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With biking sidelined at Portland City Hall, BTA strategy shifts to long term

Posted by on August 12th, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Elizabeth Quiroz, one of the BTA’s 16-person staff and four-person advocacy team, fits a helmet at a Southeast Portland bike skills class.
(Photo: M.Andersen and J.Maus/BikePortland)

For a moment this spring in the community room of the apartment building at SE 122nd and Halsey, the most important thing the Bicycle Transportation Alliance was doing was asking nine children a question.

“Make sure that you have no more than two fingers from the top of your helmet and your eyebrow here,” BTA advocate Elizabeth Quiroz told the room. “Can everybody try that?”

Everybody tried it.

For the fourth-largest local bike advocacy organization in the country, which holds its annual members’ meeting on Thursday, this is what the mission looks like circa 2014.

In one year, maybe two, Quiroz might ask one or two of these teens to turn out for a bike lane hearing. She might ask the director of the nonprofit hosting her bike-skills class to sign a petition to the city council or a grant application to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

But none of those pieces are in play yet. When it comes to local advocacy, the BTA’s leaders say, they’re still setting up the board.

Learning to work with less

Source: IRS filings on No comparable data for 2010 because the BTA changed its fiscal calendar that year.

Like just about everyone connected to the world of Portland bicycling, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance has been learning to live without growth.

The BTA’s revenue tripled from 1998 to 2000, held steady until 2005, and then nearly tripled again from 2005 to 2010.

Then, just as bicycle transportation stopped getting more common in Portland, the recession hit both of the BTA’s biggest money sources: private donations and government grants. In 2008, the organization lost $92,000 on a $1.5 million budget. Over the next year, it dismissed eight employees, almost half of the staff, finishing with the firing of Executive Director Scott Bricker. In the three years that followed, the BTA’s revenue plummeted 29 percent to just over $1 million.

It was the biggest shakeup in the organization’s history. In early 2010 the BTA’s board hired Rob Sadowsky, the director of Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance, to come to Portland and turn things around.

Reaching out

2013 BTA Alice Awards-35

BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky, right, during the Alice Awards auction in 2013.

As BTA activities like the Alice Awards have evolved from an evening of beers at Kell’s (executive director Karen Frost signed the bar tab and called it a night) into a major fundraising gala, the organization’s strategy for spending money has changed, too.

Sadowsky said work like Quiroz’s is a necessary first step to bringing more community organizations — like ROSE CDC, the East Portland housing nonprofit that hosted her workshop — into alliances with bike advocates.

“We’re starting not from ‘Hey, why don’t you support our work?’ but ‘How do we work together?'” Sadowsky said in an interview.

Partnerships in low-income and marginalized communities — referred to in the bike advocacy world by the one-word shorthand “equity” — can be good for revenue, too. Many private foundations focus on improving the health of people in poverty, and may give grants to the BTA and its partners for increasing biking among the disadvantaged.

“I think the biggest opportunity for us, particularly in health, is to grow the equity work,” Sadowsky said. “And we can’t just go out and get money unless we have true partnerships.”

Two years ago, the state cut its compensation rate for Safe Routes to Schools workshops. Sadowsky responded by partnering with the Urban League of Portland, a historically African-American civil-rights organization, to recruit young, part-time employees to lead the BTA’s Safe Routes to Schools biking workshops in Portland elementary schools. Because of the lower wage, the recruits were “more entry-level” than their predecessors had been, Sadowsky said. But he thinks their race and background will help the BTA diversify.

“It’s going to build future leaders, future board members, future staff,” he said.

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Back and forth on Barbur

Riding Portland's urban highways-30

A Pedalpalooza ride on Barbur Boulevard in 2013.

In fall 2013, the BTA seemed to have a golden opportunity on Barbur Boulevard.

The four-lane road, the only flat link between Southwest Portland and the rest of the city, was due to be repaved.

For years, a group of Southwest Portland neighborhood activists had been pushing the state, city and regional governments to consider converting a northbound auto lane into a continuous bike lane in each direction. This would remove the need for bikes and cars to merge into the same 45 mph lane over two narrow bridges.

The proposal would barely affect the auto capacity of the road, Metro traffic engineer Anthony Buczek said, because the stoplights north and south of the bridges were the traffic chokepoints.

It seemed like a win-win — safer road, better biking, minimal effect on drivers — and the BTA was in full support. It emailed an “action alert” to its members to show their support, the only such request Portland members have received in the last year. And for about a week, it looked as if Portland’s city council might back the BTA up by negotiating with the state to get further study of bike lanes.

When the council reversed course, the BTA issued an “action alert” calling members to testify at City Hall. Four days later, Commissioner Steve Novick announced that he “would like” a road diet study within 12 months. At that, the BTA called off its volunteers and asked them to praise Novick’s decision to not twist the state’s arm.

Pressure from new friends

A BTA visualization of a possible Barbur road diet, named last year as one of the BTA’s top 16 regional priorities.
(Graphic by Owen Walz/

In an interview for this post, Sadowsky explained that the BTA softened its tone on Barbur after hearing from members of the Westside Economic Alliance, a business advocacy group that includes major Washington County employers and freight customers.

“We fought hard and we took a pretty hard stand on Barbur, and we received a lot of criticism for not doing more on Barbur,” Sadowsky recalled. “We also had an equal number of people who were like, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ [We] heard pretty loud and clear from our partners in Washington County, that we had been building relationships with on trails, that they didn’t like what was going on.”

Sadowsky said the fight over Barbur, even though it was about perceived congestion rather than actual congestion, left “consequences that we’re still trying to recover, including making it more difficult to partner with the Westside Economic Alliance.”

Sadowsky expects the BTA to continue its strategy of wooing non-bike-related organizations as it heads into next year’s legislative session, which many predict will be dominated by a fight over transportation funding.

“We’re not going to go out and attack AAA and Oregon Truckers,” Sadowsky said. “We want to go out and find a way to partner so that they see alignment and they’re not fighting us on the inside.”

In 2009, just before a prior fight over transportation funding, the BTA unsuccessfully pushed to let Oregonians treat stop signs as yield signs while they were on bikes. It went down in flames. Sadowsky said legislators left the BTA out in the cold after that.

“We’ve spent years trying to recover from that,” Sadowsky said.

‘Return to its roots, or step aside’

Helvetia Study Tour Ride-8

BTA co-founder and former Metro Commissioner Rex Burkholder in 2009.

Not everyone is a fan of Sadowsky’s patient, cautious style. One critic is the BTA’s co-founder, Rex Burkholder.

In a comment on this site last week, the former Metro commissioner wrote:

As of 1990, there were some 3 miles of bike facilities in Portland (the 1-205 bike path built by ODOT). After attending 10 years of meetings and seeing nothing happen, I helped start the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. We did what any other grassroots, volunteer group does to move an agenda: we agitated, demonstrated, had postcard campaigns, and worked directly with elected officials, using the currency they understood — numbers.

It is both sad and discouraging to read this and other comment threads and the BTA is not ever mentioned. The wins we have in Portland came directly from the BTA creating a unified voice. Now, despite having great pro-bike policies, staff will not implement because they don’t have the backing of their bosses — the city council — and the city council won’t be bold without being pushed. …

It’s time for the BTA to return to its roots, or step aside.

Others are gentler, but seem similarly concerned. During an interview two weeks ago, mayoral policy staffer Jackie Dingfelder, an Alice Award winner whose husband served as an early BTA board member, expressed confusion about why the BTA rarely seems visible at City Hall.

‘Being successful in Portland may make it more difficult for us to be successful in Washington County’

BTA Annual meeting-2

Sadowsky at the BTA’s 2012 members’ meeting.

In an interview Tuesday, Sadowsky said his team is at City Hall frequently but doesn’t see Dingfelder because she doesn’t focus on bike issues. It devotes a lot of time to partnerships, he said, because they get results — both in paying for the BTA’s work and in helping it pay off.

A week and a half ago, Sadowsky said, Washington County Chair Andy Duyck invited him to sit on the stakeholder committee for a new county vehicle registration fee that might dedicate 10 percent of its proceeds to biking and walking.

“I don’t think it is remotely possible that that would have been a call that Duyck made three years ago,” Sadowsky said. “That’s clout. … We’re attending meetings, we’re having members attend meetings, we’re vocal. And we’re making key differences.

“Being successful in Portland may make it more difficult for us to be successful in Washington County,” he added. An advocacy group that will always “stand up for Portland” at the expense of other cities would be “a different organization, and it’s not who we are.”

But Sadowsky said the BTA is looking for ways to influence “folks who know they want to support us, like Steve Novick or Charlie Hales, but feel they are hearing much louder from other folks.”

That’s exactly why the BTA is working to get organizations other than itself to speak out for biking, he said.

If two years ago the BTA had launched a “20s Bikeway campaign” that sent staff or volunteers “door to door with businesses” to build support for bike access, Sadowsky said, “we might have seen a different result” than the city’s decision to prioritize free parking — a decision Sadowsky called a “mess.”

Demonstrations of political anger might be satisfying in the moment, Sadowsky said, but they only alienate politicians.

“I could go scream at Steve Novick and I could go get 1,000 postcards or phone calls, but that’s not going to help me the next time with Steve Novick,” he said. “I’m not going to lock my neck to City Hall with a u-lock.”

Looking long-term

A BTA volunteer teaches bike repair skills at Leander Court in East Portland.

Sadowsky said he knows that change in Portland has been “slow,” and he wants to improve it.

“In the last three years, we’ve been building a very strong proactive plan,” he said. “Building a staff that can do that, building a board that can do that, building a funding that’s sustainable. … You’ll see this week, as we announce a campaign, how we’re going to do that work.”

If the campaign takes a while to pay off, maybe that’s for the best.

“I know that people look at what’s going on in Chicago and New York and say, ‘Why aren’t we doing things at that speed?'” he said. “It’s because we don’t do things at that speed.

“I know right now what I’m seeing in Chicago is the beginning of a severe backlash against bicycling,” said Sadowsky. “We need community buy-in. It’s just essential to moving forward. Or you take a little step forward, and then you take a big step back.”

The BTA’s annual members meeting is 5:30-7 pm Thursday in the Portland Art Museum. As always, we’ll be covering the rollout of their next Portland advocacy campaign.

Correction 2:50 pm: A previous version of this post incorrectly described a BTA action alert last year. It was a call to testify in mass but not a “rally.”

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  • Kenneth Brown August 12, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    As a former long-term resident of Washington County, I’d say it was adorable (if it wasn’t so depressing) that the BTA thinks rolling over and playing dead on command is earning them “clout” out there.

    I wish them luck in their transition into a certification program for politicians who want to appear “Environmentally Friendly”.

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  • spare_wheel August 12, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    “We’ve spent years trying to recover from that,” Sadowsky said.

    “consequences that we’re still trying to recover, including making it more difficult to partner with the Westside Economic Alliance.”

    Recover from what exactly?

    Advocating for laws and policy that make cycling safer and more equitable is doing your @#$%ing job. Stepping back from a worthwhile goal because politicians are mad at you is, IMO, not doing your job.

    The BTA is a bicycle advocacy group, not a political action committee.


    folks who know they want to support us, like Steve Novick or Charlie Hales, but feel they are hearing much louder from other folks.”

    Demonstrations of political anger might be satisfying in the moment, Sadowsky said, but they only alienate politicians.

    The contradiction between the above two statements is telling. As a cyclist I’m very angry at the disastrous lack of progress in Portland.

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    • Paul in The 'Couve August 12, 2014 at 2:14 pm

      So yeah, the same thing as the story last week on participating in the planning process.

      One: Cyclists need to get people out and come speak and show that you have a constituency to get noticed.

      Translation : The Gov’t won’t really take you seriously until you overwhelm us with feedback, but only at the venues where we insist that you provide that feedback in the specific forum and format that we choose.

      Two : If one or two small businesses complain or one auto-advocacy group, or one historically disinfranchised neighborhood group voices opposition to some aspect of a plan (in any format – even if they skipped the whole planning process) the Gov’t will immediately cave and but maybe you can salvage a compromise if cyclists can raise enough voices.

      Translation : Those representing the auto dominated status quo pull the strings and play the tune, politician and now even BTA just dance as told.

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      • spare_wheel August 12, 2014 at 2:23 pm

        “but only at the venues where we insist that you provide that feedback in the specific forum and format that we choose.”

        And we will also create “special” venues for discussions with “stakeholders” where the public is not invited.

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  • Dave August 12, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Who’s a cycling equivalent of the Tea Party? Let’s start one–politicians are afraid of them enough to do their bidding.

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    • Alex Reed August 12, 2014 at 5:42 pm

      Sadly, there isn’t one currently that I’m aware of. But I’d totally join one! We need a more radical voice for cycling in Portland.

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      • Alex Reed August 12, 2014 at 8:53 pm

        Anybody interested in starting a louder voice for cycling in Portland, email me at ! If we get a few people, we’ll meet for drinks and a ride sometime soon!

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  • Rob August 12, 2014 at 2:23 pm


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  • Erinne August 12, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    The BTA has a strategy? Could have fooled me. That’s why I’m no longer a BTA member, and won’t be again until they DO something more useful than simply leading Safe Routes to School.

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    • Mike August 12, 2014 at 3:54 pm

      Exactly. Not a member since 2008 or 2009. I gave them ~$1000 my last year and all I saw it do was pay for a ridiculous “pat ourselves on the back party”, I mean Alice Awards.
      If anyone really wants to know what the BTA is up to, try working in their office the 2 months leading up to the AA’s.

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      • one August 12, 2014 at 5:10 pm

        I haven’t been a member since they:
        -Came out in favor of the Columbia River Crossing Highway Expansion Project
        -Threw in the towel on the Idaho Stop Law in the 11th hour

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  • Bob K. August 12, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    The BTA has its strengths and its weaknesses. It is up to us as members to hold staff accountable for shortcomings and to celebrate successes. Balanced reporting like this helps to provide insight into what we as members should be advocating for.

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  • Buzz August 12, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    “Being successful in Portland may make it more difficult for us to be successful in Washington County”

    I think the BTA began to lose direction, members, and clout when it decided to become a state-wide organization, rather than solely a City of Portland organization. Because what works in Portland doesn’t always work in other parts of the state, as Rob has apparently learned the hard way. And in the end that means diluting a message that sells in Portland in order to make it more palatable for people in other parts of the state like Washington County. I think the BTA should refocus their attention on Portland, and let some other organization worry about Washington County and the rest of the state.

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    • Bjorn August 12, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      Actually the BTA has been moving the opposite direction becoming much more focused on the Metro Area as that is where their membership is. Former board member Doug Parrow actually resigned over that decision:

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    • Carl August 12, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      The BTA continues to do policy-level advocacy in Salem but about 5 years ago, the BTA NARROWED the bulk of its advocacy scope from “Oregon and SW Washington” to “Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington County.”

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    • Mike August 12, 2014 at 11:12 pm

      I disagree. Why can’t BTA work towards making communities all over the State better for bicycling? The trouble with the Portland-centric mindset is that it basically is saying that you don’t give a damn about the rest of the State.

      I think that BTA should move down to Salem and work on changing the minds of every legislator. And making Salem a better biking community would show then how any city can be a biking city not just Portland. That would have a huge positive effect. Portland’s gov’t officials don’t need convincing and there are already enough bike advocacy and pro-biking groups and businesses in Portland. How loud does the choir have to be?

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      • Bjorn August 13, 2014 at 10:18 am

        The decision appeared to me to be about the money. There was discussion about 90% of their members/member revenue being from the metro area. They want to focus on this area because they think it gives them a better chance to suck in more money. I do think that it is hard for them to have a statewide presense but I also saw serious problems arise when working to pass legislation in Salem because of unexpected actions by city governments or other bike groups around the state that the BTA was not well connected to. At one point they were going more in the trying to grow the influence around the state direction but starting right around when Doug left and ever since there is very little investment by them outside of the Portland Area.

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    • Beth August 13, 2014 at 12:35 pm

      I think the issue with managing transportation in Multnomah County and then letting someone else worry about Washington County is that the two counties are cheek-by-jowl and you cannot prevent some bleed-over — of traffic patterns, of growth, of policies — from one to the other. Whether we like it or not, Portland is growing and will continue to grow. That growth is bleeding over into other, smaller communities which are also growing as some Portlanders move further out to avoid congestion and crime that are perceived to be higher in the city. The BTA probably had no choice but to focus more efforts on statewide advocacy based on all this growth.

      The problem is that, by repeatedly pushing on an issue and then backpedaling on it when they arouse the angry corporate dragons, the BTA is wasting resources and time and squandering goodwill of all the bicyclists who helped it rise to social and political relevance 15-20 years ago.

      Turning around and saying that it’s focusing on “longer-term” advocacy by giving helmets away to kids, the BTA sounds like it’s admitting defeat, and Rob Sadowsky runs the risk of looking like a very naked emperor. This lack of clarity and effectiveness from an non-profit with a $1 MILLION budget is why I haven’t renewed my BTA membership. I gotta say I’m with Rex on this one: Lead, follow or get out of the way.

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  • Bjorn August 12, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Sadowsky talks a lot about the Idaho Stop effort but he hasn’t talked to anyone who was involved with it as far as I can tell. I have seen him slagging it on podcasts and in print but whenever he does he has his facts wrong.

    A major reason why it went down in flames was that the BTA fired the lobbiest working on the project in the middle of the session without even notifying any of the legislative committee volunteers who were working with him to lobby in Salem. I found out he had been fired on BikePortland for petes sake. Rob has produced very little in the way of results since taking over the BTA, it may be a convienent excuse for him to blame the Idaho Style Stop team, but at some point he needs to accomplish something or he should be the one sent packing.

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    • one August 12, 2014 at 5:12 pm

      But what has happened in Chicago since Rob left there?

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  • Adam H. August 12, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    “Why aren’t we doing things at that speed?’” he said. “It’s because we don’t do things at that speed.”

    Nice circular logic there. We don’t do that because we don’t do that here. How is having that attitude ever going to invoke change?

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  • Mossby Pomegranate August 12, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Quit complaining. Does anything stop you from riding your bikes?

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    • Joseph E August 12, 2014 at 5:55 pm

      The bad traffic and lack of bike lanes on the Barbur bridges, combined with lack of access to MAX for bikes with trailers and cargo bikes, makes it very difficult for me to get over the West Hills with my kids. And almost all my riding is done with kids in tow.
      The only time I’ve ever gone riding out from Hillsboro, we actually rented a U-Haul to get all the cargo bikes out to the end of the MAX line!
      So yes, the lack of bike access and facilities does prevent me from going places I want to go.
      I also know many people who would like to go berry picking or get a pumpkin on Sauvie Island, people who ride their bikes everywhere in Portland, who have not gone due to the horrible conditions biking on Hwy 30.
      And other friends tell me they bike in the neighborhood, but won’t go Downtown due to the lack of bike facilities.

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      • AndyC of Linnton August 13, 2014 at 9:00 am

        I’ll add the St. John’s bridge to this list.
        Pretty depressing, BTA. Yeah, maybe we do need a more Portland-centric organization to address our specific infra issues.

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        • John R August 13, 2014 at 9:30 am

          Or we just need a better organization with better strategy and tactics. The situation on the St. John’s bridge will remain a legacy of the “new” BTA thinking for years to come.

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    • GlowBoy August 12, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      Actually Mossby, our shitty infrastructure DOES keep me from riding my bike some places. Especially with my kids.

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    • Mike August 13, 2014 at 9:08 am

      Your right. Quit complaining BTA. Your membership (and dollars) will increase when you start accomplishing something worth supporting.

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  • Dwaine Dibbly August 12, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    My membership lapsed. I’m not renewing. Sorry, BTA.

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  • Joseph E August 12, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I think the is definitely a place for a bike organization that takes things slow, builds relationships with politicians and business leaders, and takes care to not rock the boat. The BTA has chosen this route.
    But we also need a bike advocacy group that will speak loudly for changes now, especially in the city of Portland, and not be afraid to ruffle feathers.
    We need a new bike advocacy group that can be that voice, lead the protests and get stuff done. Who wants to start one?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 12, 2014 at 6:27 pm

      I agree Joseph… And I’ve been asking that question for years. And so far, no such group has materialized. I have considered starting it myself, but I think I can have more impact focusing solely on bikeportland.

      — Jonathan (from Sunriver on vacation 😉 )

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      • matt picio August 15, 2014 at 6:44 am

        If you mean no *effective* group has materialized, I’ll agree. Several attempts were made, including the People’s Department of Transportation (PDOT) and Active Right of Way (AROW). Ultimately, neither has become a grass-roots organization with the draw that the early BTA had. It’s a serious gap – and honestly, I don’t know what the root cause is. Are we resting on our collective laurels? Are we tired and burned out from prior efforts? Fragmented? I think elements of each is present in the artificial collection we call the “Portland Bike Community”, but ultimately there is a real need for someone to step up and lead, and a real need for a receptive, energized and engaged community to lend a shoulder to the wheel and show up.

        I think that it will eventually happen, when the circumstances bring it about. The BTA isn’t that organization, it needs to be someone new, nimble, and not beholden to recurring funding. The BTA has an important role in the community, but personally I don’t believe we’re going to see any bold ideas from them. What’s needed in Portland is a group of advocates with bold ideas who can make a lot of noise, to allow the BTA to maneuver/pressure decision makers to make a compromise decision which benefits cycling. We need to move the window of possible actions far enough so that the range of possible outcomes lies within the range of what we communally want to see.

        And I say “we”, but I’m as bad as everyone else – it’s always easier to say “someone needs to do something” rather than picking up the tools and just starting to work.

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        • spare_wheel August 15, 2014 at 8:55 am

          IMO, many who at one time were involved in activism now have the attitude that the era of “direct action” is over. Apparently the battle is won and we should simply focus on “bike fun”.

          Ayleen Crotty: “Portland is beyond Critical Mass…How did we get more people on bikes in Portland? Not by blocking their cars – by having fun!”

          I think this resistance to direct action is due to many having obtained jobs at not-for-profits, cycling-associated businesses, and transportation planning shops.

          To paraphrase Sinclair:

          It is difficult to get a person to support being *LOUD* when their job depends on good relationships with the city and “stakeholders”.

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          • John R August 15, 2014 at 9:11 am

            Exactly right. The original BTA balanced political strategy and engagement with activism. Despite her rhetoric, they had to push Mia Birk and hold her feet to the fire. When everyone is an insider, dependent upon grant money, it’s all just an inside job- meaning that the larger goal is lost.

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        • Elly August 17, 2014 at 12:28 pm

          I started to respond to this comment and it turned into this:

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          • 9watts August 17, 2014 at 12:42 pm

            Excellent! Thank you!

            Lots of great turns of phrase that capture for me so well some of the lamentable trends, and in particular: the distinction between biking as leisure activity of the wealthy who own cars, and biking as how some of us get around, our transportation. The two—as you point out—didn’t always and don’t have to be antagonistic or mutually exclusive but sometimes it seems like recognizing the differences is important if we hope to make any headway on the policy levels we care about.

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    • Alex Reed August 12, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      I’ll help start one! Anybody else interested in starting a louder voice for cycling in Portland, email me at ! If we get a few people, we’ll meet for drinks and a ride sometime soon!

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    • wsbob August 14, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      Sadowsky’s quotes included in this story, explain fairly well that the ‘rock the boat, feather ruffling’ approach the BTA has attempted in past, has been a disaster. He also seems to recognize that ‘community buy in’ is essential to getting things done. Still, some people would have the BTA resume taking an approach that’s doomed to fail, again.

      There may be a fundamental lack of understanding in the first place about why, when it does, infrastructure for biking and walking gathers broad support, or ‘buy in’, from the community. I don’t think it happens exclusively because that type infrastructure stands to benefit, for example in the case of biking, the 15 or so percent of people that bike regularly. I think broad community support for such projects happens when the designated projects are clearly recognized as an improvement to overall community livability rather than to a small select percentage of people.

      Get some strong, broad community supported projects or objectives on the ‘to do’ list, and the aggressive, ‘rock the boat’ approach could be effective towards hauling in some of the resistant stragglers, but otherwise, that approach is probably more likely to be self defeating.

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      • Paul in The 'Couve August 14, 2014 at 1:57 pm

        HOw do we tell the difference between failing and accommodating to the point nothing changes?

        Seriously, What 5 things do you point to as success to claim as examples of how a less “feather ruffling” approach has lead to better infrastructure for cyclists?

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        • wsbob August 14, 2014 at 9:07 pm

          For decades, expanding availability of basic bike lanes on streets new and old, has had broad community support without the use of a lot of agitation, ‘feather ruffling’, so to speak. On a basic level, people can relate to the value of this kind of infrastructure.

          Safe Routes to Schools, and bike trains seem to be things, that when told about them, the public readily rallies in support of.

          Same with city and regional, recreational and MUP trails.

          Mention in this bikeportland story, of BTA instructing kids in school about bike riding and bike repair skills sounds like something most people likely consider very worthwhile, and of practical value.

          That’s roughly four things. They’re easier objectives than say, coming up with and proposing a good plan for building a basic cycle track system. This kind of thing isn’t the subject of enough common conversation, because so many people have no idea even what a cycle track is, or what good things it could mean to their community or neighborhood.

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      • matt picio August 15, 2014 at 6:49 am

        wsbob, the BTA hasn’t rocked the boat since 2008 – and far from being a disaster, 2008 was the high water mark for cycling in Portland in many respects. Hard to characterize that as a disaster without seriously reframing the discussion. What’s changed is the funding, and since the grants have largely gone away, the challenge now is trying to push the envelope without jeopardizing the very funds which allow them to operate. It was a successful strategy when the funding was there.

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        • wsbob August 15, 2014 at 9:38 am

          You seem to be saying you think BTA having less money than it used to, and choosing to take a less aggressive approach to achieving some of the changes it has hoped to help bring about, is why those changes haven’t occurred.

          Good change requires broad grass roots support in order to be brought about, regardless of the money available. Rocking the boat can help good change to happen if something approaching a majority of people, can relate to and support the change sought.

          Better chosen ideas to go for would be a good start towards moving forward again.

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        • Bjorn August 15, 2014 at 2:01 pm

          Disasters like that time that the BTA sued the City of Portland, won, and changed the landscape for what was required in terms of bicycle facilites on projects throughout the state:

          The BTA should have sued again over the St. John’s Bridge, not doing so has emboldened further inaction in many places, including barbur blvd.

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          • wsbob August 15, 2014 at 6:21 pm

            “Disasters like that time that the BTA sued the City of Portland, won, …” Bjorn

            If you say so. Quoted in the article you provided the link to, Katz seemed not to be ruffled at all that an advocacy group would consider suing the city to clarify the law on building bike lanes. In fact, according to what the article says, it was her advice that they do exactly that, sue, that apparently helped to get the ball rolling.

            Whether BTA suing would have worked to get bike lanes across the St Johns Bridge, or Barbur Blvd’s four main lanes reduced to three to make room for continuous bike lanes on both sides of the road, is interesting to consider. You didn’t suggest the BTA sue to get the Idaho Stop made law in Oregon, and probably good you didn’t.

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  • John R August 12, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    “I think the biggest opportunity for us, particularly in health, is to grow the equity work,” Sadowsky said. “And we can’t just go out and get money unless we have true partnerships.”

    1. So, it’s about the money. 2. Isn’t “equity work” what the Community Cycling Center is for?

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    • Beth August 13, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      Um, most of the “equity” communities are not known for having lots of money. So what groundwork is the BTBA laying with this “longer term” approach? If it’s about money, then make it about money. If it’s about something else, then be clearer about what exactly that might be. Right now the BTA feels adrift and is headng quickly towards pointlessness. I ride my bike everywhere and every day. The BTA isn’t doing that for me.

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  • wsbob August 12, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    “…“We need community buy-in. It’s just essential to moving forward. …” Rob Sadowsky, BTA

    I like hearing Sadowsky say that, because that’s exactly what’s needed to move forward. The trick, or challenge for everyone, including the BTA, to figure out, is what the community will be interested in buying in to.

    Out in Washington County, I’d like to think an example would start to be serious discussion about expansion beyond only the very basic infrastructure for walking and biking that is the standard at present.

    Include with this, serious discussion about not widening roads for increased motor vehicle use, especially those heavily used with motor vehicles, and instead widening them for increased use by walking and biking.

    Having to drive everywhere, or having to live next to a four to six lane road that used to be a two lane country road, isn’t what I think the community is interested in buying in to. People out here would probably like a nice pedestrian esplanade or a cycle track to travel a couple miles or so, on foot or bike to the store, school, job. What say, Sadowsky?

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    • Matt August 12, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      Agreed…The same could easly be echoed here in Clackamas County

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  • Aaron Brown August 12, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    an even more sure way to get nothing done: self-righteously make enemies with everyone.

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    • Ian August 13, 2014 at 8:24 am

      What’s self-righteous about asking for something that is good for the entire community? How much proof does it take?

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      • 9watts August 13, 2014 at 8:26 am

        I think the self-righteous part comes in when the case for bike infrastructure is made so badly that the other side gets to frame the debate. 🙂

        (See George Lakoff)

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    • Kenneth Brown August 13, 2014 at 9:51 am

      Actually, what really hit me about the Barbur/Westside Ecomomic Alliance stuff is that there was a real argument that fixing Barbur would have been good for freight. Ask any truck driver if they’d willing to trade a minute or two of travel time for not having to worry about bike popping out in front of them on those bridges.

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  • GlowBoy August 12, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Sometimes the best way to be effective on an issue – I’ve seen this a lot with environmental issues in particular – is to have at least two advocacy organizations out there. One milder and more “compromisey” with a broader mainstream appeal. Kind of like the new reduced-revenue BTA seems to be. Your basic Nature Conservancy of biking.

    To really be effective you need ANOTHER organization that’s more in-your-face, advocating for what REALLY needs to be done and staking out a stronger position on one end that helps shift the center. Sometimes that stronger position is not politically palpable, but by making the milder organization seem more “reasonable” they can get more done.

    So who’s going to start the new NRDC of the biking community? The one that pushes the Idaho Stop law all the way through to the end of the session, maybe getting a friendly pol to slip it in as an amendment? The one that puts up billboards reminding us that car operators now kill more Portlanders than gun operators do? The one that vocally challenges the CRC, along with the syncophantic pols and orgs who support it? The one that knows that once you’ve riled up the opposition by taking on a tough job like Barbur, there’s no point in caving with the job halfway done? I too dropped my BTA membership around 2008 … my 50 after-tax dollars are ready and waiting.

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  • BIKELEPTIC August 12, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    check out – bike activists and funnists here in Portland for the past 10 years. Layman led. You want to make change; get hooked up on the email group, put events on the calendar; advocate and network. Change starts with hardwork and conversation. But guess what? Despite this article saying that there isn’t an organization that already exists – while that is true in the “Board of Director, bureaucracy” way; there is a skeletal structure there. There are hundreds of people that you can tap in on that have a common goal of getting people on bikes.

    Also, start getting involved with your local neighborhood associations. If your NA doesn’t already have a bicycle subcommittee than create one. Social change begins with you.

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  • wsbob August 12, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    Smaller, more obtainable objectives is what it seems efforts may be better focused on. Such as, improving existing infrastructure for riding and biking on long term known, scenic and utilitarian routes.

    Case in point: the uphill 2-3 mile curvy section of Skyline Rd between Hwy 25 and Burnside. Has a minimal shoulder on maybe 30 percent of it, but virtually non existent on the rest. Used by many people riding. Would involve a significant investment in retaining wall and fill. Many people drive this heavily used section of road. I believe the improvement would get broad support from all road users, because there are no good alternative routes.

    Further northwest, scenic and recreational qualities of Skyline Rd itself, are increasingly diminished by insufficient protection from types of planning that has allowed residential development to block views from the road, into the valley below. Increased motor vehicle use of this scenic two lane road, directly arising from this development, has been a serious consequence. Organizations with some clout should be blowing the clarion horn about things like this.

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  • Biker August 13, 2014 at 5:57 am

    So AAA and Oregon Truckers are BTA’s “partners”, helping to push for better biking? That’s funny, since the only instance I know of them intervening in a bike project was to block the Barbur road diet. Friends like these, eh?

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  • 9watts August 13, 2014 at 7:31 am

    With biking in particular I don’t see how we’re going to accomplish *anything* at the policy level without at least some principled fights.

    We’ve figured out by now, I think, that at some level the bike and car thing is a zero sum game. Making things more difficult, expensive, less convenient for the car-bound–as a way to nudge them out of their cars and onto bikes, or at least fund the bikey stuff–isn’t something we can avoid. And from what I’m seeing about the BTA, they’re willing to cave over much smaller issues.

    Case in point: that bungled graphic about the costs of driving and who bears them. ODOT said boo!, and the matter was scuttled. I happen to think that ODOT’s only substantive quibble was questionable, but have had no luck with either ODOT or the BTA in my attempts to get the answers one would need to figure out who’s telling the truth.

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  • Matt August 13, 2014 at 9:52 am

    I’d like to suggest that Sam Adams can take some of the heat for the fact that bike issues are in a state of stagnation in Portland. We all know Adams was closely linked to the bike community, but other choices he made during his time in office tainted him and the causes that he worked for…. so much so that I think the voters then elected politicians that were less likely to embrace the causes which Adams had championed during his tenure. Hales and the City Council have take a more business friendly approach to doing business, which is not usually as bike friendly.

    Is the BTA softening it’s approach to achieving it’s goals by partnering with too many groups that are not looking out for the BTA’s best interest?

    Obviously not everyone is going to agree with this, but that’s my take on the current situation.

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    • Jayson August 13, 2014 at 10:33 am

      I don’t think Adams should take blame for a backlash (real or perceived) against bicycle transportation politics in the region. Adams was criticized mostly by a very conservative and simplistic media that didn’t (and still doesn’t) have the sophistication to understand and convey the issues thoughtfully to the public. If anyone deserves the blame, it’s the local TV and newspaper media for aggressively trying to spin things out of control in order to sell advertisements.

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      • Matt August 13, 2014 at 10:47 am

        I agree. I think there is a lot of blame to go around. However, Adams didn’t do himself (or his agenda) any favors with some of his actions.

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  • Brian Davis August 13, 2014 at 10:15 am

    I may be in the minority here, but I’m still a BTA member and I’m not going to be burning my membership card anytime soon. A lot of what Rob says is well-taken: If there’s any town where you need to play nice and build bridges to get stuff done, it’s this one. The pace of change can get so excruciatingly slow that it demoralizes, as we’ve seen recently. But one of the big causes of this–the need for everybody to reach consensus and hold hands while singing ‘Kumbaya’ together before anything gets done–is also one of the things that makes this the most friendly, wonderful town I’ve ever set foot in. So you take the good with the bad.

    I’ve redirected all of my giving above and beyond the basic membership level, however, to other organizations that are producing more immediate and apparent results. I hope (and fully expect) the BTA to be back in play for some of it soon. But I want to see a significant victory first.

    The Barbur thing really rubbed me the wrong way. I loved how pro-active the BTA was at first, directing members to contact City Council in support of a road diet. They generated an immense response–so immense, in fact, that Amanda Fritz complained ad nauseam about how jammed her inbox was. I was appalled at this reaction, and I wanted the BTA to have my back. I wanted them to reinforce the immensity of the response by reminding Fritz that these letters came from her constituents, people that care passionately about these issues and about our city, many of whom (like me) cast a ballot in her favor in the only contested council race of the last several cycles. Instead, they responded meekly by encouraging members to “thank” council for merely considering the possibility of studying a road diet at an event that was planned and billed as a protest. That was a low point.

    Want to know why bike lanes keep losing to parking over and over and over and over again? It’s because every fucking development application the city sees, whether it’s for a skyscraper or one lot of infill, generates a bunch of letters from neighbors questioning whether there’s enough parking. There almost always is plenty, and it’s almost never particularly close, but that’s beside the point. The fact that the adequacy of parking is constantly questioned, constantly under fire, forces city leadership from electeds to staffers to take these considerations very, very seriously. This is why PBOT’s most pro-bike staffers are telling anyone who will listen to speak out for bikes, to go to meetings, to get involved. We need a strong, engaged BTA to lead these efforts. Doing a docile about-face when the most bike-hostile council member was put off by getting too many emails was a major blunder. The letters need to keep coming from the pro-bike crowd, because I can promise you they’ll keep coming from the pro-parking crowd.

    I’m glad to see the BTA is thinking several moves ahead strategically. It’s crucial to have a long-term vision, particularly at a time when our stagnation has left us far behind the pace to achieve our ambitious 2030 goals. But for the long-term to be successful, you have GOT to take care of business in the short term. You have got to move the needle forward a little bit every single day. To some extent, many of us are already doing this in whatever way we can. If the BTA were to take a leadership role in coordinating these efforts, the impact would no doubt be magnified. The pieces are clearly in place now for them to do so.

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    • 9watts August 13, 2014 at 11:32 am

      Very nice post, Brian. Thanks.

      One quibble.
      “The fact that the adequacy of parking is constantly questioned, constantly under fire, forces city leadership from electeds to staffers to take these considerations very, very seriously. This is why PBOT’s most pro-bike staffers are telling anyone who will listen to speak out for bikes, to go to meetings, to get involved.”

      I hear this sort of thing a lot. That ‘our’ pressure must equal or better exceed ‘their’ pressure. But whatever happened to taking a principled stand? We elected these folks (who direct PBOT staff), not to tally email responses, go with whoever crows the loudest or applies the most pressure behind closed doors, but to stand up for what is important, articulate that, and then defend it as needed. Bike infrastructure isn’t or shouldn’t be a BTA thing or a bikey citizens thing. It should be prudent, fiscally responsible, common sense. The only thing we can afford anymore is to shift our priorities, our spending, toward human powered transport. Everything else is too damned expensive, never mind that we can’t afford it from any other perspective.

      This is what irks me most about PBOT: they give the impression of having no spine, no principles, no commitment to executing what is already drafted as policy: do the bikey thing already.
      How hard can it be? Why are they waiting for pushback and cringing when the pushback from business or some other familiar constituent is perceived to be louder than however they construe ‘our’ encouragement? PBOT isn’t running for reelection. And Novick talks as if he didn’t care if he were reelected, so what is the explanation for no spine?

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      • Garlynn August 13, 2014 at 1:02 pm

        That’s an interesting point. I sit on the Transportation Experts Group that is advising on the update to the Transportation System Plan (as a part of the Comp Plan update process). As such, I have frequent interactions with PBOT staff. What I keep hearing is that they know that the amount of automobile useage in the city needs to basically stay flat or decline slightly to 2030; ALL of the growth in travel (related to growth in population & business) needs to be taken up by walking, bicycling and transit. This is where the 30% mode share for 2030 target comes from.

        So, the question is, what is being done now to make steps towards that goal? And what more could be done?

        I keep hoping that Hales, Treat, etc. are still pretty new to their positions, and as such are building the strategies, relationships, & political capital that will be required to make successful pushes in the new year, once they have their game plan straight. Obviously, if they are successful at getting a street fee passed this year, the funding from that is what they would be counting on to begin implementing the big push. So, there is reason to hope that things will finally begin to accelerate in the direction of positive change… beginning in 2015.

        But, they will need the support of an active and jazzed bicycle community. One that’s willing to take a principled stand for what is right for attaining these mode share goals. I’m not positive that the current BTA leadership and staff will take the strong stands required to attain these goals; it could be that we do need a second, Portland-centric bicycle advocacy organization to help bring about the changes we seek.

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        • Paul in The 'Couve August 13, 2014 at 2:38 pm

          Great comment. Long term a partial solution is going to be the intractability of solving transportation issues and balancing budgets will force the public to see the trade-offs. However, waiting for that is stupid. BTA and PBOT and Novack want cyclist support at boring and inconvenient neighborhood meetings and wonky planning session; they want cyclists to ‘have their backs’? Well, it’s going to be very hard to be motivated or grow the community of cyclists if they keep caving, repeatedly, every single time they face any opposition.

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      • Brian Davis August 13, 2014 at 3:39 pm

        I agree wholeheartedly that a competent, functional, well-led transportation bureau should be capable of hearing and considering citizen input, weighing it against their own expertise and codified policy goals, and acting accordingly. Unfortunately I don’t think PBOT is a competent, functional, well-led transportation bureau at the moment. Hence the need for a healthy dose of citizen outrage.

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        • 9watts August 13, 2014 at 4:42 pm

          “Unfortunately I don’t think PBOT is a competent, functional, well-led transportation bureau at the moment. Hence the need for a healthy dose of citizen outrage.”

          Regrettably, yes.

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        • Oregon Mamacita August 14, 2014 at 3:12 pm

          PBOT uses lots of out-moded ways of gauging public support, such as surveys full of compound questions (a no-no) and “visioning”.

          I think that we both agree that accurate gauges of sentiment are needed, or the neighbors will continue to sabotage PBOT’s plan.

          I feel like PBOT “can’t handle the truth” that would emerge if they followed standard protocols for surveys.

          Of course, accurate surveys might show way more support for cars than the BTA would like. Who knows. But we need good info.

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  • spare_wheel August 13, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    “Obviously, if they are successful at getting a street fee passed this year, the funding from that is what they would be counting on to begin implementing the big push.”

    the big road maintenance push.

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    • Garlynn August 13, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      The fee would also be used for “safety projects.” This means bicycle (and pedestrian) infrastructure.

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      • 9watts August 13, 2014 at 5:53 pm

        “The fee would also be used for “safety projects.” This means bicycle (and pedestrian) infrastructure.”

        Haha. Or more oil trains through Rainier. Did you read that piece in the Oregonian the other day. ODOT is trying to hornswoggle us into believing that their efforts there are about safety. Haha.

        Project advocates, including the governor, say improvements to crumbling A Street are overdue and will help both safety and economic development in Columbia County, where unemployment is higher than average and wages are below average.

        “This is a longstanding project designed to increase safety by separating trains from vehicle and pedestrian traffic,” said Rachel Wray, a spokeswoman for Kitzhaber. “No matter what companies haul, people living along rail lines in Oregon deserve safe infrastructure in their communities.”

        Improvements would allow the number of mile-long oil trains passing through Rainier to increase from 24 monthly to 38, helping expansion plans and profits for an oil export terminal operated near Clatskanie by Massachusetts-based Global Partners.

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        • Buzz August 14, 2014 at 12:12 pm

          PBOT has been already been getting money for a number of years now for ‘safety improvements’ from revenue generated through fines paid for traffic violations, where is that money going?

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        • Oregon Mamacita August 14, 2014 at 3:17 pm

          All the citizen input resulted in the same list of priorities that would have emerged from a smoke-filled back room with Betsy Johnson.

          ODOT made fools of the volunteers who participated in the fake process.

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  • Peter W August 13, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    > A week and a half ago, Sadowsky said, Washington County Chair Andy Duyck invited him to sit on the stakeholder committee for a new county vehicle registration fee that might dedicate 10 percent of its proceeds to biking and walking.

    Michael, I’m quite curious about this notion that WashCo might give 10% of the vehicle registration fee funds to bike/ped projects.

    See this from the County’s website (

    “On July 1, 2014, the Board of County Commissioners approved A-Engrossed Ordinance No. 778… The ordinance also clarifies that the county’s share of revenue from the fee could only be used for county road maintenance and operation.”

    So if the funds are restricted to maintenance… what would that look like? 10% of the maintenance done will be fixing cracks in sidewalks?

    Additionally, the reality is that Washington County doesn’t need the funds from that vehicle registration fee; they get tons of money from property taxes and there is no restriction on how they spend that. The new money for maintenance just keeps the MSTIP money free for the usual MSTIP road widening projects, so a 10% win for bike/ped (even if it were true) from the vehicle registration pot would be a 90% loss for bike/ped (since it would free up that much more money for road widening projects like this one that is about to get underway:

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  • John R August 14, 2014 at 7:14 am

    THE blog about cycling in Portland puts up a post debating the role of the BTA. #crickets. Telling?

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    • 9watts August 14, 2014 at 7:20 am

      Not really.
      You do know that BTA stands for Bicycle Transportation Alliance, yes? So given the overlap in subject matter why wouldn’t it make sense to attend to this matter? If the Portland Freight Committee were getting cozy with the tall bike jousters and giving away *airspace* on public roads you can be sure that would be all over this.

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      • John R August 14, 2014 at 7:39 am

        I’m sure you are kidding. On this post, with these comments the BTA and Rob are being criticised. If they are not monitoring (which I suspect they are), they should have responded days ago.

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        • 9watts August 15, 2014 at 9:25 pm

          I guess I’m not following—or misunderstood—your point. You feel Sadowsky’s not chiming in here in comments to this story means – what?

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          • John R August 16, 2014 at 7:25 am

            PR 101 in 2014. Lack of response means either arrogance or a lack of understanding. Even big brands are being transparent and engaging with people, why not the BTA?

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            • 9watts August 16, 2014 at 8:39 am

              O.K. Now I got it. Missed the point completely in your first post. I took PR 101 a few decades ago. My apologies.

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  • BC August 15, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Hmmm. Movement -> Business -> Racket ?

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  • Joe Rowe August 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Rob and the BTA destroyed the growth of the BTA. The annual revenue should have been 2 million in 2012. It down trended thanks to Rob and friends. Bike safety has made small steps and lost the big opportunities.

    Rob and the leadership make no apology about putting their insider relationships above what is best for cycling. He is proud about one invitation to a toothless seat on a “stakeholder” committee.

    The best thing people can do is make volunteering more important that political relationships. I volunteer with the BTA’s rides for kids when I have time. I should do more of that.

    I am the reason there is not a pole in the middle of the Broadway bridge bike lane. I am the reason why Tina Kotek’s career took a major hit. I’m the reason why Green Zebra offers a bike and walk discount to shoppers.

    You (the reader) and hundreds of cyclists make hundreds of improvements every year. We act as bike diplomats and pissed off guardians. We make calls and 2 minute speeches to public meetings. The BTA pales in comparison to what is being done by you, me, Chris, Johathan, Matt, Katie, Sarah and everyone we know and don’t know.

    I ended my BTA membership for many reasons, but mostly because Rob refused to do true surveys and follow the goals of members.

    He sent out bogus surveys aligned to his agenda. The BTA treats volunteers as their way or the highway. He lied to me and said the IRS limited him from fighting the CRC freeway. He could have easily followed the IRS laws and educate BTA members about the vast differences between Bob Stacey who lost to Tom Hughes for Metro President by 900 votes. Tom’s first action was to join friend Rex Burkholder to pass the Meto resolution to remove the public from the CRC freeway, and fast track it.

    The CRC is just one of a thousand cuts to cyclists. Holding the knife is Tom Hughes and centrist politicians and policy makers (ODOT) have delivered to cyclists. We can vote smarter and deserve better.

    If you, like Rob, fear rocking the boat and downplay Barbur, you are part of the problem.

    Yea, so what, the BTA messed up a bit with the Idaho stop, that does not mean you turn yellow and cozy up to your roadblocks. Lets move on folks.

    The only way for the BTA to grow is a goodbye to Rob and send an open survey to past and present BTA members. Those surveys would inform community workshops designed to build consensus and pick priorities and working groups. The BTA could be an army of volunteers all fighting for the same causes with different approaches.

    I’d love to hear ideas how to replace Rob. The current board is dominated by contractors building the 18 lane CRC freeway and lawmakers who voted for it.

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  • spare_wheel August 19, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    There is an initial meeting to discuss ways to promote moreassertive bicycle advocacy in Portland.

    3:00 pm Sunday the 23rd at the Hawthorne Lucky Lab on

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    • spare_wheel August 20, 2014 at 10:14 am

      Correction: Saturday the 23rd.

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  • Phil Richman December 8, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Any true advocate for the movement of freight would understand a Northbound Lane Diet between SW Brier Place & Hamilton would move freight faster for reasons already mentioned. Not only would walkers and cyclists not be in the roadway, but there would be fewer cars in the way as well because of the increased freedom for locals to move about between Multnomah/Hillsdale and Downtown by foot or bicycle. How do we reframe the conversation to one of true freight advocacy. This issue is resurfacing and it will not die until it is done…

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