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Saltzman’s bike plan amendment: Thoughts and reactions

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“We’re certainly looking at it and we’re looking at some other options too.”
— Catherine Ciarlo, Transportation Policy Advisor for Mayor Adams

As City Council gets set to pass the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 tomorrow, there will be a buzz in the air about whether or not Commissioner Saltzman’s bike plan funding proposal will pass along with it.

Saltzman’s proposal, which he pitched in person to the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee on Tuesday night, seeks to raise money for projects in the bike plan by tapping into revenue that comes to PBOT from the City’s Utility License Fee.

Despite the fact that the Mayor and all the other Commissioners are supportive of the bike plan and biking in general, it has not been as popular of an idea as Saltzman might have hoped. The proposal got little more than an eye-roll from PBOT staffers working on the plan and sources tell me that the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee will not write a letter in support of it as was first thought (UPDATE – Read my follow up story on the BAC’s letter).

When asked whether or not he’d support the Saltzman amendment, Commissioner Randy Leonard shared these thoughts with me via email today:

“I may have considered the amendment if Commissioner Saltzman had briefed Mayor Adams and the rest of the council before he made his proposed amendment but given he chose not to do so, I believe we need to better understand the implications of what Commissioner Saltzman proposed.”

Late last night, Commissioner Amanda Fritz replied to me via email about the proposal. She said it’s, “not fully defined yet, that I’ve heard,” and therefore, “I can’t say whether I support something when it’s not clear what’s being proposed.” Saltzman’s proposal seemed perfectly clear when he presented it at the Bike Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday night. Does Fritz’s response mean he’s altered it since then? Or is this just her way of avoided a direct answer to the question?

Catherine Ciarlo, Mayor Sam Adams’ Transportation Policy Advisor, stopped far short of saying the Mayor would support it:

“We’re certainly looking at it and we’re looking at some other options too… the Mayor is concerned about the uncertainty of that as a funding source… A [funding] dedication from the ULF is not a certain thing.”

When pressed for an up or down vote of support for Saltzman’s amendment, Ciarlo repeated, “We’re looking at other options.” That response leads me to believe Mayor Adams might have a funding proposal of his own to offer up tomorrow.

In a way, Saltzman’s amendment gives Adams an open door to propose a funding idea of his own. If Adams can get his colleagues to support it (instead of Saltzman’s), he’d not only win back control of the plan he’s been steering to this climax for years, he’d also not have to preside over the adoption of a largely unfunded plan — and he’d get big cheers for helping to “Build It” now rather than later.

On Tuesday, PBOT’s Bike Plan Project Manager Ellen Vanderslice released a memo in response to Saltzman’s proposal (along with responses to feedback they heard at last week’s hearing). In that memo, she wrote that Saltzman’s proposal, “… should be evaluated – along with other potential financing ideas – and then presented to Council as part of a complete set of financing recommendations.” That sounds like a nice way of saying “Thanks for the idea Commissioner Saltzman, but now’s not the right time.”

At this point, the only major support I’ve heard for the Saltzman amendment comes from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. Their Advocay Manager, Michelle Poyourow, told me this morning that, “Yes we most certainly do support Saltzman’s 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.”

Despite support from the BTA, it seems like Saltzman’s amendment is on life support and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mayor Adams puts forward one of his own tomorrow. And, given what I know about Mayor Adams, unlike Saltzman, when he announces his proposal, he’ll have the votes all lined up beforehand.

Stay tuned for more coverage. The bike plan is set for a vote in City Council tomorrow at 3:00pm.