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Concerns, questions raised by Mayor’s decision

Posted by on April 30th, 2007 at 10:50 am

Portland’s current Bicycle Master Plan was last updated in 1995. It has served us well, but according to city planners and expert consultants, it is woefully inadequate and it no longer serves its purpose. Since it was completed, the number of bicyclists in Portland has skyrocketed and we have become a national model for livability.

We’re currently going through an important update process that was kick-started by $50,000 in city funding in 2006. The new Bicycle Master Plan will help guide Portland to a world-class transportation network that will provide citizens with safe, efficient, healthy, affordable and emissions-free transportation options for decades to come.

The Bicycle Master Plan is not just about bikes. The plan will include extensive research and insights on everything from neighborhood traffic engineering and safety to bike parking guidelines. It’s a health care plan, it’s a livability plan, it’s a plan for the future of Portland, a city whose official Comprehensive Plan (section TRN-6.01) includes the following:

“Make the bicycle an integral part of daily life in Portland, particularly for trips of less than five miles, by implementing a bikeway network, providing end-of-trip facilities, improving bicycle/transit integration, encouraging bicycle use, and making bicycling safer.”

However, despite the importance of this plan and its relatively low cost, Mayor Tom Potter recently decided that Portland could not afford $100,000 (out of a $37 million pot of flexible city funds) for its completion.

In response to this surprising decision, Mayor Potter’s office was inundated with over 300 calls and emails of concern from the community, making this one of the most contentious decisions in the history of his office (right behind the Foxworth scandal and school closures).

Yet despite this outpouring of concern from his constituents, in a statement released late Friday afternoon, the Mayor stood by his decision.

Without any further funding, the update process would run out of cash by this summer and would come to a grinding halt.

The community is in a state of confusion, shock and disbelief that such a relatively small, yet essential expenditure would not receive funding; especially from a Mayor who champions civic engagement, says safety is a top priority, rode his recumbent in Critical Mass at the start of his term and who received campaign support from bicycle advocates who said they supported Potter because he would, “work closely with the cycling and walking community to improve Portland.”

Part of me wants to believe that Potter was forced to make a tough decision and that he did what he truly felt was in the best interest of our city.

But another part of me is frustrated and very concerned.

My concern stems not just because I feel that Potter has sent a message to the community that a safe and equitable transportation network that encourages bicycling is no longer a priority for the City of Portland, but I’m also concerned that we are even in this position to begin with.

The budget process has been going on for months. Why were bike advocates not a larger part of that process? Were we too complacent?

Is this decision the harbinger of a new, tougher political era for bikes in Portland? Or is it just a blip on the radar?

What does it say about the stature of bicycling in this country if “America’s #1 Cycling City” is forced to clamor for a paltry $100,000 for an essential planning process?

Should we sit back expect City Council to pass an amendment to fund the plan? Or should we rally together, continue to pressure City Hall, and let Portland know this decision is not acceptable?

I hope to find clarity on these and other questions in the days and weeks to come. I welcome your thoughts.

(Stay tuned for more coverage and a post about how the community is responding to this situation.)

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Comments
  • Joe April 30, 2007 at 10:58 am

    No matter how this ends up, I will not be voting for Potter next time around and I will spread that message to everyone I know. He lost most of my confidence by pushing these silly charter amendments onto the ballot (to give him more power). Either of these dumb moves alone earns him no vote of confidence from me. These decisions on his part put together means I’m actively supporting a good opponent. Time for a new (and bike-friendly) mayor…

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis April 30, 2007 at 11:24 am

    Regardless of the Mayor’s statements, his actions speak louder than his words. They reveal that the Mayor simply does not accept or value bicycles as an integral component in solving Portland’s transportation problems despite their obvious and recognized utility in doing so.

    This action will test the mettle of our bike movement and will reveal the true values of our Mayor and the rest of our City government. It’s time for the BTA and each of us to step up and make sure the Mayor’s short-sighted, contradictory, anti-bike decision is reversed.

    We’re only going to be “America’s #1 Cycling City,” or remain so, by *OUR* continuing efforts. Clearly, we cannot count on our current government to consistently apply such efforts.

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  • N.I.K. April 30, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Either of these dumb moves alone earns him no vote of confidence from me.

    Same here, Joe. What motive could a mayor who ignores the actively-communicated will of the people he serves have in trying to increase his executive authority other than to seek power for his own ends? Lucky for us, he’s dumb enough to pull this move right before the May 15th special election, and we can see his true intentions shining through in perfect clarity. I hope we can all go to the trouble of filling in some ovals and mailing our ballots on-time.

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  • Bill Stites April 30, 2007 at 11:40 am

    I’m surprised that Mr. Potter seems to be so out of touch with this HUGE ISSUE – with so many benefits to the City, relative to the costs.

    I’ll see you out at the Bicycle Master Plan Update ride tomorrow [Tues, 5:15 at Terry Schrunk Plaza, across from City Hall].

    Bill

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  • nick April 30, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Should we sit back expect City Council to pass an amendment to fund the plan?

    NO.

    Or should we rally together, continue to pressure City Hall, and let Portland know this decision is not acceptable?

    YES.

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  • Donna April 30, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Since I am a member of the League of American Bicyclists, I also emailed them copies of my letters to Mayor Potter, plus Jonathan’s link to the coverage of this issue. I felt it was important to for the LAB to know that whatever the city has expressed to them about wanting to achieve Platinum status wasn’t actually serious or sincere. I can’t think of any other message this would send, especially with having a budget surplus.

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  • Roger Geller April 30, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Jonathan,

    Just a comment about the current bicycle master plan being “woefully inadequate” and being a document that “no longer serves its purpose”. I disagree with that. It is still a very useful document that remains the foundation of the bikeway developments we continue to see such as:

    bikeway signing
    scramble signal at the Steel Bridge
    HAWK signal at 41st & Burnside
    experimentation with shared lane markings
    high standards for the Sellwood Bridge and any CRC bridge
    funding for the Morrison Bridge

    Since 2003 we have added new bicycle lanes to:
    N Rosa Parks Way (Portland Boulevard)
    N Greeley Avenue
    N Vancouver Ave
    N Wheeler Ave
    SW 1st Ave
    SW 3rd Ave
    SW Madison Ave
    SW Multnomah Blvd (along I-5)
    SE 92nd Ave
    NE 122nd Ave
    NE 148th Ave
    NE 158th Ave
    SE Division, and we’ve built new paths:
    Three Bridges Project
    Trail to the PDX Terminal building
    Trail near Kelley Point Park

    We also have the:
    Community Schools and Traffic Safety Program that is annually providing funding for bicycle and pedestrian improvements,
    Smart Trips Individualized Marketing Program that is turning motorists into cyclists,
    the Bicycle Parking Fund that provides short-term bicycle parking where previously there was none and only limited opportunities to provide any, and
    on-street bicycle parking corrals.

    We’ll receive–through the MTIP process–$1.3 million in funding for a 50′s bikeway,
    We’re planning for a bicycle-pedestrian trail to Lake Oswego,
    We’re seeking funding (through the CBO process) for significant improvements to SE and NE Portland,
    the Port will soon build a bike trail from Marine Drive to the airport,
    South Waterfront will build a bifurcated trail that will be part of the development in that area,
    bike lanes are soon to be striped on Naito Parkway, and the list goes on.

    The results of these continuing improvements, of course, is that ridership continues to increse, and has increased dramatically in the past two years, which the bicycle crash rate is declining.

    The Bicycle Master Plan is very much in need of updating if we’re to take bicycling in Portland to the next level and truly make bicycling a part of daily life for more Portland residents. Our understanding of ridership potential requires us to rethink our policies, standards, guidelines, programs, and classifications, and to engage in a civic conversation about bicycling in Portland. Those are all things that we can accomplish only through an update to the plan. But, the existing plan still gives us enough to work with for the time being.

    Thanks for providing a forum for this.

    Roger Geller

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  • Fixiechick April 30, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    I’m a cyclist and I support Potter’s decision to focus on maintenance and safety. Shoot me.

    I believe the Mayor is taking advice from PDOT leadership on how to better manage the agency and it’s capital assets, and if that means delaying the bike plan a year or 2, so be it.

    I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind, but try and see it from another side.

    Just cuz the plan’s not funded this year, doesn’t mean it won’t be funded next time around, or even mid-budget cycle. And maybe with more than $100K.

    The sky won’t fall. Cycling won’t go to hell in a handcart. Now, tomorrow, or even 10-20 years out.

    A few consulting firms may not meet their annual profit forecast.

    We will postpone getting our Platinum Merit Badge. (Whoop-dee-eff-ing-doo.) IMHO, focusing a public planning project around a merit badge is poor public policy.

    Potter inherited a PDOT that was deeply rooted in 1980-90′s style funding, has a huge maintenance backlog, and he has a heck of a mess to clean up. It’s called fiscal responsibility. Figure out how to finance PDOT before you commit to more grand plans to spend money and make policy.

    Sure, more bikes means less road wear, but we already have problems that we can’t afford to fix. One of PDOTs current charges, as I understand it, is to get every major facility in safe working order for bikes, peds, cars, transit and freight. Then we can start planning improvements.

    Makes sense to me.

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  • Fixiechick April 30, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Thank you Mr. Geller for helping make my point!

    The man himself states that the existing plan gives the City enough to work with for the near term.

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  • Roger Geller April 30, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    To Fixiechick,

    Don’t get me wrong here. If we’re to make any significant progress in achieving our goals of making the bicycle a part of daily life in Portland we need to update the plan. My point to Jonathan is that the plan is not “woefully inadequate.” It is adequate. But, we can do much better than “adequate.”

    There are local, state and national issues, elements and concerns that indicate that this point in time presents us with a rare opportunity to make significant advances in creating in Portland a world-class cycling city. There is a huge latent demand among Portlanders to do what we can to be healthier, to reduce pollution, to take positive steps to make our lives and the planet better.

    While our current bicycle master plan provides us direction and tools to continue along our current path, it is not sufficient to get us to where we can be. So, perhaps in that vein, it is inadequate. Just not woefully. Again, we can do better.

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  • Fixiechick April 30, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    and don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying “don’t do the Bike Master Plan ever”

    I agree it is a valuable tool in progressing toward the Portland we want to be.

    All of the items you cite in your second pararaph aren’t going to change dramatically in a year or two.

    I’m just saying that now is not the right time, when the agency as a whole is trying to get it’s financial future sorted out. And maybe we can fund an even better BMP at that time.

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis April 30, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    Fixiechick, I don’t understand why you support the Mayor’s decision. If it is that you think there are higher budgetary priorities, then I simply disagree. There should be no higher priority — because there can be no better solution to Portland’s transportatin problems — than getting more bikes and fewer cars on the streets.

    The Plan isn’t just about improvements. It’s about figuring out ways to get people to *shift to bikes,* i.e., change their modes of transportation, so that expensive fixes and expansions of transportation infrastructure are less frequently needed. *That’s* fiscal responsibility. It approaches the problem in a wholistic way, rather than from the traditional perspective of continuing to devote massive and ever-expanding amounts of public funding to an unsustainable transportation system.

    Based on what you’ve written, I can see no reason why the Plan shouldn’t be the City’s highest priority, or why delaying funding will “maybe” allow us to create an “even better BMP” later. What’s so important that it needs to come before creating a sustainable transportation infrastructure? Care to elaborate? As Roger has pointed out, the “It’s adequate,” argument is simply not going to be good enough for what the majority of Portlanders want from their City and their government.

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  • Fixiechick April 30, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    AO #12 said “What’s so important that it needs to come before creating a sustainable transportation infrastructure? Care to elaborate?”

    Very simply, a sustainable funding source that doesn’t rely on gas tax or the feds.

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis April 30, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    So how does not funding the Plan move us toward “a sustainable funding source”?

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  • N.I.K. April 30, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    All of the items you cite in your second pararaph aren’t going to change dramatically in a year or two.

    They still change. The longer some of these issues get put off, the more work there is to do. When the budget necessary to implement the plan increases and the non-cycling public has been led to believe that things are “good enough for right now”, the harder it’s going to be to get funding.

    Additionally, the Mayor’s the guy equating the importance of implementing the Plan with earning the city an award. He clearly doesn’t understand the point of the Plan and doesn’t care about marginalizing the explicitly-addressed concerns of 300+ individual contacts on one issue in the space of a week. That’s where the remainder of the furor is coming from – Potter isn’t interested or concerned. It’s clear to me that he can’t be trusted.

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  • Matt Picio April 30, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    Fixiechick said: “…we already have problems that we can’t afford to fix. One of PDOTs current charges, as I understand it, is to get every major facility in safe working order for bikes, peds, cars, transit and freight. Then we can start planning improvements.”

    If we wait to get every major facility in safe working order, we’ll never plan additional improvements. There isn’t enough funds currently to manage even half the safety and maintenance needs that currently exist. The reason why we need to fund the bicycle master plan now is twofold – one, because planned changes to the existing system will take less time, effort and money than unplanned changes (or the repercussions of them) and two, because there are a huge number of potential cyclists that could be moved out of cars and onto bikes, reducing wear and tear on the existing substandard facilities. $100,000 for bicycle planning is miniscule, especially when viewed in the light of PDOT’s budget and the city budget as a whole.

    “All of the items you cite in your second pararaph aren’t going to change dramatically in a year or two.”

    The big problem with not funding the completion of the plan is the loss of momentum. $50,000 has already been allocated and will be spent. If the plan is fully funded this year, none of that work will be wasted. If it slides 1,2,3 years – then some of that work will need to be redone. It’s a waste of funds to start and stop projects.

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  • Fixiechick April 30, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    We had a 3-term mayor who deferred maintenance and did nothing toward making PDOT a self-funded agency. So Potter inherits a huge maintenance back- log, no asset management system, and an outdated and declining revenue stream to pay for it. As I said in my first post, I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind, but just offer an opinion that comes from more than a decade of working in city and transit agencies in the northwest. Continuing this discussion in this forum is a waste of my time. I only offer some insight as to maybe why Potter did what he did. (OR PDOT management advised Potter to do…)

    A.O. #14, For $100K, I doubt the Bike Master Plan is going to fully tackle the issues surrounding, much less implement, funding mechanisms like Street Utility fees, transportation serial levies or other sustainable ways to pay for transportation improvements for all modes. “Sustainable” here not being used in the “LEED-Certified,” “green living” context, but the concept that it can provide a predictable revenue stream over a long term with minimal fluctuation, including mechanism to reduce the impact of inflation.

    I agree with MattP that there is some loss of momentum and that it will have a cost. I also agree that the City will never be able to fully maintain it’s way out of the current mess. But from an infrastructure management standpoint, it makes some sense to figure out how to earn revenue, how much you can earn, and move toward getting those mechanisms in place before you start planning to spend it.

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  • Todd April 30, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    If there is such budgetary need…perhaps Portland citizens should make a counter offfer and ask their Mayor to sell off City of Portland’s fixed fleet assets (management sedans, staff cars, and motor pool parking) to the tune of $110,000 and have them use bicycles and Trimet.

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis April 30, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    You’re right, Fixiechick, your posts were utterly unconvincing. But simply offering an opinion without much support from detailed facts and/or reasoning is bound to be so. Too bad you feel as though that’s a waste of time, especially since you tout your experience as providing you with some insight into the topic…and since you took the time to post in the first place. Puzzling.

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  • Matthew April 30, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    I’m sorry, but “sustainable funding” for a city department is a joke. We don’t expect the police department to break even, even though they can write tickets and actually collect some revenue. (And imagine the outcry if they tried to write enough tickets to do so… The city of Coburg got 40% of their police funding in ticket revenue a few years ago, and the state passed a law because so many people were complaining.) Likewise, when the Fire Department shows up, they don’t send you a bill afterwards. If there was any reasonably way that PDOT could be self sufficient, then it wouldn’t need to be a city department, it would be a private company. PDOT is just going to lose money, and we accept that because it is the secondary benefits that it provides, (i.e. the city wouldn’t exist at all without some sort of transportation system,) that make it’s existence worthwhile. So that means they take money from the General Fund, and when they takes money from that, the people that pay into that, (us,) start telling PDOT where they should spend it: On the bicycle master plan.

    Now, if you don’t want them to spend money on that, that is one thing, but the very fact that the department isn’t self sufficient has nothing to do with that argument.

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  • beth h May 1, 2007 at 8:41 am

    Hey Kids!

    Wanna make a REAL statement?

    Coming soon to your mailbox (if it hasn’t arrived already): Your Multnomah County Ballot, which includes several City Charter Reform measures that are near and dear to Mr. Potter’s heart.

    Use black ink and be sure to fill in the dot completely.

    Sign, seal and mail back by May 15.

    And please, be responsible. Don’t drink and vote.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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