If Commissioner Sam Adams gets his way, the city will spend nearly three times as much on bike projects as it does now.
Adams, the front runner in the May mayoral election, says the rationale for his proposal is simple: About 4.5 percent of daily commuters in Portland report getting to and from work by bike, according to the U.S. Census.
Adams thinks the Office of Transportation's five-year capital budget should devote that same 4.5 percent to bikes rather than the 1.6 percent it does now. The difference in spending would work out roughly to $7 million over the next five years, or about $12.75 per Portlander.
"Spending should match current utilization," says Adams, who oversees the city's transportation office. "We have learned when you build a system, you need to make it safer."
After Adams met Monday afternoon with Transportation Director Sue Keil, Roland Chlapowski—Adams' liaison to the Portland Office of Transportation—said it's Adams' hope that the increase on bike spending wouldn't require cuts in the long term from spending on other transportation priorities.
That's because Adams aims to raise more money for all transportation projects via a street maintenance fee paid by property owners and businesses, Chlapowski says. (Adams had considered seeking a local gas tax increase to help generate cash but has put a hold on the idea.)
The near-tripling of spending on bike projects is sure to play well among Portland's large bike community, and help to cement Adams' rep as the bike-friendly mayoral candidate. After motorists killed two cyclists this fall, Adams was quick to respond to demands the city act, advancing various proposals to enhance cyclist safety (see "Vicious Cycle," WW , Oct. 31, 2007).
But his most recent proposal to triple capital spending on bike projects will provide fodder for critics of Portland's transportation priorities, even if City Council ends up OKing a street maintenance fee. They point out that the city has a backlog of road maintenance estimated to be $422 million. Some also question the data that Adams is using to justify bike projects' increased share.
"I appreciate folks who commute by bicycle, but I'm having a hard time believing that 4 percent of the city's commuters use bicycles year around," says Dave Lister, a 2006 council candidate who writes the "Eastside Guy" column for BrainstormNW magazine. "I drive Northeast Broadway from 39th to the [Memorial] Coliseum daily during the morning rush, and this time of year there is hardly any usage of the bike lane."
The census numbers do show a 145 percent increase in bike trips over the past decade in Portland. Yet those same numbers also show three out of four Portland commuters still drive to work.
And John Charles, head of the libertarian Cascade Policy Institute, says those driving numbers are surely higher for less predictable trips other than a scheduled commute—running errands, picking up children and the like.
Nick Popenuk, one of 10 mayoral candidates along with Adams, questions whether Adams' bike fixation fits in general with the city's larger priorities and in specific with Portland's other transportation needs.
"The vast majority of people use cars to get around," says Popenuk, a transportation and policy analyst for ECONorthwest. "And their needs are also important."
Adams owned a Specialized mountain bike that he used occasionally for his commute before it was stolen last weekend from the back of his 2003 GMC Sierra pickup. He also commutes in his truck and by light rail.
The most recent count of daily bike commuters across the Hawthorne, Broadway, Steel and Burnside bridges is 14,563.