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As cuts loom, PBOT asks for help to prioritize

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 19th, 2008 at 2:31 pm

[Note: You'll notice I've begun using the acronym PBOT instead of PDOT. That's because the Portland Department of Transportation (which actually is the Office of Transportation but no one ever called it POOT) will soon officially become the "Bureau" of Transportation.]


"If you had to cut $6.4 million out of Transportation's budget, how would you prioritize the following programs?"
-- From an online survey put out by PBOT

Citing an expected shortfall of $6.4 million for the coming financial year, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), through their Budget Advisory Committee, has launched an online Budget Prioritization Survey. The budget shrinkage, they say, is due to a "sagging gas tax and lower parking revenue".

According to Transportation Commissioner Sam Adams' policy advisor Shoshanah Oppenheim, the budget survey has been sent out all neighborhood associations, business districts, chambers of commerce, etc...

"The intention," she says "is to get a benchmark from the community as to their priorities." Oppenheim says that "this is a difficult time for PBOT" and that they expect "significant reductions" to their budget.

The survey is part of a process PBOT has undertaken in order to scrutinize their expenditures. Also as part of that process, they've formed a Budget Advisory Committee to review results of the survey. The committee, according to Oppenheim consists of reps from the BTA, neighborhoods, labor, and the business community.

The committee's task is to help PBOT identify cuts in "discretionary funded activities" that will equal the $6.4 million gap.

Just where those cuts will come from remains to be decided, and will be "weighed against bureau priorities." "Maintaining a safe system for all modes, including cyclists," Oppenheim assured me, "is a priority of the bureau and the Mayor-elect."

The survey lists 25 "programs" in "priority order" and then asks, "If you had to cut $6.4 million out of Transportation's budget, how would you prioritize the following programs?"

The programs themselves are sort of curious. The top three listed are; "Traffic Signal Operations", "Traffic Maintenance", and "Transportation Planning." "Streetlighting Operations" is listed #6. There's no mention of bikes specifically, but "Sidewalk Preservation" is in there as #13. I'm not sure whether most Portland have any clue about what those things are.

[Thanks to a comment below by PBOT employee Paul Cone, here's a link to their website that might be helpful in learning more about these programs.]

I'm also a bit surprised more outreach wasn't done for such an important survey. I only came across it through the City of Portland's website RSS feed. Other than that, only one person (a PBOT staffer) forwarded me the link, and did so with subject of "important survey".

You can take this important survey here. Responses are due on January 2nd.

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Comments
  • Matthew Denton December 19, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    I thought it was:
    Portland Office of Transportation.

    But I've never seen this survey, and I'm on my neighborhood association as person that this would have gone to, (unless they are using a 2 year old list or something.) I've heard that PDOT was going to make cuts, (from Sam Adams, at a neighborhood Land Use Chairs meeting,) but no mention of a survey, and I'm signed up for e-mail updated from Sam Adams office too, so, yeah, fail on the publicity of this survey...

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) December 19, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    I agree they failed to get the word out about this survey. i know a lot of people in n'hoods and they always forward me stuff like this.. so I knew when I didn't see it in my emails that something was messed up.

    we'll have to see what happens with the results.

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  • Bent Bloke December 19, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Now I really want to call them POOT!

    It's a shame they have to suffer these reductions at a time when their services are so obviously needed. I guess this is what happens when funding is tied to just one transportation mode.

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  • Bob December 19, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Sorry, but this survey isn't going to yield any valuable information. I just went through it and didn't know half the programs listed. Would be much more accurate if they actually provided information about what these programs do and what budget cuts would mean to each program.

    For what it is worth, I think Transportation Options does some good bike-related work, including Sunday Parkways.

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  • benschon December 19, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Is anyone else using the PBOT acronym? People use PDOT ("pee-dot") because it is parallel to what most people call other big transportation agencies: ODOT, WashDOT, PennDOT, etc. I suspect most people will keep calling it PDOT.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) December 19, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    "Is anyone else using the PBOT acronym"

    it's brand new so not really.

    i'm not sure what to do. I suspect PDOT will start to use it in all their communications, so I think the media should follow their lead.

    I know it seems awkward at this point, but I just want to be accurate.

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  • peejay December 19, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Priority # 1: Change the was gas is taxed, so we won't keep going through this ridiculous crisis every time people start transitioning away from driving!!!!! Tax per dollar, not per gallon. This is a no-brainer, P*OT!!!!!

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  • Paul Cone December 19, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    I work at PDOT/PBOT/POOT but this is my own personal comment, and not any official/government comment.

    The items on the survey look like all sections/divisions within the organization. I work there and even I sometimes don't know what some of the workgroups do. I can certainly see how people outside the organization would be confused as to what each workgroup does. For some help, you can start at the following link... http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=39619

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  • a.O December 19, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Float a bond to purchase 100 photo-radar machines. Put them on residential streets throughout Portland set to the relevant speed limit. Revenue problem solved.

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  • Burk December 19, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks for the help Paul but I'm with Bob, I am so lost on this survey...

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  • Donna December 19, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    a.O - isn't there some sort of legal and contractual crap that needs to be dealt with before they can put in automated stuff like that? Maybe I'm thinking about red light cameras, though.

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  • Lisa G. December 19, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    I am active in my neighborhood association and I never saw the survey either, it was not on a meeting agenda.

    I think this is worth doing the research to navigate the bureaucratic maze before taking the survey. Thanks, for the link, Paul.

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  • Steve G December 20, 2008 at 6:12 am

    Another revenue-enhancing idea for PDOT: introduce variable pricing for downtown on-street parking and SmartParks. Specifically:

    * Areas of higher demand in the downtown core should -- like the off-street parking spaces -- cost more, per hour, than areas of less demand.

    Sundays shouldn't be free. It's harder to find parking downtown on Sundays than any other day, because people simply NEVER move their cars.

    * Small cars should be issued a different color parking tag -- and a discount. A Honda Fit, Smart, Yaris or an electric golf cart should pay less than an Excursion SUV, which takes up twice the curb space.

    All of the above could likely be accomplished at minimal cost, by simply reprogramming the software in the solar parking meters.

    * a significant portion (50%?) of the resulting revenue increases should be given back to the local Business Improvement District, both to diffuse the almost-inevitable pushback, and to give local business owners to invest in trash pickup, street trees, benches, bike racks, etc.

    * some of the other Business Improvement Districts (Hawthorne, Alberta, Mississippi, etc.) should also be metered. This would increase "turnover" of parking spaces, and encourage more people to bike and/or walk to these areas.

    Not convinced? Check out "The High Cost of Free Parking" by Donald Shoup.

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  • a-dub December 20, 2008 at 6:32 am

    Steve G., The price for on street parking downtown doesn't varies based on duration not cost per hour. So some spaces have limits of 60 min, 90 min, etc. but they all cost the same per hour. The idea is to encourage turnover of the space not to increase revenue.

    An Excursion SUV might take up more curb space, but parking spaces are all painted and the same size so in the end the Excursion takes up more of the parking space. You really don't want to get in to designating "compact" spaces on the street. It is the most ignored sign in a strip mall parking lot and would be difficult to enforce (would you list what qualifies as compact at each space).

    How about no free parking on Sundays?

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  • Steve G December 20, 2008 at 6:53 am

    A-dub-

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. A couple of points:

    - I know that parking is currently managed by time only, but why not add a price component on top of it? Keep the time limitations, but also vary the price/hour. I don't think it would be that difficult, and it would send the right signal: these spaces are more valuable than those others, a bit farther away...

    - You're right that downtown parking spaces are still marked, but I'm not sure why. I think it's a legacy of the old days, when each space had its own meter. Hawthorne and the unmetered areas don't have marked spaces; why should downtown? The space markers just prevent people from using the available space efficiently, and reduce potential revenue. It also costs money to stripe them. Why not simply get rid of the lines?

    W/R/T enforcement, a "small" car could easily be designated as "less than X feet long, bumper to bumper." It might take a few warnings and public service advertisements, and a stripe on the sidewalk showing how long a "short" car is for people to catch on, and the tickets could be modest for the first few months. If the measurement is objective, it's easily enforceable: if your car is longer than X feet and you have a "small car" parking tag, you get a ticket. It's pretty hard to contest the length of your car...

    - Totally agree about Sundays. They're absolutely the worst days to find a parking space downtown.

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  • Oliver December 20, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Not being a fan of Red-light or Speed cameras, i'm surprised by how aroused I am by the concept of residential speed cameras. I want one for my street now! I was just saying this morning how positively the snow has affected the speed on my street.

    And change the archaic charging by mph above the limit to % of maximum above the limit. (too bad we all know how the people who make the rules feel about taxes based on percentages rather than absolute value)

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  • Will change come? December 20, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    I'd reduce PDOT staff by 5%. get rid of the true underperformers and the rest will happen by natural attrition.

    I don't see variable parking as something that PDOT would be willing to the try nor do I think downtown businesses would stand for any increase in parking costs. Also don't think metered parking would go over well in districts that don't have it. It's not a bad idea though.

    Personally, I'm into massively raising the price and number of tickets given out by the city, especially for violations such as speeding/DUIs and red-light running. Not sure if folks wold stand for that.

    If the state legislature is unwilling to raise the gas tax to sufficiently cover the increase in costs I don't think there is much hope. PDOT should work more effectively w/ Portland area legislators to get it done.

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  • bikieboy December 20, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    as Paul (#8) alluded to, a little elaboration on what each survey category refers to in real terms would have been helpful.

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  • jim December 21, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Getting rid of the biodiesel at $7.00 a gallon would be a good start

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  • Paul Tay December 21, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    86 PDOT?

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  • Paul Tay December 21, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Oops. PBOT. :-P

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  • Patrick December 22, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    While bicycling may not be listed as a topic, #9 Transportation Options is the name of the section that coordinated the Sunday Parkways, coordinates the SmartTrips program and (from the text on the PDOT site) "provides information, resources, and tools to help Portland residents, employers, and employees make good choices about how to get around."

    Sounds like a high priority to me.

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  • Chris Shaffer December 25, 2008 at 7:58 am

    The survey is useless. Over 80% of the questions had no meaning without context.

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