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No paving until 2017 because of ‘bike routes’? Not exactly – UPDATED

Posted by on September 17th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

PBOT spent $4.7 million paving Sandy Blvd this summer
— despite what you might have read in The Oregonian
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Remember back in February when The Oregonian splashed their big, “Portland’s Road to Ruin” story on the front page? The story aimed to create the perception among readers that the Bureau of Transportation was spending so much on “bike routes” they had nothing left for paving. Zero. Zilch. Nada. No paving until 2017.

Today, PBOT released a list of paving projects completed this summer that shows, contrary to The Oregonian’s article, the agency has been very busy paving streets. Since February, they’ve poured millions of dollars into over a dozen projects to smooth out roads.

Compare the facts (more details below) with what The Oregonian’s Beth Slovic wrote back in February; “… [PBOT] has shelved plans… to overhaul any other badly deteriorating road in its 5,000-mile system — until at least 2017.” “The bureau has other priorities,” she continued, “such as $900,000 to build 13.5 miles of bike routes.*”

That headline was designed to get people fired up. And it worked. Hundreds of angry comments poured onto OregonLive.com, a few months later The Columbian newspaper parroted the “no paving until 2017” line in an editorial blasting Portland’s priorities, mayoral candidate Charlie Hales trumpeted the article on his website as a reason Portland needs a “roads first, back to basics” focus (thankfully, he later removed reference to the article), and Sheila Hamilton, co-host of popular radio morning Dave & Sheila on KINK-FM, was irate.

The Oregonian front page on February 26th, 2012: Designed to shock.

The day the article came out, Hamilton went onto her show and spread the misleading story she just read in The Oregonian to her many listeners. Here’s a transcript taken from her show on February 29th:

“The transportation bureau has now decided to shuffle $900,00 to building 13.5 new miles of bike lanes; but all of your street maintenance will be delayed until 2017. No new paving. No pothole filling until 2017! Put it this way, if you think it’s bad now, it’s going to get a lot worse.”

Then, a few minutes later, Hamilton drove home her point:

“They [PBOT] have a 5,000 mile system and they’ve decided not to fill another pothole or repave anything until 2017. They’re not doing anything until 2017! And you know why? Because they’re building 13.5 miles of bike routes…. I will tell you, until cyclists start paying taxes to pay for the roads, people are going to be ticked off about this.”

Like The Oregonian, Hamilton painted a dire picture…

“Hey I’m a cyclist too and I love being on our bike routes. It’s amazing. It’s so great. Except for when Portland turns into a third-world country and the only way you’ll be able to get to work on your bike, we’ll be in trouble.”

It’s easy to see how a rant like this could spring from The Oregonian’s coverage. It’s also easy to see how it fans the flames of the “bicyclists don’t pay for the roads” meme. “They should pay their fair share,” said Hamilton’s co-host, to which she replied, “Especially given how much money we’re shoveling over to those bike lanes. We’ve been doing it for 10 years while everything else falls into disrepair.”

It was a seductive narrative for a news organization with a long history of dishonest and harmful anti-bike reporting directed at a public all too eager to lap it up. It was also very misleading.

According to a list released by PBOT today (at the request of BikePortland), since April of this year, the agency has completed 15 paving projects encompassing 40 lane-miles of roads throughout the city to the tune of nearly $8.2 million. UPDATE: In addition, PBOT is set to begin a major paving project on SE Division next month (from SE 11th to Cesar Chavez Blvd) that will cost them $3.3 million. Here’s the updated list (PDF):

Paving projects: 15 of them, over 40 miles, and over $8 million.
(- PDF version– )

The truth about PBOT’s budget (which Slovic knew and reported on in that story, but buried in order to promote the no paving narrative) is that only one category of paving projects were eliminated in the 2012-13 budget. Given their huge expense, PBOT zero’ed out “contract paving” where they hire a construction firm to completely tear up and replace a street. The rest of the budget included $9 million in paving expenses. Too bad Hamilton — and thousands of other Portland residents are not aware of those facts.

Unfortunately for us, the damage is already done. The Oregonian clearly manipulated the facts in order to drive home their anti-Sam Adams, anti-bicycling agenda. They won’t have to deal with Adams much longer (he leaves office in January); but bicycling isn’t going anywhere.

——

This also underscores a larger point. PBOT desperately needs to regain the narrative around their work. The fact that I had to request this list of paving projects, and couldn’t easily find them on a public website, shows they need to be more proactive in touting all their projects — not just the ones that make them look bike-friendly. Every month or so there seems to be a bike-related press release or press event; but when’s the last time PBOT called a press conference for a paving project? Perhaps it’s time. We need all the help we can get to bust this myth.

*Another very misleading part of The Oregonian’s article is that PBOT is spending $900,000 on 13.5 miles of “bike routes”. That budget line-item is referring to is for work on neighborhood greenways. These are low-traffic, residential streets where the City installs speed bumps, sharrows, lowers the speed limit to 20 mph, improves crossings, and so on. To call these projects “bike routes” is quite a stretch. They are more neighborhood safety projects than simply “bike routes” — but of course that wouldn’t fit the narrative as well.

UPDATE #1, 9/17 at 6:19 pm: Beth Slovic has demanded a correction of my first paragraph where I said she claimed PBOT would spend “zero” on paving until 2017. Her editor Michelle Brence also says via Twitter that this story is “wrong.” I disagree with them that my story is inaccurate or wrong. It is clear to me that the way the story was written, it was meant to be misleading (as evidenced by the radio show host’s comments and The Columbian editorial board’s interpretation of it). I have edited that first paragraph to show that Slovic and her editors meant to create a false perception. In my opinion, they included the right facts in the story, but did so with a purpose to mislead and perpetuate a false narrative they have participated in greatly. (See update #3 below)

UPDATE 2, 9/18 at 9:01 am: In case you are wondering, this story was initially published with a sentence in the first paragraph that read, “The hook for the story was a claim that the Bureau of Transportation was spending so much on “bike routes” they had nothing left for paving. Zero. Zilch. Nada. No paving until 2017.” After Slovic contacted me demanding a correction, I re-considered that line and made some edits. Here’s more in my comment about this to a reader below.

UPDATE 3 9/18 at 11:35am: After further research, I now know that The Oregonian article is factually incorrect (in addition to being misleading). I am still gathering information and will post an update tomorrow.

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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Andrew Self
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Andrew Self

Anyone who says that Portland prioritizes bike routes over street paving has obviously never actually ridden on many of Portland’s bike routes.

Gary Charles
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Gary Charles

I’m sure the Oregonian will do the right thing and run a story about how wrong they were above the fold on the front page any day now, right?

Kasandra
Guest
Kasandra

Thanks for great investigative journalism, Jonathan!

Brian
Guest
Brian

I heard her rant about this on KINK, and stopped listening to the show. Lame.

Andrew K
Guest
Andrew K

uggh!! I can’t tell you how much the Oregonian frustrates me, Beth Slovic in particular. I don’t want the Oregonian to be pro-bike or anti-bike, I want them to report facts without spin!

I am 100% confident that my side will win out when the simple facts are presented.

I’m sorry if I’m sounding like I’m going into attack mode but Beth Slovic does this so often with her stories. I remember about a year back she wrote a story about Electric Vehicles that was so utterly false in so many ways (An EV will leave you stranded if it starts to rain!!) I nearly punched my computer screen. Watching her bate our candidates for mayor on TV was just as rage inducing.

It’s not journalism, but instead trash talking disquised as reporting. She is not the only one at the Oregonian that does it, but I seem to notice her a lot more than the others, maybe because she just reports on the issues I tend to pay attention to.

No offense to Jonathan meant here (you do a fantastic job my man!!) but it is sad when I get more information from a blog over the paid professionals working for a newspaper.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

So, what is the breakdown of PBOT’s budget? I would love to see a breakdown of the types of project they fund on a yearly basis. Anyone have this?

ScottG
Guest
ScottG

Excellent reporting – the Oregonian needs to be held accountable for spreading misinformation.

Art Fuldodger
Guest
Art Fuldodger

“According to a list released by PBOT today (at the request of BikePortland), since April of this year, the agency has completed 15 paving projects…”

Jonathan, just an accuracy detail: you might want to change from the past tense to present progressive, since about $1.5 million of these will be done between now & next spring, according to the list you’ve shown.

But your point is well taken, indeed.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

As a regular user of Sandy Blvd, I’d like to note that not only did they spend a ton of money repaving it, there are still absolutely no bicycle facilities at all on the section they are paving.

A.K.
Guest
A.K.

… and the first thing all the drivers do when they get their lanes repaved (or otherwise worked on) is bitch bitch bitch, whine whine WHINE about all the traffic delays.

The I-5 repaving delays were a perfect example.

So, if they don’t want the delays, I’ll gladly take the repaving money and spend it on bike facilities…

Evan Manvel
Guest
Evan Manvel

Adams leaves office in January, not November.

Great article, Jonathan!

davemess
Guest
davemess

jonathan, perhaps you want to stop linking the Oregonian articles and giving them the website hits. It’s almost attune to giving them free publicity (even if some of us want to go on there and set the commentators straight).

I know we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sandy (like what I did there?) and pretend like they don’t exist, but maybe you don’t need to make it so easy for people to help boost their revenue.

Bruce
Guest
Bruce

Could someone please link me to the sign-up for the program where bikers are exempt from paying taxes? I must have missed it.

Jimmy
Guest
Jimmy

I actually cancelled my (8 year old) Oregonian subscription over this article. When I called to cancel they didn’t even bother to ask why.

The guy that did eventually call me back asking me to re-subscribe thought I was completely insane when I complained about their anti-bike agenda and bike vs. car sensationalism.

Eventually (about a month ago) I signed back up because I missed the paper and felt petty.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

When two people choose to bike instead of drive, they make room on our roadways for a semi tractor-trailer or for two drivers who really need their cars. Bike lanes serve everyone, or to put it another way…”Hey, I can be in my car in front of you, mister, or on my bike along side! Which is it!”

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

Isn’t BikePortland affiliated with the Oregonian? If you continue to refuse to end this association, can’t you at least ask for a retraction?

Beth Slovic is a perfect example of how far journalism has fallen.

Beth Slovic
Guest
Beth Slovic

Jonathan,

I don’t begrudge you your opinion. Thank you for acknowledging that this post represents your opinion.

I’ll add to this conversation what I told you in my request for a correction to your original piece, which inaccurately claimed I reported that PBOT would spend “zilch” on repaving.

Here’s one paragraph from the February story that appeared in the 2,400-word story’s lead. (http://tinyurl.com/848ff3d):

“The bureau still plans to spend nearly $13 million on roads — filling potholes, sealing cracks and undertaking minor repaving projects. But the proposed budget, set for approval in June, continues a years-long trend of flat spending on street maintenance even as the budget rises.”

Beth Slovic
The Oregonian

Dwainedibbly
Guest
Dwainedibbly

Thanks, Jonathan. I’m sorry if that sounded harsh but as a person who rides a bike in Portland you speak for me in a way so there is a temptation to hold you to a higher standard.

The Oregonian editorial board, otoh, will never speak for me.

~n
Guest

Thanks so much for posting this, Jonathan. It’s been on my to-do list for months to write a response to that Oregonian article, but I guess I was too mad. Today I was able to spit it out, thanks to your reporting of the actual paving projects. Ah, catharsis!

(I almost called the Oregonian the “whOregonian” in my blog post but, I decided that would be in poor taste.)

Ed
Guest
Ed

Thank you for keeping “journalists” honest.

Kevin Wagoner
Guest
Kevin Wagoner

That is incredibly shameful of the Oregonian.

Pat Franz
Guest

Beth-

The fact that you did not print or offer a clarification when everyone got so upset tells me the way you wrote the article got exactly the response you were aiming for.

The front page placement and your technicality based defense only underlines that.

I remember the days when The Oregonian was the proud paper of record. No more.

Robert Prinz
Guest
Robert Prinz

I’ve always assumed bike infrastructure was a good bang for the buck for a number of reasons, but wow these numbers really drive the point home! $900k for 13.5 miles of bike routes vs $8.2M for 40 miles of repaving means $66.6k/mile for bikes vs $205K/mile for cars. That means you could build 3 miles of bike routes for every 1 mile of pavement! What a savings!

Tony Hawk
Guest
Tony Hawk

Beth, This isn’t journalism. Do the people of Oregon a favor and start doing your job.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

The Oregonian, like Tri-Met, is in a death spiral & will likely go to three days a week like is happening in some other cities. They choose to market to a dying generation of old fuds who don’t get that internet thing and still think in an old-school 1960s perspective. When they are dead, there’ll be no real local newspapers left, not that the O has been one since I came here in in ’08. I never did subscribe. Now I feel like contacting advertisers and tellin ’em why not.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

The Oregonian is fish wrap. One of the worst local papers I have ever encountered in a major city. I stopped subscribing.

Mike bodd
Guest
Mike bodd

Maybe it is time to relaunch the Oregon Journal.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

There is a well regarded paper that is headquartered in NY City. I know for a fact they deliver to your door every morning.

Dan
Guest
Dan
David
Guest
David

What did the first paragraph of this story originally say?

Dan
Guest
Dan

When I was riding in to work this morning, I actually noticed that I have to spend a fair bit of time waiting for cars, certainly more than they wait for me. I never noticed it before (I’m still learning to see the world without the car-centric bias) but there it was: I was waiting for cars all the time!

*Car turning right who has blocked the bike lane, and the light has turned green. That’s cool, I’ll wait for you.

*Car in front of me in the left turn lane. I accelerate faster than you, but here I am waiting for you because you’re in front of me. No problem dude. As long as you’re not checking your email and I miss the chance to get through the light, because then the guy behind us is going to blame it on me.

*Car stopped in the middle of my crosswalk, trying to turn right to get on the highway. I don’t see why you need to stop with your entire car blocking the crosswalk, but whatever. I’ll just wait out here until you go by since you seem to be in a hurry.

*Car coming up behind me on Broadway to get to the right turn lane. Yes, you’re crossing my lane to get to the right turn lane, but I wait for you to go by so I can try & sneak into the bike lane, if that’s alright with you. You’re in a hurry to get to work. And I’m just…pedalling around & whatnot. Now you’re sitting there blocking the right turn lane AND the bike lane, so I wait again until you’re able to turn. Sheesh.

*Car coming up behind me and I gotta stop & wait in the bike lane because I need to cross the road to get into the driveway on the other side. Hey, it’s your lane I’m trying to cross, I should be patient and let you proceed.

I’m starting to think we should make cars drive on the sidewalks so they don’t impede me so much.

DerosaBill
Guest

ODOT paid to pave Sandy before they gave it to the City of Portland who will now be responsible for it’s maintenance. Paving 0.6% of your lane miles puts you in great position if you think roads can actually last for 167 years.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Loved this! Thank you for researching the facts and bringing them to the light!

Mike
Guest
Mike

Are bike lanes being “built” or does the cost refer to the striping of bike lanes? I am of the opinion that I would rather ride on nice, smooth roads(not easy to find in portland) rather than half-ass bike lanes littered with bumps/potholes.

ladyfleur
Guest

The irony is that bike lanes and other bike-oriented re-striping is usually done as a part of repaving projects. That way there’s virtually no extra cost–they’re just painting lines in different locations.

And you hit the nail on the head about the speed bumps and lower speed limits on greenways. That’s classic traffic calming which is traditionally done to make neighborhoods more pleasant more than to make bicycling more pleasant. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just a neighborhood project, not a bike project.

~n
Guest

Right, and, that gets us to that lingering tax issue. Obvious to so many of us is the fact that cyclists pay road taxes by not taxing the roads. It’s Preventative Road Care. In the long run, we’re probably paying more tax for less road than motorists. Maybe someone who’s great with numbers could take on proving this as their thesis project

Ethan
Guest
Ethan

We’ll never subscribe again. The inflammatory and inaccurate coverage of biking is just the tip of the iceberg. Fascinating how corporate owned media outlets can become so disconnected from their communities, and reality.

Amy
Guest
Amy

Not the first time Sheila Hamilton has made the “not paying their fair share” statement. I won’t listen to her anymore.

jimbobpdx
Guest
jimbobpdx

So Bike Portland is shocked – shocked – at the Oregonian’s and (regarding bike share) Willamette Week’s shallow and sensational coverage of a complicated issue. In order to stoke controversy and drive up readership. Imagine!

Which is how I’ve often perceived this blog. The excellent expose above helps clarify things tho. Bike Portland is an advocacy vehicle, intended, I think, to stir the faithful to action. The Oregonian used to be a rather staid but reliable paper of record for Portland. Lately it seems embarked on a wobbly journey to become Fox News in print for Portland – PERS! War on Cars! TriMet! Outrage!

And it’s a footrace between Ms. Slovic and Joseph Rose as to who can put up the most toxic mix of more insinuation/fewer facts.

It should not be the Oregonian’s role to rally the ant-bike, anti-TriMet faithful – let the bloggers do that. After 34 years of the paper landing on our doorstep every day, it’s now time to bid the Oregonian farewell and good luck with future endeavors.

Thank you for this basic bit of journalistic legwork, Bike Portland.

ME 2
Guest
ME 2

I have no idea why this bikers not paying their fair share rallying cry keeps coming up. In no way shape or form is my biking riding responsible for the deterioration of these roads. If you want to dedicate money towards paving roads then impose a $25 per tire user fee on studded tires, which are largely responsible for much of the road damage here.

Gil Johnson
Guest
Gil Johnson

Changing the name from “bike boulevards” to “greenways” was the city’s attempt to market these street changes in a way that makes it appear there is a broader goal than improving bike routes (though the other main element, replacing parking places with bioswales, can’t be that popular). The problem with this strategy is that novice bicyclists often don’t recognize the fact that these greenways are, in much of the city, a connected network of safer streets. Also, the sharrows have been painted on some fairly busy streets as well as the bike boulevards, so they are basically meaningless.

In an era of limited resources, I would like our bike infrastructure funds go to truly creating a bike boulevard network, where those bioswales are positioned every three blocks to completely stop through auto traffic, but not bikes. Despite the speed bumps, a lot of drivers use these streets because of the fewer stop signs.

But as for the Oregonian, sadly, I am going to stop my subscription. I’m one of those geezers who really enjoys reading a newspaper while having my first cup of coffee in the morning, but I can no longer justify subscribing to a shallow, unprofessional paper that has a distinct right-wing bias in both its editorial and news pages.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

Aside from the new 5th-6th mall, pavement of streets downtown is in horrible shape, especially for cyclists. An egregious example is Main Street just off the Hawthorne Bridge exit.

Imagine what money squandered on the $140 million eastside streetcar boondoggle could have done for motorists, cyclists, pedestrians if applied to rebuilding downtown’s streets!

But Michael Powell and his developer buddies WILL have their way with Portland politicians.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Unlike some here, I don’t think the Oregonian just recently started becoming sensationalistic and biased. I’ve been noticing the lack of separation between their reporting and their editorial positions since shortly after moving here in the mid 90s. Anyone who remembers their coverage of salmon issues in the late 90s or their “eco-terrorism” hysteria knows what I’m talking about.

Their endorsement of George Bush in 2000 pushed me over the edge, it shredded any respect I had left for them. I’ve still subscribed for much of the time since then, since I still enjoyed having a newspaper (filled mostly with stories reprinted from the wire service) delivered to my doorstep every day, but I finally gave up on that a while ago.

As for radio …. morning radio hosts have made sport of attacking bicyclists for decades around the country. This wouldn’t be a surprise except for KINK’s historically great record of community involvement, so I’m very disappointed to see them sinking this low. Guess I hadn’t noticed until I read it here though, which shows how little I bother trying to listen to commercial-inundated music stations anymore.

Looks like these dinosaurs (newspapers and radio) are getting desperate as they breathe their last gasps.

RH
Guest
RH

I visit bikeportland.org for informative stories about bikes, the cycling community, and to get away from the Oregonion. This current post sounds like 2 schoolkids bickering with all the updates and tweets that have been happening. Let’s get back to the real stories.

BicycleDave
Guest
BicycleDave

Don’t back down Jonathan! The new publisher of the Oregonian is a right wing nut job with an agenda.

aaron
Guest
aaron

Hold the line Maus!

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

This is a real story. The anti-cyclist backlash, fueled by sensationalistic local media, is a real story and has real impacts on cyclists. Keep holding their feet to the fire, Jonathan!