Usually the only window into this chapter of Portland’s history are photos, letters, and policy documents. But I was recently pointed to a series of videos created in 2000 that give us a fun view into a much earlier era of bike advocacy.
The six, thirty-second videos were created by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (now known as The Street Trust) as part of a series of public service announcements (PSAs) that ran on our local NBC affiliate television station (KGW). A reader named Etienne Scott was around when they were made. He noticed a link to the videos from one of our stories in 2011 went to a dead webpage, so he grabbed the original files and uploaded them to YouTube.
In 2000, Portland was just starting to emerge as an epicenter for cycling. The BTA had a decade of experience under their belts and they felt there was a lack of public dialogue and awareness about how car drivers and bike riders should safely interact. Their leader Karen Frost wanted to do something about that.
“What better medium than the omnipresent television?,” shared the 26-page user guide the BTA created as a companion resource for the videos. “For good or ill, the lives of Americans have been irrevocably changed by TV. The catchy music, the images of attractive people in positions of desirable and attainable status, the repetition, the repetition, the repeti …. Television sells both the good and the not so good. We want to sell something very good—bicycling!”
They spent about $500,000 (using a mix of a Federal Highway Administration Grant and local match) to create the Oregon Bicycle Awareness TV Campaign. The videos were broadcast on KGW programs from June 2000 to August 2001 and the BTA also made them available for groups in other cities to use (hence, the user guide).
And as expensive and challenging to produce as they were, the BTA says it was worth the effort. According to their evaluation, 90% of the Portland population age 18+ saw the BTA PSAs at least six times. “Net recall of the campaign was 7.0% and at the end, the net recall was 12.6%,” reads their evaluation report. “Positive changes in attitude and awareness were observed regarding driving around bike lanes, stopping at stop signs, and riding safely in the dark and rain. The number of people learning something from the campaign was 26.5% for the midcourse survey and 26.8% for the final survey; an indication that a significant portion of viewers learned from the campaign.”
Today TV PSAs have been supplanted by social media videos. And while some videos can go viral, it’s really hit or miss and most content produced by nonprofit groups isn’t that widely consumed. New forms of media are exciting and important (ask me how I know!), but long gone are the days where one partnership with one TV station could garner such strong attention from an undistracted audience.
Watch the videos below: