bike projects aren’t stealing money from cars
— Mayor Sam Adams’ website: The Oregonian Gets it Wrong
— Joseph Rose follow-up story: Readers respond
— The BTA’s response: Increase in bike spending is progress for everyone
*(Note: Rose isn’t to blame for teasing out the spending by mode, Mayor Adams has done that for years now after bikes advocates thought it’d be an easier way to track spending levels. Personally, I’ve said it’s a bad idea to break out the spending and this Rose article is a perfect example why I feel that way.)