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Bike plan funding starts small

Daily Journal of Commerce: Bike plan funding starts small

POSTED: Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 12:00 PM PT
BY: Nathalie Weinstein

In Portland, myriad cyclists include pizza deliverers, businessmen and women in raincoats, and leisure riders galore. But a proposed bike plan calls for the city to encourage even more people to take up cycling.

“It’s important for the city to aim high (with its bike plan),” said Emily Samstag, a sales representative and bike technician at Bike Gallery in downtown Portland. “I’ve lived in several major cities, and Portland is the only one even remotely right in terms of a balanced transportation plan.”

City Council today will decide whether to invest more than $600 million in planning and projects to increase cycling in Portland over the next 20 years. The Portland Bike Plan for 2030 identifies dozens of projects for improving cycling access, including new trail systems, bike paths and cycle tracks.

But the Portland Bureau of Transportation is facing an extensive backlog of street repairs in the coming years, so it plans to start small in its effort to build the city a world-class biking community. Ellen Vanderslice, PBOT project manager for the bike plan, said her department needs to prove an increased demand for bike projects before money can be pulled from projects intended to aid motor vehicles.

“We don’t have that amount of discretionary funding for any mode of transportation,” Vanderslice said. “To get to a place where we can take funding from cars and give that to bikes, we need to prove that the demand is here first.”

The bike plan includes 10 pages on potential funding sources for projects, including the city’s general transportation revenue, and money from the Oregon Department of Transportation and the federal government. Partnerships with the Metro Greenways program, the Business Energy Tax Credit and city system development charges also are potential sources.

Both Vanderslice and Bicycle Transportation Alliance advocate Michelle Poyourow say the first projects constructed should be bike boulevards. They include signals and devices such as speed bumps to encourage slower driving and increase cyclist safety at intersections. The cost is approximately $250,000 per mile.

“Bike boulevards could easily be fast-tracked,” Poyourow said. “They allow us to improve the roads we’ve been using, and they are very affordable.”

Vanderslice said construction of bike boulevards could lead to more cyclists, and increase the likelihood of the city securing federal money for more projects.

“There has been a paradigm shift at the federal level for transportation funding,” Vanderslice said. “Things like health and climate change are in the public eye. Having shovel-ready projects identified that are proven to increase ridership would put us in a good place.”

The bike plan will need multiple funding sources to complete larger projects, such as a new trail in Sullivan’s Gulch that would connect Northeast Lloyd Boulevard to the Interstate 84 bike path. That project would cost $28.7 million.

Vanderslice expects $10 million to $14 million to be available for bike plan projects over the next five years.

“There’s no question that the city will have to develop a new funding source to pay for some of the projects,” Poyourow said. “I think if this plan is adopted, that means Portland is ready to have that conversation.”

If the plan is approved, a task force will be formed and work for nine months to identify project funding. But that doesn’t mean the plan will remain dormant. In fact, Vanderslice said PBOT is presently working on two projects identified in the bike plan: a cycling track near Portland State University and buffered bike lanes along Stark and Oak streets. Those projects are being paid for through the city’s Affordable Transportation Fund, which includes utility franchise fees.

“It has to be a patchwork of things,” Vanderslice said. “People say if we need $600 million that means we need $30 million every year for the next 20 years. It’s not like that. We’ll start with the cost-effective projects. The others will come eventually.”

Samstag said it is important for the city to adopt the plan.

“I don’t know where the funding will come from,” Samstag said, “but I think the plan is very ambitious. It’s important to set an example for the rest of the country.”