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Reality check: Bike plan includes no financial commitment

Posted by on February 8th, 2010 at 12:17 pm

“The plan calls for spending approximately $600 million to…”
— From a story published today by the Portland Tribune

The myth that the City of Portland’s Bicycle Plan for 2030 comes with a $600 million price tag continues to spread among various media outlets, despite the fact that the plan commits the city to no spending of any kind.

The Oregonian’s misleading front page article last week, (which their Editorial Board reinforced the next day) got the ball rolling.

The Oregonian article saying the plan had a “hefty price tag” was put out on the Associated Press newswire and is now being picked up and republished by media outlets all over the country. Even though the 2030 bike plan has zero financial impact on the City of Portland, The Oregonian story is being republished with misleading headlines.

The Christian Science Monitor warns readers; “Portland promotes urban cycling, but costs will be high.” The Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce writes, “613M price tag for Portland bike plan.”

And today, the Portland Tribune gets into the act. The Tribune headline reads “Portland bike plan wobbles under funding questions,” and then goes on to say, “City only has fraction of the $600 million price tag for the ambitious proposal.” The story also characterizes Mayor Sam Adams as “scrambling to explain” how the City will pay for the plan.

Anyone who was at the City Council hearing for the bike plan last Thursday knows that the delayed vote isn’t because the plan “wobbles under funding questions.” It’s also incorrect and misleading to state that the plan has a $600 million “price tag.”

Not surprisingly, these stories are followed by angry commenters who are upset with Mayor Adams for proposing such a large expenditure on bikeways. The reality is, the plan is not an expenditure at all — although after reading the media coverage it’s easy to see why folks are getting confused.

Let’s take a look at the official Financial Impact Statement for the plan (every City Council measure must include one of them). It asks whether or not the measure being proposed (in this case the bike plan) comes with a financial obligation. Here are the salient excerpts from that document:

3) Revenue: Will this legislation generate or reduce current or future revenue coming to the City? If so, by how much? If new revenue is generated please identify the source. No.

4) Expense: What are the costs to the City as a result of this legislation? (If there is a project estimate, please identify the level of confidence): There is no fiscal impact from this resolution. (However, the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 does recommend projects that total more than $600M at a low level of confidence.)

I wish the bike plan vote on Thursday came with some funding commitments, but it doesn’t. It’s unfortunate that many people in Portland (and beyond) are getting the wrong idea, and even more unfortunate that they are being misled by sources they rely on to inform them about important issues.

Yes, building the bike network comes with a price tag, but let’s save that discussion for when there’s actually some money on the table.

Read more coverage of the 2030 Bicycle Plan here.

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  • Nick February 8, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    I don’t even see why you go along with portraying the plan as costly. Auto infrastructure is drastically more expensive to build and maintain, not to mention the health and social costs.

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  • Nick V February 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Speculation here from someone in a bad mood, but my guess is that articles such as these from the various media outlets are manufactured “excuses” written by folks who don’t want to muster the energy to leave their nice warm Lexus at home and try to ride their bikes once or twice. It’s convenient to say that the bike plan is too expensive so we should stick with cars on Highway 26, fast food lunch everyday, carbon dioxide, and ignoring anything that could be better but (eww) different.

    Then they’re circulated by people LOOKING for that type of excuse, which is a sizable chunk of our nation.

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  • Lenny Anderson February 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    At $600M over 20 years the Bike Master Plan is the cheapest transportation plan I have ever seen. Just think..for that we could build one new I-5 interchange!
    And what do we get for spending these dollars on a safer bike network? less congestion, less pollution, fewer GHGs. Its a hellava deal. We should be asking for $1.2B. Remember Metro’s RTP has about $20B, most of it for more roads, including the Columbia River Crossing.

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  • Chris Smith February 8, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    If the Oregonian wants to call the price tag for this plan “hefty”, then we should suggest that they be required to use the phrase “crippling financial burden” when referring to the CRC.

    Fair is fair.

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  • Vance Longwell February 8, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Wait, I don’t get it. If the BMP is free, as you state in your article here, then where did this $600+ million dollar number come from? It strikes me as an odd number to just make-up? Why not go for broke, and make-up a bigger number?

    That just doesn’t make any sense.

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  • Nick February 8, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Vance (#5):

    The plan is projected to cost $600M+. The key distinction is that the city is not making a firm commitment to it. They’re just basically saying they think it’s a good idea.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) February 8, 2010 at 1:36 pm


    as the article above clearly states, the $600 million figure is the total cost of all the projects listed in the plan.

    And yes, the BMP is free. the projects in it are (obviously) not.

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  • Shane February 8, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Too bad “regular” transportation plans, highway projects, and other auto-oriented projects don’t get the same kind of media spin that bike/ped infrastructure must endure.

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  • Rodbo LaCombe February 8, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Is the financial impact statement included in the final version of the 2030 plan?

    I’d like to have it as a reference as I’m considering writing a letter to the editor of the O and the Trib

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    • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) February 8, 2010 at 1:46 pm


      the financial impact statement is not part of the bike plan… it is part of the agenda published by the auditor’s office and it is an official city document. All measures voted on by City Council are accompanied by it.

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  • Kt February 8, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    One other thing to remember about the $600+million cost: SPREAD OUT OVER 20 YEARS. And over ALL PROJECTS in the plan.

    So it’s not like the City has to pay $600mil for XX miles of bike lanes in one year– that’s for bike lanes, blvds, trails, cycle tracks, boxes, signage, etc etc etc etc.

    Contrast: 10 miles of Max Green Line, a couple of years to build, $500+million. Shoot, that’s $50+MILLION per MILE there, people!

    Contrast: ALL other transportation projects in a 1-year span, $600+ million.

    It’s not $1million per mile of bike lane– you only see that kind of price tag on freeway car lanes.

    Maybe I’m expecting too much from the media. Is it too much to ask for ACCURACY and FACTUAL REPORTING?

    Apparently, the answer to that question is: Yes. Yes it is.

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  • Vance Longwell February 8, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    “And yes, the BMP is free. the projects in it are (obviously) not.

    Good-gravy man, this sentence completely contradicts itself! Either the BMP is free, or it costs $600+ million dollars. There is no distinction. Which is it? I mean, gee thanks for not grabbing it all right now, but I fail to see what that has to do with the price of tea in China!

    And since you chose to deflect rather than address the direct question, the Plan itself, as a dis-ambiguous ‘Plan’, surely has some cost associated with producing it. Which has yet to come up. Or are you now going to tell me that a document 16 years in the making didn’t utilize one penny of public funding?

    So, wrong three times in one contradictions.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) February 8, 2010 at 2:02 pm


      The plan is a document that lays out how the City should make transportation investments in the future.

      And obviously there is a cost to produce the plan. All the staff time to do it, the cookies and coffee at the meetings, all the printing costs to prepare for the open houses, etc… So yeah, it costs some money to put together…. i would venture to guess at least several hundred thousand dollars at least over the course of about 3-4 years that the city has worked on the update.

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  • RyNO Dan February 8, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Very easy. If…

    1) these outlets are saying that this vote is to fund the proposal and…

    2)The chances of passing are high…

    …then let us just change the bill to be a real expenditure vote. Then there will be no “myth” or “misleading” or any of that business.

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  • John Lascurettes February 8, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Jonathan, I have no idea how the AP works, or how news aggregators (like Google News) slurp in what’s news (as opposed to what simply gets a hit in a web search) but would it help if Bike Portland was part of the AP somehow?

    Or what if Bike Portland had an ISBN publishing number. (http://fawny.org/issn/?issn). Then it would be an internationally-registered periodical.

    You’ve been offering plenty of counter arguments to the hoopla, but if news aggregators don’t find these in some sort of automated fashion then only the chicken little hoopla gets aggregated.

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  • Madrick February 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Jonathan said- “And yes, the BMP is free. the projects in it are (obviously) not”

    You’ve got to be kidding? How can the BMP be free. It took many many hours of staff time to create the plan and that was not “free”. The city has spent our money creating the plan. Saying that the plan doesn’t cost anything is misleading people in a similar way that other media is saying the plan costs $600mill. Let’s face it, the plan took some money to create, and building the plan into a reality will cost money.

    I’m not sure if the phrase “unfunded mandate” applies, but if they vote to approve the plan without funding, it kind of seems like it could apply to the BMP.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) February 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm


      please see my clarifying comment above. Obviously I don’t think the BMP is entirely “Free” and of course i realize the city incurred costs to produce it. When I wrote “the BMP is free” I was referring specifically to the fact that a vote of support on it by city council will not be followed by any new costs to Portland taxpayers.

      and yes, it most certainly is an “unfunded mandate”…. but hopefully not for long!

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  • David February 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    The $600 million figure reported in the Portland Bike Plan is a low-confidence estimate based on predetermined per-mile unit costs for individual facility types.

    For example, let’s say we use a per-mile cost for Bike Boulevards of $10. If we’ve got three distinct boulevard projects of 2-, 4-, and 6-miles, then that would be $20, $40, and $60 for each individual project, and it would be a whopping $120 plan.

    The $600 million is a very rough, but also conservative estimate. I say conservative because, for example, all Separated in Roadway facilities use the same per mile estimate, even though obviously not all will be built to the same world-class, physically separated standards, which is what the particular unit cost reflects. Some will be standard bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, etc., which would obviously cost significantly less than the unit cost estimate.

    As Jonathan has mentioned again and again, the Plan doesn’t commit the City to fund anything. The individual cost estimates that contribute to the $600 million are not bills to be paid in full, immediately, by the City and its citizens. They’re simply a tool for determining roughly how much, should funding become available and the City decide to allocate it to bicycle infrastructure, individual projects might cost.

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  • skodt February 8, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Maybe next time we do this, we shouldn’t attach any value to it. Obviously a dollar sign is the ONLY thing the media can latch on to. No dollar signs mean no negative press towards cyclists and bike infrastructure.

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  • spare_wheel February 8, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    “if they vote to approve the plan without funding, it kind of seems like it could apply to the BMP”

    erm…only if you redefine mandate to mean plan.

    obviously a vocal percentage are deeply offended by a government that has the temerity to propose long-term plans (or –ack!!– dreams).

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  • Brad February 8, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    So will building out this proposal cost $600 million or not?

    Methinks the pro-bike crowd is quibbling over semantics. If this passes, then there will be a serious effort to fund it, right? If so, that will create an obligation for the taxpayers, correct? Why are we promoting the crown jewel of American urban bikeability behind a very thin haze of double talk and split hairs? Afraid bike advocates and their elected “friends” cannot or will not deliver?

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  • Vance Longwell February 8, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    “The myth that the City of Portland’s Bicycle Plan for 2030 comes with a $600 million price tag continues”

    Myth from Dictionary.com: A fictitious story, person, or thing.

    You open your piece with a declaration that the BMP figure of $600 million is a ‘myth’. Perplexed, I ask you to clarify where the figure came from, then. Your response was to deflect the question, and instead write a completely contradictory sentence, nonsensical to boot.

    If you wish to articulate some distinction, well then why then did you mislead with the initial assertion that the price of the BMP, as reported, was fictitious? This would have maybe aided in not penning such a wild contradiction. Face it man, you are attempting to re-spin somebody’s spin, and faced with the sheer ridiculousness of such an endeavor, you are now going to try and argue your way out of the allegation. With a bunch of semantic mumbojumbo no less.

    You have every right to be upset with the way the COST OF IMPLEMENTING A NUANCED, SOPHISTICATED, AND COMPLEX PLAN SUCH AS THIS, AND OVER A VERY LONG PERIOD OF TIME, was ‘spun’ in the weekend media. But the way you have chosen to handle it totally opens the door for directing similar accusation your own way, and rather than take the criticism, you choose to parse nuance.

    Why play their game? Especially when you are clearly unskilled in doing so!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) February 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm


    The BMP does not have a $600 million price tag… so I believe the term “myth” is warranted.

    The plan does include a list of proposed projects whose total estimated cost is $600 million, but these media stories perpetuate the idea that the plan itself comes with a $600 million expenditure — which is entirely untrue.

    Accuse me of spin all you want. I am taking your criticisms and trying to clarify my thoughts.

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  • Madrick February 8, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Governments can spend a lot of our tax dollars on dreams and not get anywhere. We can dream or “propose” plans all we want, but if we don’t put a funding mechanism in place to build it when the plan is created, all we have are dreams on paper.

    Plans and funding go hand in hand, especially when trying to do something that creates a large systematic change. If they do not come hand in hand, then the plan likely gets chopped up and parts get left out as the plan is implemented when funding is found.

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  • Matt Picio February 8, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Vance (#12) – The plan is a guiding document. It says, “If we have money to spend on cycling, HERE is how we’re going to spend it”. It makes no commitments for actual expenditures – that’s not its purpose. All it does is say “if we have $613 million to spend on bikes, here is how we plan to spend it, and if we have less, this is the order in which we will spend the money that we DO have that is dedicated to bikes”. That’s it. It doesn’t cost anything because it is a guiding document which dictates where money will be spend IF (and only if) it materializes.

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  • StevenA February 8, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Just for a sample, a Metro Regional Transportation Plan from the 1990s listed projects estimated to cost a total of $4.5 billion, with a narrower list totaling $1 billion. (http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-287.html; pardon the source; need for speed just now)

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  • Mark Ginsberg February 8, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Well, all this “”cost” finally has me commenting. As someone who worked (for free) on both the “old” and the current BMP, I can say that there is no requirement stuff gets built. There are still items from the old BMP that were not built.

    So passing the BMP says “yes we like this as a plan”. It does not say, tomorrow we will start spending and building.

    The reality is that we fund most infrastructure from a patchwork of sources, some federal, some state, some city, some county, some others.

    So while staff time has been spent to make the new BMP, passing it does not require any MORE money to be spent. It does not require $600M tomorrow. Nor does it even guarantee all the cool stuff that is proposed will get built.

    The BMP is a guideline, not a demand to build exactly “THIS” thing.

    The BMP is designed to lead us in a way, to go where many of us want to go, and to have a plan of proposed blueprints and design standards and goals to get us there.

    In conclusion, there have been costs to the making of the BMP, staff time, printing, etc. but the issue in front of city counsel does not have any “cost”. it is the actual building (which may or may not happen over time) which has costs.


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  • Vance Longwell February 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Jonathan #23 – WORD, holmes. I am upset because, at the very least, I come here expecting a BS-free-zone. You fairly rule the credibility roost. I, personally, think you bleed red blood at the notion you are complicate. However, there is real opportunity abound to do this thing super-super-right, right now, and EARN some respect. Is flaming other journalists the way to do it? Wouldn’t it be more gratifying just to be uber-right? Not my call, of course.

    This thing will cost some, who cares? All points here are valid. Best to support the support though, and keep slogging, yes?

    Thanks for your patience with my ire.

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  • Vance Longwell February 8, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Matt #24 – I know this man. But I write a bikey-blog, I’m supposed to know. What about the uninitiated? The so-called ‘new’ Oregonian pulled one nasty-move. Slimey even. Totally and completely effective no less. Heck, I got duped and flamed the plan over the weekend too. Which raises an interesting point. I am the master of eating my own words, and will readily admit I got took. Watch for me to very publicly address this on my site.

    I’m squawking about a person that I hold in high esteem on these issues, essentially dropping his drawers and writing his name in the same snow with everybody else, is all.

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  • Anonymous February 8, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    The BMP is a plan to guide the spending of apprx $600 million over the next 20 years should the funding appear.
    If unfunded it is still just a plan.

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  • Tim February 8, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Transportation projects are listed on a think called the STIP (State Transportation Investmant Plan). Once a project purpose, need and rough cost estimate are established it goes on the STIP where it must compete for funds based on need, available funding and political will.

    The bike plan is no different. Once the plan is adopted, it must get in line and for funding with all of the other state transportation needs. Without a plan you can’t get in line.

    Then we can dicuss if preservation paving or bike boulevards are more important.

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  • Jim Hook February 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I concur with #25 that the comparison to the Regional Transportation Plan is appropriate. Supporting Jonathan’s thesis, it is a plan, not an appropriation of funds. The current draft 2035 plan is available from links on the metro web page:
    There is a presentation linked from that page (posted January 5) that includes a $20.8B figure as the assumed capital cost of the plan. I don’t know if this is the total of all projects listed in Appendix 1 of the draft posted September 15, 2009. Appendix 1 lists every single project with a projected cost.
    I do not recall any confusion in press coverage about the level of commitment to expenditures listed in this plan.

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  • bikieboy February 8, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Thought experiment: take the 1996 bike plan, look at the projected costs for the proposed projects contained therein (yes, it does have them), and see how many of them were funded (& at what cost) in the intervening 14 years between then and now. My guess without peeking: maybe 20% of the identified projects completed, and less than 5% the total cost.

    Not saying it’ll be the same this time around, but why the fuss about $ that haven’t actually been allocated, as Jonathan points out? Because the Big O is completely disingenuous in their reporting, that’s why.

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  • wsbob February 8, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Why are “…various media outlets…” , the Oregonian, Christian Sci Monitor, The Ptlnd Trib publishing stories with headlines decrying the expense of the Bicycle Plan for 2030? Perhaps because they aren’t impressed with the absence of contractual financial commitment to the plan that supporters of the plan keep claiming is one of its saving graces.

    They, like a lot of citizens may feel the expense is dubious whether or not there’s a commitment to spend it on the the proposed bike infrastructure. The cost effective arguments made to them favoring bike-pedestrian infrastructure have not been persuasive.

    Finally, the two ‘salient excerpts’ bikeportland offers from the official Financial Impact Statement for the plan, are a bunch of budget department gobbledy-gook. The excerpts don’t use the word commitment or any form of it. Leaves the question of commitment related to the plan open to interpretation. Refresh our memory: Has Adams made statements about the plan that emphasize there is no expense commitment associated with it?

    I can see that people would be frustrated in the absence of greater support for the plan, but given the way it’s been presented to the public, they shouldn’t be puzzled about why there isn’t greater support for it and less question about its expense..

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  • are February 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    i honestly do not think there is any percentage in getting on the boards at oregonian or katu or whatever and saying the plan does not cost anything. what does the slogan “build it” mean? obviously the specific projects in the plan would cost money to implement.

    if the council does not approve this plan, does it still represent PDoT policy? so then if they find money down the road maybe they will spend it on one or another of the plan projects? seems to me what adams is committing to is “finding” money. in the end the money has to come from somebody’s pocket. what is the point of going on the boards at oregonian and saying otherwise?

    instead, it would be productive to talk about how the plan is aspirational, and if we could some key parts of it the benefits would become more and more obvious, etc.

    incidentally, i doubt more than a handful of people can claim to have looked at and analyzed each and every one of the 332 proposed treatments in appendix A of the plan, and there may be things in there that people will want to have opportunities to comment on or object to as we go down the road. for example, PDoT says the early separated in-road projects are experimental, but the plan commits to others in the outlying years as though the experiments have already proved successful.

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  • memo February 8, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Personally I think all the fuss over the use of the word “price tag” is making a mountain out of a mole hill. My way of thinking about it is as follows: say the city passes a resolution that supports all h.s. bands to have one standard band uniform (though it is not a manditory, nor funded, proposal). I would understand why news outlets reported on the pricetag or cost associated with the proposal regardless of whether it was funded or not. Especially since the cost is so important to anything now a days. I find the use of the word pricetag very germane in reporting on this issue since the cost estimate you mention above does “show the price of the item”, in other words the estimate is be definition the associated pricetag. So while you may not buy a bike you review, you cab report the price as x dollars or you can buy the frame and come up with another cost figure. So I guess, why do you associate price tag with exstablished funding?

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  • Gil Johnson February 9, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Quibbling over whether the BMP will cost $600 million or not is about the stupidest argument I’ve encountered in a long time. Over the next 20 years, the city will be spending money on bike infrastructure. Most of us in the bicycling community want the city to spend a lot of money (albeit, wisely). The projected pricetag of all the projects in the BMP represents about 5% of the total transportation budget for the region. Since bicycling already accounts for about 5% of all trips, that would represent its fair share of the transportation dollars. If we really can get to the goal of 25% of all trips made by bike, then the $600 million will be a real bargain.

    What we really should be looking at is the individual projects and setting priorities for what happens first. I’m sure the staff at PDOT is doing that, maybe the BTA as well. But I’m seeing nothing about that in the media, include this site.

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  • Joseph Rose February 9, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Here we go again.
    I don’t want to get in the way of the ongoing narrative … but for the sake of accuracy, I’ll state once again that my article says — in the second sentence — that there is no financial commitment to pass the proposal. However, the ultimate price tag provided by the city is $613 million. Don’t make me bring up Orwell again, Jonathan.

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  • AaronF February 9, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Oh Joseph Rose…

    The more you insist that you weren’t skewing the subject at all, the more I come to believe you truly belong at the Oregonian.

    The punishment fits the crime. :p

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  • AaronF February 9, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    I should be more specific:

    Your article says it “will eventually.”

    “It’s easy to green-light America’s most ambitious investment in bicycling when it would be funded down the road. But according to city transportation officials, the plan to build 681 miles of new bikeways over the next 20 years will eventually cost $613 million.”

    That is a financial commitment. “May eventually” might be a bit more accurate.

    It’s a shame, because you had plenty of space to explain the funding process the way it has been described here in post 27.

    The truth is that this document just suggests where money allocated would go. There’s no eventual $613 at the end of a 20 year rainbow. $613 is what it would cost if everything suggested were built. Reread post 27 for clarification.

    Either you don’t understand the process or you are being willfully obtuse about this.

    You reap what you sow.

    Good luck!

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  • Marc February 9, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    It’s funny that Jonathan Maus with all of his pro-bike bias can cover this subject and objectively explain the issue better than the so-called professional journalists.

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  • […] The Oregonian’s Joseph Rose must be breathing a sigh of relief this morning because the Portland Business Journal has successfully wrestled away his trophy for most misleading coverage of the plan so far. Their weekly “Business Pulse” survey asks: “Should the city of Portland spend $600M to build bike lanes?” Not only is that question a highly inaccurate characterization of the contents of the plan (bike lanes are so 1996), but it misleads readers into thinking that the City of Portland is about to spend that much money on bikes (which they should know by now is far from the case). […]

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