Lawmakers leave bikes out of transportation bill: BTA “disappointed”

“This is not a very impressive step forward in terms of recognizing the role of bicycles in addressing our transportation needs.”
— Doug Parrow, head of BTA’s legislative committee

Salem lawmakers have published their much-anticipated amendments to Governor Kulongoski’s transportation package and the news for bikes is bad. Very bad.

When the bill was first introduced back in November, bike advocates saw some positive signs that funding for bike projects might finally get the increase it deserves. There was talk of an increase to Oregon’s Bike Bill to take it from from 1% to 1.5% of highway project funds that would be guaranteed for bike and ped improvements. Advocates also hoped for a new fund specifically dedicated to non-motorized transportation corridors.

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Unfortunately, neither of those things have survived. The 1.5% proposal is nowhere to be found. There is a new “Urban Trail Fund”, but BTA lobbyist Doug Parrow says that’s nothing to get excited about.

Speaking on the phone today Parrow didn’t hide his disappointment with lawmakers. What the BTA and Metro wanted, he said, was “a recognition that non-motorized corridors in urban areas are in fact a mode of transportation.” Their plan was to get a new fund created that would be filled by discretionary federal funds and transportation related funds from the state.

But what they got instead, according to Parrow is, “Basically, the legislature’s attempt to look like they’re doing something in response to our advocacy.”

Parrow explained that the new Urban Trail Fund would take Oregon Lottery dollars that were already going to State Parks, and that would have been spent on recreation trails, and directs some of the funds toward more transportation-oriented trails. But the actual language of the bill, and how it will work, has not left Parrow too hopeful.

Here’s the language from the bill:

“… Moneys in the fund are continuously appropriated to the State Parks and Recreation Department to develop and maintain recreation trails for nonmotorized vehicles and pedestrians that supplement or provide links to urban transportation corridors.”

That’s pretty weak language if you ask me, and Parrow seems to agree. He says the new Urban Trail Fund is, “Not a very impressive step forward in terms of recognizing the role of bicycles in addressing our transportation needs.”

A few minutes ago, the BTA published an action alert signed by executive director Scott Bricker that labels House Bill 2001 as “a highway bill, dominated by an $840 million list of road building projects.” It goes on to read:

“Meanwhile, it does not allocate any additional funds to non-motorized transportation, ignoring the fact that investing in bicycle and pedestrian corridors, trails and greenways would benefit local economies and reduce health care costs across Oregon… This is not the balanced and sustainable transportation future that Oregonians want.”

[And by the way, there’s no mention of a new I-5 bridge on that $840 million list.]

Now the BTA wants Oregonians to contact their representatives to tell them to restore balance to the package. They’re also urging folks to attend a special public hearing on the bill in Salem tomorrow.

As shocking as it is to realize that even in this great, “green” state of Oregon, bikes get no respect, it’s not exactly a huge surprise. Back in December we shared our concerns that the Governor didn’t really have bike funding on his radar. Also, an article last month in the Portland Mercury detailed several reasons why bike funding, and the BTA, were facing an “uphill pedal” this session. In that article, BTA executive director Scott Bricker said, “The Oregon legislature has not acknowledged that bicycling and walking are legitimate modes of transportation for our region.”

There’s still a chance things can change direction and more amendments are expected to come out. Stay tuned for more coverage as the bill moves forward.

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