May 13, 2014

Another Lament from Portland: “Something has gone wrong …”

Something has gone wrong in Portland,” says Michael Anderson at




… now, in 2014, it’s time to add another chapter to Portland’s bike history: the moment our bike wave crested. The day that Portland started to fall out of love with its story.

In retrospect, the date is obvious: Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010.

Percent of Portlanders commuting by bicycle.
(Source: Census)

That afternoon, Mayor Adams did something he enjoyed very much: he said yes to a big idea. With his backing, Portland had prepared the most progressive bike plan in the country, an unfunded concept for how to spend $600 million …

In all its future transportation projects, the plan declared, the city would prioritize walking above biking, biking above mass transit and all three above driving. The result: by 2030, biking would be more popular than driving for trips of three miles or less. Portland’s victory over auto-dependence would be complete.

Though these ideas would be strange and alien in City Hall today, council members at the time saw a political winner. So they started tripping over themselves to fund it. And then everything fell apart.

Commissioner Dan Salzman proposed one funding plan. Adams, who couldn’t stand Salzman, proposed another. Bizzarrely, the two began feuding over whose bike funding plan was best. In the absence of a unified city effort to explain the obscure policy issues involved, the conflict spilled into pixels, print and finally television, with a mostly false but highly compelling narrative capturing the public imagination: Portland was raising sewer fees in order to pay for bike lanes.

Adams, struggling to debunk the myth, expected political cover from bike advocates. He felt it never came.

It was, insiders now say, a private turning point for Adams. Portland didn’t realize it yet, but bicycling had lost its yes man. And though there were many factors involved over the years, the city had, in a fundamental way, lost the story it once told itself about bicycles.




Full piece here.

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