Portland NBC affiliate KGW has chosen to highlight the concerns of a downtown hotel manager who says a new bike lane is hurting their business and is a danger to their customers and staff.
Here’s the opening salvo from KGW reporter Mike Benner:
“It’s no secret that downtown Portland is still trying to come back from the pandemic and all of that civil unrest back in 2020. But there are business leaders who believe this new guarded bike lane is not helping the cause one bit.”
The “guarded” lane is the new parking-protected bike lane on SW Broadway the Portland Bureau of Transportation completed this past fall. This project was the final phase of a 13-year project to update Broadway and create a safer space for bicycle users on this crucial downtown main street. Prior to the creation of this wide, curbside lane, bicycle riders were forced to ride in a door-zone lane with just a few feet of space between people driving and people swinging open their doors. The bike lane was a relic that was long overdue for an update.
But to KGW and the general manager of The Heathman (who was the only non-PBOT source in the story), none of that matters. The only thing that matters is how some hotel guests and a few hotel staff must now deal with a bit more traffic in order to access this business. The story centers the stress felt by the hotel manager for about two months, but not one word is shared about the mortal fear and daily stress posed to bicycle riders for decades before these changes were made.
Both the KGW reporter and the hotel manager spoke of “close calls” between people getting out of their cars and bicycle riders using the lane. At one point the hotel manager said, “We had an incident where a guest door got hit by a bicyclist.” That is a very odd way of describing what was most likely an illegal act by the car user as defined in ORS 811.490 which states that drivers or passengers must not open their doors, “until it is reasonably safe to do so and it can be done without interference with the movement of traffic.” Why on earth would a bike rider purposely hit a car’s door and risk injury?
None of that matters in this story because it’s sole purpose is to center the feelings of one business owner and portray the bike lane (and by association, the people who use it) as the antagonist and troublemaker.
Toward the end of the segment, we see a perfect example of how these type of stories tend to over-inflate an idea simply to establish a false narrative that local TV news viewers can sink teeth into.
As the KGW camera ran, the reporter narrated a scene where two people pedaled bicycles slowly and calmly in the bike lane. As they approach someone on foot, the person crossed in front of the bike riders and easily stepped onto the curb. It was a totally normal and sane interaction that happens hundreds of times in our city every single day. But to the KGW reporter, it was a nefarious act by the menacing cyclists in a dangerous bike lane. PBOT’s goals to encourage more cycling, the reporter said in an ominous tone, “Won’t come without hiccups as we saw while shooting video near the Benson Hotel. Close Calls like this one are what bothered [the hotel manager].”
Thankfully, even though KGW didn’t bother to represent a bicycle rider’s point-of-view, they did give a PBOT spokesperson an opportunity to defend the bike lane. Interim Communications Director Hannah Schafer did an admirable job given the circumstances (I can relate to being involved in stories like this where the framing is stacked against you and story editors won’t let your words change the narrative they desire).
This is just the latest example of a lopsided local news story that centers the experience of business owners and drivers over everyone else. Late last month, a Portland Tribune story focused on changes to the lanes on SW Capitol Highway through Hillsdale with a similar framing. The article presented the new bus priority lanes as a problem that was hurting businesses and limiting access for drivers — but it never mentioned how bus users benefit and included no sources who used the bus.
The SW Broadway story ends with a warning that the manager at The Heathman plans to install security cameras to “keep an eye on what she says has become a hazard.”
Hopefully she makes good on that threat. Judging from what I’ve seen in front of the hotel (above), PBOT Parking Enforcement officers could use all the help they can get.
And hopefully, our city’s media and business leaders will move past this tired and false narrative that bike lanes and bike riders are the source of their problems and realize these projects are not perfect because managing streets for a variety of uses (instead of just cars and drivers) is an inherently messy task that requires everyone to compromise, mitigate risk, and muddle through — something bicycle riders have been forced to do out of necessity and yet never this this kind of media attention until one of them is killed while doing so.