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At Employers Bike Summit, Novick praises health benefits of bike investments

Posted by on May 16th, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Commissioner Steve Novick speaks Friday at
Regence headquarters.
(Photo: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Portland should be proud of its 6.1 percent bike commuting share, the highest of any large city, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick said at a summit Friday that gave local employers advice on supporting bike commuters.

“We beat Madison,” the city council member said. “We beat Minneapolis.”

The commissioner also returned to the subject he cites most frequently as a reason to support bike improvements: the local economy as a whole saves money through lower health costs when people build physical activity into their lives.

Recalling a 2013 trip he took to Copenhagen, Novick cited that country’s reasoning for investing heavily in bike infrastructure since 1970.

“When the number crunchers in the Danish government justify their investments in bike infrastructure, they look at the health benefits,” Novick said. “They did a study over the 14-year period and found that biking lowered the risk of death by 40 percent compared to sedentary commutes. … This is not, you know, fuzzy thinking in Copenhagen. They are crunching the numbers. And they are real numbers that are leading them to real conclusions.”


Novick also cited studies from Australia (“nearly $70 million in reduced health cost and over $72 million in reduced congestion and transportation cost”) and Charlotte, NC, where new riders of light rail lost six pounds on average, presumably due to their walking to and from the rail stop.

The commissioner also said he supports a monthly fee on households, businesses and government agencies that would pay mostly for, in his description, improvements to walking in outer neighborhoods and for pavement maintenance.

“We need to make investments so it’s safer to bike and walk to transit everywhere in our city,” Novick said. “You have major streets where kids are walking to school or would like to be able to walk to school without sidewalks. Intersections where traffic is rushing by and there’s not a flashing beacon or maybe even a crosswalk. So we have serious equity issues that need to be addressed. We need to make investments in sidewalks and in safer crossings — particularly in outer East and Southwest but in other places, too.”

Much of that money would also go to maintenance, Novick said.

“It is not alarmism to say that on our current path, at some point we would need to start deciding to do what the state of Texas is now doing in some areas, which is say, ‘Which streets do we need to convert to gravel because we can’t maintain them as paved streets any more?’”

The Portland Employers Bike Summit was sponsored by Regence, a health insurance company. It featured workshops on how to create a positive biking culture in the workplace, how to set up bike amenities like parking and tool areas, and more. After the workshops, attendees took a bike facility tour and then met up for networking time to share best practices (and a few locally brewed beverages).

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  • paikiala May 16, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Can we get BES to pay to convert parking lanes into gravel, or pervious pavement? The water would infiltrate into the ground and PBOT would only have to maintain the travel lanes.

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    • dwainedibbly May 17, 2014 at 10:37 am

      No, please. that would make it even harder to replace parking with bike lanes, etc.

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    • davemess May 19, 2014 at 8:12 am

      And then there is gravel on the road ALL THE TIME!

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    • Patrick May 19, 2014 at 8:16 am

      There would be more oil, gas & radiator fluid seeping into the ground instead of being captured by the sewer treatment.

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  • RH May 16, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    It would be nice to know for every employee that bikes to work, they
    -reduce health care costs by x dollars
    -decrease parking costs by x
    -reduce carbon by x tons per year
    -are more productive by x %
    Etc…

    I like seeing more specific data vs data of a whole country. It makes it more human scaled and something business owners could relate to.

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    • Dan May 16, 2014 at 6:58 pm

      I know I’m more productive during my work hours on days I ride to work. I don’t feel as lethargic.

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      • q`Tzal May 19, 2014 at 9:07 am

        Given how “reality deniers” refuse to accept even the most simple proven facts anecdotal evidence isn’t worth Hippocrates’ flatulence.

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  • J_R May 16, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    We could also support the proposed safety and sidewalk improvements if we had an INCREASE IN THE GAS TAX instead of a new tax, I mean user fee, levied on households, business and agencies.

    An increase in the gas tax would have the increased benefit of creating a miniscule incentive to shift from big, inefficient motor vehicles to smaller more efficient ones and, gasp, to walking and bicycling, too.

    We all agree there are many benefits to increased walking and bicycling – improved health, less carbon emissions, increased national security, etc. Promoting use of alternatives for employees is one way of doing it. Improving infrastructure is another. We just have to find the way to fund it.

    I’ll support any increase in gas tax to make it happen.

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    • 9watts May 16, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      Funny to me how Novick omitted the fact that Copenhagen doesn’t have a stupid street fee but the Danes have perhaps the highest taxes on automobiles of just about any country in the world.
      http://www.copenhagenize.com/2012/10/danish-180-tax-on-cars-is-rather.html

      The 180% on top of a basic car price:
      Sales and registration: 106,960 DKK ($18,583 USD)
      Ownership tax: 44,562 DKK ($7,742 USD)
      Insurance tax: 8412 DKK ($1,461 USD)
      Fuel tax at 15,000 km/year of 15 km/liter: 50,989 DKK ($8,857 USD)

      Total taxes over 12 years: 210,922 DKK ($36,643 USD)

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      • was carless May 17, 2014 at 7:20 pm

        Although you could argue we could make huge progress with 1/10 or less the taxes they have.

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  • spare_wheel May 16, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    ‘Which streets do we need to convert to gravel because we can’t maintain them as paved streets any more?’”

    I think this is a good idea.

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  • John Liu May 16, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    I don’t much like riding on gravel . . .

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  • Barbara Stedman May 17, 2014 at 8:39 am

    I’m glad that Novick got the message that E and SW Portland needs more pedestrian and bike facilities. I attended both street fee townhall meetings in SW Portland. They both had the highest attendance compared to those in other parts of Portland. And most people asked for more sidewalks and bike infrastructure. This is maybe not surprising if you know that only 33% of SW Portland streets have sidewalks. If you take out Downtown we are probably looking more at 80% without sidewalks (E Portland has only 44% without sidewalks). That means that these streets often also don’t have bikelanes or bikelanes are shared with pedestrians. I think that building sidewalks will also help bike safety. First of all, PBOT will put in bikelanes when they put in sidewalks (SW Vermont is a good example). Secondly, it will improve the overall safety by slowing cars down. Thirdly, sidewalks can be used for biking by smaller kids or people who don’t feel safe on the street. I do hope that the street fee will bring us separated bike facilities as well.

    By the way, our gravel street is excellent at calming and limiting car traffic! Not very conducive to biking, though, especially as it is steep.

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  • davemess May 17, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Does anyone else feel a little disbelief in all of Novick’s recent bike talk?

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    • 9watts May 17, 2014 at 9:09 am

      What rankles me is the reason for this spin.
      Instead of advocating for what makes sense: a gas tax where those causing the damage, inflicting costs on everyone, are charged, he’s inherited and is running with this asinine street fee which he well knows is one more subsidy by the car-free to the car-ful. So he now has to beat the safety and pedestrian and bike drums over and over and over to placate his audiences who can see through this.

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      • Barbara Stedman May 17, 2014 at 11:06 am

        Interestingly, in the surveys the city did, the answers were very clear against any form of tax, either gas or income tax for this, even though both would be more equitable as they take into account use of cars or level of income, compared to a flat fee. Charlie Hales said at the town hall meeting that he was surprised about that, too, and would prefer a progressive tax.
        They also explained that the fee is based on number of trips per household and that even if you don’t own a car, the trash truck is still coming to your house, as is the Amazon delivery by UPS or the grocery delivery to the store. Plus, businesses have to pay per trip, so car-heavy businesses will pay more (and this will cover out of towners visiting these businesses which a tax would not). And if we get more pedestrian and bike facilities, it will be for the benefit of low car households. The fee will, by the way, also be paid by non-profits like colleges, who would not pay a tax.
        I just hope that a fee on everybody will mean that it is politicially more feasible to use the money for sidewalks and bikelanes.

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        • Oregon Mamacita May 17, 2014 at 11:22 am

          The surveys were poorly designed. Bad questions yield invalid data.
          People always support “fees” and not “taxes.” A “fee on cute kittens” tests better than a “tax on chewing tobacco” because people hate the word “tax.”.

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        • 9watts May 17, 2014 at 11:36 am

          I hear you, Barbara, but this is a very clunky and expensive way of accomplishing what a (respectable) gas tax does elegantly and cheaply. There’s just so much guesswork (do I have garbage service? =no; do I shop online? =yes) with the street fee. All of us vary tremendously in how much we rely on the fossil fueled transportation system. The gas tax perfectly captures this variability as the costs of driving, whether by UPS, garbage hauler, or my own, are passed on to me (the buyer of gas or the recipient of a service). The street fee, by contrast, is more like a Soviet-style, hopelessly crude algorithm that is based on gas tax envy. Why?

          “And if we get more pedestrian and bike facilities, it will be for the benefit of low car households.”

          Crumbs. And I doubt it will. We know that our maintenance backlog is up to 10x what the street fee can reasonably be expected to generate,* so how could it possibly accomplish what is being peddled here? Mr. Blacktop isn’t going to give it all away like that.

          “I just hope that a fee on everybody will mean that it is politicially more feasible to use the money for sidewalks and bikelanes.”

          Not crossing fingers. The we already subsidize cars argument is not reinforced by this tack.

          “Non-drivers tend to travel less, people who rely primarily on bicycling for transportation typically ride 3 to 6 miles per day or 1,000 to 2,000 annually. If their costs are an order of magnitude smaller than automobile travel (0.7¢ per mile), a typical cyclist imposes $7 to $14 in roadway costs, and pays $224 in general taxes toward roadways, a significant overpayment.”
          http://www.vtpi.org/whoserd.pdf

          * http://bikeportland.org/2014/04/18/businesses-and-bikeways-city-reveals-more-details-on-street-fee-104800#comment-4735979

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        • davemess May 19, 2014 at 8:14 am

          Except their sampling size was large and survey had no real statistically significant results.

          Interesting because by the time the last meeting rolled around they were just saying flat out that they couldn’t raise the gas tax, and I never got a clear answer on why?

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    • Oregon Mamacita May 17, 2014 at 11:19 am

      Novick is spinning around and acting strangely, IMHO. For instance, the whole Wal-Mart protest is pointless. While I love to bike and support
      bike infrastructure (equitably distributed) I think his whole “Bikes will save the world” business as nonsense. East Portland ain’t buying it.
      For me, with Novick, the scary thing is that he claimed to have a secure bike share sponsorship who has miraculously disappeared. Until he explains himself- he will have no credibility with me. Lies are like house mice- you see one and you know you have more.

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      • 9watts May 20, 2014 at 5:46 am

        “I think his whole “Bikes will save the world” business as nonsense. East Portland ain’t buying it.”

        Check out some of the Monday Roundup links. Fortunately lots of folks disagree with you, Oregon Mamacita.
        Washington Post:
        “Global warming should be a top priority in the wake of recent reports. The United States is already facing wide and severe effects of climate change, such as sea-level rise, heat waves, flooding, droughts and wildfires. Without changes in how we live, things will only worsen. If American commuters biked as much as those in Amsterdam, our future would be brighter. What we desperately need is more people living in dense areas and traveling in ways that don’t burn fossil fuels…”

        Australian paper:
        “The bicycle is a machine of utmost elegance. If you had to invent the minimum-gesture device to address the maximum number of contemporary crises – carbon, congestion, pollution, obesity, health costs, land-pillage, sprawl – that device would surely be the bike. [...] The car, by contrast, is deeply last century. Aggressive, loud, fast, filthy, thrilling, conscienceless and blindingly convenient, it either exacerbates these crises or has caused them.”

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  • Todd Hudson May 17, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Can we clone Steve Novick twice and elect him to Fish’s and Saltzmann’s seats? He seems like the only competent local pol who actually goes the extra mile for bike infrastructure

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    • Alex Reed May 18, 2014 at 7:56 pm

      Nick Caleb (running to replace Saltzman) is a current bike commuter and responds unequivocally in favor of bike, walk, and transit issues in his campaign’s response to Bike Walk Vote PAC’s questionnaire: http://bikewalkvote.org/candidates/2014/portland-city-council-position-3/nick-caleb.pdf

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      • Todd Hudson May 19, 2014 at 8:49 am

        I googled Caleb’s name when I was filling out my ballot. The results lead me to an article on this website….he was one of the **personal insult deleted by moderator** who lead that Veloprovo debacle last year, and he even vociferously defended it. No effing way I would vote for him.

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    • davemess May 19, 2014 at 8:15 am

      Does he? Where was he when we’re fighting to replace parking with bike lanes?

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  • TOM May 18, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I keep hearing ..Blackmail

    “if you don’t like the new slush fund , then no added safety improvements for you, dumb citizen”

    Apartment owners pay for the residents/transients , but homeowners pay for themselves … or does it get tacked onto rent ? Sounds like a variation of the “arts tax”. An exclusion/income verification system ?

    Geeze, from Kitz on down, it’s “ride the backs of the people”.

    Just a big can of worms.

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