Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

City Club research report strongly endorses bicycling

Posted by on May 29th, 2013 at 6:00 am

Read the report here.

After a year of research, a 12-member committee of the Portland City Club released a report today titled, No Turning Back: A City Club Report on Bicycle Transportation in Portland. The 83-page report tackled nearly every major bicycling issue that Portland faces: From quantifying just how many people are riding, to making recommendations on how to raise money to pay for bike-specific infrastructure. They also looked into many of the negative narratives around bicycling to determine if they had any merit (spoiler alert: they don’t).

And, just as I suspected when I shared an update on this project earlier this month, the report is extremely favorable to bicycling. Here’s an excerpt from the Executive Summary:

Your committee believes bicycling is an affordable and efficient means of transportation that is essential to continued growth in the local economy and overall quality of life for Portland residents.

In short, your committee finds that the right question is no longer “Should we promote bicycle use?” It is: “How should we structure our transportation system to optimize choice, efficiency and safety for all modes of transportation, including bicycling?”

To reach this conclusion the committee performed a rigorous analysis of many facets of bicycling in Portland. They also interviewed 28 people including representatives from law enforcement, elected office, neighborhood associations, private business owners, and more.

The one aspect of bicycling the report says needs improving is communication between PBOT and neighborhoods, stakeholders, and others that are impacted by bike-related projects. The report detailed the N Williams Avenue project as a prime example of PBOT’s shortcomings in the communications department. “This lack of due diligence,” reads the report, “has made some projects needlessly controversial or vulnerable to delay and cost overruns.” Other projects listed as examples were the SE Holgate buffered bike lanes and the proposed (then shelved) cycle track on SW 12th Ave.

Related to this issue, the report also found concern with the demographic makeup of bicycle use in Portland: “The current perception (justified or unjustified) of bicycling as benefiting an already privileged segment of the population cannot be ignored.” To improve demographics, one of City Club’s recommendations is to expand the membership of the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee to include “Various communities of color, youth-advocate organizations, and neighborhood organizations, as well as the Portland Business Alliance, The Portland Freight Committee, Portland Public Schools, and other relevant stakeholders.”

In all of City Club’s research, they report finding no organized opposition to bicycle use in the city. However, they did identify a “latent, but pervasive, uneasiness among some residents that expanding bicycling opportunities will come at the expense of other modes of transportation.” They also noted much of anxiety that comes when people drive cars, isn’t based on an anti-bike grudge, rather it’s simply a fear of colliding with someone on a bike.

Are bikes bad for business? The report tackled that thorny issue with, “There is little evidence to substantiate this claim… Bicycling is not a detriment to local retail/business and may be positive in some areas or for some businesses.”

But don’t “bike projects” take money away from paving? The report found that the “complicated relationship” between road users is “exacerbated by local media stories depicting bicyclists and motorists perpetually at odds with one another.”

Accounts on television, online articles, and The Oregonian, focus on points of conflict (real or perceived). An Oregonian investigation on Portland’s seeming inability to fill potholes in city streets and maintain a basic level of road quality implies bicycle funding (as well as funding for transit projects, such as the Portland-Milwaukie light rail line), is to blame for this failure.

The reality of transportation funding in Portland, as well as in every other city, is significantly more complicated, but suffice it to say, this type of reporting presents a false dichotomy between automobile and bicycle transportation modes. Nevertheless, this perception has proven to be widespread.

The report even tackled the perpetual debate over who violates traffic laws most frequently. The committee was, “unable to procure any third-party data, beyond anecdotal observations, to support the perception that persons on bicycles violated traffic laws more frequently than motor vehicle operators.” When they asked a Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division officer about this during an interview, the officer said the bureau prioritizes enforcement of motor vehicle laws, “since those violations are potentially more dangerous.”

I must say, the insights from this committee are rather spot-on. Not only does the report debunk many myths, it also has an urgent tone that calls for more physically separated bikeways and improved mobility for people who use bikes. “It is time for the design and planning for bike infrastructure to move from opportunistic to strategic.”

The recommendation sure to get the most attention is the City Club’s proposal that the State should enact a 4% excise tax on new bicycle sales. The research committee would then use the revenue generated to pay for the creation of bike safety materials, bike safety programs at schools and community centers, and the purchase of more automated bicycle counters.

The excise tax idea isn’t new to many Portlanders. In fact, it has been supported in the past by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Metro, and even PBOT’s bicycle coordinator.

Two members of the committee issued a minority report. The authors of that report (which is included in the appendix of the main report) apparently disagreed with the majority over the funding issue. They feel strongly that all bicycle owners over the age of 21 should pay $30 a year for a license and that all bicycles should be registered. The majority strongly disagreed: “At this juncture, the mandatory licensing of bicyclists is unenforceable, unnecessary, and punitive, and that the costs associated with such a program would substantially outweigh the benefits.”

I highly recommend keeping this report on file. It’s got thorough analyses of many key issues, it is fully cited with studies and statistics to back up all its claims, and it has a great summary of charts and other educational resources. The committee even put together a detailed analysis of Hawthorne Bridge bike trips using weather data along with new data provided by the automated counter.

Now the question is: What impact (if any) will this report have in moving bicycling forward? I know many of you (as I am) are tired of proclamations, plans, and reports; but this one is different. City Club is a respected voice in Portland with a membership of very active, connected, and powerful people. Assuming their members vote to adopt the report (it would be quite scandalous if they don’t), this should only add to the strong momentum for bicycling in Portland right now. After years of stagnation thanks to communication mishaps, unfair media coverage, complacency and unfortunate politics, bicycling is set to come roaring back in Portland and this report is just the latest sign of its resurgence.

I would love to know what others think about the report and whether or not it will have an impact on local policy and decision making.

City Club will present the report on May 31st with a special “Bicycling in Portland” edition of their Friday Forum event. City Club members will vote on the report June 7th. If it’s supported by a majority of members, the findings will become the official position of the City Club of Portland.

No Turning Back: A City Club Report on Bicycle Transportation in Portland

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

69
Leave a Reply

avatar
19 Comment threads
50 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
34 Comment authors
wsbobq`Tzalarespare_wheelbikesalot Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Andrew K
Guest
Andrew K

Of course the Oregonian cherry picked one aspect of this report and used it for their headline today, “Portland cyclers should pay tax on bike purchases, new City Club report recommends.”

*sigh*

Overall the report is an interesting read, even if I don’t agree with all of their recommendations. For example, I would not be in favor of a 4% tax on bike sales if the money just gets funneled into research to find answers to things we already know. But whatever, I can’t expect an 83 page policy position paper to be 100% aligned with my way of thinking.

Edward Hershey
Guest

Sad to say the Oregonian (or what remains of it) is becoming the Fox News of all of Portland, not just its bicycle world.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

The Oregonian: that uncle that comes to every family reunion and seems perfectly normal until the racial epithets start spilling out non stop.

ME 2
Guest
ME 2

On the whole it sounds like a very balanced report, but I continued to be annoyed by these calls of bikes should pay a tax to counter their image as freeloaders. When you ride your bike you don’t:

1. cause wear and tear on the pavement making the roads last longer;
2. take up a whole lot of space reducing congestion;
3. emit air pollution, making the air healthier for everyone to breath;
4. buy gas, which sends money to out of state oil companies.

That sounds like the opposite of a freeloader to me. Other jurisdictions get this. For example, when I moved to British Columbia 20 years ago buying a bike was exempt from the provincial sales tax because they recognized all the positive societal benefits it has. Too bad such enlightenment doesn’t exist here.

matt f
Guest
matt f

wow groundbreaking stuff here…sorry for the sarcasm

Art Fuldodger
Guest
Art Fuldodger

“They also noted much of anxiety that comes when people drive cars, isn’t based on an anti-bike grudge, rather it’s simply a fear of colliding with someone on a bike.”

I hear this from people fairly often, & I just don’t get it. I do a fair amount of driving, and I can honestly say that while i do see cyclists doing things that aren’t entirely safe, they’re hardly hurling themselves under my wheels. It seems to me that if you drive cautiously, trying to have an awareness of cyclists and pedestrians as well as motor vehicles, you’ll be far more concerned about the unsafe behaviors of other drivers.

100th Monkey
Guest
100th Monkey

To quote from the page on “Economic Effects of Increased Bicycle Usage” Many retail businesses, both in the downtown core and elsewhere, are wary of projects that are perceived to negatively impact automobile access or parking, believing automobile access to be equivalent to customer access. While this has been true under the traditional development pattern, your committee finds that in most cases (except grocery and bulk retail) consumer spending habits are independent of travel mode choice.

Bicycling is not a detriment to local retail/business and may be positive in some areas or for some businesses.

Some businesses, particularly non-bulk retail or service-oriented businesses, benefit from increased bicycle use, versus automobile use. Since their profitability is not necessarily tied to the consumption of large bulk goods, the increased carrying capacity of streets with bicycle improvements, as well as the increased density of bicycle parking (versus automobile parking) leads to more customers.

I take this as fodder to share with PBA to end the moratorium on new bicycle corrals in the Central Downtown Core area again to INCREASE business!

ScottB
Guest
ScottB

Another strategy for funding is to do what Austin did – a mobility fund.
http://www.austin-mobility.com/

was carless
Guest
was carless

I read most of the report and found it refreshingly well-balanced in its analysis. Although I’m not a big fan of the proposed sales tax idea or licensing of cyclists, the rest of the piece made a lot of sense.

A couple of things in particular I’d like to point out: they noted that businesses typically erroneously equate parking spaces and people arriving by cars as customers, even though there is no documented difference in spending habits and transpo mode. Secondly, they bring to light the ‘latent’ negative viewpoint many have of cycling. Thirdly, they point out equity issues. Fourth, they bring up the need for better education – and vehicular cycling/commuter cycling training.

Lastly, they recommend funding bike-friendly infrastructure to position Portland “on a favorable footing with leading international bike-friendly cities, especially those in Northern Europe such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam.” (!!!)

I agree!

Evan
Guest
Evan

OPB radio is also playing a news snippet mentioning the excise tax but nothing else. Way to go, OoPsB.

pdxbikeworm
Guest
pdxbikeworm

I have not had time to read the report, but I appreciate the piece on perceptions (shall I use the dreaded word “class” perceptions?). I am a regular bicycle user/commuter with friends across the economic spectrum. I can say with all honesty that my blue collar friends are almost entirely anti-bike. However, I can also say that the usage of bicycles as a mode of transportation is increasing in the blue collar neighborhoods I live and ride in.

The cause of these sentiments are complex – everything from “hating yuppies”, to muscle car culture associations of manliness vs. the perceived effeminacy of bicyclists, to frustration with crumbling road infrastructure in poor neighborhoods and the search for simple scapegoats fueled by sensationalist media outlets.

I don’t think it is unfair to have bicyclists pick up a piece of the tab, and the 4% tax, in my opinion, is the most practical way to do this. I don’t necessarily agree with the recommended use of the proceeds (again, I haven’t read the report, so I’m only giving a surface impression), but I do think some cost sharing would go a ways towards at least addressing the issue of bicyclists paying their fair share.

John Lascurettes
Guest

I’m certainly not pro-bike

Oh, really? I couldn’t tell.

longgone
Guest
longgone

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”…. again.
― Mark Twain

Frank Selker
Guest
Frank Selker

My question is why pay attention to the City Club at all? They are not elected, they are not representative, they are not expert, and in the past they have not even been overly concerned with being accurate. They are self-appointed random people.

And their positions vary with who happens to be on a committee. For example a former chair of one of their committees that suggested less cycling access said “Bikes have too much clout in city hall.”

Chris Anderson
Guest

I was disappointed to see no endorsement of the ” Idaho stop” law. I’d be all for draconian traffic law enforcement (for bikes and cars) as long as we could make sensible bike behavior legal. Seriously I’d love to see 100% coverage of the city with photo enforcement for both speed and red-lights / stop signs. Driving cars is a privilege not a right, so even 1 mph over the limit strikes me as unappreciative.

are
Guest

Help
You could have no bike boxes or striping and still bike on the road.

exactly. you sure could. so why should cyclists pay for it?

9watts
Guest
9watts

From Section 4 of the report:

“By itself, increased bicycling is unlikely to have a significant impact on the region’s or city’s climate emissions and air pollution. Yet taken together with other strategies to reduce driving, improve fuel efficiency, and adopt cleaner fuels, as well as land use policies that enable shorter trips, bicycling does have a role to play in meeting the region’s goals for climate change mitigation and better air quality – particularly as a substitute mode of transportation for short, neighborhood trips.”

Why such a narrow view of the climate relevance and prospects of bicycling in the Portland region? Why dream so small? Why start off highlighting the limitations? Why end with such a narrow scope? Why suggest we need these half dozen things to align, for bicycling to have even a modest ‘role to play’? This, to me, is baffling.

Here’s my rewrite of the above paragraph:

By itself, increased bicycling could have a significant impact on the region’s or city’s climate emissions and air pollution. We’re not there yet, but if we take seriously the mode share goals of the 2030 Plan and note that the prospects for burning fossil fuels into the future are dim and getting dimmer by the day, bicycling is poised to have perhaps the single largest impact on our emissions of any single strategy. The majority of current car trips in the region are of a length that could be accomplished by bicycle today. Though currently only a small minority ride further than those few miles, haul cargo, or multiple children by bike, or conduct their business from a bicycle, the fact that all of these are done by bike today in Portland opens the door to bikes as the main transport-mode in the future. Trends in cities across the globe are away from cars and toward bicycling. Portland can and should do whatever it can to take advantage of and accelerate these trends.

bikesalot
Guest
bikesalot

I just picked this up from a post in another forum. It sparked one of the liveliest discussions I have seen that group of folks engage in!

“The pearl district today is a fascinating exercise in free markets at work. The last of the free parking in the pearl, next to the low-income apartments and the new park, just got turned into pay parking. Where normally there are plenty of cars from the people who live and work there, today it’s a ghost town. Where normally there is plenty of parking in the last remaining free zone a few blocks up west of 15th, today it’s jam packed and nearly impossible to find parking. The result will be more bitching and moaning about the impossibility of finding parking in northwest, leading the city to crack down and start issuing lots of tickets to those who can least afford it, or put in meters. Welcome to the City of Portland: if you’re rich, we want you. If you’re not, but want to be downtown, we’re going to hit you for fees every time you turn around until you just cant stand it and leave to the east side. And now the elites at the City Club, who probably cant remember what it’s like to have a week’s disposable income wiped out by a single $65 parking ticket, want to tax bicycles.

My thoughts on what these people can do with themselves arent fit to print. Between this, the fencing off of the free parking next to the beach on marine drive, and proposed taxation of the last available free transportation source, it’s obvious that those in power in this city truly dont give a crap about folks in the low income category.”

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

Reading the report, I’ve been taking it slow, so I just finished tonight. The writing: basically easy to follow, but some of the ideas and conclusions expressed seem wishy-washy ‘passing the buck’ sorts of things. Reading material on this page:

http://pdxcityclub.org/2013/Report/Portland-Bicycle-Transit/2013/Report/Bicyclings-Potential-Transportation-Role

…is where some of that comes across to me. Top section between the first bold type statement, shows acknowledgment of dynamics of traffic and road capacity capability potential where motor vehicles and bikes travel together. Go down to the third bottom section, and the committee ventures into the idea of ‘separate priority corridors’, citing “…especially in highly congested areas such as downtown and the inner Eastside. …”. Unfortunately, the committee doesn’t offer suggestions for specific streets or routes it thinks should somehow…be made into these separate priority corridors, or how it imagines the corridors would work in practice.

From the bottom section: “…Portland should prioritize physically separated bicycle infrastructure for streets where the posted speed limit exceeds 20 miles per hour, with well-engineered connections and crossings. …”. Easier, without necessarily reducing the flow of transportation appreciably, could possibly be to reduce more strategically related 20+mph posted streets to 20mph. High speed inner city streets/thoroughfares, are the bane of livability and safety; taking vulnerable road users off of them doesn’t counter that adversity.

There’s more in this report to hash over. One last thing for now: The report mentions road user education, but offers very little in the way of suggestions of substance, as to what form that education should take; course content, etc., which some of us in response to past bikeportland stories have hashed over at length.