Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on May 19th, 2010 at 7:24 am
WA, WI, ME and MN.
The League of American Bicyclists has released rankings for their Bicycle Friendly States program. Oregon earned the fifth spot this year, slipping from the fourth spot we’ve held the previous two years. For the third year in a row, Washington retained the top spot with Wisconsin coming in second.
Moving up to take fourth place away from Oregon this year was Minnesota — home to Minneapolis, the city that unseated Portland from the top spot in a recent list of bike friendly cities by Bicycling Magazine.
Here are the top five:
“The reasoning for Oregon dropping below Minnesota is simply that Minnesota is performing better this year.”
— Meghan Cahill, League of American Bicyclists
- 1. Washington
And the bottom:
- 46. New Mexico
47. West Virginia
49. North Dakota
The rankings are based on a 95-item questionnaire that covers six areas: legislation, policies and programs, infrastructure, education and encouragement, evaluation and planning, and enforcement. To keep the rankings consistent and allow states to track their progress, the League keeps all the questions and methodology consistent each year.
Oregon’s ranking has improved significantly in all categories. In the past we scored low on Legislation (27th in 2008) and Planning (18th in 2008). This year, the League ranked Oregon in the top ten in four of the six categories. Our lowest ranking came in Infrastructure where we ranked 21st.
I asked the League’s director of communications Meghan Cahill why Oregon dropped to fifth. While she lauded our vulnerable roadway user law and Scenic Bikeway Program, she said, “The reasoning for Oregon dropping below Minnesota is simply that Minnesota is performing better this year. Oregon hasn’t been spending available federal funds that can be used for bicycling related projects as well as they could, and Oregon rescinded quite a bit of the federal money – more than was required by FHWA.”
The “rescinded” funds Cahill refers to above are funds that have been given to state DOTs (for programs like Transportation Enhancements (TE) that are a major funding source for active transportation projects) by the federal government but are sent back without being used.
According to analysis by advocacy group America Bikes, Oregon sent back $20.2 million to the Federal Highway Administration in 2009 in unspent funds slated for three active transportation programs (TE, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant program, and the Recreational Trails Program).
Why on earth would ODOT give back money to the feds? Pat Fisher, ODOT’s TE program manager says it’s not that simple.
I spoke with Fisher yesterday about the League’s criticisms and she said she’s frustrated by what she feels is a mischaracterization of a complicated issue:
“Recissions are very misundertood… Those dollars are not really accessible dollars… In reality that’s money that’s from clear back in the mid 90s. In order to award the money to some project now, you’d have to take another project out of the STIP [State Transportation Improvement Program] You’d have to argue that another project is going to be delayed because we want to go back and use the old TE money… Theoretically you could, but politically it’s just not going to happen.”
Fisher added that the rescinded money is often simply the difference between what Congress appropriates and what is then actually authorized to states. “It never got into the bank account to begin with.” She also said that much of the rescinded amount is not ODOT’s fault because even if they award money to counties and cities, if those agencies and jurisdictions don’t do their projects, the money is never spent (and therefore gets sent back).
Regardless of what played into these rankings, I don’t like being in 5th place. If this ranking gets under your skin (like it does mine), you can help Oregon become the best biking state in the country by joining us for the fifth annual Oregon Bike Summit on June 4th. We can’t be satisfied with fifth place! Come to the Summit and help us strategize and mobilize to reach #1.
(Get your big ideas together for how to make Oregon the #1 bike state… BikePortland will be hosting a contest for the best one. Stay tuned for details…)