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Slow Roll

Portland's Bike Plan Isn't Moving Fast Enough



IT HAS BEEN one year since Portland City Council approved its hyper-ambitious bike plan, aiming to triple the city's bike use by 2030. At one year old, it's clear the bike plan will have to move faster (and get more staff and money) if it's actually going to hit those sky-high goals.

Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) staff presented a year-end report to the council last Wednesday, April 13, wrapping up everything that has (and hasn't) happened since the city approved the plan to build a total of 370 new miles of bikeways at a cost of $600 million over the next 20 years.

In the big picture, the city looks good: Since 1990, Portland has added more daily bike riders than transit riders, and our rate of kids walking and biking to school is way above the national average, according to city stats.

But when the rubber hits the road, the numbers show that the city will have to increase its efforts to actually build all those promised miles of bike lanes.

Since the bike plan made its debut last year, the city has built 20 miles of bike lanes and neighborhood greenways (rehabilitated neighborhood streets that have slower car traffic, like NE Going) and funded 38 more. But there's an additional 89 miles of projects that are planned, but unfunded.

"The current pace of construction will fall far short of the city's goals," noted Bicycle Transportation Alliance Executive Director Rob Sadowsky in his testimony to council last week. The advocacy organization recommends the city build 50 miles of new bike lanes and neighborhood greenways each year, more than double what it built this past year.

Also look, for example, at bike corrals. Those are the sets of bike racks, with room for 24 bicycles, which replaced parking spots for two cars outside of 21 businesses last year. But the waitlist for bike corrals currently includes 69 businesses—meaning it's at least two years long. The city blames the holdup on a lack of funding (the corrals cost $3,000 each).

Mayor Sam Adams' office says the city has "aggressively" chased funding for bike projects and also carved out new funds. In 2009, the mayor established a $500,000 annual fund in the transportation budget for "affordable transportation" (that means biking and walking), and is adding $1 million a year to that fund from the $19.6 million Portland will start getting annually from a statewide gas tax increase.

But one big lesson Adams learned loud and clear last year: If it's poorly presented, bike funding can set off massive citizen anger.

After he announced a plan to use $20 million in sewer funds to build drainage-improving bioswales to help slow traffic on bikeways, the mayor's voicemail line filled with citizen rants against wasteful spending. (As one caller put it, "What's more important: bicycle paths or doodie in the river?") ["Take Your City and Shove It!" Feature, Oct 14, 2010].

PBOT tiptoed around funding language last week. The so-called "sewer money for bike lanes" scheme is now: "coordination of stormwater management and neighborhood greenways."


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