YOU KNOW what phrase I'm really sick of hearing? "Sewer money for bike lanes." This persistent grumbling has been all over public meetings and TV news recently, and since we're heading into bike season, the grumble is only going to get louder.
The whole debacle started when Mayor Sam Adams announced in March that he would kick-start the 2030 Portland Bike Plan with $20 million the city saved during Big Pipe construction. That money would be spent on a different sewer project, said Adams: building bioswales, the stormwater-sucking curb bumpouts that also happen to make cars drive slower and streets safer for bikes.
The plan is not the problem. The plan is a smart budget two-fer, in my opinion.
The problem is that Mayor Adams has done a completely shit job of selling the plan to the public—which is confusing because the mayor is a whiz at getting public support for plenty of bad ideas (repeatedly uttering the phrase "eco-district" with a straight face, for example). But when his office actually pulls together a good idea—an idea that saves the government money while simultaneously offering tasty bones to cyclists and environmentalists—he totally drops the ball!
"One of the challenges is the way that the issue was oversimplified at the front end: taking sewer lines and paying for bike lanes," admits Adams' spokesman Roy Kauffmann. "We're going to have to spend a lot of time repairing that damage. But we haven't been backing away from it."
Transportation staffers are obviously not versed in the bioswale bullet points: Two weeks ago, I witnessed an experienced staffer go mum when a citizen irately mentioned "sewer money" during a bike projects presentation in East Portland. Amid an angry swirl of news articles about the idea, Adams' blog has only two posts on the issue: an impenetrably wonky one from the day before council approved the plan, and another that lazily re-posts BlueOregon blogger Evan Manvel's concise defense of the idea.
Where IS the fearsome Adams Messaging Squad these days?
Oh, right. They're over at the police department.
Let us also enter the Sewers for Bikes Screwup of 2010 into the canon of Adams' trademark political tactics: Push hard for big issues Portlanders like and when the going gets tough, the mayor will get, uh, gone. Don't worry, sometime soon I'm sure he'll reemerge unscathed at an electric bike demo near you.