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BTA will change name, expand mission to walking, transit and political action

Posted by on June 6th, 2016 at 10:01 am

2013 BTA Alice Awards-17

BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky says the changes will usher in a new era of progress.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Change is afoot once again at the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. The Portland-based nonprofit organization announced today that they’ve embarked on a major transition that will result in a new name, a new mission, and a new entity that will allow them to be more engaged in political lobbying.

“This is about building a broad political tent that can move policymakers.”
— Rob Sadowsky, executive director

The organization plans to no longer focus solely on bicycling and will expand their mission to include advocacy for better transit and walking. In addition, the BTA board has voted in favor of creating a 501c4 alongside the 501c3, a move that would give the BTA more tools to influence elections and politics through endorsements, direct political lobbying, phone-banking for candidates, and so on. The 501c4 would also offer memberships to other organizations with aligned missions: like Oregon Walks, the Community Cycling Center, 1000 Friends of Oregon, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, and others. After the reorganization is complete the BTA could lead a new political action committee (PAC) that could have wide-ranging impacts on elections and policy measures statewide.

In an interview with BTA leadership last week I learned that this change has been in the works for many years.

When the BTA hired current Executive Director Rob Sadowsky in 2010 he said, “We’re going to try to build a movement not just around pedal-power, but around how we relate to the streets.” This type of reorganization isn’t new to Sadowsky. As leader of the major bike advocacy group in Chicago in 2008 (prior to coming to Portland) he shepherded an organization through a very similar change. The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation changed their name to the Active Transportation Alliance and expanded beyond a bike-focused mission. Justin Yuen, a software business owner and current chair of the BTA’s Board of Directors said conversations ramped up at a board retreat in 2013.

“This is about building a broad political tent that can move policymakers,” Sadowsky says.

It’s also about keeping up with the times. The national bike movement has for years been moving beyond a bike-only narrative: The once-named Oregon Bike Summit is now the Oregon Active Transportation Summit. Agencies like the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Portland Bureau of Transportation aren’t hiring “bike coordinators,” they’re hiring “active transportation coordinators.” Some of that reflects the reality of the work being done — a more holistic, “complete streets” approach. But this is also about optics and the cultural baggage cycling carries (a.k.a. “bikelash”).

Sadowsky and one of his top advocacy staffers Leanne Ferguson say starting a conversation with bicycling first often makes it harder to win respect and buy-in from key partners.

Ferguson works with partners ranging from the public health sector to affordable housing advocates. “I think we’ve been working to overcome that [negative reaction to cycling]… We’re starting from a place of weakenss of having to only focus on this one form of transporation and for the work we’re doing with safe routes that starts us a step back. So this is going to make the story line up with the work and that’s going to bring more people along.”

“Coming at it from an advocacy perspective as a silo can sometimes set you back,” Sadowsky added. “We want to be looking at how our streets serve everyone who uses them not in a car.”

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For Ferguson, who heads the BTA’s Safe Routes to School programs, the changes can’t happen fast enough. “I’m super excited because the work I’ve been doing with safe routes for the last 10 years has always been multimodal,” she says. “For me, this is our mission finally incorporating the work that I love. This is a really big moment for me and our work at the BTA to really embrace the multimodalness of the work we do.”

Think of it this way: Instead of the BTA pushing for a bikeway through a neighborhood, they’ll be working to make sure the neighborhood itself is a great place to be. “It’s not about the bike, it’s about transforming communities,” Sadowsky says, “‘Twenty-minute neighborhoods’ [a planning phrase championed by the City of Portland] is really the end goal.”

Infographic showing key differences between a 501c3 and a 501c4.(Courtesy League of American Bicyclists - Download larger version)

Infographic showing key differences between a 501c3 and a 501c4.
(Courtesy League of American Bicyclists – Download larger version)

In many ways, the changes will only enshrine the type of approach the BTA has already been taking. At a meeting last week Sadowsky shared an internal BTA document that lays out their 12 guiding principles. The reorganization would only slightly change four of them. In two of them the word “bicycling” is simply deleted and replaced with “active transportation.” And in another, the words “walking and transit” have been added to a sentence that reads, “We work for…. incentives for bicycling, walking and transit.” A guiding principle that used to read, “The ride is just as important as the destination,” gets changed to, “The or the stroll is just…”.

For a glimpse into the future of the BTA, look no future than the For Every Kid campaign that was just in the headlines last month. In that work the BTA led a coalition of partners (with a diverse variety of missions) under the Our Healthy Streets banner order to solidify support for safe routes to school funding at Metro.

Internally, Sadowsky says “It feels like a natural transition point.” But for members, existing partners and the broader public, he acknowledged “We have a lot of translating to do.”

When it comes to the BTA’s existing work plan the changes are also relatively minor. Their Vision Zero and Safe Routes to School work are already multimodal by nature. Their Women Bike initiative would remain, as would the Bike More Challenge (although Sadowsky said they could do a “Take Transit More” challenge in fall). When advocating for new infrastructure on big streets like SW Barbur, instead of pushing for a protected bike lane, the BTA would work for a complete street with transit and walking facilities too.

BTA Fundraiser Alice Awards Gala-23.jpg

BTA Board Chair Justin Yuen backs the changes because he feels it will help build stronger coalitions.

“If a protected bike lane gets put on a street, but at the expense of pedestrian infrastructure or access to transit,” Ferguson says, “It’s not a win.”

Realizing that some members might cringe at the thought of the BTA without the “bicycle,” Sadowsky says the organization is making two key promises: “We won’t accept a partial win if bikes are cut out.” For example, he continued, “If 82nd ends up with bus rapid transit but no protected bikeways, we would not call it a win. Bikes will always be a high priority.” And the second promise: “We won’t take resources away from our current bike advocacy work and put it towards transit or walking.”

A big part of this change is about raising more money for the organization. With a broader mission that includes walking and transit the BTA will be able to talk to a wider range of potential donors. Sadowsky recalls that after Chicago went through a similar change, “A lot more resources came to the table.”

From his experiences in Chicago and knowledge of New York City’s nonprofit Transportation Alternatives, Sadowsky says a multimodal approach is the only way to create real and lasting change. “The bicyclists bring the energy and the individuals, the transit and pedestrians work brings the institutions — and a successful political movement needs both.”

When it comes to politics, the creation of a 501c4 could give the BTA wide-ranging political powers. As a 501c3, they are not legally permitted to directly engage in partisan political lobbying. Sadowsky says he wants to form a leadership training program to develop the next era of politicians and train existing ones. As a c4, the BTA could also phone-bank and directly lobby for their preferred candidate. In local and regional elections that are often decided by just a few thousands votes, this could prove pivotal. If the BTA could flex its membership — and the membership of affiliated organizations through a new 501c4 — to vote for a specific candidate they could help win majority support for active transportation projects and policies in Portland and across the region.

Sadowsky expresses regret about the BTA’s inability to directly influence Portland’s mayoral election four years ago. “When Charlie [Hales] ran, we would have loved to have been more involved. And I think the result that all of us got was kind of a weak mayor.” And now, with incumbent City Commissioner Steve Novick in a runoff, the BTA has to sit on the sidelines. They’d prefer to support him after he successfully won a gas tax increase, but their 501c3 status prevents them from jumping into the race.

These changes could also help the BTA define who they are. The organization has struggled to find their identity since the tumult in 2009 when they abruptly let go their advocacy director and executive director much to the chagrin of many members. At the end of 2009 the BTA was at a turning point. And the changes kept coming in 2010. Just months after the arrival of Sadowsky the BTA’s finance director and development director resigned and eight new board members were elected.

As the seas continued to shift, the BTA launched a $50,000 branding and communications makeover in late 2010. Then in 2012, the BTA weathered harsh criticisms from their founder Rex Burkholder. (Reached for comment today Burkholder said he wasn’t yet fully aware of the changes and had no opinion on the matter.)

Much of the tension has centered around how aggressive the BTA should be.

A group that rose to prominence for a gutsy lawsuit against the City of Portland in the early 1990s hasn’t shown that kind of fight in years. And Sadowsky says that’s by design. In Salem for instance, he wants the BTA to focus on big funding battles and high-level policy changes and, “A lot less bicycling rights.”

“I don’t really want to get involved on what an intersection design on Ankeny and 15th should look like,” Sadowsky says, “I want to be on big policy wins that are going to bring more resources down. We want to see if we can shift the dynamics of politics, that’s very different that shifting the dynamics on the street.”

Does the BTA’s shift in direction open up an opportunity for a more bike-centric group to emerge? Perhaps one like BikeLoudPDX (which doesn’t have its nonprofit standing yet)?

“We bless and encourage a group like BikeLouder[sic] to do things in a way that we don’t do and have a different set of values and principles that guide their work. They’re both equally important but the BTA has intentionally moved away from that work because we wanted to see $3.5 million for Safe Routes to School,” Sadowsky explained, referring to their recent work at Metro and the need for the BTA to focus on a major campaign instead of reacting to every bike issue that pops up.

Times have changed, Sadowsy says, and a biking-only lens on the issues is “too narrow.” In fact, if the BTA was formed today, “We would not form as a bike-only organization,” he says. “We’ve gone beyond that unimodal need, when bikers were really crazy wearing really bright gear made by the Burley Cooperative in Eugene on bikes that maybe we built ourselves ’cause there weren’t enough shops around.”

“Which was awesome, like 20 years ago,” Ferguson interjected, “But we don’t have to do that anymore.”

The BTA wants their membership to rise from its current level of 3,400 households to 10,000 households by 2021. Sadowsky feels, “The only way to get there is to go multimodal.”

He recalls that in Chicago, prior to the big name change, support for cycling seemed to reach a ceiling. “There are just only many people who are willing to write a check and say, ‘I’m a member and I’m willing to wear a bike tattoo on my arm. As biking got more successful people saw themselves as less in a club or needing to be in a club.”

It’s important to note that nothing has officially changed at the BTA yet. Today’s announcement will be followed by a series of listening sessions to gain feedback from members about how exactly the organization should be structured. There are a lot of unknowns at this point — including what the new name will be — but the BTA’s board has voted that the changes can move forward. Structural changes and a new name are expected to be in place by this fall.

Amid such major change and with many decisions still to come, Sadowsky is sure this is the right step to take. “I’m confident we’re right and that this transition is going to make a big shift for us. It’s going to make a big shift politically and that it’s going to increase our clout. When we’re proven right, you will see more things on the ground.”

We’ll have more on this story in the coming days and weeks. Stay tuned.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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105 Comments
  • David June 6, 2016 at 10:20 am

    As a statewide organization, I think this is a great move by the group formerly known as the BTA. I also think it opens up more room here in Portland for the bike-specific groups, like BikeLoud, push even harder.

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    • John Lascurettes June 6, 2016 at 11:02 am

      Exactly what I was thinking.

      Also, I didn’t know about the difference between a 501c3 vs a 501c4 until today. Can’t believe the BTA was operating that way all along, basically handicapped from having any real influence to begin with. Glad to see that change.

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  • Alex Reedin June 6, 2016 at 10:21 am

    I have great hopes for this development! I’ve felt for a while that the BTA’s biggest weakness is being hamstrung politically by the 501c(3) designation, followed closely by the political optics and difficulty of building a powerful coalition while being bikes-only. Sadowsky is right to note that high-level state and regional policy changes are a huge gap in bringing a healthy, equitable, low-carbon transportation vision into reality.

    I say this as a big believer in grassroots, local, focused advocacy like BikeLoudPDX pushing the City forward on bikes in particular. With Portland as a vanguard showing what’s possible and a strong, savvy new-BTA-led coalition to defuse/unwind/pull apart the business/freight/(much of) labor freeway-widening alliance we could become a leading state again.

    It’s far from a sure thing though – we will all need to do what we can when we can in order to make real progress a reality.

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    • David Hampsten June 6, 2016 at 10:57 am

      With crowdfunding and the relative decline of folks declining to itemize their deductions, such as donations, the 501c3 vs. 501c4 designation is a minor one, except for lobbying purposes.

      I view the change of mission for the BTA as more of a critique of other specific organizations and their lack of political progress on transit and pedestrian issues. BTA’s mission is expanding because several other competing groups lack spine (but not Bike Out Loud nor PDX-Transformation, obviously.)

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  • Ted Buehler June 6, 2016 at 10:22 am

    I have mixed feelings on changes like this. Bicycle riding constituencies can be much more powerful in their grassroots advocacy than other active transportation constituencies.

    This is because the relationship between bicycle travel and infrastructure quality is very different than the relationship with walking or transit and infrastructure quality.

    When you ride a bicycle, you’re faced with bodily harm with bad infrastructure, on a daily, hourly basis. Sometimes several times a minute. And it’s mostly poor design or poor maintenance, things that can be fixed with relatively small $, but take a lot of focus to do right. This creates righteous frustration in the constituency. And anger, and a desire to make it better.

    Transit users are usually just left with pretty mediocre experiences. Aside from crossing streets to get to the stop/station, it’s just mundane boarding, squeezing in with folks who you probably don’t want to be squished together with, late buses, hard braking and turning. But, nothing that threatens your life or well being. And nothing that can be easily fixed.

    People walking face the same threat of bodily harm as people on bicycles, but the improvements to be made are much simpler and costly. “This street could really use a sidewalk.” “This crossing really needs a signal.”

    By diluting the bicycle focus, the BTA will lose its ability to really assemble and energize the bicycling constituency.

    Of course, it hasn’t been assembling or energizing the bicycling constituency for over a decade now, so it’s a bit of a moot point.

    Anyway, best of luck, BTA leaders, in your new direction.

    Ted Buehler
    Co-chair, BikeLoudPDX

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    • Alex Reedin June 6, 2016 at 10:39 am

      This is the danger – that the new-BTA will lose its constituency as it broadens its mission. I have to say I’m hopeful, though. Bikers – bear in mind that Transportation Alternatives in NYC, though multimodally-branded, is mostly staffed by people whose passion is for biking and has been extremely effective in getting bike improvements as well as everything else. As Ted points out, biking activates people in a way that walking and transit just don’t as much. So I’m personally not afraid that biking will be forgotten at the new BTA. What remains to be seen is to what extent the new-BTA can challenge the status quo and shift priorities – but I think it’s absolutely worth increasing my support for the BTA now that they will have a legal structure that doesn’t prohibit them from providing the carrots and sticks to politicians that are really necessary to change the high-level political conversation.

      (I should probably note that I’m the main founder of BikeLoudPDX. Not that I do much anymore given that I now have two kids under 3 🙂 )

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 10:48 am

        What doesn’t give me faith is that the BTA is essentially already doing what these “changes” are and hasn’t been effective. I have no reason to believe that even an official mission change can fix this. The BTA is losing money and this is simply a last ditch effort for more funding.

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        • Alex Reedin June 6, 2016 at 10:50 am

          They haven’t had a 501c(4) though. It’s my opinion that you can’t be effective in today’s political advocacy world if you can’t endorse or oppose politicians.

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 10:59 am

            True, but I don’t see the BTA competing with, say, the Koch brothers massive network of pro-car, pro-oil lobbying firms who have already bought many of our politicians. If they can though, then more power to them. Where I see the most effective way to get change is on the hyper-local level, something that the BTA just won’t ever tackle because their scope is too wide. To me, a broader coalition of smaller organizations all with the same goal of safer streets could have more influence over city policy than the BTA’s 30,000-foot perspective.

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            • Alex Reedin June 6, 2016 at 11:19 am

              City policy, yes. State policy, no. Regional (Metro) policy, maybe but probably not? And state and regional policy is incredibly powerful. Witness the difficulties in getting any change on ODOT highways, and the vast amounts of planning and money put into transit by Metro and the relatively tiny amounts put into biking.

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            • Alex Reedin June 6, 2016 at 11:28 am

              I guess I’m more optimistic than you. Yes, pro-car, pro-oil has more money and will for quite a long time yet. But I think state-legislature, metro-councilor, and even city-mayor politics have to some extent a money threshold effect. If you get a couple hundred thousand dollars, you can hire 2-3 staff people for a campaign, which is enough to plan events, get out yard signs, and get you free media coverage by returning calls to reporters, etc. More is helpful to buy campaign ads, but I think there are diminishing returns. If we had funding for progressive, pro-active transport, pro-dense development people challenging most of the status-quo legislators and local officeholders that are actually vulnerable (N.B. most are NOT vulnerable so we don’t need millions upon millions) I think that could make a big difference.

              I’m hopeful that the new-BTA can make the leap to electoral politics successfully. We shall see but I will support them in the meantime.

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              • Adam H.
                Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 11:39 am

                I hope you’re right. If the BTA can get ODOT to significantly change to support safe world-class walking, cycling, and public transport infrastructure, I’ll take back all my pessimism about them!

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              • Gary B June 7, 2016 at 10:01 am

                Between 1990 and 2014, the Portland metro area increased as a share of state population from 52% to 59%. Of course other cities would be similar. The metro area currently has 29 of 60 seats in the Oregon house. That number will thus increase following the next redistricting (~2022 following the 2020 census).

                Obviously not all metro region representatives are pro-bike/walk/transit, and not all to the same degree, but I think it’s safe to assume as urban representation grows relative to rural, support for those modes as a percentage of legislators will grow as well.

                All of which is to say: BTA doesn’t have to make ODOT do anything–they have to help elect and inform legislators that will change the rules ODOT lives by.

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    • B. Carfree June 6, 2016 at 11:12 am

      I think the overwhelming majority of cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders (and potential cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders) all do the exact same thing when confronted with dangerous infrastructure implementations: They cease active transportation and return to (or never leave) their cars.

      In spite of that commonality, I am concerned that rather than re-energize itself into an effective pro-cycling organization, the BTA is just looking to broaden the pot of money from which they derive funding. Still, I wish them all the luck and success in the world. We all have skin in this game so each success they have is shared amongst us all.

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      • Eric Leifsdad June 6, 2016 at 3:06 pm

        I would like to throw some money at an organization actively working to fix Oregon’s silly laws against biking and walking. I thought BTA claimed to pivot in that direction a few years ago, but e.g. it seems we’re still required to stop at a red light in a bike lane through a T intersection (contrary to the lack of stop bar in the bike lane, I guess.) Eliminating beg-button crosswalks (or at least their unfavorable timing) would be a start.

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        • Adam H.
          Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 3:18 pm

          Those beg buttons are required on new projects for ADA access, which is a good thing. Though AFAIK, there is nothing stopping PBOT from forcing a walk phase regardless of whether the button was pushed or not. ODOT is the worst offender of this: the walk signal to cross Powell won’t even illuminate unless you press the button.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty June 6, 2016 at 3:20 pm

            I call them traffic command buttons; I don’t think of myself as a traffic supplicant.

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            • lop June 6, 2016 at 3:31 pm

              It’s frustrating when I miss the chance to get the walk signal by one second only to see the signal for parallel motor/bike traffic stay green long enough for me to have crossed anyway. And then have to wait for the long signal for cross traffic. Then for turning vehicles. Then get a walk signal and have a turning car cut in front of me forcing me to jump out of the way.

              What’s a reasonable amount of time to ask a pedestrian or cyclist to wait to cross what’s in essence an at grade highway? Given the minimum green times sometimes in effect people on foot can see substantial delay from beg buttons even when there’s no cross traffic.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty June 6, 2016 at 3:37 pm

                Indeed, it is annoying, just as missing the elevator by a second is, or arriving at an intersection at just the wrong time to activate the detector, and having to wait for the cycle to come around again. Who could disagree with that?

                I would personally prefer to see the command buttons change the signal to a walk instantly if they hadn’t been activated for a certain time, say 2 minutes, or smarter signals that would change the phase early at times of low congestion.

                Don’t get me wrong — I am totally on board with giving the pedestrian primacy in the urban environment.

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              • Adam H.
                Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 3:38 pm

                Well, the obvious solution is to get rid of the at grade highway that’s so dangerous to cross on foot.

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          • Doug Klotz June 6, 2016 at 6:47 pm

            I think what’s really happening is that all signals have to have audible indications. These indications could be on all the time, and no buttons would be needed. But, if PBOT or ODOT heeds the complaints of those living nearby and wants the audible warnings only when someone with a visual impairment is crossing, then they have to put “beg buttons”, so these folks can “beg” to find out which light is on.

            Of course, even so, there’s a continuous small chattering sound emitting from these buttons, so the buttons can be found in order to do that.

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            • Adam H.
              Adam H. June 8, 2016 at 1:02 pm

              Sure. What I’m proposing is that the beg button only activate the audible warning, not the walk signal. The walk signal should be activated every phase automatically.

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          • GlowBoy June 8, 2016 at 12:32 pm

            ODOT can indeed force a WALK cycle at crosswalks with the new ADA beg buttons. I see this here in Minnesota at recently re-done intersections, so ODOT can do it too. Of course it might contradict their mission of substantially inconveniencing pedestrians while saving the average motorist a second or two.

            Examples: crossings at Main Street in downtown Hopkins, and crosswalks parallel to Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis have beg buttons, but still always have a WALK cycle whether the button is pushed or not.

            Unfortunately this is now creating confusion as to when you need to hit the Supplicant Button and when you don’t. Perhaps a small sign indicating “Push button for extended WALK signal” would be in order. Not sure if the MUTCD addresses this.

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        • Adam H.
          Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 3:22 pm

          Also, why do so many of the beg buttons speak English? Do non-English-speaking blind people not get to cross the street? There’s a reason why signs and signals in Europe are all sounds and signals instead of words.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty June 6, 2016 at 3:28 pm

            I find the talking traffic command buttons as annoying as anyone, but is a bleep really more understandable than the word “Wait!” At least with the second one, most users will understand it without additional training. With the ones that bleep, everyone except R2D2 would need to learn how to decode the warbles.

            Maybe we should think of them as English training command buttons; I might learn more if they were in Spanish, just as automated telephone systems have taught me that most useful of phrases: “to continue in Spanish, press 2”.

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            • Adam H.
              Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 3:37 pm

              WAIT is short enough, but some of them give you a monologue: “Walk sign is on to cross Tilikum Way and 2nd Place”. I imagine that could be hard to decode for someone that does not speak English. I’m not actively campaigning against this, it was just a random thought I had.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty June 6, 2016 at 3:44 pm

                I’ve been listening to an ongoing reading of War and Peace by the button near my house. Count Rostov is falling in love with Natasha.

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              • rachel b June 8, 2016 at 1:29 pm

                Hah! 🙂 Lucky! I got Bridges of Madison County. 🙁

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              • lop June 6, 2016 at 3:56 pm

                >“Walk sign is on to cross Tilikum Way and 2nd Place”.

                Sounds useful to orient yourself if you’re blind. I’m pretty sure at least some of the HAWK beacons have a spanish warning too.

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              • Adam H.
                Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 4:06 pm

                Well yes, I understand the utility of this and have no doubt it’s useful for visually-impaired people. My thought was, well what if you’re visually-impaired and don’t speak English?

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    • lop June 6, 2016 at 12:42 pm

      What makes you think walking improvements are so much more expensive than biking improvements? Sure, when you have a 20 foot roadway putting in sidewalks is expensive if you aren’t making the road one way, closing the other side off for the benefit of pedestrians. But so is putting in bike lanes.

      http://bikeloudpdx.org/images/0/02/20150311_Comprehensive_Plan.pdf

      Top priority is a new $8.3 million overpass? There are a lot of streets that are a pain to cross on foot, but with some small improvements could be improved greatly for pedestrians. Painting crosswalks and curb bulbouts* on NW 18th and NW 19th would be cheap and help a lot of people living in the area who get around on foot.

      *
      http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/image-1.jpg

      Lots of bike improvements are cheap too, like the ones you pointed out in your album on Tilikum crossing issues.

      A big difference is that those walking improvements on 18/19 are more hyperlocal than any comparably cheap biking improvements. Few people will fight for local improvements in neighborhoods they don’t live in, that they won’t benefit from. A bike lane that they might use every now and then is different. So a citywide activist group could more easily coalesce around improved bike lanes on those streets than walking improvements.

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  • Jonathan Gordon June 6, 2016 at 10:26 am

    I’m excited for the BTA and look forward to seeing what comes from the change. At the same time, it makes me sad that being pro-bike is a liability.

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  • rick June 6, 2016 at 10:31 am

    They will need to push various counties and cities to activate unbuilt, public right-of-ways and make them into well-maintained trails. Also, more rail-to-trails and rails-with-trails are needed.

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  • Ted Buehler June 6, 2016 at 10:35 am

    “’This is about building a broad political tent that can move policymakers,’ Sadowsky says.”

    We at BikeLoudPDX have had the opposite experience.

    Quite a few people, Sadowski and Carl Larson at the BTA included, told us that we had made a poor choice of a name for our organization. That a “Safe Streets” type name would make us better able to get things done for bikes.

    But, we’ve done just fine.

    Portland has 20,000 people riding bicycles to work every day. That’s enough to form a solid constituency. Even if it wasn’t, the needs of people on bikes are a sympathetic constituency, and their needs can be met with relatively little $ or staff time compared to transit or walking needs. It’s a matter of politely asking for support for your constituency, no matter how small or large.

    Bike-lash, prevalent in Portland politics and new media from 2011 – 2014, is in remission. Since our bike-focused “Safe Streets Rally” at city hall in June 2015, we’ve heard from city staffers that they’ve had much more enthusiastic support from city council than they’d have in the past. (mixed branding, admittedly, FWIW)

    And we’ve been able to mobilize the bicycle constituency in ways that wouldn’t happen if we were an organization working on “safe streets” rather than specifically the needs of people riding bicycles.

    If you’d like to get involved with a grassroots organization that focuses on bicycle advocacy, join us!

    FWIW,
    Ted Buehler
    Co-Chair, BikeLoudPDX
    http://www.bikeloudpdx.org

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    • Jeffrey T. June 6, 2016 at 11:42 am

      To me, the real issue seems to be the types of issues and strategies used by the BTA vs. BikeLoudPDX.

      More specifically, I don’t see the BTA really getting out there and getting their hands dirty with protests and things of that nature. My impression is the BTA is a bit too friendly and doesn’t do enough advocacy to get the job done.

      While I think planning and policy is important, many Portlanders, including me, are frustrated with the lack of progress in terms of bike safety and infrastructure improvements as of late. As the lead bicycle advocacy group in Portland, it’s hard not to blame the BTA for not doing a better job.

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    • rick June 6, 2016 at 1:29 pm

      I don’t blame the BTA for putting the pressure on a railroad company, the suburb government, and ODOT to make a safe TV Highway. 4 people died on that deadly autobahn in 2015.

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  • Esther June 6, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Very exciting news. Cheers to the biking work the BTA has done, and cheers to a more inclusive soon-to-be-former-BTA.

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  • Todd Boulanger June 6, 2016 at 10:37 am

    I have been expecting this positive move for over 6 years…especially once the bike modal success plateaued in Portland and the national movements. It will not be an easy one…as bicyclists can be one of the easier vulnerable roadway user groups to organize and for the other reasons Ted mentioned too.

    As an Alice B Toeclips awardee…[and previous NYC Transportation Alternatives volunteer too] I say good bye BTA, we will miss you…and hello Oregon [B]TA(?). And thus good luck with the next quarter century of growth and success.

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    • gutterbunnybikes June 6, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Plateaued? Man, it’s just starting.

      Bet ya, we hit 10% this year. Out here in middle east side the increase of bike traffic over even just a year ago is obvious -mind blowing even.

      We were at 7.2 or 3 for 2014 (1015 counts won’t be released until August/September most likely), Hawthorne Bridge counts are nearly at the same daily average before the Tilikum opened (weekly average is down about 1000 from a year ago), and the Tilikum is adding another 1200-1500 daily (weekday)trips as well (which is about +40-50% the Hawthorne). And in about a month the Orange bikes will be let loose.

      You ain’t seen anything yet.

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      • Todd Boulanger June 6, 2016 at 6:52 pm

        Thats the best news I got all day! Thanks Gutterbunnybikes.

        [My thoughts about alt-BTA organization started during Portland’s ‘Great-Bike-Platueau’ … you are correct that things are starting to look better…I want a few more years of data.]

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  • Ride On June 6, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Will the BTA create adversarial relationships with the death dealers who design our streets, the people who prioritize $100K per year jobs and secret raises for execs at TriMet over serving the transit dependent?

    The only way to measure this is to ask if BTA is taking money from the people who hold back real progress (TriMet, Feds, State, etc.). Too much collusion only facilitates the status quo.

    Can the BTA get people in the streets to protest or is this a money grab to secure more staff jobs? Will the BTA sue TriMet, the State, the county, and the city to ensure equity for the underserved? If history is any judge, no.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 10:44 am

    The BTA is essentially a quasi-governmental agency at this point. No organization that wants to influence public policy should be taking public funding. Full stop. 501c4 will enable more lobbying, but they still have to tread lightly or risk losing state funding. Active Trans in Chicago was just as timid about getting bike improvements there, and we can expect the same here.

    While I do agree we need to be talking about active transportation and complete neighborhoods, bikes are a high part of that and diluting bike advocacy for fear of bikelash will only hurt us in the long run. This leaves a hole for more grassroots organizations like BikeLoudPDX to push the needle forward. Mr. Sadowsky has already discounted us – it shows how much attention he gives to grassroots when he can’t even get the name right. Let’s prove him wrong.

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    • Alex Reedin June 6, 2016 at 10:49 am

      Good point. I am worried about the conflict of interest if decision-making stays tied together between the new 501c(4) (whose mission should be to push politicians) and the existing 501c(3) (a large part of which is funded by money from government, decided upon by politicians, to do great things on bike/walk to school education “Safe Routes to Schools”). Will new-BTA leaders be afraid to have the 501c(4) rock the boat / really push politicians hard if the politicians could retaliate by cutting funding for the new-BTA’s 501c(3) arm?

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    • Random June 6, 2016 at 12:15 pm

      “Active Trans in Chicago was just as timid about getting bike improvements there, and we can expect the same here.”

      LOL. Ask Sadowsky what happened when he crossed Chicago city government, by criticizing the sleazy parking meter deal there.

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  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty June 6, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Is there a cycling focused organization poised to step into the niche formerly inhabited by BTA? I wish them well on their new mission, but I would prefer to support a cycling-specific mainstreamy (though perhaps a little less so than BTA) advocacy group.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Yes! BikeLoudPDX. We meet the second Sunday of every month (except this month because of Pedalpalooza).

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty June 6, 2016 at 11:13 am

        BikeLoud is doing some great stuff, but they’re definitely not in any way in the same niche as BTA. Maybe they’ll grow into that role, maybe they won’t, but probably they shouldn’t.

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        • Ted Buehler June 6, 2016 at 12:14 pm

          Kitty —

          How would you categorize the differences between the BTA’s (former?) niche and BikeLoud’s niche?

          Which areas do you think it is most important to have occupied by a bicycle-focused organization?

          Ted Buehler

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty June 6, 2016 at 2:11 pm

            BikeLoudPDX is a noisy (loud!) grassroots organization pushing from the outside for positive change. BTA is a little better working within the system for similar goals. Both are important, both can be effective, but the combination can be more effective than either alone.

            I want what most people here want: safer, better, more numerous bike routes, better policies to normalize and encourage more cycling, better integration of cycling with transit, less gloomy winters, etc.

            Can those goals be pursued by a less cycling-focused group? Absolutely. However, I think they will likely be pursued more vigorously by a group focused specifically on those goals, with less energy spent on laudable but less core goals such as diversity and pedestrian facilities.

            I really hope BTA is successful with its new mission — we’ll all be better off if they are.

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        • Beth H June 7, 2016 at 5:47 am

          Essentially, you have two choices:
          1. Be grass-roots, protest/action-oriented and make a lot of noise to get your point across and build community coalitions from the ground up, but don’t expect to make a ton of money; OR
          2. Go to Salem and Washington, DC and play with the suits, wear their clothes and play by their rules, and hopefully raise more money in order to lobby and build coalitions with lawmakers and others who hold the reins of power.
          Until our current political/electoral system changes radically, you will find little overlap between the two approaches. The Ex-BTA has made it’s choice and cast its lot with Door Number Two — and in so doing they represent me not too terribly much at all. Because to feel truly represented by them, I’d have to buy into the system they’re playing.
          No thanks.

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  • Evan Manvel June 6, 2016 at 11:01 am

    Thrilled with the decision to have a political arm. We floated this in the mid-2000s, but there wasn’t critical support, so we formed Bike Walk Vote instead.

    As someone who’s lobbied for groups with and without political arms, let me just say: having a (c)4/PAC voice is a lot more powerful. Doors were opened, I got calls from key people, there was real pressure, etc.

    With a political arm, you’ve got a lot more ability to elect good people (i.e. get people a job they want and keep it) and hold them accountable if they’re not doing what they should.

    Bravo, BTA!

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    • Todd Boulanger June 6, 2016 at 6:54 pm

      HI Evan…good to see you are still reading BP.

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  • lop June 6, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Being pro-bike isn’t the same as being exclusively pro-bike. Bikes are great. But they aren’t the right tool for every job. Forcing a hammer when you need a screwdriver is a liability too.

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    • lop June 6, 2016 at 11:02 am

      Meant as a reply to Jonathan Gordon

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty June 6, 2016 at 11:14 am

      Agreed that bikes aren’t the solution to every problem, but they are the solution to the problem I am interested in.

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      • canuck June 6, 2016 at 11:36 am

        Maybe that’s the issue, everyone only looking at the single problem they have instead of the entire system. Transportation is a broad system where fixing one issue that you find important, creates more issues for others.

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        • Adam H.
          Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 11:46 am

          As long as all of those issues are at the expense of driving, I don’t see a problem with this.

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          • canuck June 7, 2016 at 7:46 am

            And how does your completely adversarial, one issue view help? Yes you want protected bike lanes everywhere regardless of how that impacts all other forms of transportation, from walking to mass transit to yes even driving. Coming together and finding solutions that work for everyone will always work better than building silos where one group cannot see anything but their view. Eliminating co-operation isn’t how you make gains.

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            • Adam H.
              Adam H. June 7, 2016 at 9:22 am

              I never said any of that. I am a frequent user of TriMet, and thus support walking and public transport, as well. They are an integral part of making a city livable. But this being a bike blog, it should come as no surprise that most of my comments here are bike-focused.

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty June 7, 2016 at 10:29 am

                I think you said that everything needs to be at the expense of cars. I think that can be fairly characterized as an adversarial view, even if it’s one many here might agree with.

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              • Adam H.
                Adam H. June 7, 2016 at 10:55 am

                And I think that forcing cars into cities is adversarial and is the reason for our declining quality of life and safety.

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        • Hello, Kitty
          Hello, Kitty June 6, 2016 at 2:01 pm

          My interest is a single problem. I have an interest in the larger transportation system, of course, but there are only certain issues that really motivate me to get involved. “Improving transportation” just isn’t one of them.

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  • JeffS June 6, 2016 at 11:02 am

    BTA has been about the business of doing business for some time now.

    I’ve never shared their cycling positions, and the numerous quotes make it apparent why; they don’t want the job.

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  • KYouell June 6, 2016 at 11:09 am

    More members, fundraising, big $$ projects. Not how they’re ever going to gain me as a member — and if they were able to back Novick in the run-off I’d be actively working against them. If they want their group in be more inclusive then they should be backing Chloe, IMO.

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  • Kyle Banerjee June 6, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Rather than a big tent where cyclists are one of many groups welcomed, I’d prefer cycling to be the shared interest rather that brings people together.

    Certain ideas and philosophies may be widespread in the cycling community, but cycling isn’t inherently political nor should it be be. Otherwise, its appeal will limited to certain communities and people will embrace/reject it for reasons have little to do with cycling.

    I will not be renewing my BTA membership, but I wish them success.

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  • David D. June 6, 2016 at 11:15 am

    Curious to see how the scope of the organization shapes up. Previously, the BTA was very good about courting members from around the state while focusing primarily on the Portland metro area and the occasional trip to Salem during legislative sessions. Town halls and listening sessions were held and notes taken with no real traction other than ‘form your own local groups’ in 2011ish(?)

    It’ll be interesting to see if expanding the umbrella really brings in more members in the metro area or if they continue to pay lip service to state-wide actions.

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  • bikeninja June 6, 2016 at 11:22 am

    I am very wary of this. It sounds good to increase the size of the tent, but such a move results in an organization that tries to be all things to all people and puts a priority on not offending anyone. Sometimes what is needed is an organization with a focused clear mission and a descriptive name. ” Stamp out Cars” , Radical Bike Defenders, or Commute Without Destroying the Earth.
    The environmental movement has been compromising since the 1970’s in the interest of appearing reasonable and bringing more people in to the tent and the result has been the 6th great extinction, oceans clogged with plastic waste and a climate that is changing so rapidly it is shocking even the most pessimistic climate scientists.

    ” No Compromise in Defense of Bikes and Our Freedom to Ride them Safely”

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  • Cory P June 6, 2016 at 11:23 am

    I’m very excited to see this change. Lesser represented modes like skateboarding and walking may finally have a voice in Salem. I look forward to working with the BTA to make our cities safer for everyone to get around in.

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  • Tom Hardy June 6, 2016 at 11:36 am

    I was an activist at the beginning of the BTA until the only communications that I received from them was multiple requests from them for more donations. Donations ceased when they no longer allowed progressive participation from volunteers. They no longer actively pursued bike lane improvements or safe routes to schools by volunteers, even with donations.
    Then they required “Certification” by taking a test and donation.
    Yes I was even “Certified” but the certification was only good for 30 days. Then they quit promoting helmets.
    That was the last straw.
    I mentioned this to Sandowski and then BTA was sending more requests for donations with no other communications allowed.

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  • Adam June 6, 2016 at 11:38 am

    Could have called it the Better Transportation Alliance and kept the acronym 😉

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  • soren June 6, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    It’s not about the bike

    No…sometimes it is about the bike.

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  • Random June 6, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    “Oregon Walks” hardest hit…

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    • nuovorecord June 6, 2016 at 12:42 pm

      https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1435882

      Only if we let it be.

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      • Random June 6, 2016 at 1:17 pm

        “Only if we let it be.”

        LOL. BTA has decided to muscle in on “Oregon Walks” turf.

        In Chicagoese, it’s like two liquor distributors fighting over the same territory – odds are that only one will survive.

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  • KristenT June 6, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Good for the BTA, but until they start expanding their works beyond the Portland City limits, I won’t be giving them a dime.

    They’ve traditionally promoted themselves as a state-wide organization, but in truth, they only focused on Portland.

    Hey, guess what? There’s a whole lot of us who aren’t in Portland who want world-class walking and cycling infrastructure! Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood, Beaverton, Hillsboro, West Linn, Wilsonville— we want completed bike lane and sidewalk networks, and trails connecting our cities, and greenways and Safe Routes for Schools and and and. Where’s the BTA in advocating for us?

    Recommended Thumb up 6

    • nuovorecord June 6, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      Well, they were a driving force behind this successful effort…
      http://ourhealthystreets.org/for-every-kid-main/foreverykid/

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    • rick June 6, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      The BTA has been working on the Westside Trails, TV Highway, and other projects in the suburbs of Portland.

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      • KristenT June 7, 2016 at 4:13 pm

        And yet every single communication I’ve seen from them has been, “support this Portland thing!” and “action alert for this Portland thing!” and “come out to support this Portland election!”

        I have yet to see anything at all that says, “action alert for this Tigard thing!” or “support this Wilsonville thing!”

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    • Tom Hardy June 6, 2016 at 2:28 pm

      Not really there and has not in at least a decade.

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    • Carl June 9, 2016 at 10:30 am

      Bullshit. The BTA has a full-time Washington county advocate who is well-connected with politicians AND local riders. She’s doing great stuff.
      http://bfy.tw/6BiC
      Time to send in your dime, Kristen.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. June 9, 2016 at 10:39 am

        Yep. Lisa does great work!

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  • Jim Lee June 6, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Sadowsky is more than a little strange.

    But then, he’s from Chicago.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. June 6, 2016 at 1:18 pm

      Hey, we’re not all crazy… Though maybe I’m a bad example. 😛

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • nuovorecord June 6, 2016 at 5:18 pm

        Well, the pizza and hot dogs there are atrocious… 😉

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        • Dan A June 7, 2016 at 1:14 pm

          I like the hot dogs. But the pizza? It’s more like lasagna with a crust. Weird.

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. June 7, 2016 at 1:24 pm

            Agreed. Deep dish doesn’t count as pizza. And I grew up eating the stuff. 😉

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  • Random June 6, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    So, we’ll see if transforming BTA into Novick’s political action committee works out or not…

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  • Hmmmm June 6, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Not sure about this one. This seems like the non-profit equivalent of a corporate merger. Sadowsky and the BTA should be working towards collaborating with other groups to make change. Instead, they’re making an assumption that they can do it all — the opposite of interdependence — and could potentially interrupt the hard work other smaller organizations are doing. It’s kind of a colonial/paternalistic move. Real policy change stems from non-profits pushing together, with passionate citizens, to appeal to elected officials. My guess is that the BTA will isolate themselves, which sucks because Portland REALLY needs strong bicycle advocacy at the moment.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty June 6, 2016 at 3:02 pm

      Paternalistic? Is Sadowsky manspreading the organization onto someone else’s turf?

      Aside from that, I agree that a coalition model might be a good one.

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      • Hmmmm June 6, 2016 at 4:38 pm

        Is Sadowsky manspreading the organization onto someone else’s turf?

        We’ll find out. If they eat up funding that could go to other specialized groups that they could simply be partnering with, then “manspreading” could be a fitting term. Whether it’s intentional, who knows, but I can’t imagine this helping the organization build relationships with other organizations doing similar work; relationships that are critical to making change happen region-wide (this change, by the way, can be life or death). If the BTA thinks they can do this work alone, and they interfere with the work of other groups, what would you call that? I think Sadowsky knows exactly who he could screw in this process, and the fact that he’s got the BTA going through with this regardless speaks volumes of his character, and the character of the organization as a whole. The BTA should be focused on saving lives, not playing political games.

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  • Eric Leifsdad June 6, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Maybe “active transportation” is the wrong label for places with hills. How much of SW Portland is starting to pass the age where they can safely drive? Who will do the golf cart/NEV transportation advocacy?

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • rick June 8, 2016 at 11:02 am

      Many trails exist in SW.

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  • bikebuswalkportland.org June 6, 2016 at 4:00 pm

    Maybe Bike Portland should change its name to Bike Bus Walk Skate Portland? Maybe the American Lung Association should change its name to the American Organs Association? Dilution is not the solution, just a weaker brew.

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  • Todd Boulanger June 6, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    …AND if this is a trend reaching Portland… then there is Bike Portland…will it soon become [_____] Portland? Stay tuned.

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  • Mike June 6, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    Maybe they’ll focus more on the whole state rather than just Portland. Step one: move out of Portland and come to Salem where all the state decisions are voted on.

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  • Richard Hughes June 7, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    BTA previously had a presence in Eugene as well as other cities outside PDX. Waiting to see if they are willing to actively represent the entire state?

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  • David Burns June 7, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    I’ve been in cringing semi-support of of BTA since they stopped being about the fun of cycling (“May your raingear keep its waterproofness, and your blinky lights shine bright.”) and became an organization by wonks for wonks, but wanting my money.

    May the reign of the Big Truck Amalgamation be mercifully smiles and short.

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    • rick June 8, 2016 at 11:01 am

      They’ve been meeting with officials to make a safe TV Highway.

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  • GlowBoy June 8, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    Broadening the role of don’t-rock-the-boat-too-much BTA beyond just biking gives BikeLoudPDX more room to be the real bike advocates in town. Sounds good to me.

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