The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) stopped in Portland recently to meet with advocates and policy-makers to rally support for an ambitious congressional funding campaign.
As I reported a few weeks ago, the RTC hopes to secure $2 billion in the next Federal Transportation Bill to fund 40 communities to the tune of $50 million dollars each to “improve bicycle and pedestrian mode shift”.
The program would be an expansion of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program which gave 4 cities $25 million each in the last transportation bill.
“Portland is one of the cities we’re talking to very early on in this process.”
–Laura Cohen, Western Region Director for the RTC.
Around the table at the meeting in City Hall last week were reps from PDOT, ODOT, Metro, Alta Planning, the BTA, the Community Cycling Center, and the Portland Oregon Visitors Association.
We were given a formal introduction to the RTC’s 2010 Campaign for Active Transportation by their Western Region Director Laura Cohen (in photo, above) and their Manager of Trail Development, Benjamin Gettleman.
They called their campaign an “exciting federal policy opportunity,” and said they are very interested in partnering with Portland to make it happen. Cohen said,
“We brainstormed years ago and identified some communities we felt could really lead the way. Portland is one of the cities we’re talking to very early on in this process.”
In August, the RTC will bring their annual convention, TrailLink, to Portland. Benjamin Gettleman said that event would be “a pivotal launch” for this new campaign.
City bike czar Roger Geller said the time is perfect for Portland to get an infusion of cash for bike facilities.
“We’re particularly well-positioned now because we’re in the middle of updating our Bicycle Master Plan and we’re really thinking beyond the standard American plan development.”
Geller said Portland is poised for exciting progress, and that all we need is cash,
“We’ve got the leadership, the expertise and the desire, but what we need is the money.”
The meeting turned into an interesting discussion about the challenges Portland faces in improving bike facilities and the potential opposition (if any) if this funding opportunity materializes.
One topic that came up was the geographic consideration; if we did get this $50 million, where should it be spent? Should we spend it in a relatively small area, and create an experimental bike utopia, or should we spread the money around several small projects across the entire region or state?
The geographic scope is a major question, particularly because many of the political players are from down-state. In the words of one ODOT rep,
“Creating a Shangri-La in Portland, has ripple effects throughout the state, but I’d like to grow it beyond Portland.”
A broad geographic focus would carry more weight politically, but it might make it harder to demonstrate quantitative improvements in bike mode share.
Laura Cohen suggested another option would be to focus on a thematic concept, like focusing on improving connections to mass transit. Other topics discussed were the importance of connecting existing routes, whether or not to spend the money on safety/engineering improvements vs. livability, and how this money could help push Portland into the proverbial “Tipping Point” of bike use.
At this point, the RTC is just garnering support and feedback for the campaign and the true test will be convincing members of Congress to make it happen. If/when it does, I think there’s a great chance Portland could end up with a piece of the pie.