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The Oregonian: Bikes to blame for potholes, PBOT budget mess

Posted by on February 27th, 2012 at 9:09 am

Give me a break.

Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. The Oregonian’s strange, anti-bike editorial last week, seems to have laid the groundwork for Sunday’s front page story that unfairly and inaccurately blames bikes for PBOT’s budget problems.

As you can see from the front page image, under massive font that reads, “Portland’s Roads to Ruin” is the sub-headline, “What’s a priority? Bike routes, conferences, and staff. What’s not? Repaving and cleaning your crumbling roads.”

Regardless of the facts and issues this story brings up — many of which are important and valid — this story lays bare The Oregonian’s fixation with bicycle scapegoating. Their willingness to divide Portlanders for no other reason than to feed their own political agenda and the “us vs. them” mentality is simply appalling.

But this goes beyond me being sensitive to bicycling getting an undeserved bad rap.

This type of unnecessarily divisive reporting is not only detrimental to our ability as a region to come together to actually solve our transportation problems; but, given how emotions sometimes play out on the streets, intentional anger-baiting at the expense of bicycling can lead to dangerous interactions between road users.

And it’s not just this one opinionated blogger who is concerned…

North Portland resident and carfree mom Jessica Roberts wrote this via Twitter:

“Dear @oregonian, I don’t appreciate you trying to incite culture war on my daily bike ride. I’m just trying to get where I need to go.”

Sarah Gilbert is a writer and mother of three who lives in Southeast Portland (she also gets around without a car). Gilbert is disturbed by The Oregonian story (via Twitter):

“… promoting divisiveness to entrance readers. I’m disgusted… I’m seriously feeling like crying over this front-page above-the-fold Sunday paper headline. just tell city my form of transport destroys? fighting words. thanks, @oregonian. I already have a hard time riding with my kids in pdx. why don’t you stoke the fire a bit? sick, sick.”

And graphic artist Spencer Boomhower, writing on Facebook, responded by saying:

“To see something as blandly and quietly sensible as cycling being held up to be used as a pinata for the haters in articles like this kinda makes my blood boil.”

I’m too exasperated to spend more time detailing all the problems with this article (the Portland Mercury just posted a great recap of its flaws); but I felt you should know about it because it will unfortunately have an impact on the local political and public narrative around transportation.

Two mayoral candidates (Hales and Brady) have already responded to it and I won’t be surprised if Mayors Adams issues a statement of his own.

Read the article and judge for yourself whether it unfairly scapegoats bicycling or not.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Will Vanlue (Contributor)
Member

Cars cause the potholes. Do you see huge potholes on the Springwater like you do in downtown? No. That’s because bicycles don’t destroy pavement.

One more bike is one less car. That’s how we can prevent “crumbling roads” in the first place.

naomi
Guest
naomi

The Oregonian is simply appealing to their primary demographic with these headlines. Besides, in times where newspapers are going belly-up, sensationalism is the last running lifeboat and the Oregonian seems determined to do whatever it can to sell papers, even if it means throwing cyclists under the (proverbial, I hope) bus. The way this headline is worded says a lot about The Oregonian’s desire to fan the flames.

David
Guest
David

Jonathan,

I haven’t kept up on it much since leaving PDX a couple years ago, but it seems to me that certain reporters – including and especially Ms. Slovic – go out of their way to write ill about bicycling. They cherry-pick data and utterly fail to conduct their due diligence in collecting information, talking to the right people, even formulating appropriate questions!

As someone in the news industry, do you feel this kind of shabby reporting/publishing falls on the shoulders of the reporters? Is it the role of an editor to get a better – and less biased – product? As an “insider” of sorts, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on reporters whose personal agendas (case in point: the survey at the end of Ms. Slovic’s piece…) spill unchecked onto the page.

Michael P.
Guest
Michael P.

No foresight. Just sad.

Nick G
Guest
Nick G

I was surprised to see this. I didn’t think that even the Oregonian would stoop this low.

It’s an inflammatory, fact-adverse piece of hack journalism that clearly belongs on the Editorial page. Putting this thing on the front page of the Sunday edition screams desperation.

Tigue
Guest
Tigue

Bicycling in Portland has apparently become the “Lightening Rod” anytime someone has a bone to pick with the City. $900,000 out of a $222 million dollar budget is hardly the problem.

Joe Rowe
Guest
Joe Rowe

Thanks to Jonathan, Jessica, Spencer and others for calling attention to this media bias. It reminds me of right wing leaders trying to incite people to use violence and distort the facts.

ODOT has extremely costly projects that promote sprawl. The Oregonian could create another fake war between urban and suburban people if they thought it would sell.

Urge friends to cancel, and write in
http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2008/04/letters_to_the_editor_policy.html

Tony
Guest
Tony

This article was shameful. Harping on 1 million in funding out of a 224 million dollar budget.

Even the lead example is B.S. NW 23rd should be repaved with monies generated by use, PARKING METERS. It’s so obvious, yet so politically impossible.

Matt Pettengill
Guest

Some perspective: I moved here from Maine about 6 months ago, and I have to say the roads seem pretty darn well maintained to me compared to the frozen North East. Frost heaving (google it) wreaks havoc on roads there every winter. Only the best primary roads are immune to their effect.

I realize the situation here in Portland is different, but the attitude towards repair in Maine is much different, because there’s an understanding that it’s simply impossible to fix everything permanently without spending impossible sums of money. So drivers (often begrudgingly) learn deal with it and things tend to just get ‘patched’ because it’s going to get all screwed up again next winter anyway.

I’ve driven, biked, and/or walked by some of the places ‘flagged’ on the map over on the Oregonian page and never noticed more than few small cracks in the pavement. Is this what people are worried about? Aren’t Subarus capable of handling that kind of thing 🙂

Anyway, the point I’m making is that at some point people need to realize it’s incredibly expensive to keep roads absolutely pristine – and most of the time it’s just not worth it!

thefuture
Guest
thefuture

Its sad to see people have bought into the notion, as sold by the auto industry, that the automobile gives the ‘freedom’ to live wherever they want and hop in a car to be able to go anyplace anytime they please on a flawless boulevard, unimpeded by traffic then slip gracefully and effortlessly into a parking space right in front of their destination.

But then, when the consequences of this expectation and especially the costs become clear they, rather than reassess that ridiculous expectation they blame it all on some people who choose to ride bikes at a fraction of the cost to taxpayers. Yep, bikes are destroying America.

Michael Andersen (Contributor)
Guest

Though $900,000 for “bike routes” was the first item mentioned in the writer’s list of implicitly dubious priorities, that figure’s tiny compared to $55 million for the new bridge and $80 million for the replaced Sellwood Bridge.

If not for the tabloid-style headline that played on an existing bikes-vs-“us” narrative, I think an out-of-town reader would interpret this reporting as more dubious of mass transit spending than bike spending … but mostly just dubious of a department that has made a lot of massive commitments without firm financial footing.

To me, that headline — especially the “you” — was what made this a bike story. And of course, it’s the headline that has the most power.

I also think the Oregonian has as much right as any of us to report from its chosen perspective as long as its facts are straight, just as we each have the right to criticize it when its perspective is stupid.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Just wait till our roads really deteriorate because we’re out of asphalt and fuel to power the trucks to deliver and apply it.
Is that going to also be the fault of bicycles? Ha.
Here’s a youtube film about the future of asphalt (and other related products)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOMWzjrRiBg&feature=player_detailpage

Just a few weeks ago the Oregonian was strongly in favor of the CRC.
http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2012/01/its_time_to_invest_in_a_bridge.html

“The call to Oregon’s legislators is clear: Dig in hard, grasp the CRC’s scale and complexity, and figure a way — perhaps through fuel taxation, vehicle title and registration fees, and issuance of long-term bonds — to win the full federal partnership required to turn dirt on this project no later than 2013.”

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Guest
kiel johnson

Anyone want to join me in protesting bad journalism at the Oregonian offices Friday at noon?

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Like the 1% that bikes get from the budget is really going to break the bank.

http://richmondva.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/2098062251_b3b8afd2ab_o.jpg

After the Oregonian gets bikes off the road, are they going to go after pedestrians next?

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

Beth Slovic is a decent person and an objective reporter in her own right. Perhaps it is the editorial bias of the paper that is responsible in rewrite.

In that case, I ask, “Where is Jeff Mapes?” He is a committed cyclist, author of “Pedaling Revolution,” a progressive and provocative book on the subject, and a senior reporter on the paper.

If one is looking for budget busting programs, look no farther than the $300 million spent on the Sellwood Bridge replacement–$80 million would have done just as well–and $150 million wasted on the dreadful eastside extension of Portland Streetcar, Inc. Both with full support of Mayor Adams, Tom Miller, and PBOT. Beth’s piece was accurate, if neutral, in that respect.

Jonathan has done great work on Portland Streetcar, Inc., but I have spent three years trying to get any investigative reporter clued in to the massive fraud at Sellwood, to no avail. Maybe it will collapse when they try to shove it fifty feet north to serve as a temporary bypass. We can always hope!

Money for bikes? Naah!

deborah
Guest
deborah

I’m so sick of them using the idea of some bike vs cars road war to sell papers. It’s irresponsible and dangerous reporting. I hope that most Portlanders are smarter than the Oregonian thinks. It seems so obvious. I find myself rooting for their inevitable demise.

Zaphod
Guest

I’ve noticed a *lot* of rebuilding of sidewalk intersections to allow handicap access which I applaud as loudly as I can. Surely it’s not cheap to rip out a corner, precisely pour cement and install yellow textured transition zones to aid crossing.

If the Oregonian wrote about this deployment of funds in similar manner, I wonder what might happen?

This media assault on bikes is really subtracting from the common good.

paul
Guest
paul

studded tires are legal and they drag chains off of city busses, why? so the roads can get destroyed?

ED
Guest
ED

I was also aghast at this article. Really, the writer wants us to believe that the $15,000 spent on the Railvolution conference let the $15 million cut to the road maintenance budget? The part that really irked me was the claim that PBOT’s budget woes were the result of “an intentional shift away from a “roads first” focus,” AS IF that were a terrible thing. It’s the bureau of TRANSPORTATION, not the bureau of ROADS. I am glad to live in a City where my tax dollars aren’t blindly thrown into a sinking sea of asphalt, and where there is consideration of transportation alternatives. Now, if only the City could manage its bonds and long-term funding of these alternatives a little better, we’d really be getting somewhere.

Champs
Guest
Champs

To be fair, it IS difficult to keep the various bike infrastructure terms straight. By my count, there are these sometimes-overlapping(?) terms:

* Bike lane
* Bike route
* Bike path/MUP
* Bicycle boulevard
* Cycle track
* Neighborhood greenway

Michelle Brence
Guest
Michelle Brence

I understand bicyclists’ defensiveness about anything that seems anti-bike. I’m a bike commuter myself, and I think it’s a terrific way to travel on so many levels — health, environment, cost; I could go on.

But as the editor of this story, I can tell you that we had no anti-bike agenda. We aimed to look at why the Portland Bureau of Transportation landed in a spot where it can’t repave its streets. Spending on bike amenities is one tiny reason, and nowhere near the biggest reason.

Still, should the city be sponsoring bike rides and transit conferences when major streets are in danger of failing, potentially costing taxpayers (including us bicyclists) millions and millions of dollars down the road? Aren’t rutted, failing streets bad for bicyclists, too? Should the bureau be ignoring city budget analysts, including its own? Should it be building lots of new infrastructure when it can’t afford to keep up the vast network it already has? Should the bureau be spending money it doesn’t have? Most of these big questions are not focused on bikes.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Did you read your own headline? It’s above the fold and sure makes it sound like bike routes are more than one tiny reason since it gets first mention.

Andyc
Guest
Andyc

“EVERY TIME YOU RIDE A BIKE, A KITTEN DIES!” but that wasn’t our intention. We like bikes!

mikeybikey
Guest
mikeybikey

Last year we got a 3 month free subscription to the O sponsored by the Timbers. We cancelled the subscription after about one week. Thats right, we found the paper so utterly worthless that it wasn’t even worth the time it took to pick it up from the front porch and walk it out the back door to the recycle bin. And this is from someone who loves traditional print media.

Arem
Guest
Arem

This whole line of writing, including their (apparently self-hating) “commute blogger” are why “The BOregonian” is on the decline: they are trying to potentially kill off their own readers.
Their regular article commentators also remind me of a vast desert wasteland. Awful.

dennis
Guest

In a city, that’s become fairly bike-conscious, The Oregonian stands out as one last mouthpiece of the automobile-industrial complex. I disabled adblock on that story listed above. Low and behold, ads for Ron Tonkin showed up. I’d imagine keywords in the story may have done that, but it’s important to know on which side the Oregonian’s toast is buttered.

kittens
Guest
kittens

Similar to certain political parties, the Oregonian is painting itself into a demographic corner: old, scared white men. I bet bikeportland.org gets more traffic than oregonlive.com these days.

Joe
Guest
Joe

ack! #sucks

matt
Guest
matt

For the vast majority of my time in Portland, my bicycle and feet have been my sole means of transport, and I am on the side of bicycles in every discussion. But I honestly do not see why you are all so worked up over this article. Slovic mentions a couple of bike projects, but to say that she is fomenting car vs. bike anger is a little ridiculous. The fact is, Portland’s lousy roads are bad for cars, but can be deadly for bikes. I occasionally use the Springwater corridor, but most of my riding takes place on ordinary city streets. The potholes in SE are big enough to trap a front wheel and send a rider over the handlebars. The city is NOT taking care of the basics. 0.4% of the roads are getting re-paved? Pathetic. It is true, Sam Adams loves to spend money on consultants and conferences, and extra bureaucrats to make more plans which requires more consultants and conferences.
If we are going to talk about “WE”, all of us, the cars and mass transit and commuters and peds and bikes, we all use the streets and they are a disaster. Furthermore, the current leadership is not doing their job, because, in my opinion, distracted by pet projects. Slovic is more even-handed than you believe.

Rol
Guest
Rol

These people are tedious. Out of touch with reality, totally unprepared psychologically for the massive changes a-comin’. But it’s nice of them to commute to their offices at the Boregonian to tell us how things are, from their overfed spoiled-rotten vantage point. Every time gas prices go up, we get various tantrums about it. They’re wasting a lot of time sitting around wondering how such a thing could possibly happen, why God is punishing them, looking for someone to blame, etc. etc…. all the usual things done in a crisis by uncreative backward-thinking non-visionary non-leaders. They will be easy to outsmart, out-compete and outrun when petrol finally moves out of their financial reach.

HMR
Guest
HMR

Hi, Jonathan,
You keep talking about The Oregonian’s anti-bike agenda. Yet I see you having a strange obsession with framing them in a certain way that isn’t actually all that balanced. For instance, their commuting columnist Joseph Rose frequently helps people understand bike laws with his column and videos (he answered my question once when I started riding). Just last weekend, he set a motorist straight about bicyclists’ rights when it comes to passing the right: http://blog.oregonlive.com/commuting/2012/02/why_did_odot_change_ramp_meter.html

He has also made one of the best videos about proper bike lane usage that I’ve ever seen:
http://blog.oregonlive.com/commuting/2011/09/the_right_–_and_wrong_–_ways.html

Yet you never post or discuss those items. To read your coverage, youd think The Oregonian is all antibike, all the time. You seem to be the one who is at “war” for whatever reason. As a casual reader of both your blog and The Oregonian, I’m disappointed.

AC
Guest
AC

“Spending on bike amenities is one tiny reason, and nowhere near the biggest reason.” Michelle Brence

So, Michelle, why is the headline that bike priorities = the road to ruin?

Chris
Guest
Chris

One of the amazing things about separated walking and bicycle infrastructure is the lack of maintenance required after construction. Cars are the reason we can’t keep up with repaving projects.

How could a small investment in lasting [bicycle] infrastructure be worse than highways and bridges that need constant repair or replacement?

Don’t even get me started on the healthcare savings for the city and it’s businesses when people walk or bike more…

Broadly, it seems that many of our issues in this country stem from peoples’ interpretation of liberty.
My disdain for illogical arguments from people who value liberty over selfless sustainability often prevents me from having meaningful arguments with people of opposing viewpoints.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

I think the major beef people–and by “people”, I mean, “I”–have with this article is not necessarily with the article; it is with the headline. I’ve only seen type this large in the past when war breaks out or ends, or Dewey Defeats Truman 😉 –when something is really big news. Why does this particular story deserve the hyperbolic treatment it gets? Also, readers’ ire is roused and their expectations are pre-focused (or pre-biased, if you will) before they even read word one of the actual article due to the subhead that lists “bike routes” as the apparent Number One Reason why re-paving is being de-prioritized. This cleverly-constructed headline, created using ridiculously large headline print and listing “bike routes” first in the subhead, could give one the impression that those darn bicyclists are the primary cause of the biggest problem in the world!

Other than the lack of numerical context Spencer Boomhower insightfully points out above, the article isn’t really that bad, or even really overtly anti-bike. The problem is that it takes astute readers to see through the writing and size up the numbers objectively…

BURR
Guest
BURR

If they want to point a finger at the special interest group most responsible for the deterioration of our roads, they should be pointing their finger squarely at the small minority of motorists who insist on driving on studded tires for the entire winter, and who are most directly responsible for our rutted and dangerous roads. But that would probably offend some of their biggest advertisers, like Les Schwabb Tires, so it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Richard
Guest
Richard

Bikes are 6% of the traffic, cause no measureable wear to roads, account for less than 0.5% of the PBOT budget, and are a problem?
Maybe I should do my civic duty by putting studded snow tires on my car and driving to work.

Joe Rowe
Guest
Joe Rowe

Write the Oregonian. You know they are in trouble when the Oregonian editor Ms. Brence made a comment here.

What ms Ms. Brence says to hush bikes: “Spending on bike amenities is one tiny reason, and nowhere near the biggest reason.”

The front page headline Ms. Brence prints:
Portland Roads to ruin
What’s a priority: Bike Routes
What’s not a priority: Repaving and cleaning your crumbling roads.

http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2008/04/letters_to_the_editor_policy.html

Spencer Boomhower
Guest

BTW, I was just re-reading this quote from the article:

“The bureau has other priorities, such as $900,000 to build 13.5 miles of bike routes, $665,000 to add eight permanent employees to oversee streetcars, $200,000 for Rose Festival prep work and $15,000 to help sponsor a “Rail-Volution” conference in Los Angeles. Just last week, the City Council redirected $250,000 from the current transportation budget to buy fancy planters and streetlights for the downtown retail core.”

And it just occurred to me to add up those dollar amounts. They total $2,030,000. Others have pointed out that the bureau’s budget is $222,000,000, so that whole list only makes up less than one percent of the whole budget.

Does less than 1% of a total budget really constitute evidence of “other priorities”?

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

if cyclists did not blow stop signs, ride around without helmets, and dress wierdly the oregonian would not write articles that cater to the lowest common denominator.

daisy
Guest
daisy

“Your Crumbling Roads” is incredibly telling–not “your” bike lanes, but “your” roads. The presumed reader is a driver of a car, not a bicyclist. The headline is ridiculously sensational.

Ben Guernsey
Guest
Ben Guernsey

It’s true that roads here aren’t perfect. But after a year a half living in NYC I don’t see that Portland’s roads are all that bad. I love how this is penned in order to paint Adam’s in a corner. But I don’t really recall the streets being that much better or worse before him.

I’d love to see an article inquiring how much more damage larger vehicles and vehicles traveling further to the city ends up costing taxpayers. My gut tells me if you totaled that up it’d make the price of bike lane budget look like chump change.

Jon Makela
Guest
Jon Makela

The Oregonian seems quite benign when compared to the outrage expressed here. Surely biking is not singled out to suggest that spending on biking is what has drained the budget to do prevent maintenance. What it does do is identifies that other priorities are interfering with regular prevent maintenance – biking among them.

Why someone would want to cry over such an observable fact seems quite hysterical.

I read the article and was left with a well, duh moment. Too many govt agencies attempt to respond to or address so many things that they become bad at what they were established to do in the first place.

Perhaps the analysis sucked in the article. But it doesn’t rise to the level of making someone want to cry.

Barbara
Guest
Barbara

I think this article shows a problem with public works in this country: we want better services, streets etc but nobody wants to pay taxes or fees to pay for these services accordingly. And then we blame a small minority/ budet priority for the problem. I would gladly pay more taxes to get more bike lanes, regular street cleaning and less potholes. And I wish studded tires would finally be banned!

Jeff Bernards
Guest

I wrote Beth the following letter early Sunday morning after I read the article.
Here it is:
Beth,
Studded Tires cut road life in the Portland area in 1/2. Preserving our roads by banning studded tires would go a long ways to making our roads last longer. I feel this article was more anti-bike and Sam Adams than real solutions. Maybe you should do a follow up article and mention our ballot initiative?” Please visit our website, Howard Hamby’s article on studded tires has top sitting right now.
Her response:
Thanks Jeffrey.
Cheers,
Beth

jim
Guest
jim

This wasn’t blaming bicyclists for the bad roads, it was blaming the liberal govt that we elected in Portland that doesn’t have its spending priorities in order. If you don’t like it, elect somebody that is fiscally responsible. If you as a cyclist feel responsible for electing our liberal leaders then maybe you are at fault after all for the crumbling roads. It’s time to wake up and pay attn. to whats happening at city hall. There is a price to be paid for their misdirection

Kevin Wagoner
Guest
Kevin Wagoner

We got some kind of Oregonian deal recently asking if we wanted to subscribe. My wife asked if I was interested and I said let me think about it. Definitely not now, no thanks. I stopped buying the paper out of disgust with headlines about Bikes vs Cars (I don’t recall the actual title).

steve popp
Guest
steve popp

I will cancel my subscription as well. I will vote with my pocketbook.

Jon Makela
Guest
Jon Makela

Now this is an irresponsible headline – The Oregonian: Bikes to Blame for Potholes.

Kenji
Guest

To those canceling their subscription- it’s not the subscriptions that pay for the paper- their real revenue is from advertisers.

Jon Makela
Guest
Jon Makela

Richard
So in your view The Oregonian was correct in the less than 0.5% of the PDOT budget that gets spent on “bike routes” as a “priority”? Put it this way: a Portlander who makes $60,000/year and buys one Starbucks latte a day is spending a far higher proportion of their budget on coffee than the City spends on bike routes.
If bike routes are a minor part of the issue, then why feature them in the article and identify them first among “priorities”? And go read the OLive comments, and tell us that The Oregonian didn’t just toss a hunk of red meat to the commenters who hate everything having to do with bicycles.
Recommended 3

No, Richard, my point was that even if you want to criticize the analysis contained within the article, the article itself is hardly that critical of bikes and doesn’t rise to the level of outrage expressed in this blog entry.

I think Jonathan’s post title here is far more inflammatory than the actual article itself.

Bikes, conferences, and staff…they seem to be priorities. It’s like the federal earmarks debate. Those that see nothing wrong with earmarks will comment that eliminating them will not hardly address the budget deficit. But that’s not the point of those opposed to earmarks who argue that such spending proposals are corrosive and corruptive and relfect a disrespect of taxpayer dollars and ultimately distracts from the real mission of the government. Same for ODoT spending on bikes, conferences, staff takes limited resources from ODoT’s actual mission. That’s simply a fact. What this author’s article also noted was the dubious return on such “investments”.

Jonathan was so outraged he titled his blog entry in such a way that suggested that the Oregonian was impying that bikes cause potholes. That’s outrageous.