Reality check: Bike plan includes no financial commitment

“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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