Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on September 2nd, 2011 at 8:58 am
"With a very few exceptions, America is no place for cyclists."
— The Economist
Two news stories involving our big city neighbors to the north, Seattle, are being shared around the web this morning and I think they're worth your attention (and commentary). The first is about a new tax on car registration to pay for transportation projects and the second is about how Seattle's lack of Euro-style bikeways is resulting in fatal bicycle collisions.
The Seattle Times reports on the $60 "car-tab fee" being proposed as a bond measure by the City of Seattle. The new fee would look to raise $204 million over 10 years to pay for a wide variety of transportation projects — from basic road repairs and maintenance to transit and bicycle-centric projects.
Seattle's effort to enact a fee to pay for transportation projects reminds me of Portland's Safe Sound & Green Street effort back in 2008. That massive effort that was spear-headed by then Commissioner of Transportation now Mayor Sam Adams. Adams wanted to raise $464 million to pay for much-needed road maintenance, bikeways, and other projects by enacting a tax on households and businesses (not a car-based fee). Unfortunately, the effort became highly politicized (Adams was in a race for Mayor at the time) and Adams ultimately shelved the plan.
Seattle is also making international news this morning. A short article in The Economist uses a recent fatal collision as an example of why America lags behind Europe in bike safety. The example is Michael Wang, who died back in July while bicycling in a bike lane.
"With a very few exceptions, America is no place for cyclists," the story begins. The reporter goes on to cite statistics that show the risk of death while cycling in America is three to five times more likely than it is in Denmark, Germany, or the Netherlands. The solution? More separated and dedicated bicycle infrastructure.
The article mentions Portland as one of only a few American cities that have successfully emulated Europe.
Both of these articles are good food for thought.
My feelings on The Economist piece are that not all bike lanes — or cities where they exist — are created equal. Take my story on Rosa Parks Way for instance. While I might prefer more separation and dedicated space/infrastructure for bicycle traffic, the project is a big improvement. The bike lanes are relatively wide and other changes to the lane configuration contribute to a much safer street. We also have a relatively high awareness of bicycle rights (to coin a Portlandia phrase) in this town, along with a very solid relationship with the Police Bureau to enforce them.
As for the fee proposal, we are still in dire need of a funding source to catch up with maintenance needs and to retrofit our system for the post car-dominant era. However, I'm afraid the current politics in Portland isn't anywhere near being able to muster a new fee proposal of any kind. With Adams failing to do it the first time around, I doubt he'll take it up in his remaining time in office. After the 2012 elections, we could have a brand new majority on City Council. Once that happens, maybe a big and bold transportation plan will see its day.