BikePortland

PBOT director weighs in on budget and Adams’ “100 Day” promises


PBOT Director Sue Keil at a
press conference in May 2008.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Back in January, just days before the Willamette Week broke news of Mayor Sam Adams’ relationship with Beau Breedlove, the incoming Mayor unveiled an ambitious plan of projects he promised to complete in his first 100 days on the job.

Among those promises were several biggies for bikes; a “high profile” cycle track and 15 miles of bicycle boulevards to be “identified and implemented” in 2009 (there were other bike-related promises, but those were the big ones).

Yesterday, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance sounded an alarm that the budget put together by the Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) “ignores bikes”. In an action alert sent out to their 3,000 Portland members, the BTA wrote that PBOT’s budget, “Commits no revenue for building the Bike Boulevards called out in the Mayor’s 100 Day List” and that it “Fails to fund the demonstration cycle track called out in the Mayor’s 100 Day List.”

Sue Keil and Sam Adams look
over a budget document in
this photo from January 2007.

That assertion miffed PBOT Director Sue Keil. I spoke with Keil this morning just minutes before she went into a staff meeting (where she announced an additional 20 positions will be cut from PBOT’s payroll in 2009).

Keil pointed out that the cycle track project isn’t in the 2009-2010 budget because it is being funded with cash already set aside from 2008. According to a PBOT employee, Keil re-iterated this point inside this morning’s budget meeting. She told assembled staff that city traffic engineer Rob Burchfield has saved money from the 2008 budget specifically for the cycle track.

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The BTA’s Michelle Poyourow also expressed her concerns yesterday that the PBOT Requested Budget (at that time) had no hard commitment to fund bicycle boulevards. Poyourow was aware that the budget included an “add” of $516,000 for the boulevard projects, but she wanted to make sure that the money was solid. Her concern was valid because next to the $516,000 for bike boulevards, PBOT wrote:

The Bureau of Transportation is working to identify local, state, or federal revenues to fund this project.

“Working to identify…” to an advocate like Poyouorow makes it too easy for PBOT to say later in the decision making process that the revenue could not be found (and therefore, you can’t get your bike boulevard money).

According to Poyourow, she and Sue Keil spoke on the phone yesterday after the action alert was sent out. Poyourow asked Keil to clearly spell out in the budget that some of the increased revenue slated to come from parking and parking meter increases (expected to total over $6 million, if it passed a City Council vote) would be tied to bike boulevard funding.

“(If it wasn’t for parking meter revenue) we’d be cutting millions more. If Council doesn’t approve it we’ve got big problems.”
— Sue Keil

Keil confirmed to me this morning that she has sent a revised Requested Budget to the Office of Management and Finance that ties a portion of meter revenue to bike boulevard funding. According to Keil, the bike boulevards will be paid for out of a combination of several sources and she has agreed to use the increased parking meter revenue to “fill the gap” of $178,625 that remains.

Keil also shared with me that one of the reasons the bike boulevards were not given a clear funding source at the outset is because Mayor Adams initially intended to pay for them through a new “variable pricing” parking meter increase (a demand-based parking meter increase, which is different than simply raising prices across the board).

Keil said this variable pricing scheme was initially part of the budget plan but that Adams reversed himself and pulled the idea off the table.

At a meeting of the Bicycle Advisory Committee (not to be confused with the Budget Advisory Committee) back on February 10th, Keil said the idea came off the table because “Sam got a lot of push back from the Portland business community.”

According to a transcript of that meeting, Keil added:

“Sam was very clear that this wasn’t the right time to go with that (the variable pricing idea). Even though the Budget Advisory Committee nervously approved going forward with that…it’s a concept we want to work with.”

Without the variable pricing plan as a way to generate the revenue for bike boulevards, Keil says Adams’ office asked her to come up with other options. Those options included using stimulus funds (which she said she’s using $90,000 of for bike boulevard signs and markings), using the parking meter increase (which she said she has now decided to do), or cut PBOT staff positions.

Keil paints a bleak picture of PBOT these days. Gas tax revenue is down, the city is in a hole from their storm response, material costs (especially asphalt) have skyrocketed, staff cuts continue. Much seems to hinge on this new parking meter revenue (which she she says is already down $1 million this year because less people are coming to downtown). Even so, Keil told me this morning that, if it wasn’t for parking meter revenue, “we’d be cutting millions more,” and she added ominously, “If Council doesn’t approve it we’ve got big problems.”

Those problems exist with or without the parking fee increases so that means there are sure to be tough decisions in this year’s budget. At the internal, staff-only budget meeting this morning, one employee who was there forwarded us this quote from Keil: “We’re not working for the paving contractors or the AGC (Association of General Contractors, a lobbying group for paving and highway projects) or the BTA — we’re working for the public.”


NOTE: Stay tuned for more budget coverage. I have a meeting/interview with Keil set for tomorrow morning and I plan to share a perspective from Mayor’s office soon.

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