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Elly Blue: Street fee is for the public good

Posted by on February 7th, 2008 at 10:41 am

[This article was written by contributor Elly Blue. You can read more from Ms. Blue here.]

“…gas stations, convenience stores, and oil suppliers…benefit more than most from having a road system in good repair.”
–Elly Blue

When it comes to road maintenance, what’s good for bicyclists is good for everyone.

In fact, the proposed street fee that has dominated news headlines lately, amounts to a subsidy by those who drive little to those who drive a lot.

Yet bicyclists, often labeled “anti-car,” are thrilled to subsidize car infrastructure — why? Because it’s for the public good. Because people have to get around. Because it paves the way for a future in which it’s a little easier to get around even if you can’t, shouldn’t, or won’t drive a car. A future where we have real choices and viable options.

(File photo © J. Maus)

The Safe, Sound, and Green Streets initiative is not an extreme solution to the perils of the car-dominated city we’ve created for ourselves. It is a start at bailing us out of the horrible road maintenance situation we are in, and would lay the foundation to prevent such straits in the future.

Its primary purpose is to fix the horrible state of roads like West Burnside that benefit the masses who still need or choose to drive their cars in the city.

I support this initiative in part because of the small amount of it that is allocated to bicycle infrastructure. I also support keeping our road infrastructure in good shape so that the many people who must drive are not penalized for living in a society that has unfortunately made it their only viable option.

Encouraging bicycling is just good pavement management. Bikes reduce the wear and tear on the roads and the costs to maintain them. Bicycling is by the lowest counts 5% of the mode share in Portland (in some neighborhoods it’s more like 15%) and yet we still spend less than 2% of our transportation budget on bike-related projects. That’s a far better return on investment than any other mode, even if you don’t calculate the savings in public health, reduced pollution, the booming bicycle economy, worker productivity, and plain old pavement management.

For all this, and for the good of everyone (we all are tied to the road system whether we drive or not) I am supporting this bill.

“Maintaining our public roadways is the classic example of what we need government for.”
–Elly Blue

What is hard for me to comprehend is why gas stations, convenience stores, and oil suppliers would be against it, since they benefit more than most from having a road system in good repair.

The host of anti-transportation activists behind this bill want us all to either drive everywhere or go nowhere. They want their driving habits — and the big money industries which benefit from them — subsidized and paid for by money that could be going to stimulate the economy, create a world class educational system, or reaching out to people who have been left behind in this anti-government era. They want our streets to deteriorate, tied up in the red tape they pride themselves on creating, to the point where we have to call in private companies to bail us out.

Maintaining our public roadways is the classic example of what we need government for. We are lucky to have leaders with the strength and foresight to lay the foundation for the future of our transportation system, and to stand up to anti-transportation, anti-government activists who are trying to use political maneuvers and nonsense propaganda to convince Portlanders to vote against their own best interests.

[Editor’s note: I welcome more editorials on this topic. Feel free to send them to me.]

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  • West Cougar February 7, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Very good persepective Elly.

    I\’ve always been cautiously in favor of the Green Streets because financially it throws cyclists a bone. A bone we\’d perhaps otherwise not get. But make no mistake, it is a bone. And we\’re paying a lot for that bone. So if Green Streets goes down, I\’ll not cry for it.

    Eventually cyclists will get their due because the return on investment for cycling infrastructure is so overwhelming. In an era of cutting budgets and general scarcity ROI will matter.

    So buck-up people and stop all the agonizing already.

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  • a.O February 7, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Nice work, Elly!

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  • john February 7, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    The streets mainly get torn up, used up, because of heavy vehicles. As or if Tri-Met buses are replaced, strong consideration should be given to lighter weight buses, or bigger or more tires, even if they might cost much more, There should be a good Return on Investment since the streets will not get tore up as much.

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  • […] article got under my skin a little bit. Check it out, and see what you think. In my opinion the tone is overly dramatic, and it is full of subjective […]

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  • steve February 7, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I am confused as to why I should care more about Elly\’s opinion than my own. Or any random strangers?

    Even if one were aligned with her opinions on this tax, this piece is off putting on numerous other points.

    No facts to support her wild claims. Highly emotive descriptions and outlandish dispersions are not strong rallying points. This piece is nothing but a series of emotional and provocative statements, that may or may not be true. We do not know, as the author does not attempt to justify her claims.

    She just makes one unsupported conclusion and jumps right to the next. This editorial showcases all the faults with special interest politics. She can\’t see the forest for the trees.

    No substance and all fluff.

    Sigh and a yawn from me.

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  • N.I.K. February 7, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    That\’s just about the most laborious yawn I think I\’ve ever seen, steve.

    Why should you care about anyone\’s opinion? Nobody\’s got you at gun point. You opted to read a posting to a blog -a form of communication known to be slopping over with opinion and emotion- as well as comment on said posting entirely of your own volition.

    So: why do you care?

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  • steve February 7, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Umm, this is the comment section. I left a comment about an article posted on a site I read. In the space set aside just for that.

    You, are bickering with someone for leaving a comment, in a space for commenting.

    Care to comment?

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  • Lynne February 7, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    #5 – so, which forest is the author not seeing? Substantiate, please.

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  • Steve (not steve) February 7, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks Elly, great editorial.

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  • wsbob February 7, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    Gas stations and convenience stores…many of them are probably small businesses. It\’s tough for small businesses to make it. Even though they\’ll be transferring at least part of rising costs to customers, they probably are sweating money they\’re going to have to pay out for Safe, Sound, and Green Streets. That\’s why the people putting that plan together should have been careful from the get-go, not to give big stores that generate lots of trips a better fee rate than businesses generating comparatively far fewer trips.

    As far as streets and getting around them are concerned, changes are probably in store, one way or another. This an inevitable consequence of rising gas prices, increased population density and motor vehicle congestion. Citizens of Portland are likely to support a good initiative that sustains integrity of the streets if it\’s made clear to them what they\’re getting for the money.

    I welcome and appreciate anyone\’s sincere, heartfelt thoughts that they\’ve made an effort to express in editorial.

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  • steve February 7, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Silly folks!

    I agree with Elly on many things I am sure. My point was that this article is not persuasive. It is merely pandering to people already on board. Or perhaps bored..

    Preaching to the choir, I believe it is called.

    So what then, is the point? If it looks like propaganda and smells like propaganda.. It must be an editorial, right?

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  • N.I.K. February 7, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Humoring steve, here\’s a comment: Elly\’s written a fine piece that I mostly agree with in principle but which I would never consider holding up to the anti-street maintenance fee crowd for the exact reasons steve pointed out. However, I think her points are valid and could be used as the basis for creating an argument substantiated by cited statistics. Not having sat down to read a proper study of the issue swarming with statistical analysis, however, I can\’t say I\’m especially disappointed. Easy as it is to bitch about \”preaching to the choir\”, a well-crafted opinion piece can serve as the basis for working up useful talking points that can prove useful in swaying public opinion, and that\’s something that\’s going to be necessary in the run up to the issue going on the ballot.

    Having no reason to blow smoke up Elly\’s ass, I want to re-emphasize that it\’s a blog post, and choosing to complain about it being dull or boring or without merit is a bit ridiculous. If you want to argue any particular points addressed in the post, that\’s fine, but don\’t lose sight of the medium you\’re voluntarily dealing in. Blogs should be taken in context: they *are* largely geared around opinion, whether you\’re looking at things in terms of particular usage of language or in the overall focus, which certainly polarizes things and tends to contribute to an overall message.

    Read a blog? Yeah, your call. Don\’t blame anyone else.

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  • Elly Blue February 7, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Hey all, thanks for the straightforward feedback.

    To the commenter above, I like to think a lot of the content of this blog is not just geared towards opinion, and is competitive with other more traditional sources of news in this city.

    But it\’s true, I\’m not writing news, and I\’m not trying to write editorials geared at people outside the Portland bike community/choir (though I know and try to keep in mind that a lot of other folks read this site).

    Yep, this piece was long on opinion and short on facts. It probably could have benefited from another draft and more research, but that wasn\’t in the cards this week. Anyone else want to have a go out of drafting something from this, or from scratch, that might be suitable for submission elsewhere?

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  • Vance February 7, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    I am not the author of post #4, just so you know.

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  • Bjorn February 7, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    wsbob #10 The council heard the concerns of the small business gas stations and stores and changed the fee structure in accordance with their wishes even though they hadn\’t participated in the public process that developed the proposal. There fees will even be lowered further if the state passes a statewide gas tax.

    After all these changes were made, some of which might be described as the council caving to this special interest business lobby, Romain still wanted to lead the charge for referal. Based on the facts it appears to me that the small business angle is just another red herring from Paul Romain.


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  • Matt Picio February 7, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    I second what wsbob said (#10), but it\’s not so much \”small business\” as \”low margin\”. If there were a way to pass the fee directly back to the corporations whose logos are on the buildings (7-eleven, Shell, BP, Plaid Pantry, etc) rather than those costs being absorbed by the individual licensees, THAT would be a good thing. Bjorn\’s (#15) comment about them not being involved in the public process is partially irrelevant – the city is trying to protect the actual business owners, not the corporations who rake in the franchise fees.

    Note that legitimately unaffiliated small business owners like Jeff Bernards do not support the street fee because it penalizes businesses for actually doing business. The businesses aren\’t generating the trips, the people are. Why not tax the people making the trips? 2 reasons – it\’s easier to pass a tax or fee if it doesn\’t affect the majority (i.e. consumers, residents, non-business owners), and it\’s easier to administer if it *does* pass.

    Linking it to the gas tax would be more fair, but that\’s not an ideal solution either. We\’re very near Peak Oil if not there, so the number of gallons sold per year is about to start an irreversible decline, and the number of tax dollars with it.

    Bottom line – stock up on tires and tubes, and roadies – get used to knobby tires.

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  • wsbob February 7, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Bjorn and anyone else that\’s interested, go read Tony\’s comment #59 on the \’Council passes landmark funding proposal; Romain will refer\’ thread on this weblog. You\’ll see what I\’m talking about.

    I should note that in that comment, Tony hasn\’t indicated exactly where the figures can be found. I\’m trusting that they\’re on the level. I haven\’t personally looked, but I\’m thinking they would be on the Safe, Sound, and Green Steets website. I\’m aware of reports that Adams made a concession to Romain and his coalition members, offering a specific fee category to gas stations and convenience stores, but wonder if that adequately addresses what seems to be a fundamental flaw in the principle that the fee structure is based on.

    It makes no sense to give a business a progressively greater discount on the fee as the number of motor vehicle trips their business generates rises. Clearly, excessive numbers of motor vehicles on streets are the key contributor to street congestion, deterioration, and danger to everyone.

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  • parkrose February 7, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    FYI, those with ties close to the gas stations have said there are no independently owned \”mom n pop\” stations anymore. Check the history of membership in the Oregon Petroleum Association: declining from its apex at about 3000 to around 1100 today,

    This is a result of consolidation, brought on by liability burdens stemming from environmental legislation in the 1980s. The stations went \”corporate\” and owners either swallowed or got swallowed.

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  • Tony February 7, 2008 at 9:37 pm


    The figures were the ordinance adopted by Council on 1/31. You can also find them on Commissioner Adams website:


    What the OPA negotiated was a lower trip generation assumption for certain kinds of businesses. In other words, those businesses didn\’t receive a lower trip rate under the compromise, instead their assumed total trips was reduced.


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  • wsbob February 7, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    parkrose #19, so in other words, it seems as though many gas stations really are \”Big Oil\”. I hope this has been explained to Mayor Tom Potter.

    Tony, in tonight\’s \’In Portland\’ weekly special section of the Oregonian, I happened to notice an article by YUXING ZHENG (could be off on that name. It seems that West Linn is also discussing implementation of a street maintenance program. It also uses a fee schedule having a progressive discount/greater number of trips generated. Business owners there are also objecting to the rate schedule. Here\’s an excerpt:

    Other business owners, such as Howard Fisher, protested the councilors\’ decision at the previous meeting to cap the fee at $440 for the largest businesses.

    \”For me, to pay the same that Safeway pays is hard to swallow,\” said Fisher, who owns the Chevron gas station and carwash on Eighth Court. YUXING ZHENG/Oregonian staff.

    Hope the link below works.


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  • Tony February 8, 2008 at 8:16 pm


    The link worked fine. Thanks for that.

    It will be interesting to see what Commissioner Adams presents on 2/27 when he formally asks for a referral to the November ballot. He could go with the ordinance that was reviewed by Council or he could decide to modify it in some way.

    Regardless, it has certainly has been an unusual couple of weeks in Portland politics. That said, unpredictable and unexpected last minute maneuvering also happened during the effort to honor Cesar Chavez with a street name.

    Here\’s hoping we aren\’t seeing a trend.

    All the best,


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