Brendan Finn at tonight’s BAC meeting.
(Photo © J. Maus)
Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman made a rare appearance at the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting tonight in order to present his idea to raise up to $1 million per year to help pay for projects in the 2030 bicycle plan.
When the plan comes up for adoption by City Council this Thursday, Saltzman said he’ll propose an amendment to use revenue from the City’s Utility License Fee to pay for bike projects. The Utility License Fee is paid to the City by companies and agencies (like PGE, Comcast, Northwest Natural, and so on) that use the City’s public right of way to perform a variety of services — from telecommunications to natural gas and sewer line maintenance.
“[This amendment will] provide one small step toward really implementing this plan in a concrete fashion.”
— Commissioner Saltzman
Thanks to an ordinance passed by Mayor Sam Adams in 2008, the Bureau of Transportation currently receives $4.3 million per year in ULF revenue, an amount that is capped. Saltzman’s amendment would allocate revenue beyond that $4.3 million cap — if and when it goes beyond the cap and up to $1 million — to bike infrastructure (instead of into the City’s General Fund).
With utility rates and expected to grow in coming years, it is assumed that ULF revenue will breach that cap. “It’s a relatively volatile source… But we think over the long term that it’s something we can count on.” Saltzman said the money could be put into a bike bond program or it could provide matching funds when federal funding opportunities arise.
At the meeting tonight, Saltzman referred to the bike plan as a “great plan” and said his amendment would “provide one small step toward really implementing this plan in a concrete fashion.”
Why the sudden interest in raising money for the bike plan? (It’s worth noting that Saltzman is currently in a re-election campaign.) When asked that question tonight, Saltzman said he’s simply excited about the bike plan. Mentioning that his staffer Brendan Finn is an avid cyclist, he said, “Between the two of us, we thought, how do we make this unlike the many plans we adopt, that are hard to come up with resources for, and make it a reality.”
Saltzman says he’s likely to get support for his amendment from Mayor Sam Adams and feels the other Commissioners are likely to be supportive as well. The Bicycle Advisory Committee plans to write a formal letter of support.
Saltzman’s amendment puts his Council colleagues in a tough position. While all five council members are supportive of the bike plan and of bicycling in general, taking money from the City’s General Fund these days — for any reason — is not something they will take lightly. The timing of this amendment is also something other commissioners might be suspect of — especially if they feel he’s making a political play rather than a sincere gesture of support for the bike plan.
It’s also not clear why Saltzman feels so much urgency to make this happen now — besides the fact that he faces a very bike-friendly challenger, Jesse Cornett, in the race to retain his seat on Council. Saltzman said tonight that his amendment wouldn’t bear funding fruit until at least 2012 or 2013 (not exactly a jumpstart). Also, the Bike Plan includes a mandate to form a funding task force where ideas like this could be fleshed out.
Portland Planning Commissioner, Bicycle Plan Steering Committee member, and supporter of Cornett Chris Smith, writes in a comment below,
“While I appreciate Commissioner Saltzman’s suggestion, it was pretty clear that it was a surprise to his Council colleagues.
I’m interested in making sure that the plan starts out with good momentum, so on Thursday I only want to see 5-0 votes! If this idea can only get 3 or 4 votes, it will give the media the opportunity to write one more round of ‘controversy’ stories.
So if the Council is not unanimously behind this particular funding idea, I’d rather the funding task force that the plan creates vet this approach.”
Michelle Poyourow, Advocacy Manager for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, says her organization supports the Saltzman amendment. “We support it because it would be a strong though financially modest gesture from Council showing how serious they are about the goals of the plan.”
City Council will vote for the 2030 bike plan and the Saltzman amendment this Thursday.