In his forthcoming budget proposal (due out tomorrow), Mayor Sam Adams will include a dedicated funding source devoted to bicycle programs and projects that he calls the “Bicycle Infrastructure Improvement Fund”.
In a phone call this afternoon, Mayor Adams told me the money will come from a portion of utility license fees. Last year Adams requested, and City Council approved, that a portion of those fees go toward the Bureau of Transportation (since PBOT is responsible for maintaining the right-of-way utility companies use to work on their wires, pipes, etc…).
“Part of my job is to provide affordable, healthy travel options, and this dedicated fund will make sure that that is prioritized.”
— Mayor Adams
The total amount that PBOT is estimated to receive from that fee in the coming fiscal year is $1.8 million. In his budget, Adams says he proposes to set aside $500,000 of that specifically for bicycle programs and projects, creating what he says would be the city’s first-ever dedicated funding source specifically targeted to bikes.
Adams acknowledged that this has been a “brutal year for balancing the budget at PBOT” and that our city is “in the midst of a crisis that is impacting many households”, but he defends the bike funding as a way to “provide more Portlanders an affordable option for getting around the city.”
Adams also sees this idea as a way to respond to critics who say that bikes don’t pay their way. “Every Portlander who pays this utility tax, including people who bike,” he stressed, “would be paying for a portion of PBOT’s budget.”
In addition to this being more of a direct, “user-pays” system (unlike the Gas Tax or parking meters, which provides much of PBOT’s revenue, but that people who mostly bike don’t pay into as much), Adams told me his new bike fund would also help achieve one of his main transportation goals. “Part of my job is to provide affordable, healthy travel options, and this dedicated fund will make sure that that is prioritized.”
Adams also wants to increase the share of trips made by bike in Portland. He feels that more spending on bikeways will mean more people on bikes. “There’s a latent ridership out there,” he said, “that only needs a better bike infrastructure to get on a bike.”
$500,000 isn’t a lot of money (Adams called it “a down payment”) in transportation project terms or relative to PBOT’s total budget. But, if it’s spent wisely, it could help improve bikeway conditions.
For some perspective, PBOT’s current plans for 9.2 miles of bike boulevards (which consist of mild traffic calming measures, signs, and pavement markings) are estimated to cost $786,000. The new cycletrack on Broadway is estimated to cost $47,000.
And keep in mind, the Mayor’s budget will have to stand up to scrutiny of a public process and it will need to pass Council before it becomes a reality. During that process, this money could be stripped or allocated to other programs. On that note, Adams said, “I’ll need advocates and the community to turn out and say that this is an important and positive step for our city.”
But on the other hand, as a commenter below reminded me, who’s to say that the $500,000 couldn’t end up being more? In the midst of an economic crisis, doesn’t it make sense to invest in the most affordable transportation mode that also happens to have the highest return on investment?