Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 17th, 2012 at 11:59 am
The City of Portland's Transportation Options Division — the group behind such popular programs as Sunday Parkways and SmartTrips — no longer exists as a stand-alone section of PBOT. The consolidation of Options into a new "Active Transportation" group within PBOT's org chart — and the $350,000 cut that comes with it — is just one of the steps being taken to tighten operations and cut over $15 million in their ongoing discretionary budget.
Sunday Parkways and Neighborhood Greenways are also slated for significant cuts and 27 current PBOT employees will lose their jobs (most of the positions are labor/maintenance workers).
As we've been reporting for months, PBOT faces an unprecedented budget crisis and Options is just one casualty of several major reforms being carried out by bureau director Tom Miller.
"We reluctantly support the adoption of this proposed budget - though we do agonize over its outcomes."
— Letter from PBOT Budget Advisory Committee
The elimination of the Options division is coupled with a 25 percent reduction in the SmartTrips marketing program that aims to reduce drive-alone trips (it will now reach 6,000 fewer Portland households), and the elimination of 2.5 positions (1 program manager and 1.5 "transportation demand management" specialist positions).
PBOT will still do the major programs Options was responsible for, but they'll happen with fewer staff and funding resources and they'll happen under the new Active Transportation umbrella (which will be managed by Dan Bower, a veteran and solid PBOT staffer who understands the importance of bicycling).
PBOT's requested budget also includes cuts in Sunday Parkways. PBOT plans to reduce the City's investment in Sunday Parkways by $50,000 to a total of $120,000 — that's a 38 percent decrease over last year. The five events planned for this year will cost $494,000. To make up the difference, Parkways organizers will have to rely on more private sponsorships than ever. But, according to an ominous note in the budget document, more private support might not be enough to keep the program going at its current level:
"If a greater percentage of program costs are either not available for reduction (e.g. police overtime), or picked up by private contributors, a size or scope reduction maybe necessary for the Summer 2013 program year for Sunday Parkways."
PBOT's vaunted Neighborhood Greenways program also didn't survive unscathed. PBOT will cut the program to the tune of $150,000 a year. That cut amounts to a reduction of 1.5 miles of new bike boulevards each year.
But wait, there's more.
Other cuts that will impact bicycling conditions throughout the city include a $50,000 cut in bike lane cleaning. PBOT will reduce scheduled bike lane cleaning services from 600 to 420 miles per year (and will rely citizen complaints even more than they do now). If you rely ride on the shoulders of arterial streets that don't have bike lanes (like Sandy Blvd), PBOT is slashing the cleaning budget on those streets by $300,000.
And, for those of you that sometimes rely on sidewalks to get around the neighborhood, you'll notice fewer ADA curb ramps being installed. To save $1,000,000, PBOT will construct 300 fewer curb ramps than they did last year (from 700 to 400 per year) and they'll lay off six crew members.
These cuts are not pretty; but things listed above are minor when compared to the 27 current PBOT employees to who be laid-off and the ongoing uncertainty and transportation funding crisis that still looms.
In response to the bureau's official budget request, the PBOT Budget Advisory Committee (which is made up of citizen and labor union representatives and advocates — including a rep from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) issued a letter to Mayor Adams and City Commissioners. The BAC supports the budget (except labor reps who did not sign on to the letter due to the job cuts), but does so with strong reservations. Their main critique reflects on a directive by Mayor Adams set at the outset of budget talks: That no ideas for new revenue would be entertained.
"If council is unwilling to entertain new revenue to aid PBOT," the BAC letter reads, "we reluctantly support the adoption of this proposed budget - though we do agonize over its outcomes."
— The budget process is far from over. The Mayor takes each bureau's request and folds them into his own budget. There are community budget forums planned for March and you can share your feedback online.