Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

City Club of Portland will embark on ‘comprehensive study’ of bicycling

Posted by on April 23rd, 2012 at 4:45 pm

The central question for study is the role bicycling should play in Portland’s overall transportation system.
— City Club of Portland, from the Comprehensive Study Charge

The City Club of Portland is embarking on a “comprehensive study” of bicycling.

For those of you not familiar with this organization, it’s a respected, local non-profit institution with 1,500 members and a history dating back nearly 100 years. Their primary mission is to “inform its members and the community in public matters.” They hold weekly forums at the elegant Governor Hotel downtown (this Wednesday they host, “A conversation with U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.”)

In a nutshell, when City Club talks, many people in Portland listen: Especially elected officials, lobbyists, policymakers and other local power-brokers. Back in May of 2010, the release of a City Club report on Forest Park had a significant influence on the debate over whether or not to improve bicycling access in the park. (Note: Off road cycling advocates were not happy with how City Club framed the issue.)

Now they’ve announced a Bicycle Transportation Research Committee which will inform their forthcoming report: Bicycling in Portland: A Serious Look at Transportation Policy and Priorities. At this point they’re accepting applications to serve on the committee. Here’s more from their website:

City Club is currently accepting applications for this soon-to-be launched comprehensive research study committee.

While Portland enjoys a well-deserved reputation as one of the top bicycle-friendly cities in the nation, any plans to expand the city’s network of bikeways will no doubt require addressing a number of funding, public safety and community challenges. This study committee will be charged with examining what role bicycling should play in Portland’s overall transportation system, while also making recommendations to address these specific challenges.

According to the “study charge” document (PDF), their research will be aimed at understanding, “the role bicycling should play in Portland’s overall transportation system.” Other questions they intend to tackle include, “how the city should plan for, construct and pay for bicycle infrastructure, and how the city can safely integrate a growing population of cyclists with other user groups, once this role has been established.”

Here’s a list of “bicycling study objectives”:

  • Make a recommendation on the role bicycling should play in Portland’s transportation system, based on review of existing criteria, available studies, and witness testimony.
  • Based on the committee’s recommendation for the role bicycling should play in Portland’s transportation system, make further recommendations on the goals the city should set for bicycle ridership and the necessary improvements to reach those goals.
  • The committee must identify the level and sources of funding necessary to achieve the identified goals.
  • The committee is encouraged to make recommendations in related areas, including safety, governance, traffic enforcement, economic development, and community outreach.

A list of “critical questions and topic areas” includes:

  • What data exists to support the touted benefits of bicycling?
  • Is disproportionate use by certain segments of the population problematic, and how should the City address equity issues, real or perceived?
  • What impact does dedication of part of the public right-of-way to bicycles have on economic activity that relies on automobiles and trucks to move people and goods?

Even though some of the questions being asked at the outset leave me a bit concerned about the perspective they’re bringing to the table, the study charge shows City Club has already put a lot of thought into this. The report will likely come out right as a new mayor of Portland is settling into office. In addition, the transportation funding ideas they come up with will likely hit at a time when local, regional, and statewide discussions about this very issue are becoming very mature. All this being said, I hope this study committee gets it right. I for one will be watching this effort very closely.

Watch for the report 12 months after the committee is formed. Applications to be on the committee (which you can download as a .doc file here) are due May 4th.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

89
Leave a Reply

avatar
32 Comment threads
57 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
33 Comment authors
9wattsspare_wheelJeremy Cohenflywater50Edward Hershey Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Chris Smith
Guest

I would be very surprised if Jonathan is not interviewed by the study committee 🙂

Woodstock Cyclist
Guest
Woodstock Cyclist

I’m a City Club member and have taken part in research studies in the past. They typically emphasize putting together a diverse set of people and perspectives on each research committee, which can sometimes mean that their reports take a more measured approach than any more clearly pro- or anti-biking study or communications piece might. That may mean not all of the conclusions of this study will jibe completely with the interests of strong bicycling advocates. But their studies always add a lot to the conversation about any policy issue, so whatever comes out of it, hopefully it helps to counter some of the “bike lanes vs. potholes” crap the Oregonian and other media outlets push. (Did you see that that question was asked during the KATU mayoral debate? Ugh.)

P.S., slight correction–City Club actually hosts weekly forums, not monthly. The Friday Forum is at the Governor Hotel, every week except for a few in August. It’s broadcast on OPB at 7pm on Fridays. In addition to that, they host a variety of other events and discussions, including the one with Geithner that you mention.

spare_wheel
Guest

“What data exists to support the touted benefits of bicycling?”

“touted”

Good grief.

I have no more interest in the opinion of an exclusive private club than I do in the opinion of a political lobbying firm.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

The phrasing of their objectives and topic areas doesn’t instill much confidence.

When they investigate the effect that bike lanes have on commerce, will they factor in the alternative: single-occupancy-vehicle occupying even more space?

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Some of the people having already commented to this story seem to be inclined to deduce from language in the study charge document, that the City Club has a predisposition against biking as transportation.

If it does, or if a significant number of City Club members are so predisposed, and people want to talk about that here, fine…lets’s hear about that, but with more substance than what’s been presented so far in this story and comments.

I’ve certainly wondered a lot about what role biking as practical travel will come to fill in the overall transportation system, in Portland, but also in Beaverton where I live, and other cities in the Metro area as well. The simple fact at present, is that people biking as practical transportation represent a very small minority of road users; certain heavily traveled commute routes such as Williams Ave, excepted.

I have no particular idea what conclusions the City Club’s research committee will arrive at, but would hope the relatively small percentage of road users that bike would not lead it to somehow conclude that public funding for infrastructure supporting practical travel by bike should be minimized. Excessive reliance on motor vehicles for travel is increasingly strangling the ability to travel the roads.

Isaac Harris
Guest
Isaac Harris

While objectivity may be the goal, the language used presents a point of view that, at the moment, doesn’t seem objective. I wonder if it would be useful to ask the same question regarding roles for cars, or feet, or buses, or streetcars, or max trains etc.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

A better way to word the last question would have been, “What impact does dedication of part of the public right-of-way to bicycles have on economic activity and the movement of freight and goods?”

This is more neutral wording that allows for the possibility that the impact might be POSITIVE. (Which it most likely is).

noah
Guest
noah

“After a comprehensive study, we found that bicycling is really, really great.”

Hart Noecker
Guest

“Make a recommendation on the role bicycling should play in Portland’s transportation system, based on …witness testimony.”

Oh gawd, here we go….

Rol
Guest
Rol

Why are people wasting time studying bicycling? Is it a problem? We are all understandably nervous about another witch hunt because, for chrissakes, it’s not that complicated people. It’s riding a bike. So simple, it’s like riding a bike.

Seems to me if you want to show what an intellectual bad-ass you are, and take “a serious look” at something, you could maybe take a look at what’s causing all the cancer, or what’s eating up ridiculous amounts of otherwise usable real estate, or what’s siphoning money out of the local & regional economy and sending it to BP to “mess” up (self-censorship) the entire Gulf of Mexico, or merely sending it to the oligarchy to purchase your government from you.

“Any plans to expand the city’s network of” roads “will no doubt require addressing a number of funding, public safety and community challenges,” all of which are one or two orders of magnitude worse than anything pertaining to bicycling.

“What data exists to support the touted” (and I mean TOUTED… like every 8 minutes on network TV) “benefits of” driving a car?

Worthwhile questions for anyone who actually had some “nerve” (self-censorship again).

9watts
Guest
9watts

I have an idea. Those who have responded to this post so far–Rol, Hart Noecker, Woodstock Cyclist, Isaac Harris, Chris Smith, spare_wheel, Jonathan, Chris I, GlowBoy, and wsbob–let’s for our own study group, the Bicycle Transportation Roadblock Committee. We’ll take up the City Club’s challenge, but skip the fake, neutral, suspicious tone.

Andrew K
Guest
Andrew K

As someone who has attended several City Club events I can say with confidence that they do try to examine issues from all angles and in depth. I have a lot of respect for what they do and the open dialouge they often create.

That being said, it really irks me that this issue even needs a “study”. The benefits of bicycling have been studied…over and over and over. The overwhelming positives around cost, health, happiness, etc. are well documented.

So the question should no longer be, “is there a benefit?”. The question should really be, “why aren’t we doing anything about it?” Why are we not acting on what we know to be true? Why is there no political will? Those are the real questions.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

I hope that someone makes the point that every bike is one less car on the road. Aren’t there some stats showing bridge traffic has been flat when you just look at automobiles but has grown tremendously when you include bikes? With a group like this, most of whom I bet could never see themselves on bikes, it’s going to be important to explain how cycling creates societal good.

All of the effort to appear “unbiased” makes me think that there is a real bias that someone is trying to hide. I love it when the 1% tries to decide what is best for the rest of us.

(Sorry for not doing a good job at gathering my thoughts. I have the flu.)

ScoBu
Guest
ScoBu

The phrasing of questions matter. Just look at any opinion poll. They may be trying to be objective and fair but the wording of the question sets the tone for the answers given. Just look at the third critical question above:

“What impact does dedication of part of the public right-of-way to bicycles have on economic activity that relies on automobiles and trucks to move people and goods?”

By the end of that question cycling is on its back foot and trying to gain equality in the conversation again. They might just as well have said, “How does cycling mess up the public right of way and economic activity that relies on automobiles and trucks to move people and goods?”

I sure hope those who have faith in their history of committees are tight but seeing how these things are worded doesn’t give me much confidence.

Chris Smith
Guest

Responding to a number of points:

1) Yes, City Club is a private, dues-paying membership organization. It does volunteer-led research. It has clout ONLY because that research has consistently been perceived as objective.
2) I’m not aware of the Club giving free memberships to any local leaders. I was just on the City budget advisory committee and saw the budget line for the Mayor’s membership 🙂
3) I’m not “on the inside” now at City Club, but in general the Club’s Board of Governors and Research Board are responsible for selecting topics and in the past have used surveys of members or local leaders to help in that selection.
4) Unfortunately, the role of cycling is NOT a ‘settled question’ in our society. What we think is obvious is still counter-intuitive to many people. I see this study as a major opportunity to help drive a stronger community consensus.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

In thinking about this more overnight, I just want to add, again, that I think the wording and framing of this study charge is unfortunate. Despite what I believe to be a respectable organization with a well-earned reputation, City Club has started on the wrong foot here. And that concerns me.

One big reason bicycling is “not a settled question” (as Chris Smith put it above) in Portland is because powerful and influential voices like The Oregonian, KATU (remember the “Bike lane to nowhere” silliness?), and other media and politicians, pundits, and so on… continue to frame the issue in a way that is inherently divisive and usually biased against bicycling.

The issue we face in Portland is about transportation and mobility and road design. Does our system of roads currently serve everyone that needs to use them in the best way possible regardless of the vehicle they choose to use them with? No. This isn’t a bicycling issue, this is a road design, political will and traffic behavior/social issue.

Embarking on a study with a charge described in this way is in some ways similar to trying “start a conversation” about bicycling by introducing a registration fee on all bikes (as a state legislator tried to do a few years back), trying to outlaw carrying kids on bikes (another sad idea from a state legislator), or asking the question, “Should cyclists pay a road tax?” (which Webvisions did). Each of those “conversation starters” did more harm to the issue than good.

I feel like the language and framing of this Study Charge is auto-centric and sees bicycling as a problem that needs to be solved or dealt with.

In a nutshell, I’m just trying to say that I feel conversations and studies will never get at the heart of the problem if they began with a mode-bias at the start. It’s time for the thinkers and policymakers in this town to take on the mode-neutral outlook that was adopted on this site many years ago (heck, even the Portland Police Bureau has made a good attempt to do it!).

Perhaps the first thing the committee should do is re-write the study charge and scope.

Woodstock Cyclist
Guest
Woodstock Cyclist

Thanks, Jonathan. As a City Club member I concur with your assessment that there are aspects of this study charge that make me squirm, and I’m disappointed by that. I am not sure whether the study committee can rewrite its charge, but I would consider that suggestion if I were on the committee.

Let me just make the point that City Club has always been what its members make of it, and I believe that City Club members, staff and board are sincere in their desire to hear from all viewpoints and broaden the perspectives represented in the conversation. It’s unfortunate that it has a reputation as an “elitist” or agenda-driven organization, because every conversation I’ve ever had with fellow members or staff about membership is quite the opposite. It’s always, “how can we get more members, particularly from groups that are not well represented in our membership?”, not “how can we exclude more people?”

In its nearly 100 years of existence, there are undoubtedly times when City Club has been more exclusive or business-oriented or right-leaning. So has the City of Portland, like it or not. But there have also been times when City Club research has pushed the city to do some remarkably progressive things–like tearing out Harbor Drive.

At the moment, after two years of membership, I have observed that if anything City Club’s membership is currently center-left, probably more to the center than I am personally. But I do believe quite strongly that City Club is a place where most members check their ideologies at the door and pursue honest dialogue and research-based advocacy. Does that mean bias is entirely avoided, or that as a City Club member I’m always happy with the results? Of course not. But I’m a member because I believe Portland is a city that can handle civil debate, a measured tone, and a steadfast pursuit of the truth.

I’d be very worried about a city that did not have a space for such activities, or that rejected them out of hand as protecting some hidden agenda. (Which, by the way, is a charge often leveled a City Club by folks on the right, too.)

Let’s see where this goes. Remember that City Club’s overall membership must debate and vote on the final report, and Minority Reports are common in research studies. If you’d like to have a part in that process, I urge you to join City Club and make your voice heard.

Paul G
Guest
Paul G

I’ve been involved in a number of these committees and have found them open to different viewpoints and always looking for help understanding complex issues. The reactions here are surprisingly defensive, in my opinion, particularly given Chris Smith and woodstock_cyclist’s accurate descriptions of the organization.

As to the “touted” benefits, if the findings are so overwhelming in favor of the benefits, what’s the problem? It’s pretty obvious that there is political conflict over the level of resources to dedicate to various modes of transportation, so again I’m not sure why there is such concern. If bicycle infrastructure is so obviously efficient than the data will demonstrate this.

Jonathan, I’m sure the CC committee will solicit your opinion, and you should do everything you can to help the committee collect appropriate facts and figures. Your reactions, though, belie your claim to be an independent voice on this subject. You’re an advocate, and an able one, but it’s a real stretch to claim you are a non-partisan observer. I think you’ll find the CC very responsive to help and guidance.

spare_wheel, you need to learn a lot more about how civic organizations operate.

Lois
Guest
Lois

I considered applying to be part of the study committee, but it looks like it would cost me $190 in dues plus between 3 to 6 hours every week for meetings, research and writing. I was willing to possibly swing that until I read their Conflict of Interest questions which seemed like they were trying to determine ahead of time who was pro-bike and who was anti-bike which makes me wonder if they are trying to structure the study committee to reflect a pre-determined outcome. I think I’ll volunteer for something else instead.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

My own view of City Club is that it probably is indeed center-left.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t be biased against bicycles. Almost everyone who doesn’t ride a bike has built-in car-centric filters and biases that, in many cases, they aren’t even aware of.

Filtering out those with strong opinions won’t necessarily offset these biases. And to me that is already showing in the very language being used to lay out the study objectives.

Alexis
Guest

After reading the article and all the comments, I’m still left with my main question: Didn’t PBOT already do much or most of this work in creating the 2030 Bike Plan? They’ve already laid out goals and paths to get there where bicycling is concerned and have probably (I haven’t read the whole plan) also laid out the reasoning behind choosing those goals.

Depending on how the City Club process goes, their report might be supportive to that or to future bike plans, I guess, but it seems like a lot of work spent on not a heck of a lot of novel information, to me.

Nate
Guest
Nate

I am curious about two things: 1) Whether the “study” will be truly scientific, i.e., time and efficiency measurements with independent variables (like profits, employment, air-quality, or homelessness), e.g., measure the time it takes for an 10-ton 18-wheeler or UPS truck or determined blonde-haired Nordstrom-bound Dunthorpe soccer-mom to drive across town with a bike just riding along in the bike lane, and then again, measure the time its takes for the same trip without a bike JRA, and then correlate those data to reduced local earnings for freight companies or hair color/perfume/ear ring sales, or, will the conclusions and recommendations be based on interviews and anecdotes of “industry experts” (with predictable results like the City Clubs’ findings on MTBs in Forest Park), and 2) whether those hungry “gasoline tax” and “Tri-Met” revenue managers will be on hand to advise the City Club committee chairs that for every un-licensed/un-registered/un-lawful cyclist allowed to put excessive wear and tear on “our” concrete streets, there is either a measurable reduction in gas sales or fewer bus/rail tickets sold. Dammit, gas sales and Tri-Met ridership are down and will continue to drop if we don’t do something to stop these…(wait for it…big golfing fist with pinky ring pounding table) bicycles!

sigh…

9watts
Guest
9watts

The City Club’s outline of their research project is worth reading in full. Section 2: ISSUES AND CHALLENGES in particular is revealing. There are five subheadings (which I’ve paraphrased below):

– we have no money for this bike stuff
– some folks don’t like bike lanes
– cars vs bikes, scofflaw cyclists, it’s very dangerous out there
– economic dev’t (City Club is unable to find anything to pin on bikes)
– environmental impact – the section in full reads:

“Portland’s Climate Action Plan and air quality goals are likely unachievable without a significant shift away from carbon-burning modes of transportation. Bicycles can be part of the answer, but in a world of scarce resources investments in bicycle infrastructure must be balanced against other goals such as an ambitious expansion of mass transit or widespread availability of charging stations for electric cars.”

To paraphrase, ‘let’s not get carried away with the human powered modes; there are some fossil-fueled transport categories that really should get more of the $$ if we’re hoping to meet our climate goals.’

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

A lot of the biases in this announcement will be disputed once Portland Bike Share is up and running successfully. (Yes, my bias is that it’s going to do very well.)

Jeremy Cohen
Guest
Jeremy Cohen

I’m with Jonathan and others on this one. The research framing is essential in guiding the direction of the study–it is clearly anti-bike in a number of places.

Many folks have already noted the section that asks “What impact does dedication of part of the public right-of-way to bicycles have on economic activity that relies on automobiles and trucks to move people and goods?” is under the heading about the “downsides to bicycling.”

This is classic research bias–because the economic impact of dedicated space for cyclists is ASSUMED to be a “downside” it will be particularly difficult for the study to recognize that dedicating part of the ROW to cyclists may have a positive economic impact.

I am a full-time, professional social-science researcher here in Portland, and if I approached my review board with that “research” question they would have some serious questions about my ability to work in my field. An actual research question would be: (No heading about downsides) What is the economic impact of designing ROW to accommodate all uses.

I fear this report, even with the best intention, will only further the current climate of bike vs. car that rules in this town. The assumption at the very base of this study (that bikes need to be studied, as opposed, for instance, automobiles) tells me enough to be worried about the outcome.

Can anyone here imaging the City Club taking on the same questions about automobiles? What are the touted positive effects of driving a car by yourself? What groups are disenfranchised by the reliance on automobile transit (including those displaced by freeway construction), Where will we secure funding for continued upkeep on roadways (including enforcement to limit dangerous activities, repair, replacement…) We don’t sponsor that study because it is ASSUMED that cars are needed, valuable and the city will always take care of the car drivers.

kgb
Guest
kgb

This is a joke and the City Club just slipped another few notches down the ladder to irrelevance. If the City Club has such a balanced approach why has it produced this stinking pile of propaganda?

“but in a world of scarce resources investments in bicycle infrastructure must be balanced against” Against what? How about a 5 billion dollar bridge. Yes in a world of scarce resources we wouldn’t want to put to much emphasis on the things that are most efficient and cost effective.

Nate Young
Guest
Nate Young

When behavior comes into question, and particularly when behavior change would also require a new perspective, skepticism is pretty often present. As several people have pointed out, non-bike people generally have a bias they aren’t even aware of. The offending language listed above sounds like little more than that. They’ll never know it unless it is pointed out in neutral, respectful tones and venues, like their study group.

I hear a lot of whining about the biased nature of the application/charge/process from CC, and even the group itself, but only a couple of people even considering applying to the group? I for one think that if even a few of you were more open to being proven wrong by the CC’s process by..oh…applying to the study group, chances of a good-for-bikes outcome might be better.

I’ll be paying the ~$15/month (that’s just one growler refill!) to join the group in hopes that I might get on the study. Like it or not, this group has a big voice in what goes on in PDX, and I’d like to play a role in making sure they get this study right.

kgb
Guest
kgb

Oh so when an obvious bias in a shoddily prepared document is pointed out that is “whining”. Got it, good to know.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Re: 9watts’ reading of the ISSUES AND CHALLENGES section, referenced above: if one of the subheadings is going in with an assumption that no economic development can be attributed to bikes, that’s disturbingly ignorant on their part.

Portland’s unique urban vibe is increasingly making us a tourist destination (thanks, NYT! and Portlandia!), and our bike culture is a BIG part of that. Portland is increasingly creating lots of high-end bike apparel and equipment, much of which is sold outside Portland but brings dollars back here. Not to mention the less immediately noticed economic benefits of better citizen health, higher worker productivity and lower congestion.

I should also point out that regional bike tourism is set to EXPLODE over the next 20 years, as the projects we’re working on meet up with Cycling Is The New Golf. We’re going to plug the infrastructure gaps in the Gorge, build two car-free routes to the coast, create an awesome camping loop as we hook the Crown-Zellerbach Trail up to the Banks-Vernonia, finish off a route to the Cascades with the Cazadero Trail, and hopefully get that bridge built in Wilsonville to connect ourselves with the rest of the Willamette Valley. A lot more people from all over the world are going to be coming HERE to tour, folks, and Portland will be the hub. The future’s so bright, we gotta wear shades.

jim
Guest
jim

I think there should be a comprehensive study of the city club.

Edward Hershey
Guest

Such cynicism! Or is it paranoia? And I always touted Portland’s cyclists as fundamentally free-spirited, open-minded and optimistic.

Seriously, this and other current studies (including those on the state of Forest Park, legislative redistricting, local air quality, and civics education in Portland Public Schools) have this much in common with such CIty Club events as Timothy Geithner’s appearance, and spirited debates by candidates for mayor of Portland and Attorney General of Oregon. In an era when rhetoric and volume too often substitute for logic and reflection and many news media start with a point of view, the City Club remains what it has been for four years short of a century — the place to look for a considered and unbiased examination of significant policy issues.

I’m guessing that not every conclusion of the Bicycle Transportation Study will please every member of the cycling (or non-cycling) public any more than every word of the study charge has. But shouldn’t the very idea that an authoritative civic organization (that is sometimes accused of reflecting Portland’s progressive political climate but rarely criticized as reactionary) seeks to take a serious look at this issue please the cycling community?

flywater50
Guest
flywater50

Thought I would give this thread a few weeks to perk, and I must say it’s been worth it. Just like the bike community to freak out if anyone has the gall to want to study and gather data on what bike reality is. City Club NEVER has an agenda when initiating a study. I have seen committee members excused from committees because they didn’t disclose conflicts of interest. Their only interest is in research and analysis and they will talk to all sides in this matter.
City Club is likely the ONLY organization that would initiate this study with no bias to any side and for you to sit back and parse the charge from your paranoia fueled positions is pathetic.
And by the way, when City Club wrote the Forest Park report, mountain bikes were barely discussed, delaying expansion of single track was recommended but no other additional restrictions on bikes in the park were discussed.
The “science” that was presented to support expanding single track is deeply flawed and non-supportive of the soils and hill structures in Portland so it is irrelevant.
So don’t confuse the current discussion with any prior studies. They have nothing in common.