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February 9th, 2011 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Portland Bicycle Plan

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The Portland Bicycle Plan reportedly calls for 681 miles of bike lanes costing $613 million. That seems like an awful lot to paint lines on rights-of-way already owned by the city.  Where is the money going? —Axle the Cat

Actually, the $613M-for-681-miles figure is an old estimate—the new tab is more like $582M for 767 miles. So give the city a little credit; they’re building 86 additional miles for negative $31M. Wow! Maybe for an encore they can reverse gravity, divide by zero and go back in time to save Lincoln.

Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Cheryl Kuck urges you to put the $582M in perspective. “In terms of the bigger picture of what the Portland metropolitan region spends on transportation,” she says, “it’s a relatively small amount.” 

From 1995 to 2010, we blew $6.3 billion on road improvements and public transit, but only about $75 mil on bike-specific improvements. Now, for about 1 percent of our transportation costs, we already have 6 percent of our citizens on two wheels. (If we spent it all on bikes, we could have an eye-popping 600 percent of our population biking to work every day. Suck it, Minneapolis!)

Thus, the bike paths you deride as little more than painted lines were fairly cheap. The planned system is a lot more extensive—the goal is a bikeway within a quarter-mile of every residence. It’s also fancier, with buffered bike lanes (think SW Oak and Stark) and cycle tracks (think SW Broadway). 

Naturally, there’s a substantial initial outlay to make such major traffic adjustments efficiently and safely, but doing it right will save money in the long run. Especially since those who cry loudest about public spending always seem to be the first to sue the city when they trip over a curb and stab themselves with their little American flags.

 
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