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.
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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.
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.
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.
In my hunch, The Oregonian brass are annoyed that their attempts to take down Mayor Sam Adams didn’t work. Instead of leaving office, Adams stayed, surviving intense media scrutiny and two recalls.
News publishers like to wield power and influence and I think the fact that Adams survived his scandal despite their intense treatment of his every move, is frustrating to them.
I think this is a case of anger and frustration at Adams being directed toward bikes because – for better or for worse – Adams = bikes in the eyes of many people in this town. It’s the same phenomenon that caused people in SE Holgate area to rise up against the bike lane project. It wasn’t just that they hated bikes, they hated Adams and bikes were an easy thing to attach their anger to.
Slovic works hard and she has clearly focused on being critical of Adams even before the Oregonian hired her away from the Willamette Week a year or so ago.
I have no problem with reporters being tough on a Mayor or a major agency like PBOT. I actually think it’s very valuable. But when the reporting clearly crosses a line and in my opinion leaves out facts or frames the facts in an unfair way, it needs to be called out — especially when it has to do with bicycles and I feel it puts public safety at risk.
As for the dynamic of editor/writer. The writer gets the assignment from the editor, but I assume Slovic chose the basic framing/tone of the story herself. Ultimately though, every story that’s published is the editor’s responsibility.
This is just really unfortunate because Slovic brings up some very important and valuable topics that we do need more scrutiny on.
No foresight. Just sad.
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.
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.
Ayep. On Twitter, John Landolfe (@johnlandolfe) put it well:
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
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.
NW 23rd should probably be pedestrian-only between Raleigh and Northrup. That would save a lot of paving $$.
Plus, a substantial section of NW 23rd was just repaved within the last two years. I lived there while it was being dug up — they even took out the old streetcar tracks to reduce future maintenance.
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!
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.
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.
You make a good point Michael, but there’s getting the facts straight and then there’s putting them into any kind of meaningful context. I think this Oregonian article does the former, without doing much of the latter.
It’s full of numbers that seem big all on their own, but which are never compared to comparable numbers. Like it tells us Tom Miller’s salary of $152,000. What it doesn’t tell us is: is that a lot? I mean, it certainly is compared to what I make, and probably to what most readers make. But how does it compare to other salaries for jobs with that kind of responsibility, managing that many people, in both the public and private sector? We’re not given that context.
Another important omission in an article that seems built around the idea that the most important thing the city should be doing is repaving the streets is the actual cost of repaving the streets. If it’s in there, I missed it. It would have been useful for trying to build understanding through comparison to all the other transportation spending laid out in the article.
One of the things that’s kept me fixated on the CRC is that its price tag of $3.6 billion is so huge it’s hard to get my head around it. I find that trying to grasp the sheer immensity of that number makes for an interesting project. But I’ve been thwarted for any kind of meaningful comparison to such a huge number. The funny thing is this article has finally provided me with just such a comparison. Slovic writes that Portland has 5000 miles of streets, valued at $5 billion.
Now, an article at by Evan Manvel at BlueOregon points out:
So the ultimate cost of the CRC could easily brush up against the $5 billion dollar mark.
The Oregonian is wildly in favor of the CRC. That means they’re looking at that proposed 5 mile stretch of freeway and saying: why yes, that does seem like it could be worth around the amount at which we value our entire 5000 mile street network. Build, baby, build!
So maybe the inability to meaningfully compare costs and benefits is just an Oregonian thing.
I used to think it was a Willamette Week thing too, after reading, a couple years ago, this article:
In which the writer tried to create a big stink over a $200,000 contract for bike projects. $200k. Again, a big-sounding number compared to, say, one person’s average salary. But not if you place it into the actual context of actual transportation budgets. (Especially not if you see bicycle transportation as in any way benefiting your city.)
I was reminded of that WWeek article while thinking about this Oregonian piece. After reading here that Beth Slovic used to write for the WWeek, I had to go back and check. Yep, same writer.
I’m seeing a pattern here.
This is well put, Spencer.
On the $5 billion asset issue, my housemate pointed out today that if you consider the huge maintenance cost of maintaining those roads, it’s quite possible that the net present value of those roads adds up to the city’s biggest liability, and the city’s efforts to reduce public reliance on those roads is the best use of its money.
A little on the journalism thing: When I wrote for a daily paper, I considered it my job to be as interesting as possible. Sometimes this involved framing a story in a way that didn’t reflect my personal values.
Now that I write for a niche oulet, I still consider it my job to be interesting, but interesting to a very different audience that, happily, reflects my personal values more closely.
I don’t know what Slovic’s personal values are, but I think her actions are explained as those of somebody who’s trying to be interesting by looking for narratives that other people in City Hall are not.
Michael, excellent point about the liability inherent in all this infrastructure.
I’ve lately been enjoying a blog and podcast called Strong Towns: http://www.strongtowns.org/
They look at sprawl and infrastructure from a pretty fiscally conservative point of view. They’ve concluded that sprawl is like a ponzi scheme:
Which sounds a little extreme until you hear Strong Towns’ Charles Marohn break it down number by number.
Basically they conclude:
I really appreciate you bringing this up. I’ve been following Charles, at Strong towns for some time. I also posted my thoughts, and your animations regarding the CRC to the strong towns network. I wanted a strong-towns view of the CRC. I’m sure Charles would be happy to see your reading his blog also.
Thanks, dennis! I didn’t even know they had a network. But I just searched and found it here: http://www.strongtowns.net. Will definitely be digging into that.
I’d love to see your input on my post about the CRC project. Your animations really make the whole thing visible.
My housemate was also inspired by the same Strong Towns piece! This is how good ideas spread and bad policies get fixed.
Also when they do make comparisons they get it wrong. They compare the amount of road repaving going on in Denver to Portland, but fail to note that Denver voters passed a bond measure to fix their roads in 2007 that was very similar to the one Portland voters rejected in 2008.
“…if you consider the huge maintenance cost of maintaining those roads, it’s quite possible that the net present value of those roads adds up to the city’s biggest liability…”
I was going to mention Strong Town’s numbers but Spencer Boomhower beat me to it. Our maintenance budget for CURRENT infrastructure is predicated on construction fees for FUTURE infrastructure. That’s just nuts. “I’m buying a house today based on the job I’m gonna have in 20 years!”
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)
Just a few weeks ago the Oregonian was strongly in favor of the CRC.
“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.”
Anyone want to join me in protesting bad journalism at the Oregonian offices Friday at noon?
Oregonian got a nice visit on F29 from the Anti-ALEC march which included the bike swarm. Interesting that they failed to mention that in their brief story in yesterday’s pg2 metro story when they mentioned several of the other stops the march made.
The noon picket will not be attended by the swarm action group due to lack of organization. Doesn’t mean YOU can’t swarm ’em, of course. Truly, the Oregonian deserves something even bigger and better. All we have to do is wait for the next pro-CRC editorial to give us reason to illustrate their hypocrisy. We surely won’t have to wait long.
Like the 1% that bikes get from the budget is really going to break the bank.
After the Oregonian gets bikes off the road, are they going to go after pedestrians next?
I was thinking we could just advocate for new legislation requiring all buildings to have attached garages. Once that’s in place, we can simply make it illegal for people to be outdoors unless in a vehicle. That should solve the budget problems, as long as news about it is presented with headlines in all caps.
Less than 1/2 of 1% how’s that for lameness on their part! 🙁
oops… correction, we have to split that 1% with peds too don’t we?
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!
Decent person? Sure. Objective reporter? Uh…
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.
But then you have to call for the demise of bike portland because it has used the opposite editorial bias to promote web hits, which equates to sales.
There’s a fine line between commentator and reporter at both the Oregonian and this blog.
meh. I don’t agree at all with your accusation. I have done nothing close to the long-term, blatantly biased reporting that The O has done… And this blog also has a much different place in the public/media ecosystem than The O and as such comes with much different responsibilities/context.
Perhaps we should not expect pro-bicycle reporting but this news outlet is called BIKEPortland.
In the case of the Oregonian they imagine that they are upholding a tradition of journalistic integrity and ethics.
If they are going to crank out anti-bicycle, pro-automobile, status quo propaganda pieces where their own “facts” are mutually exclusive this news outlet is should change its name to fit with others of this tradition:
The National Enquirer
Weekly World News.
this is like saying there is a fine line between CNN and democracy now.
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.
“The Oregonian hates bicycles” is not quite as damaging as “The Oregonian hates the handicapped”.
studded tires are legal and they drag chains off of city busses, why? so the roads can get destroyed?
Exactly! Banning studded tires wouldn’t even cost the state a dime, but save damages in the tune of 60 Million a year in Oregon!
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.
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
All different too, any then we have road diets to achieve bike lanes, intersection boxes and everything else.
The budget allows 900k to transform 13.5 miles of road into bike boulevards, that’s allot of value actually. Highways cost 1 million per lane-mile, go cars…
In the case of “bicycle boulevard” and “neighborhood greenway” they are the same thing. The newer, preferred term is “neighborhood greenway” because those projects benefit more than just people on bikes.
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.
Blah blah blah. I’m canceling my subscription.
This has nothing to do with “bicyclists’ defensiveness.” In fact, your opening sentence validates the blinders that seem to be on over at The O these days. And whether or not you personally like biking also has nothing to do with this at all.
This is about framing an important topic in a biased way that continues a historical trend of anti-bike reporting that has been going on at The Oregonian for many years.
And yes, PBOT should continue to help fund major community events like Sunday Parkways (which is very far from a “bike ride” – although I realize calling it that helps hide what it actually is from many of your readers) and they should continue to fund major national conferences (to the tune of $15,000 in this case) because doing so only requires a tiny pittance of their budget and it creates value in other ways.
It’s also disingenuous to think that PBOT should halt all spending until all streets are perfectly smooth and repaved. That’s just not reality. What’s the backlog these days? $700 Million? That’s about 3 years of PBOT budget. Should we turn off all the traffic lights, let kids run across big streets to school without crosswalks, and cease all PBOT services to pay for backlogged maintenance? No. We will have failed streets for years to come. We need more money to fix them, but we cannot and should not stop paying for everything else in the meantime.
As for your other questions. They are great questions! I would love for The Oregonian to continue digging into them. We all need to understand these issues and come up with the best solutions we can.
However, the content of your article isn’t the only thing at issue here.
The style of the headline, the wording of the piece (and many others over the years), and the examples and facts you choose to share, make it clear that you are more interested in fanning the “bikes vs cars” “us vs them” false dichotomy and selling newspapers by ginning up controversy where it doesn’t exist, than actually doing quality work that holds our leaders accountable and makes our city a better place.
It seems like we agree the big questions to ask here shouldn’t be focused on bikes. Unfortunately your article does just that. And that’s the problem.
Great reply, Jonathan. I would also question the size and position of the headlines in this story. It used to be that headlines of this size were reserved for events like wars. Ms. Brence, it makes no difference if you ride a bike or not. This article was so full of inaccuracies and fallacies as to be pathetic. Fanning the flames of the bike vs. car mentality might be a great way to sell your newspaper, but it’s not a productive use of your sizable power in pushing information to Oregonians. Shame on you for abusing that power and responsibility.
This IS war. A war on bikes!
That’s exactly how I perceive this story. One more volley against bicycle riders and their safety.
PORTLAND’S ROAD TO RUIN
Check out the Subhead (in Red)
“What’s a priority?
…YOUR (emphasis mine) crumbling roads”
That language sets the battle lines. The editorial staff can take full responsibility! At the very least why not say “your bike lanes”???!
Funny, the O subscription dept. picked a very bad day to call and ask to renew my credit card information for my subscription. I get a lot of good information from the Oregonian, but why would I want to support a newspaper that is actively putting me and my bike riding children in danger? Seriously, why would I want to do that?!
This story divisive, incendiary, and a huge disservice. There a serious consequences associated with this kine of yellow journalism. Last September a cyclist was shot with a pellet gun the very same day a morning shock jock ranted that cyclists should stay off “his” road:
THE OREGONIAN EDITORIAL STAFF NEED TO RECANT AND APOLOGIZE IMMEDIATELY!
Jonathan, I hope you don’t mind me plugging my show here, but we will definitely be discussing this tonight on #BikeCheck.
“This is about framing an important topic in a biased way” Man, talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The only difference is every time you get called for bias you say “I’m just a blogger.”
FWIW I completely disagree with this accusation. Feel free to flesh out your thinking on this and I’d be happy to defend my record.
Jonathan doesn’t hold the responsibility like that of a news agency with a broad state-wide audience, to inform objectively and not incite social collisions such as the O does.
you are absolutely correct. jonathan is a citizen just like advance publications (the major corporation that owns the oregonian). it makes me happy that we give corporations all the rights of flesh and blood citizens. it makes for a much more equitable and compassionate society!
Go back and look at the PERCENTAGE of a gallon of gas that was once paid for road building and upkeep, then compare that to today. The real story is the effects of effectively lowering taxes to mask the true cost of things, and then crying foul when there is suddenly no money for important things. Those big price increases for fuel, little of it goes back to maintain the roads cars use . . . Exxon meanwhile is flush.
I am a loyal BikePortland reader (it’s my homepage) but I think you are way off base here.
If spending on bike facilities is just “one tiny reason”, then why exactly did it receive top billing on the Oregonian’s front page?
“Bike routes” is the first culprit mentioned, right there in the upper right hand corner.
“…should the city be sponsoring bike rides and transit conferences when major streets are in danger of failing…”
The major streets are failing because they’re being destroyed by motor vehicle traffic that’s not paying its fare share of road maintenance costs.
Sponsoring bike rides and transit conferences is exactly what the city should be doing because those things open people’s eyes to modes of transportation other than the single-occupant motor vehicle.
It’s not about chasing people out of cars or anything crazy like that, but it is about letting people know there’s another option that can make sense which also saves us all a lot of tax dollars: riding a bike.
Wow… this is an even more astounding response!
If the bike resources are “one tiny reason,” why are they listed right there in the headline as a MAJOR priority?
An editor’s job spans content assignment to fact- and form- checking to ensuring that content is effectively presented. How can you have missed that the way the information in the article was framed would stick out as ‘basic amenities v. Liberal bike fluff’?
Either you’ve failed as an objective journalist– which you deny– or you’ve failed as a critical reader and project leader, which, I believe, is the point of your job.
Spending on bike amenities is one tiny reason, and nowhere near the biggest reason.
So why is it the first thing listed then under the bright orange “What’s a priority?”, out of a $200-million something budget?
Maybe the stuff that is getting THE MOST MONEY SPENT ON IT, should be properly listed under “What’s a priority?”.
But I guess that would be too easy and logical.
“…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? …” Michelle Brence/editor of the Oregonian story
Ms Brence…are you suggesting that deterioration of Portland’s roads are due in some part to the city’s sponsorship of bike rides and transit conferences? Has, or is your paper taking a position on what the city should be doing with regard to its sponsorship of bike rides and transit conferences, such as withdrawing such support until the streets are fixed?
As to whether the city should be sponsoring bike rides and transit conferences, and I might add…expanding and improving its bike infrastructure network while the city struggles to find ways to maintain its existing road network…Yes it should.
In the metro area’s urban centers, there has come to be an extraordinary over-reliance on and support of the use of motor vehicles for travel needs of every conceivable type. To the point that every day during business hours and beyond, streets in downtown’s of Portland and Beaverton are heavily congested near to gridlock, with motor vehicles.
The streets have become filled with motor vehicles and there really isn’t room for any more of them on the streets. Increased travel by foot, bike and mass transit may be the metro area urban center’s only hope for continued travel functionality of streets and roads within these urban centers. In terms of wear and tear, if anything, travel by foot and bike relieves streets of wear and tear that heavy motor vehicles inflict on roads. Particularly heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses.
By the way, I’ve read that writers of stories for the Oregonian generally don’t get to decide the headline for the story; editors such as yourself do, which is probably why ‘bike routes’ got into the Sunday above the fold headline. If she’d had the option to write a headline, I wonder if Slovic would have come up with one similar to that used in the Sunday edition.
“…Aren’t rutted, failing streets bad for bicyclists, too? …” Michelle Brence
Yes, particularly for people riding road bikes. It may be that off-road bikes with suspension and big fat tires could become increasingly popular for road use. People driving SUV’s may be finding their vehicles moderate off-road capabilities much more useful in town than they have been.
Another ‘by the way’ regarding the Oregonian story: the story points out that while Portland with its 5000 miles of paved streets is only managing within its budget to have 0.4 percent of its roads repaved, Denver with its 5000 miles of paved roads somehow is managing to have 4.0 or thereabouts, repaved; I would have liked the O story to have ventured some explanation as to why Denver’s percent of repaving is so many times greater than Portland’s.
How can you justify the prominence of the “BIke Projects” listed at the TOP of the priority list, when this is simply not true?
As a bike commuter, do you enjoy taking the lane in front of (or even riding next to) some of the people spewing vitriol in your comments section Michelle?
One of my main issues with this article is that it frames bike projects as “takers” of revenue that should (seemingly by birthright) be reserved for car maintenance.
But the fact of the matter is, if you look at both sides of the ledger, both the costs to the city to support bicycling AND the revenue that bicyclists pay to the city that funds the transportation budget and we, as a community, are almost certainly a net positive to the transportation budget.
To put it another way, if all the bicyclists in Portland got up and left the city and took all of our bicycle infrastructure expenses with us, the PDOT budget would be far worse than it is. How can the Oregonian overlook this obvious fact and call itself objective?
If spending on bikes is only one teeny reason, then why did you make cyclists the scapegoats in your sensationalist, mud-slinging headline?
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.
“EVERY TIME YOU RIDE A BIKE, A KITTEN DIES!” but that wasn’t our intention. We like bikes!
That’s gotta be a T-shirt.
“EVERY TIME YOU RIDE A BIKE, A KITTEN DIES!”
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.
This also happened at our house. Exactly the same. Talk about your dying business models…they can’t even GIVE it away any more…
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.
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.
The majority of the classified section is auto dealer ads. I think there’s a connection.
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.
About your traffic comment. I wish! If Oregonlive had less traffic than BikePortland, I wouldn’t care so much about their work… The fact is they have a huge reach in Portland and in Oregon – both online and with the printed edition – which is precisely why I think what they say and how they say it, is important.
Are you saying that old, scared, white men are the only ones who drive cars and like well maintained roads? I think that you might want to check on that.
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.
“The potholes in SE are big enough to trap a front wheel and send a rider over the handlebars.”
That is only true if you are not paying attention. Bikes don’t need paved roads, or roads without potholes. They don’t. For that matter cars don’t either, but that isn’t the point here.
What I see as the point of Jonathan’s article is that if we’re talking fiscal responsibility of PBOT, and priorities, and infrastructure, there are a dozen better and more informative and interesting ways to make that point to one’s readers than the Oregonian’s very prominent piece.
Oh for Pete’s sake! Of course we can still bike on the roads with potholes, and cars can still navigate them. And we can let the telephone lines that allow us to communicate fall over and yell at each other in the town square instead of this electronic forum. The ultimate point of this article is, what do we want from society? Are we moving in the direction of progress? A crumbling infrastructure with rutted dirt roads in most of the city so that we can have nice planters for the yuppies downtown is NOT my notion of progress. It is reminiscent of failed-states around the world, where strongmen get in charge of the purse-strings and build monuments to themselves while the people suffer. I think Slovic did an excellent job of laying out the issues in an interesting and informative way, and I would like to see your “dozen better…ways to make that point.”
I think the savvy readers of bikeportland have already given you a nice cross section of answers, but since you asked: In my view any article that purports to look at fiscal responsibility, priorities, and infrastructure (and which seeks to portray the issue as a musical chairs/which mode is left standing when the music stops?) needs to take into account
(a) the relative proportions of funds being spent on different parts, different modes, maintenance vs. construction, etc.;
(b) where the money comes from for these parts of our infrastructure;
(c) the future feasibility of fossil fuel powered modes and implications this has for infrastructure spending;
(d) and avoid as much as possible hyping scary sounding numbers.
In January the Oregonian badly wants legislators to find the money to build the CRC (many billion $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ we don’t have).
In February the Oregonian laments the lack of funds to fix potholes and fingers a lame list of trivial but hypable projects with bikes at the top (a few hundred thousand $$ we do have).
Something doesn’t line up here.
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.
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:
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.
I have never said that The O is “all anti bike all the time.” I realize they do good work and I agree that Mr. Rose publishes a lot of really useful transportation/commuting stories.
I don’t feel it’s my job or obligation to present balanced coverage of The Oregonian. When they publish a video about proper lane usage, it’s simply not newsworthy to me. Nothing against the video itself, I just don’t tend to re-blog items like that — not from The Oregonian or anyone for that matter.
I have made the decision (and it’s fine to disagree with it), that when The Oregonian frames transportation discussions in a way that I feel presents bicycling unfairly, it is sometimes noteworthy enough for me to cover it here on BikePortland.
That being said, I have shared articles of theirs in the past because I liked them and I regularly link to their work without criticism.
Readers of this site are not lemmings who only read/know what I share with them. People are smart and they understand the context of what’s going on here… Which is why you’ll notice I’m far from only person who is concerned at their framing of the issues and the ill-advised blame they continually place on biking.
Just because a paper publishes some good stories that are helpful and productive, it doesn’t absolve them of a responsibility to be held accountable for other stories I feel deserve criticism.
Thanks for your feedback.
joe rose does at least as much harm as good, stoking the cars versus bike meme
Didn’t Joe Rose say in this article that it is fine to run over a bicyclists if the car had the turn signal on? Or did I not read this correctly?
“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?
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.
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…
Hola! Thanks for the kind words. I agree that the headline is a big part of the problem.
However, I first encountered this article online – without seeing the headline in the paper until the next day – and I though even within the context of the article itself, the blame for problems was placed on bike infrastructure first and foremost, much as in the case of the headline. The article starts with three paragraphs about how bad the roads are and how much has been shaved from the budget, and then it says:
So the bike stuff is presented as exhibit “A” in their list of budgetary badness. This struck me with about the same impact as did the headline once I got a chance to see it.
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.
Grew up and drove over 20 years in New England, you know, where the get on average 11x the snowfall that Portland does.
Those in New England that I know drive on snow tires are quickly dumping studded for studless. Less road noise, better grip, better wear.
To LS’ credit they do offer siping which does indeed help. But studs don’t.
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.
Ha, ha. I’m pretty sure the $180.00 in gas tax you would pay (.33/gal x 12,000 miles x 22 mpg) wouldn’t even come close to covering the extra cost of wear and tear on the roads, bridge repair, added congestion, increase in gas prices due to higher demand, increased air pollution and carbon emissions, health care costs, etc… Pretty good argument for encouraging more people to ride bikes, use public transit, walk, and/or carpool if you ask me.
There’s an old episode of “Arrested Development” where George-Michael and Maeby are staffing the Banana Stand, taking a buck out of the cash drawer and throwing a banana in the trash to “balance the books”. This kinda reminds me of that.
Write the Oregonian. You know they are in trouble when the Oregonian editor Ms. Brence made a comment here.
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.
BTW, I was just re-reading this quote from the article:
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”?
but why tell the truth when they can obfuscate?
Heh. That’s the first thing I did: add up the “priorities”–but I compared the result to the $15M “shaved” from the budget by postponing the paving and other items mentioned (bridge monitoring, sidewalk inspections). Just comparing those two numbers ($2M to $15M), one can see that if the agency had to trim $15M from the budget, they couldn’t have done it by cutting $2M-worth of the “other stuff”. I guess the point is supposed to be that “we could have at least had 1/7th of the paving done if we had cut out those crummy fluff projects!”
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.
Maybe you’re confused. You’re at the least generalizing. Those last two are not legally mandated and if you think that not wearing a helmet or “dressing wierdly” (sic) is good reason to promote anti-bike sentiment, then you must be that “lowest common denominator” you referenced.
Heh. I got it.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Exactly go read the comments on OregonLive and then defend this statement.
Cycling is simply not a fiscal priority in the PBOT budget. That is a fact. So when the Oregonian chooses to state it is one in relation to paving streets that is simply a lie and the author of that headline is a liar who has sold their integrity and scruples cheaply.
Instead of reading the article at the O, why don’t you look at PBOT’s ACTUAL BUDGET, to see for yourself what their spending priorities are.
If you do the math, you will realize that cyclists are actually saving the city money, even though they pay no gas taxes.
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!
I think it also shows a major societal and philosophical disconnect that went unresolved all the way back in the US Civil War: that of the independence of individual states and the “rightness” of an income tax.
Whether you agree or disagree about taxes being OK or “unconstitutional federal theft” it comes down to this:
without some sort of funding a government will not exist.
Every time in history an overreaching bloated government collapsed upon itself it was soon replaced by some other government that was also collecting some sort of revenue. People organize and work collectively as an instinct.
To those individualists:
If you don’t want to be part of society I believe you have the right to get up an leave. RIGHT NOW. LEAVE.
Just don’t expect military or police protection, medical services, schools or colleges, electricity, clean water or air.
Expect nothing but what you wrest from nature with your own bare hands.
Don’t expect to keep what you’ve taken when you’ve taken it from someone else. The resource rich, free and undeveloped frontier that made the USA great doesn’t exist anymore. Perhaps you might look in to colonizing the bottom of the ocean or another planet; it’s too crowded here.
I wrote Beth the following letter early Sunday morning after I read the article.
Here it is:
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.
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
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).
I will cancel my subscription as well. I will vote with my pocketbook.
Now this is an irresponsible headline – The Oregonian: Bikes to Blame for Potholes.
To those canceling their subscription- it’s not the subscriptions that pay for the paper- their real revenue is from advertisers.
And each subscriber counts as part of their overall circulation – therefore, their ad rates are adjusted.
True- but may have a better impact talking directly to advertisers.
good luck convincing the auto dealerships and realtors that this article is a problem… are there any other advertisers? I guess the grocery stores might be receptive.
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.
“…such spending proposals are corrosive and corruptive and relfect a disrespect of taxpayer dollars and ultimately distracts from the real mission of the government”
political verbiage translation: i like grover norquist
Hold on now. Jon Makela suggests that government accountability is a good thing and that means he supports Grover Norquist? A lot of you need to check your hyperbole. You are sounding every bit as extreme as the tea party wackos, albeit with a different agenda.
Wow…guilt by association. So, should I presume that you have no problem with legislators inserting specific spending requests into budgets that have serve only to individual pet projects? Spending that often goes without formal review and is in response to direct lobbying? Well, of course not…the majority here at this blog seem to celebrate when folks in other states are paying for your little local bike-friendly projects.
Next time, don’t bother with the fallacious response.
“for your little local bike-friendly projects”
what’s your handle on o live?
The title of this post “The Oregonian: Bikes to blame for potholes, PBOT budget mess”
This is essentially paraphrasing the title on the Front page of the Sunday Oregonian. Jon, you seem to miss the point. I really don’t see people here arguing that that PBOT (not ODOT, try to keep your facts partially straight), shouldn’t be operating more effectively or spending our money better. That whole conversation has been sabotaged by the Oregonian because of how they chose to frame the debate.
You also say:
“Bikes, conferences, and staff…they seem to be priorities. ” Now why would they seem to be priorities to you? Let me see what could lead you to such an erroneous conclusion? Maybe you read it somewhere.
It certainly is a paraphrase of the O’s sunday article, though it is an inaccurate one. No fair reading of the O’s article wouold lead to the conclusion that bikes are to blame for potholes.
i suppose you are right. the headline could mean that we should build roads to ruins. its unfortunate that the article failed to mention which ruins…