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PBOT director weighs in on budget and Adams' "100 Day" promises

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 24th, 2009 at 11:56 am

PBOT Director Sue Keil at a
press conference in May 2008.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Back in January, just days before the Willamette Week broke news of Mayor Sam Adams' relationship with Beau Breedlove, the incoming Mayor unveiled an ambitious plan of projects he promised to complete in his first 100 days on the job.

Among those promises were several biggies for bikes; a "high profile" cycle track and 15 miles of bicycle boulevards to be "identified and implemented" in 2009 (there were other bike-related promises, but those were the big ones).

Yesterday, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance sounded an alarm that the budget put together by the Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) "ignores bikes". In an action alert sent out to their 3,000 Portland members, the BTA wrote that PBOT's budget, "Commits no revenue for building the Bike Boulevards called out in the Mayor’s 100 Day List" and that it "Fails to fund the demonstration cycle track called out in the Mayor’s 100 Day List."

PDOT Budget Town Hall - NoPo
Sue Keil and Sam Adams look
over a budget document in
this photo from January 2007.

That assertion miffed PBOT Director Sue Keil. I spoke with Keil this morning just minutes before she went into a staff meeting (where she announced an additional 20 positions will be cut from PBOT's payroll in 2009).

Keil pointed out that the cycle track project isn't in the 2009-2010 budget because it is being funded with cash already set aside from 2008. According to a PBOT employee, Keil re-iterated this point inside this morning's budget meeting. She told assembled staff that city traffic engineer Rob Burchfield has saved money from the 2008 budget specifically for the cycle track.

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The BTA's Michelle Poyourow also expressed her concerns yesterday that the PBOT Requested Budget (at that time) had no hard commitment to fund bicycle boulevards. Poyourow was aware that the budget included an "add" of $516,000 for the boulevard projects, but she wanted to make sure that the money was solid. Her concern was valid because next to the $516,000 for bike boulevards, PBOT wrote:

The Bureau of Transportation is working to identify local, state, or federal revenues to fund this project.

"Working to identify..." to an advocate like Poyouorow makes it too easy for PBOT to say later in the decision making process that the revenue could not be found (and therefore, you can't get your bike boulevard money).

According to Poyourow, she and Sue Keil spoke on the phone yesterday after the action alert was sent out. Poyourow asked Keil to clearly spell out in the budget that some of the increased revenue slated to come from parking and parking meter increases (expected to total over $6 million, if it passed a City Council vote) would be tied to bike boulevard funding.

"(If it wasn't for parking meter revenue) we'd be cutting millions more. If Council doesn't approve it we've got big problems."
-- Sue Keil

Keil confirmed to me this morning that she has sent a revised Requested Budget to the Office of Management and Finance that ties a portion of meter revenue to bike boulevard funding. According to Keil, the bike boulevards will be paid for out of a combination of several sources and she has agreed to use the increased parking meter revenue to "fill the gap" of $178,625 that remains.

Keil also shared with me that one of the reasons the bike boulevards were not given a clear funding source at the outset is because Mayor Adams initially intended to pay for them through a new "variable pricing" parking meter increase (a demand-based parking meter increase, which is different than simply raising prices across the board).

Keil said this variable pricing scheme was initially part of the budget plan but that Adams reversed himself and pulled the idea off the table.

At a meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Committee (not to be confused with the Budget Advisory Committee) back on February 10th, Keil said the idea came off the table because "Sam got a lot of push back from the Portland business community."

According to a transcript of that meeting, Keil added:

"Sam was very clear that this wasn't the right time to go with that (the variable pricing idea). Even though the Budget Advisory Committee nervously approved going forward with that...it's a concept we want to work with."

Without the variable pricing plan as a way to generate the revenue for bike boulevards, Keil says Adams' office asked her to come up with other options. Those options included using stimulus funds (which she said she's using $90,000 of for bike boulevard signs and markings), using the parking meter increase (which she said she has now decided to do), or cut PBOT staff positions.

Keil paints a bleak picture of PBOT these days. Gas tax revenue is down, the city is in a hole from their storm response, material costs (especially asphalt) have skyrocketed, staff cuts continue. Much seems to hinge on this new parking meter revenue (which she she says is already down $1 million this year because less people are coming to downtown). Even so, Keil told me this morning that, if it wasn't for parking meter revenue, "we'd be cutting millions more," and she added ominously, "If Council doesn't approve it we've got big problems."

Those problems exist with or without the parking fee increases so that means there are sure to be tough decisions in this year's budget. At the internal, staff-only budget meeting this morning, one employee who was there forwarded us this quote from Keil: "We're not working for the paving contractors or the AGC (Association of General Contractors, a lobbying group for paving and highway projects) or the BTA -- we're working for the public."


NOTE: Stay tuned for more budget coverage. I have a meeting/interview with Keil set for tomorrow morning and I plan to share a perspective from Mayor's office soon.

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Comments
  • Adam February 24, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Well it's nice to gain some more information about all this. Thanks for keeping us informed!

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  • steve February 24, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Way to cry wolf BTA.

    How people continue to pour money into the BTA pit is beyond me.

    Action Alert!

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  • steve February 24, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Almost forgot-

    Amy Ruiz for mayor!!

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  • Hollie February 24, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks so much for this clarification, Jonathan.

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  • Andrew Holtz February 24, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks for the update.

    I'll look forward to seeing firm budget proposals... and how the pain is shared. For instance, will there really be a $5 million INCREASE in spending on paving, even as staff and safety programs face huge cuts?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • BURR February 24, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    cycle tracks are a waste of money

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  • steve February 24, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    They certainly are.

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  • Paul Cone February 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Don't forget that paving involves staff (to manage the project) and safety, too (better road surfaces are safer to drive on).

    Jonathan, thanks again for the balanced reporting. You put The Oregonian to shame... witness the completely one-sided lead in today's Oregonian article about parking meter revenue... just giving more voice to those who expect all this transportation stuff to be free. Gah.

    And Burr, I'm still waiting for you to have any positive comment on anything.

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  • BURR February 24, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    I'm positive on sharrows, even though PDOT is not

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  • BURR February 24, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    I'm also positively for (1) banning studded tires, which ruin road surfaces, (2) eliminating right hook and door zone bike lanes, (3) the Idaho stop law, (4) enhanced tax credits for bicycle commuters, (5) banning personal motor vehicles from the downtown core

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  • ScottG February 24, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Thank you for the clarification. It's obvious during tight times like this the bike/ped community needs to keep strong pressure on PBOT if we want to make sure these proposals are given the priority and attention they need. Getting answers to these funding questions out into the public record is critical.

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  • Loner February 24, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    "cycle tracks are a waste of money"

    Why? Because you don't want any more people to ride? Only so many people are cyclists, but there are a hell of a lot of people who can ride a bike.

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  • Pete February 24, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Personally, I'd favor a gas tax increase over parking meter revenue (which hurts small retailers), but no politician seems to have the spine for such an unpopular move (and yes, I drive, lots, so don't start with the 'hippie bikers don't pay their share' B.S...).

    BURR (#6,9,10): right on all counts.

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  • manning7 February 24, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Steve- The BTA is doing exactly what it should: Starting a conversation about the budget and making sure its members put pressure on policy makers to keep bike projects funded.

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  • Malex February 24, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Jonathan, do you know if Keil said anything about about safe routes to schools? That was the third item on the action alert.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) February 24, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    "Jonathan, do you know if Keil said anything about about safe routes to schools? That was the third item on the action alert."

    Malex,

    I did not have time to get into the Safe Routes stuff with Ms. Keil. This is something I will definitely ask about when I meet her tomorrow morning.

    thanks.

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  • frank February 24, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    I appreciate the BTA and Jonathan staying on top of this.

    Incidentally, "skyrocketing" asphalt prices are down 40% in the past 6 months and falling.

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  • matt picio February 24, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Way to go BTA! It takes organizational courage to hold PBOTs feet to the fire and risk damaging the rapport they've built with PBOT over the years - but that's exactly what the BTA *should* be doing. With all due respect to Sue Keil, who has a very unenviable job in the current economy, it's so easy for PBOT, the city, or the public to ignore the funding for bike projects to take care of short-term issues - more so in a recession than, say, 5 years ago.

    People need transportation options - with the expense of cars and Tri-Met contemplating service cuts, those people need bikes, need pedestrian projects, and need the city to pay more than just lip service to their right for equal access.

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  • tip my hat to the bta February 24, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    best political move of the year

    keep following the money...

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  • matt picio February 24, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    frank (#17) - they're still high, down 40% from 6 months ago but effectively flat for the last two, and still 40% higher than last February.

    http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/ESTIMATING/docs/asphalt_fuel_prices/macmp_2-09.pdf

    Here's a graph I made based on the data:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattpicio/3308738444/

    We can expect to see a price rise again in the April/May timeframe, when refiners bias their products towards gasoline and away from the heavier products like asphalt. If anything disrupts the refineries en masse this year (like another hurricane), you can expect another high peak.

    If PBOT is smart, they'll buy asphalt now while it's cheap.

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