Propaganda flows both ways

BTA-logoFolks familiar with my writings will know I have a bit of a flair for the dramatic. JustAnotherCyclist has always been an OpEd platform. However, one thing I’ve always tried to maintain is a link with the truth. It is possible to make dramatic statements without distorting the truth. However, it can be all too easy to slide on the wrong side of that divide. That is why I was unfortunately not surprised to hear of the Oregon Department of Transportation taking issue with some facts recently stated by Oregon bicycle advocacy group Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

Road_Cost_Infographic_Corrected_smallThe issue arises from an infographic the BTA created in an attempt to demonstrate how public dollars are actually allocated to highway projects. According to a report in the Oregonian, ODOT claimed a number of inaccuracies in the information presented in the infographic. BTA’s efforts go beyond a simple infographic. In fact, they’ve launched an entire campaign to attempt to combat one of the common complaints many cyclists face. Namely, the argument from motorists that cyclist receive an unfair amount of highway dollars, without paying their fare share. These arguments usually stem from a mistaken generalization that highway funds come almost exclusively from fuel and license taxes. Therefore if you don’t drive a car (so the argument goes) you are not contributing financially to the public funds that pay for those roads. It is an old argument that takes place all over the country – even all over the world.

The image attached to this article is the corrected version, modified by BTA in response to ODOT’s objections.

So, was the BTA trying to be intentionally misleading? I doubt that, but clearly I don’t know for sure. I do know that every side in a debate will present information that supports their side. They will present the information in a way that bolsters their position. Perfectly normal – this is human behavior. It is important to remember that BTA is an advocacy group. It is their job to push for a particular set of goals.

It appears that BTA is making good faith efforts to correct errors. I just hope that BTA can remember that, while exaggerations are par for the course in advocacy, outright falsehoods can do more damage to a cause than remaining silent. I fully support the BTA’s apparent goals and hope that they can find the right balance.