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January 27th, 2010 BETH SLOVIC | News Stories
 

Uphill Ride

The financial wheels of the bike plan go round and round.

     
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Mayor Sam Adams’ proposed “Bicycle Plan for 2030” will probably sail through City Council with a 5-0 vote when it comes up Feb. 4.

That doesn’t mean the plan will be implemented.

The drive to get Portlanders to make more than one-quarter of their daily trips by bike by 2030 still lacks the one thing no amount of political unanimity can produce: cold, hard cash. To make the 20-year plan a reality, Portland’s Bureau of Transportation says it needs $600 million, which is more than the city’s entire general fund for one year.

So far, the Transportation Bureau has identified only $10 million to $14 million total for the next five years to begin to expand the city’s network of bikeways from 300 miles to 962 miles, create more bicycle parking citywide and improve the safety of kids riding their bikes to school, among other projects.

“There’s no question we have to work on finding new revenue streams,” says Chris Smith, a member of Portland’s Planning Commission. The volunteer commission advises City Council and unanimously approved the bike plan in November.

As if the lack of money were not a big enough speed bump, that $600 million figure from the Transportation Bureau might need more vetting. Three years in the making, the bike plan currently lacks a second opinion on its ultimate cost. As of Jan. 26, the Portland Bureau of Transportation had not asked the city budget gurus at the Office of Management and Finance to conduct an independent fiscal impact study of the plan.

As part of its regular duties, the budget office does give city commissioners cost estimates for all items that the council votes on each week. But those figures from the budget office are typically based on individual bureaus’ calculations —unless a separate study is conducted.

The lack of dedicated funding is a problem even the plan’s most vociferous proponents recognize. “It’s a good deal, but it’s not a free deal,” says Michelle Poyourow, a spokeswoman for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

And the current recession adds yet another barrier. When City Council votes on the bike plan next week, it will also be considering cuts to city programs many consider equally important. Among those other programs are efforts to combat homelessness and promote public safety. By Feb. 1, all city bureaus must give the Office of Management and Finance their proposed list of cuts to achieve savings of 4 percent in the 2010-11 budget.

The current financial forecast shows Portland faces a budget gap of between $15 million and $16 million for the next fiscal year, which starts in July. All city bureaus have collectively identified about $9 million in possible cuts. The Office of Management and Finance has identified an additional $2 million in one-time funding to cushion the cuts next year. That leaves a hole of $4 million to $5 million, and that’s without the addition of new projects like those proposed under the bike plan.

The biggest institutional advocate for the bike plan, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, is rallying its pro-bike supporters for a demonstration at City Hall on the afternoon of the bike plan’s Feb. 4 hearing. The BTA, founded in 1990, hopes to remind City Council of the benefits of biking over driving and the relative value of investing in bicycle transportation infrastructure compared with traditional roads. (The BTA currently gets about one-quarter of its funding from contracts with the Portland Bureau of Transportation, according to public records from 2008.)

Mayor Sam Adams, who already has one task force of 32 people looking at options for the future of Memorial Coliseum and another looking at reusable grocery bags, plans to convene a third task force to study new methods of paying for the bike plan.

Poyourow is optimistic City Council will find the two tools it needs to adopt and implement the plan.

“It’s money and it’s will,” Poyourow says. “There are opportunities—good opportunities—for City Council to find both of them this year.”


FACT: Portland first developed a Bicycle Master Plan in 1996, when now seven-term U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) was a city commissioner.
 
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