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Editorial: GOP budget goes down same old road on transportation spending

Posted by on April 6th, 2011 at 4:16 pm

A (small) part of traffic-1

(Photo © J. Maus)

It’s got to be pretty disappointing to transportation advocates that after years and years of beating the drum about the truth behind infrastructure spending and extolling the virtues of bicycling, the Republican party is still proposing the same old, cars-only approach.

The GOP’s budget (released yesterday) is titled the “Path to Prosperity,” but strangely it proposes taking the same path that has led to nothing but financial ruin when it comes to transportation spending.

The problem America faces with transportation infrastructure is simple. We invested heavily in a system that favored one mode of travel above all others — single occupancy motor vehicles. Unfortunately, our system and that mode are extremely expensive to maintain. Conversely, due to massive government subsidies for oil-making corporations and a lack of political backbone we do not derive as much revenue from motor vehicles usage as we need to pay for their impact on the system.

Our national gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993 and gas prices in America remain among the lowest in the developed world.

This should not be a partisan issue. This is simply a matter of logic and basic common sense.

There’s a movement afoot in America to go beyond this unbalanced, automobile-centric outlook. More people than ever are beginning to understand that, while cars are cool and they have a rightful place in our society, they are not the best option for every trip.

Unfortunately, despite a valiant effort by citizens to persuade them at the recent National Bike Summit, the Republican party appears to want to prioritize the use of heavily subsidized automobiles at the expense of other, more cost-effective modes of transportation.

I hoped that when House Majority leader John Boehner took over, he would perhaps come to the center when it came to transportation policy, but now it’s clear that his party isn’t far from the statements he’s made in the past about highway-widening being essential for American families and mocking a paltry tax credit for people who — gasp! — ride their bikes to work.

Instead of acknowledging that the revenue we need to pay for our crumbling transportation infrastructure isn’t there because we give away too much money to oil companies and we don’t charge enough for gasoline, they blame the shortfall on expenditures that equate to nothing more than budget dust — and in many cases actually provide an extremely large ROI.

Here is the excerpt from the GOP’s “Path to Prosperity”:

Over the past decade, highway spending has mostly exceeded the gas-tax revenues that finance the fund, because gas-tax levels leveled off while spending grew. Spending, meanwhile, has increasingly been diverted to non-highway projects, such as bike trails and museums, and politicized through earmarks such as the Bridge to Nowhere mentioned above. To make up for funding shortfalls, the trust fund has required three large transfusions of taxpayer dollars from general revenues, totaling $35 billion since 2008.

Without reform, another infusion will be necessary in 2013. This budget anticipates that Congress can keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent without additional general fund transfers or increases in the gasoline tax by consolidating dozens of separate highway programs that GAO has identified as duplicative. This will help focus every dollar on pursuing a targeted and cohesive national transportation policy.

The GOP’s “path” also seeks to end funding of high speed rail, saying its “long-term subsidization” is “infeasible” and that, “high-speed rail and other new intercity rail projects should be pursued only if they can be established as self-supporting commercial services.”

I’m all for that rationale, as long as we apply it to all modes. If we did, I’d wager bicycling would be the only mode left standing (or should I say rolling?).

I’m all for cutting spending. A more efficient and lean government is in all of our best interests; but this proposal remains in the dark ages when it refers to “bike trails” as something not worthy of transportation spending and when it continues to stoke the false notion that driving a car can remain as cheap and subsidized as it always has been.

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  • Spencer Boomhower April 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    I liked this comment from the StreetsBlog article:

    “I wish highways were held to the standard of being “self-supporting commercial services” in order to get government funding.”

    What you said, basically. But it’s a point that bears repeating.

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  • Perry Hunter April 6, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Here’s a thought, let’s cut an immediate $12.6 billion dollars per month from our spending by stopping the damned wars.

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    • spare_wheel April 6, 2011 at 8:41 pm

      and while we are at it we could also nationalize a few “too big to fail banks” and require ceos and banksters to pay the treasury a trillion or so in clawbacks.

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  • 9watts April 6, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    This talk of prosperity is cut from the same cloth that Ms. Taft’s talk of productivity. The ‘good life’ as we’ve come to recognize it is based on massive quantities of cheap fossil fuels. It looks like productivity and prosperity, but only because these folks take the narrow view, and fail to recognize and account for all the nasty consequences of taking all of those fossil fuels out of the ground in a few short generations and burning them. This is of the “How did our oil get under their sand?” variety. Extremely shortsighted, and the opposite of conservative, really.

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  • 9watts April 6, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Is it any surprise that the Danish Cycling Federation has this to say about us?
    “But the age of the automobile is coming to an end and it looks like the Danes have got it right.

    The DCF says the world can look “backwards” to countries like America that have dumped the bicycle and are struggling with rising obesity and CO2 levels as a consequence or “forwards” to countries like Denmark where the bike is taking over.”

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    • matt picio April 7, 2011 at 9:41 am

      The US is a 4th-world nation – we just haven’t realized it yet.

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      • Dave April 10, 2011 at 7:18 am

        If you remove the top 15%, America’s standard of living falls below Slovenia’s, apparently. Clearly the GOP, and our system overall, are catering to a very specific demographic of Americans.

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  • ikeonic April 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Jonathan, are you arguing that the GOP is lying when they say the highway trust fund has been raided to pay for non-highway projects such as museums and bike trails?

    Constructive criticism: this article provides more context about the trust fund which Obama smartly would like to rename the “Transportation Trust Fund”:

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    • are April 6, 2011 at 8:46 pm

      depends what you mean by “raided.” the mass transit account was created in 1982 (reagan), funded by an increase in the fuel tax. in 1990, bush senior signed legislation that put half of another increase into the general fund to reduce the deficit. note, both republican presidents, and in each case the non-highway allocations were from increases, not from the existing tax. the fund was entirely depleted in 2008 and replenished with $8 billion from general revenue.

      post an item mentioning victoria taft, get a fresh troll.

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      • matt picio April 7, 2011 at 9:55 am

        That illustrates some of the dangers about getting too tied up in partisanship. Many of the most important “green” or “liberal” developments were started during Republican administrations by Republican Presidents. (e.g. Nixon and the EPA) And many serious setbacks happened under liberal ones. (How much did Clinton / Gore *really* do to stop global warming? Arguably, NAFTA exacerbated the problem)

        That said, overall I think that liberal administrations have been more beneficial in a number of areas, especially around equal rights, worker’s rights, immigration, and women’s health issues. And while Nixon may have brought is the EPA, Republican administrations have brought us the “cut first, perform studies later” policies of the USDA in our forests, and Nixon’s administration in particular destroyed our food system under the guise of feeding more people. Thanks to Earl Butz, we have the wonderful factory-farming and monocultured crop systems of today’s “farm”.

        It’s good to know that the Reagan administration had some positive notes. Certainly we’re all aware of the negative ones.

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  • Stig10 April 6, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    We argue over pennies (education, active transportation funding) while billions go out the back door (wars, interest on debt).

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    • matt picio April 7, 2011 at 9:56 am

      Are you suggesting we renege on the National Debt?

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  • Charley April 6, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    No highway ever paid for itself! Let’s stop subsidizing them!

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    • ikeonic April 6, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      Show me an example of a bike path that paid for itself.

      I’ll wait.

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 6, 2011 at 7:58 pm

        You won’t have to wait long ikeonic!

        Last week at our Get Together in Lents a woman, Geana, showed up. She said she hadn’t ridden a bike in years, but after the new bike lanes that went in on SE Holgate, she decided to buy a used bike to give commuting a try (she works in Sellwood).

        So, a bike lane project that cost less than $100,000 encouraged Geana (and likely many others) to bike instead of drive.

        By biking instead of driving, Geana saved our city money by not causing any wear/tear on the roads. She’s also saving health care costs by getting exercise every day. Also, as research has shown, as more people like Geana bike, there are few crashes. Geana also saves a lot of cash by not having to maintain a car and make car payments. She can take that money and spend it in the local economy.

        All of those impacts have real economic costs attached to them. Bottom like is that when people bike, the return on investment is substantial and measurable. So, in many ways, bikeways absolutely pay for themselves.

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        • tacoma April 6, 2011 at 8:41 pm

          Hope you aren’t wasting your breath here, Jonathan, but I don’t believe Ikeonic is asking the question to try to understand the truth. Thanks for the effort though. Good examples.

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        • ikeonic April 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm

          Okay, a $100k bike lane was paid for because one woman traded in her car for a bike?

          What kind of voodoo economics is this?

          If I ride my bike to work tomorrow, how will my choice contribute any money to pay for the bike lane I’m using? Your assumption is that a good portion of the money I don’t spend on my car gets spent in the local economy and somehow eventually pays for that bike lane I’m using.

          Got any hard numbers around that? Anecdotes are amusing, but don’t make a very compelling economic argument.

          I know some of you think I’m a troll, but you might benefit from a challenge here and there. At least Jonathan isn’t afraid to engage in dialogue with people who aren’t reading from the same talking points.

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          • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 6, 2011 at 9:59 pm


            that woman is representative of 10s of thousands of people that bike in Portland (and cities like Portland) every day.

            Bottom line is our system is out of balance. It is not as safe and accessible as it needs to be for all users and we can save a lot of money (and reap myriad other benefits) by switching more car trips to bike trips.

            In cities, we can move many more people by bike for much less money than by car. There’s nothing “voodoo” about it. Come on; You have to understand the massive negative external impacts (financial, environmental, etc..) of our over-reliance on and overuse of cars. Conversely, it shouldn’t be hard to understand how those external impacts all switch to huge positives when the trip is made by a bicycle instead.

            As for being a troll. As publisher/editor/owner/guy up at 10 pm responding to the comment of someone I don’t even know, I’m the only one who gets to decide who the trolls are. So far I don’t consider you one. Hopefully you don’t let me down ;-).

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          • wsbob April 7, 2011 at 2:41 am

            “Okay, a $100k bike lane was paid for because one woman traded in her car for a bike?

            What kind of voodoo economics is this? …” ikeonic

            $100k bike lanes get paid for by government not having to invest your money in multi-million and multi-billion dollar freeway widening projects, because cyclists are able instead, to ride the $100k bike lanes constructed within existing road right of ways.

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          • Mark Kenseth April 7, 2011 at 7:28 am

            I appreciate the questioning. You’re right, nothing will completely pay for itself, but externalities are hard to measure. It seems like roads have never paid for themselves, while adding extra costs (health, social, environment). Bike lanes lower all of those costs and turn some around. We can’t produce perfect numbers for everything in every study.

            I’d still rather have a $100,000 bike lane than a 1,000,000 mile of 4-lane road. Let’s use the left over money to invest in businesses, people, and the environment.

            If you don’t want to bike, that’s up to you. I’m pretty happy not paying for a car (payments, insurance, maintenance, and harder to find numbers: health, environment, social). I use my money saved by going to school, buying good food, having a good local beer…etc.

            I know the government is in a money crunch right now, and those are solid numbers that can be reduced is less is spent on roads for cars. I know, it’s hard to let go.

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          • David Parsons April 7, 2011 at 8:44 am

            The wear on a paved road from a bicycle is basically nil. So if someone switches from an automobile to a bicycle they become a pure profit center to the roads department, because they’re paying road repair taxes but not damaging the roads.

            The city won’t get the money back from the (pointless) widening of Holgate in the first place, but those are two stripes of pavement that won’t need to be stripped off and repaved 10 years down the line when the potholes get out of control. The US$100,000 lane striping (which would be done anyway; automobiles wear paint off roads as if there was no tomorrow) isn’t much compared to the cost of grinding off and replacing 4 inches of asphalt (which would then need to be restriped!)

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          • Velvetackbar April 7, 2011 at 10:37 am

            I rememberC riding some bike paths in Eugene back in the 70s that are still there today. The biggest enemy to a bike path isn’t the traffic above, its the roots below. Compare that to Sandy BLVD being repaved every 4 years or so, and you see the cost savings.

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        • Jim Labbe April 7, 2011 at 11:57 am

          Geana is also helping improve air and water quality and safeguarde the investments we ratepayers are paying to clean up the Willamette River. 60 to 70 % of Portland stormwater run-off is attributable to paved streets and driveways, and most of the pollutants are heavy metals and hyrdocarbons that originate from motor vehicles.

          One would hope that the source of pollution would pay for its share of the clean-up, but actually we pay to clean up automobile-related water pollution through our sewer and stormwater fees.

          Paying for the real fiscal burdens of clean air and water quality is just one more way, a more diverse, integrated, and less auto-dependent transportation system benefit us all.

          Jim Labbe

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  • michweek April 6, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Cars are so not cool, useful just barely.

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  • michael bogoger April 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Jonathan, you could add that I regularly pay my taxes, but don’t cash in because my bike is so low impact the road could be made of dirt. So my tax dollars are up for grabs. Might as well spend those thousands on a few bike paths, I wouldn’t mind.

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    • Kristen April 7, 2011 at 10:30 am

      Amen, brother, I was about to point that out.

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  • davemess April 6, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Well written!
    A sad, sorry state of affairs.

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  • Brent April 6, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    In the documentary, “Why We Fight,” the film maker made the small point that we have an interstate highway system in part because Eisenhower posed it as a national defense expenditure. It seems the defense hawks, then fighting the “spread of communism,” probably wouldn’t have considered such spending useful without this clever rationale. Do we have any such equivalent, some reason so clearly attractive, for bike lanes today?

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    • Editz April 7, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      I suppose you can argue that fewer motor vehicles means less reliance on foreign oil. You could also argue that quality higher education is a form of national defense as well.

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  • El Biciclero April 6, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    I give up. You can’t fight money. Auto industry has money; oil industry has money. Bike industry? “Active Transportation” lobby? No money.

    We are in a catch-22: If more people rode bikes for transport–even on bike lanes on existing streets–we could unburden the existing road system and make more room for cars without building bigger roads, saving millions, even billions, of dollars. To get enough people to ride bikes for transport, we would have to spend millions on making it feel safer, which we won’t do, because not enough people ride bikes to make it worthwhile…

    I find it continually amusing and sad how attitudes toward travel are so incredibly irrational. Who would have thought that getting from one place to another would be such an emotional entanglement. Do drivers and transportation policy-makers not understand that if I quit driving my car and ride a bike instead, that my car is literally not on the road stretching out the traffic jams and causing 4 trillion times the damage as my bike?

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    • Mark K April 7, 2011 at 12:05 pm

      Many do recognize those concerns that you raise. However, the flip side of it is that federal transportation funds, as well as many state transporatation/highway funds come from gas tax. Less use means less tax base which in turn means less money for those projects. Now, guess why they want you to keep driving? It doesn’t matter to them that we cause less wear and tear on the roads. Those projects mean jobs, which also helps the local economies.

      We really need to look at the entire economics of transportation and how it fits in on a macro scale in our communities and nation as a whole to restructure it in an equitable way.

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      • El Biciclero April 10, 2011 at 7:00 pm

        As far as jobs go, “active transportation” projects create them, too. Arguably, they can create more jobs for less money, because the materials and engineering costs of byways for non-motorized traffic are so much less.

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  • Suburban April 6, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    I really enjoy the subsidies I get for operating my Mitsubishi! without them, driving would become prohibitively expensive for me. With them, I can drive everywhere for slightly more than the price of a bus, and as the bus is not subject to my whims, it is less valuable. Think of the children!

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  • Drew April 7, 2011 at 1:54 am

    I would point out to ikeonic that every motorist is heavily subsidized. Where is the logic demanding that a bike lane pay for itself?! The question we should ask is “should we continue to heavily subsidize motor vehicles?”
    rather than quibble about the pennies thrown at bike infrastructure (equivalent to 1 mile of city freeway in Portland, the best biking city this country has to show for itself).
    If you want to see some bike lane benefit you directly, beg the planners to put one in your area. Your property value will go up 11% on average. And you can take that to the bank.

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  • Al from PA April 7, 2011 at 3:46 am

    I’m surprised anyone is surprised by this.

    Do billionaires send their children to public schools or universities?

    –Now you understand Republican education policy.

    Do billionaires use bicycles to get to work, or to shop?

    –Now you understand Republican transportation policy.

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    • spare_wheel April 7, 2011 at 7:35 am

      sorry but imo democratic party is just as beholden, if not more so, to billionaires. the republican party, on the other hand, has staked a position as the anti-environmentalism party due to their long-standing partnership with the energy sector. and its going to get worse because the showers pass-wearing algor-loving urban commuter is a near perfect symbol.

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  • paul April 7, 2011 at 6:52 am


    Many thanks for posting this article. This is perhaps THE most important arguement cyclist must crystalize in order to carry our message forward. I think it would be really interesting to bring this discussion into real-time via a debate with a GOP faction in pdx complete with a moderator and civil audience.
    Is it a pipe dream to think a civil dialogue on transportation policy could be had in pdx or elsewhere?

    Ultimately, I agree with Al from PA insofar as cycling has become a politicized issue with Democrats taking up the cause in the largest numbers. Making the economic arguement is likely the only way to convince the GOP the efficacy of our cause.

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  • tom April 7, 2011 at 7:50 am

    We argue over pennies (education, active transportation funding) while billions go out the back door (wars, interest on debt).

    Hits the nail on the head!!

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  • k. April 7, 2011 at 8:56 am

    The idea that all government investment should pay for itself from a commercial perspective is patently ridiculous. The benefits of programs like mass transit etc. go way beyond the costs, but they are diffuse and don’t just show up in fare box. This is why we can’t rely solely on capitalism to provide for these things. This is the fallacy and problem with the hard right Republican philosophy that dominates that party these days. If we’d followed that thought, we’d have never had a space program, a highway system (as a few have pointed out), developed computer technology, and many advances in health care. I suppose since none of those can be shown to have produced a direct profit, we should have never done them? The Republicans are idiots.

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  • meh April 7, 2011 at 9:04 am

    The President of my company has a saying.

    “Don’t bring me a problem, bring me a solution”

    It’s easy to bitch about something it’s something else to come up with a solution to the problem.

    So enough complaining, let’s see an alternative.

    I don’t like everything in the plan, but it’s one that focuses on the real economic issues facing this country. I can’t get behind a plan that continues to run annual deficits and adds to the national debt.

    And while this blog is bike centric, there’s more to the problem than just this one issue.

    The best plan wins, but to whine about something and not offer an alternative is a waste of time.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 7, 2011 at 9:11 am

      “not offer an alternative”?

      I think it’s pretty clear what the alternative is when it comes to transportation. Tax fuel and cars more heavily, invest more into non-auto-centric infrastructure.

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      • meh April 7, 2011 at 10:26 am

        That’s fine if the plan was dealing with a single issue.

        I understand that this blog is single issue, but you can’t see everything with just that single issue as a basis for making every decision in your life.

        By doing so you set yourself up to be looked upon like every other special interest group that wants only for themselves and everyone else be damned.

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    • A.K. April 7, 2011 at 9:54 am

      A solution has been proposed: raise gas taxes and end subsidies so revenues actually match up to expenditures.

      Unfortunately, the same people who decry “government handouts” and “wasteful spending” want to continue to perpetuate a system that is reliant on these very two things to function.

      I have a car, and I drive to work way more than I bike, but I realize how stupid it is for a single person to drive alone to work and back. We need to get out of the mentality that just “paying for more lanes” will get us out of this mess. It will only dig us deeper.

      I would also argue that this plan does NOT focus on “real economic issues facing this country”. It focuses on talking points to energize a specific base of supporters. We are talking budget crumbs here, change found in the couch cushions. Cutting transit and alternative transportation projects does nothing to get us out of the problem we’re in.

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    • El Biciclero April 7, 2011 at 11:59 am

      I think a more apt saying comes from the rehab industry: “The first step to recovery is recognizing you have a problem”.

      If we could just get the government and others to recognize that we have a “driving problem”, THEN we could talk about solutions. Right now, the addicts don’t know they’re addicted, and have no desire to cut back on the drugs.

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  • ikeonic April 7, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
    As for being a troll. As publisher/editor/owner/guy up at 10 pm responding to the comment of someone I don’t even know, I’m the only one who gets to decide who the trolls are. So far I don’t consider you one. Hopefully you don’t let me down ;-).

    Thanks Jonathan! Again, I appeciate that you are willing to have a dialogue.

    But seriously, I’d like to see some hard numbers — not anecdotes. The only hard number you threw out was the cost of the bike lane. With cars, I can easily Google to find hard numbers that show how of road construction is paid for by fuel taxes. With bikes, I have no clue where the funding for bike lanes comes from. It’s a fair question to ask and it’s a question most people (call us ignorant) who aren’t regular residents of the choir at BikePortland.org will continue to ask.

    To circle back though, I strongly support the construction of bike paths, bike lanes and other segregated facilities for bike use. I don’t want to orphan my daughter riding my bike down the thoroughfares in Washington County where traffic jets by at much higher speeds than in bike friendlier Portland. It’s frustrating that so many of the bike paths don’t go through. I was passed by a bike on the Sunset between the zoo and the tunnel because that bike ran out of bike path after crossing Sylvan Hill and had to resort to the freeway shoulder.

    Where I differ from most of you is that I believe Oregonians should be funding our bike paths and bike lanes. Keep it local and stop going hat in hand to DC begging. I think a strong case can be made for Oregon taxpayers to pay more for bike paths and lanes, just as a strong case has been made at the Metro and state level for more money for parks.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 7, 2011 at 10:07 am


      First. Some numbers/info on economics behind biking:
      Grist article on who pays for what

      Story on how increased bike trips on Hawthorne Bridge have saved Portland cold hard cash

      A comprehensive list of economic statistics and studies pertaining to bicycle travel

      As for your idea about paying for bikeways locally instead of from the Feds. Sounds fine to me. I don’t really mind who pays, as long as we get a more balanced investment. I don’t like begging either.

      thanks for the comments. And for everyone else that happens to be reading, this is why I don’t dismiss what some might consider at first glance to be a “troll”. Just because someone doesn’t toe the party line when it comes to transpo policy, doesn’t mean they are a troll!

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      • ikeonic April 7, 2011 at 10:49 am

        “As for your idea about paying for bikeways locally instead of from the Feds. Sounds fine to me. I don’t really mind who pays, as long as we get a more balanced investment. I don’t like begging either.”

        Mostly agree. I do care who pays — and strongly advocate for local and state level funding. Your Grist article (an excellent read — thank you) helps make my case for local and state level funding for bike transit. Local roads, neighborhood streeets are already funded by local general fund dollars — which makes sense to me since I should hope my property taxes are helping to fund neighborhood streets so that I can access my home. Just as I should hope (even though it hasn’t been true since the 50s and 60s) that federal fuel taxes are paying for interstate highways largely used by interstate commerce. I plan on using I-5 to travel to Californina in June and it won’t be on a bike. But I would love to see more local tax dollars (even if it means higher property taxes) go to more through routes for bikes preferably away from 45 mph deathtraps like Murray Blvd near my home in Beaverton.

        “thanks for the comments. And for everyone else that happens to be reading, this is why I don’t dismiss what some might consider at first glance to be a “troll”. Just because someone doesn’t toe the party line when it comes to transpo policy, doesn’t mean they are a troll!”

        Thanks for engaging me in a real conversation. I appreciate the context and back and forth. In the end, I think we have a lot more in common and ultimately just disagree on whether the feds should be involved at all. Other than projects like the CRC where federal involvement is unavoidable, I would prefer to keep the feds out of all bike transit and make the economic case to state and local voters for why bike transit is a good investment. Practically speaking, it should be easier to convince Oregon voters to pay for bike transit than Congressmen from red states where very few people commute via bike. As Tip O’Neill was fond of saying, all politics is local.

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        • Eric B April 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm

          The nexus for federal investment in bikeways is that when federally-funded “interstates” slice through the city, they end up carrying a tremendous share of the intra-urban travel market. A pennies-on-the-dollar investment in a comprehensive bicycle network can serve this market far better than investment in wider “interstate” highways. If you want bikeways to not be funded by the feds, then ALL urban (and suburban) transportation needs to be funded locally. The infusion of federal money that requires a local match provides a perverse incentive to spend money on cost-ineffective projects because the locals get more bang for their buck with federal leverage. Worse yet, by using local revenues as a match for federal dollars, that money is tied up in projects regardless of merit.

          I think this is a non-partisan point: the feds should either be involved in urban transportation or not. If yes, then all modes need to be judged on their merits (and bikes are the most cost-effective). If not, then stop building/widening roads in cities.

          It would be a tragedy to make more cost-effective projects ineligible for funding in the name of fiscal austerity.

          There is another argument for federal investment in urban infrastructure based on the fact that national GDP is highly dependent on the health and growth of our cities, but that is at least a legitimate issue on which the parties can disagree.

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      • Alan 1.0 April 7, 2011 at 12:32 pm

        Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
        First. Some numbers/info on economics behind biking:
        Grist article on who pays for what
        Story on how increased bike trips on Hawthorne Bridge have saved Portland cold hard cash
        A comprehensive list of economic statistics and studies pertaining to bicycle travel

        And a few more…

        The US highway system gets about 35% of its funding from gas taxes, 20% from user fees and 5% from tolls,
        so 60% from user fees. Non-automobile-based funds covered the remaining 40%. State and local roads get proportionally less funding from motor vehicle-based sources.

        “Do Roads Pay For Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding”

        “Whose Roads”
        Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 2004

        In Seattle, 0.44% (0.0044) of 2009 Seattle street funding came from gas taxes.

        more Todd Litman

        Over in the Victoria Taft discussion ikeonic said “I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is and pay for bike ‘toll roads’.” That leaves me wondering, how does ikeonic feel about car toll roads? That’s not strictly an idle question with tolls in the mix of proposed funding for a new I-5 bridge over the Columbia, but I’m asking about “toll roads” in a broad sense of user-specific fees for all road use, not simply a one-spot payment for use of that bridge, or only freeways.

        (ikeonic, thanks back for real engagement.)

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    • El Biciclero April 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm

      Here’s another question: “who pays for residential street parking?” I live in a residential neighborhood, yet I almost never park my car in the street like so many of my neighbors always do. If my taxes–property, gas, income, or otherwise–go toward making the street 12 ft wider just so other people can block those 12 ft of width by storing their private vehicles in ostensibly public space, then I am outraged. Probably about as outraged as anyone who thinks they are “paying for bike lanes”, when really, creating a bike lane requires only an investment in paint. If residential streets are made 12 feet wider to allow for “free” on-street parking for residents, then why can’t streets just as easily be made 12 feet wider to accommodate a 6-ft. bike lane in each direction? Half that for one-ways?

      OK, arguably, since official bike lane delimiters are twice as wide as a normal shoulder stripe, we could say that the paint for a bike lane costs twice as much as the paint that would normally be put down anyway–oh, and I guess we shouldn’t forget the little bike symbols that get put down in bike lanes as well–but are we really arguing about the difference in costs to stripe a car-only street vs. a street with bike lanes? When the bike lane stripes wear off and need to be repainted, why is that? Because cars have worn them away. When we talk about “paying for bike lanes”, what are we really talking about paying for?

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      • ikeonic April 7, 2011 at 1:06 pm

        Well, I just paid $40 to Multnomah County by way of a parking ticket because I hadn’t been downtown in so long on a Sunday that I didn’t remember I had to feed the meter. I was far from alone — I counted at least a dozen other “offenders” with tickets on their windshield as I sprinted back to my car in hopes that I could fix the problem before I too was hit with the stupid tax. But alas, I was much too late.

        They cashed my check today — there’s something for everyone to cheer! More parking tickets equals more revenue for bike paths and lanes! YIPEE!

        That’s $40 I’ll be doing my best to recoup by avoiding patronizing downtown Portland whenever possible and keeping more of my money in Washington County.

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        • El Biciclero April 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm

          The question was, “Who pays for Residential, i.e., non-metered, parking?” Are you saying that your parking ticket pays for parking in front of my house?

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          • ikeonic April 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm

            El Biciclero
            The question was, “Who pays for Residential, i.e., non-metered, parking?” Are you saying that your parking ticket pays for parking in front of my house?

            If you want a real answer, tweet Sam Adams but I’ll take a stab.

            I would assume the Portland Bureau of Transportation built and maintains the street in front of your house.

            Per the city (http://www.portlandonline.com/omf/index.cfm?c=53164&a=310566), PBOT’s 5 year budget of $259 million is funded in part by $46 million from gas tax revenue and another $92 million from the Jobs and Transportation Act (funded by vehicle fees and fuel taxes). Or roughly 53% of PBOT’s 5 year budget is funded by motor vehicle users.

            “PBOT’s primary source of discretionary operating revenue is the State Highway Trust Fund,
            often referred as the “gas tax”.”

            “PBOT’s other sources of discretionary revenue include parking revenue. The primary source
            of parking revenue is on-street parking meter/paystation fees. Parking citation and parking permit revenue also contribute. These revenues account for one-fourth of total discretionary revenue.”

            “PBOT’s other sources of discretionary revenue include parking garage revenue and utility
            license fee revenue.”

            In some neighborhoods like Goose Hollow (the only other place I’ve ever received a parking ticket in Oregon), residential on-street parking is prioritized for residents (who register with the city to get a residential permit) but time limited for visitors. So non-metered isn’t what you mean, what you mean is who pays for residential parking that isn’t time restricted or otherwise regulated and ticketable. Above is the best answer I could find. It would appear that motorists are footing the large majority of the bill — according to PBOT.

            PBOT doesn’t say, though I would assume, that homeowners are also footing part of the bill via property taxes as property taxes make up a large chunk of the city of Portland’s revenue stream. But it would be silly to object to paying property taxes in order to have paved streets to/from your home.

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  • Fred April 7, 2011 at 10:18 am

    If the wealthy Republicans want to get rid of public transportation and infrastructure, how do they expect their nannies, house cleaners, gardeners, etc. get to their home to provide them their services? Will they give their service employees a large enough raise to afford a car and all the expenses that accompany auto ownership?

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  • JohnO April 7, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Every time I see a discussion of federal funding for roads (vs. bike lanes, etc.), I think of the graphic I’ve seen for this. It appears on this post (among other places)


    Basically, the federal highway system was a — is — a massive capital expenditure, which is not fully funded by gas tax.

    It’s important to make the decision at the federal level because since 1956, HUGE amounts of money and construction have resulted from similar decisions made there … and it’s not like the federal department of transportation is going to stop funding transit projects.

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  • Kristen April 7, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Here’s the link to ODOT’s page on road funding.


    It’s an interesting read.

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    • ikeonic April 7, 2011 at 11:33 am

      Heh. Interesting read indeed.

      What baffles me if why they put a solar array in Wilsonville instead of somewhere out on I-84 in easter Oregon where the sun shines far more (but they couldn’t show it off to the 80% of Oregonians who live in the valley).

      And when driving through Umatilla one bright summer day, I noticed the sprinkler were on full blast watering the lush green grass between the shoulder and the exit ramp. If only they’d rip out the grass and put in a solar array instead. Or at least water the grass at night instead of the hottest hour of the day.

      Full disclosure: Last year, I installed solar panels on my house in Washington County because the city of Beaverton, state and fed govts made me an economic proposition I couldn’t refuse. Again, I’m baffled why they’d give out such ridiculously rich tax credits to someone who lives in such a poor area for insolation (as compared to the high desert or say Phoenix) but I wasn’t going to turndown such an easy return on investment. Well, personal return on investment. Who knows what the real return on investment is on solar tax credits is for taxpayers who fund the credits.

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  • PorterStout April 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I can add another piece to the economic argument that I don’t think has been raised above, and can speak to it for certain on a personal basis, and that’s the amount of time I no longer spend sitting in traffic. As long as I’m able to ride (no snow, etc.) my commute is basically the same day in, day out. My personal tax dollars going towards enabling me to ride rather than drive pay back several times over every year. I moved here from the DC area about four years ago, and I guarantee there’s no comparison! If you want “hard numbers,” this from the Traffic Congestion page on Wikipedia: “The Texas Transportation Institute estimated that, in 2000, the 75 largest metropolitan areas experienced 3.6 billion vehicle-hours of delay, resulting in 5.7 billion U.S. gallons (21.6 billion liters) in wasted fuel and $67.5 billion in lost productivity, or about 0.7% of the nation’s GDP.” My removing one car from the road also benefits other drivers in this respect as well. Money well spent, and it’s a pittance to boot.

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  • El Biciclero April 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    No more reply levels left, so…

    “…property taxes make up a large chunk of the city of Portland’s revenue stream. But it would be silly to object to paying property taxes in order to have paved streets to/from your home.”

    I wouldn’t object to paying property or other taxes to pay for streets leading to my house. What I would abstractly/theoretically/rhetorically object to is paying for extra-wide streets leading to my house just so my neighbors can park their cars there. This is theoretically/abstractly/rhetorically the same objection people might have to “paying for bike lanes”, i.e., extra-wide streets. In one case, the extra width is used to facilitate blockage of the street, in the other it is used to facilitate travel on the street. I think the latter makes more sense to spend money on.

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