Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 8th, 2011 at 10:54 am
A story in The Oregonian published Friday (and an irresponsible Tweet by BikePortland) might have you thinking that Mayor Sam Adams — grappling with a tight budget at the Bureau of Transportation — has broken a promise to invest in sidewalks in East and Southwest Portland.
"Cracks have appeared in Portland Mayor Sam Adams' pledge to build new sidewalks" is the opening line in The Oregonian story. In a Tweet about that story, I wrote "Mayor Adams backed off promise to build sidewalks due to budget." "Not true at all," Adams replied, "but I agree that is the impression the article falsely conveys."
With historic cuts coming to PBOT, many in the community are watching Adams' spending decisions — especially those that impact biking and walking — very closely.
What follows is more context behind Adams' decision and how a local walking advocacy group is taking the news.
"There has been no change in the sidewalk commitment at all, it's a timing question. We couldn't get all the work out the door this year... it will get out next year."
— Catherine Ciarlo, Mayor Adams' transportation policy director
According to Adams and his staff, his support of that sidewalk investment is unwavering and the decision reported about on Friday is nothing more than a delay due to construction readiness.
The sidewalk funding issue revolves around a commitment Adams made to the Sellwood Bridge project last year. Adams set aside $8 million per year in new state gas tax revenue (for 20 years) to help fund the bridge. With the County unable to use that money until the 2013-14 fiscal year, Adams earmarked the money to build sidewalks instead — splitting the projects between Southwest and East Portland.
Even with much lower state gas tax revenues than expected, and with an extremely bleak budget situation looming next year, Adams' office maintains his support for the sidewalk investment remains.
Yesterday, Adams' head transportation policy advisor Catherine Ciarlo told BikePortland, "There has been no change in the sidewalk commitment at all, it's a timing question. We couldn't get all the work out the door this year... it will get out next year."
Ciarlo added that design and project development work is currently being done on all of the five deferred sidewalk projects mentioned in The Oregonian article and all are expected to be completed by the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year.
As published in the Fall Budget Monitoring Process analysis issued by the City's Financial Planning Division last month (PDF here), PBOT has decided to reduce its sidewalk investments this year by $3.25 million; but intends to increase its 2012-13 budget by that same amount "in order maintain the original program total."
That same analysis says PBOT's spending plans serve an "ambitious agenda" and that the agency's spending "sometimes appears to out-pace external revenue sources." Ciarlo says those spending plans were based on revenue projects from the state that simply didn't come in as high as expected. "We now have fewer resources... But this particular piece [sidewalks] remains a commitment."
At a City Council budget work session on November 1st, Adams was forced to respond to a question by a citizen activist who was concerned about sidewalk funding being eliminated.
"There is no change to the amount of $8 million set aside for pedestrian improvements," Adams said, "the total amount remains $8 million…we have protected that even though we’re cutting other parts of the Bureau due to a reduction in resources from the state related to the economy...we have to cut that much deeper in the next fiscal year, but we’re not cutting the $8 million."
The Oregonian story that broke this news also included a quote from Stephanie Routh, executive director of the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition. "It's sad news, but it's also tough times," she told the paper.
Contacted yesterday Routh told us that her organization is "very disappointed that long-needed sidewalk improvements are slated to be deferred." Routh, a member of PBOT's Budget Advisory Committee, says she'll work within the upcoming budget planning process to "ensure that funding for sidewalks are a priority."