Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on April 30th, 2007 at 10:50 am
Portland’s current Bicycle Master Plan was last updated in 1995. It has served us well, but according to city planners and expert consultants, it is woefully inadequate and it no longer serves its purpose. Since it was completed, the number of bicyclists in Portland has skyrocketed and we have become a national model for livability.
We’re currently going through an important update process that was kick-started by $50,000 in city funding in 2006. The new Bicycle Master Plan will help guide Portland to a world-class transportation network that will provide citizens with safe, efficient, healthy, affordable and emissions-free transportation options for decades to come.
The Bicycle Master Plan is not just about bikes. The plan will include extensive research and insights on everything from neighborhood traffic engineering and safety to bike parking guidelines. It’s a health care plan, it’s a livability plan, it’s a plan for the future of Portland, a city whose official Comprehensive Plan (section TRN-6.01) includes the following:
“Make the bicycle an integral part of daily life in Portland, particularly for trips of less than five miles, by implementing a bikeway network, providing end-of-trip facilities, improving bicycle/transit integration, encouraging bicycle use, and making bicycling safer.”
However, despite the importance of this plan and its relatively low cost, Mayor Tom Potter recently decided that Portland could not afford $100,000 (out of a $37 million pot of flexible city funds) for its completion.
In response to this surprising decision, Mayor Potter’s office was inundated with over 300 calls and emails of concern from the community, making this one of the most contentious decisions in the history of his office (right behind the Foxworth scandal and school closures).
Yet despite this outpouring of concern from his constituents, in a statement released late Friday afternoon, the Mayor stood by his decision.
Without any further funding, the update process would run out of cash by this summer and would come to a grinding halt.
The community is in a state of confusion, shock and disbelief that such a relatively small, yet essential expenditure would not receive funding; especially from a Mayor who champions civic engagement, says safety is a top priority, rode his recumbent in Critical Mass at the start of his term and who received campaign support from bicycle advocates who said they supported Potter because he would, “work closely with the cycling and walking community to improve Portland.”
Part of me wants to believe that Potter was forced to make a tough decision and that he did what he truly felt was in the best interest of our city.
But another part of me is frustrated and very concerned.
My concern stems not just because I feel that Potter has sent a message to the community that a safe and equitable transportation network that encourages bicycling is no longer a priority for the City of Portland, but I’m also concerned that we are even in this position to begin with.
The budget process has been going on for months. Why were bike advocates not a larger part of that process? Were we too complacent?
Is this decision the harbinger of a new, tougher political era for bikes in Portland? Or is it just a blip on the radar?
What does it say about the stature of bicycling in this country if “America’s #1 Cycling City” is forced to clamor for a paltry $100,000 for an essential planning process?
Should we sit back expect City Council to pass an amendment to fund the plan? Or should we rally together, continue to pressure City Hall, and let Portland know this decision is not acceptable?
I hope to find clarity on these and other questions in the days and weeks to come. I welcome your thoughts.
(Stay tuned for more coverage and a post about how the community is responding to this situation.)