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Sunday Parkways, bike boulevards among “painful” PBOT budget cuts

Posted by on January 6th, 2012 at 11:37 am

Leaves in bike lane on Naito

With budget cuts to bike lane
cleaning, you might want to
carry a broom.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has unveiled a list of proposed cuts intended to slash their discretionary budget by $15-16 million. The unprecedented cuts — which amount to about 20% of $70 million in discretionary revenue — comes as PBOT grapples with how continue providing services while revenue sources have failed to keep pace with demands and commitments made in previous years are now coming due.

“When you’re cutting $15 million on an ongoing basis, you’re cutting into the muscle, that’s a fact.”
— Tom Miller, Director of PBOT

In a meeting on Tuesday, bureau director Tom Miller told us that, “The cuts are so big it’s truly bureau-wide” and that, after a decade of whittling down their budget to trim fat, these new cuts go into “the muscle of the organization.”

“What you’ll see here are some very painful cuts across the organization… If you self-identify as a motorist, or as a bicyclist, or as a transit user… Every mode, through the life-cycle of what we do to service that mode, you’ll see cuts across the realm.

When you’re cutting $15 million on an ongoing basis, you’re cutting into the muscle, that’s a fact.”

To decide how where and how deep to make the cuts, PBOT has worked with staff and with a Budget Advisory Committee made up of community stakeholders. In total, there are 63 “strategic reductions” in the proposed cuts. All of the bureau’s programs have been ranked and scored against four criteria: “Safety”, “Asset Management”, “Health/Livability”, and “Economic Vitality”.

As to how PBOT decided the proportion of cut a specific program would get, Miller said they used “professional judgment.”

The biggest reductions (and the ones that have garnered the most headlines) are to “street preservation” and re-paving projects. PBOT will completely suspend their large-scale re-paving projects on major arterials (saving $4.4 million a year) and they will reduce their pavement maintenance budget (which pays for things like crack-sealing) by $1 million (or 10% of the total).

While smooth streets are important for everyone, many of the cuts have an even more direct impact on bicycling and walking.

The Transportation Options Division (which promotes biking, walking and transit) will be slashed by $350,000 or about one-third of their total budget. Specifically, those cuts will include a reduction to the popular SmartTrips program from 25,000 to 19,000 households per year, a cut to Sunday Parkways events of $50,000 a year, reductions to the Safe Routes to School program budget (the service side, not the infrastructure side) and the elimination of several staff positions (one of which is already vacant and will not be filled).

Bridge Pedal 2007-16

All those cones aren’t cheap.

While none of those cuts will spell doom for these important programs, they will certainly have an impact. City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield told me on Tuesday that, while most of the money for Sunday Parkways comes from private sponsors and donors, the $50,000 cut may make it harder for PBOT to raise money for the events. “That may be a challenge, because without some skin in the game [investment from the City], those outside vendors are less likely to say, ‘we’ll give you our money’ if it looks like the City isn’t committed to it.”

Another place that will feel the pinch is PBOT’s Neighborhood Greenway program. This program — which has been building out a citywide network of low-stress, family-friendly bike boulevards at a pace of 15 miles per year — will see a cut of $100,000, which is 10% of its $1 million per year budget.

Other cuts include a $50,000 reduction to PBOT’s $500,000 a year, “Ped & Bike Safety” fund and a reduction of the street cleaning budget by $550,000. That large cut is broken down into four line items: cleaning streets in the Central Business District (34% reduction), the Transit Mall (13% reduction), arterial streets (22% reduction) and “Clean Bike and Pedestrian Areas” will see a 38% reduction.

Bike racks will also suffer a bit. A line item listed as “Structures – Structural Maintenance” will get a $175,000 cut. PBOT says that reduction will come by reducing bike rack maintenance and construction. Burchfield explains that this cut doesn’t mean they’ll install fewer racks, but that existing racks won’t get the attention they used to. As an example, Burchfield said, “If somebody calls us up and says, ‘The bolts are loose on a bike rack, can you come out and fix it?’, our response to that would be diminished.”

Another reduction that caught my eye was a 75% reduction in “Traffic Operations – Special Events.” As part of their budget cuts and restructuring, PBOT wants to change their policy of providing traffic services at parades and other community events. In the past, PBOT would subsidize many large events with barricades, signage and other traffic operations expenses. Now, according to Burchfield, “PBOT will move from a subsidy to a cost recovery model.”

The new policy would require large events with paying participants — like Bridge Pedal, the Portland Triathlon, the Portland Marathon and so on — to pay for the City’s traffic operations help. The idea, says PBOT, is that these type of events can simply pass on the costs to their participants. An exception to this rule will be made for small, community parades and events that require services of $2,500 or less.

Many of the budget cuts are small reductions that shift PBOT’s policy for general maintenance and improvements to the transportation system from being proactive to being reactive. In other words attention and responsiveness to routine maintenance of bridges, signal timing, paving markings, street cleaning and so on would have longer intervals or would only be done if a hazard or a safety issue was reported.

One line item that should raise eyebrows of walking (and accessibility) advocates is over $1.4 million in cuts to PBOT’s various sidewalk programs. The largest cut would slash $1 million from PBOT’s budget for constructing ADA accessible sidewalk ramps. Sidewalks take another hit of $457,000 with PBOT cutting their sidewalk inspections and repairs budgets by 43% and 46% respectively.

In the end, Miller acknowledges that the elephant in the room is the dire need for a new revenue source. “At the end of the day, we need new money, new revenue,” he said. While he has lots of ideas on where new revenue could come from (his favorite is more innovative parking fees), Miller has been directed by Mayor Sam Adams to not consider any new revenue ideas at this time.

But Miller isn’t letting this budget crisis go without seizing it as an opportunity to revamp how PBOT does business. He says the process they’re undergoing is “more transparent and more intensive” than the agency has had in the past and he’s using it to develop a template for how the bureau provides services in the future (more on that to come).

The size, scope, and context of what’s going on here is a big deal. I hope everyone pays attention and stays tuned. For more details on the list of proposed cuts, delve into the PDFs below (the first is a list of the cuts and programs, the second is an explanation of the cuts):

PBOT FY 12-13 Proposed Cuts Summary – DRAFT
PBOT Program Rankings and Potential Cuts – DRAFT

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Andrew N
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Andrew N

Hopefully soon the conversation will turn to sources of new funding, specifically the merits and demerits of implementing a VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) tax.

Elliot
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Elliot

Jonathan, any chance you could update this story with a few examples of cuts proposed at PBOT for line items other than bike/ped? I understand that the cuts are happening across the board, but I’m curious to see they compare.

Also, you tweeted a day or two ago that a ten cent/hour increase in parking meter fees would raise $10 million annually. Did that number come from PBOT? That could fill more than two-thirds of the funding gap. I’d have no problem paying $1.70/hour instead of $1.60/hour when parking downtown if I knew it would save cuts to these important programs.

NW Biker
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NW Biker

There’s an article on the KGW site about the reduction in street paving, but no mention of the other cuts outlined here. The KGW comments section (what I call the “free floating hostility” section) is full of complaints about how much attention bike-related projects get at the expense of everyone else. I’m very happy to see a more comprehensive report here (and expected nothing less!).

Chris I
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Chris I

We don’t just need a parking increase, we need a totally new parking system. We need meters with variable pricing, similar to San Francisco’s system, and it needs to be expanded to more areas. These systems increase revenue, and reduce traffic, as people will no longer be hunting for spots (estimated to cause 30% of congestion in cities).

If only we had hired someone competent to run the parking division…

cold worker
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cold worker

Business districts throughout the city need to be metered. Hawthorne, Belmont, Mississippi, Alberta, etc. Meters….

9watts
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9watts

“the dire need for a new revenue source”
I suppose that is how our leaders would look at this problem. Just like how they look at the energy problem: “the dire need for a new energy source.”

When are we going to wake up and re-discover that demand side solutions are orders of magnitude cheaper and quicker?
We don’t need more revenue; we need to reduce subsidies to the automobile. The expensive stuff is all related to the automobile. We know this. Bike and Pedestrian infrastructure is/are peanuts. The money spent *advertising for & studying* the CRC is an order of magnitude larger than these cuts! Eight years of these cuts = the money that has been spent hyping the CRC. Ha.

Let’s pause for a second and look ahead five or ten years: gasoline costs $7/gallon; sea level rise is now much more visible; weather patterns include more frequent and more violent storms; agricultural production is severely disrupted. It is dawning on us that we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing. The car and the money we spend as a society on infrastructure that serves only cars and trucks (parking garages, freeways, four lane roads, CRC, etc.) both are starting to seem anachronistic. Spending priorities are beginning to shift in ways we today can hardly imagine. There is far less money (from gas taxes as well as other familiar revenue streams), and no prospect of raising the sums that our further decayed transportation infrastructure requires. Remember, it is built using oil and things that require oil (gasoline, asphalt, concrete, steel, trucks, etc).

Why not suck it up in 2012, PBOT, and start planning for the future when human powered modes will once again dominate our transport patterns? Why pretend that all this (admittedly fictionalized account above) does not concern us here in the US? That we are somehow different, above the fray?

It’s over, folks.
Let’s get on with the real work of re-building our infrastructure in ways that will be useful to us after all the cheap oil and equilibrated atmosphere are gone.

jon
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jon

PBOT could save $8 million (50% of this deficit) if they cut their money going to the unnecessary Sellwood Bridge which benefits only Clackamas County. If you live in Multnomah County/Portland you have 9 other bridges to the north to choose from. Clackamas County should build their own bridge across the river (but they are too cheap to do so).

Wayne Myer
Guest

Maybe we should clean our own bike lanes. Seriously. The bike lanes on Oleson in Beaverton are a disaster, and dangerously so. I’m about ready to load up my trailer with rake, broom, and shovel and just clean up that crap myself.

And really, why not? We cyclists are in a unique position to actually *be able* to clean the routes we use. I’m sure the Entitlement Mindset will be happy to come out and announce how we cyclists are OWED clean bike lanes, but we can take this into our own hands and prove that we are THE solution, not just part of the solution.

Who’s with me? Want to put together a bike lane cleanup crew? I’m pretty easy to find.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Hank Sheppard

So PBOT will still staff their in house “Capacity Advocacy Group” aka “Portland Freight Committee?” Its members have plenty of dough to hire their own staff and not feed at the public trough.

Kevin Wagoner
Guest

I like Wayne’s idea.

J_R
Guest
J_R

The big problem with the mismatch between revenue and expenditure is not from fuel efficiency of cars (that has not actually changed much in 30 years), but in the absence of willingness to actually increase the gas tax by the amount of inflation or specifically the construction cost index.

The federal gas tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents pre gallon since 1993. The Oregon tax has been raised by only 6 cents per gallon (from 24 cents to 30 cents) during that same 17 year period. General inflation has almost doubled and highway construction costs (including steel and cement) have gone up even more.

If our elected representatives had had the guts to raise the tax by a penny per gallon per year, we wouldn’t have to be making these cuts, we’d have a better-maintained system, and all of us would have made slightly smarter choices on the mileage we demanded for our cars.

A gas tax is actually a pretty good method of generating revenue and encouraging good behavior, using non-auto modes and more efficient autos). A higher gas tax penalizes the gas-guzzlers in addition to generating needed revenue.

Wayne Myer
Guest

I see a lot of comments about wanting someone else to pay for the infrastructure they want. Yes, we all know the arguments about the economics of bicycles, but even given that, doesn’t it seem a little disingenuous?

I don’t see anyone (except maybe q`Tzal and me) advocating for putting in our own money and sweat to improve the things *we cyclists* use. Everybody wants to go to the party; nobody wants to bring the beer or stay to clean up.

wsbob
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wsbob

“…and they will reduce their pavement maintenance budget (which pays for things like crack-sealing) by $1 million (or 10% of the total). …” maus/bikeportland

Not sealing pavement cracks winds up costing more in the long run when water is allowed to seep into the cracks, eroding and otherwise busting up the pavement.

Just how important is smooth pavement to travel by bike? If pavement is allowed to get rougher, the idea for many people of even considering to try travel by bike, may get pushed further away.

People or cycling organizations uniting to raise funds for a bike lane specific pavement sweeper could possibly be a good gesture. Beaverton or Washington County may already have something like that, with the Farmington Rd curb separated bike lane to take care of.

Lazy Spinner
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Lazy Spinner

How much does PBOT spend each year on big dollar consultants like Alta and those former BTA staffers? That seems like a load of cash to blow on people to create PR for Sunday Parkways, awareness of bicycles, and to draw up plans any decent traffic engineer with knowledge of federal roadway standards could do for much less. Bring it all in-house! Plus, how many expensive “tests” do we need of “innovative” bike infrastructure? Many dollars are spent to study what already exists overseas (well documented) or building 500 meters of experimental cycletrack on a street with historically low ridership and connected to nothing.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

The $4 million we are spending on a bike share sure does not sound like such a good deal now.

jim
Guest
jim

I dont think more money is going to fix the problem. I think we need new people that are in charge of spending the money. I think they have plenty of money already. Also reform PERS

poisonpony
Guest

I am employed by the citizens of Portland at PBOT Maintenance Operations. We are the workers that build and maintain the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. I can tell you most of us take great pride in the fact that our work has helped make Portland one of the most bike and pedestrian friendly cites in the country, as well as never forget we serve the citizens of this Great City. I know we get a bad rap, but the majority of us do care about the job we do.
I can also tell you that clean and safe bike ways are a priority at Maint. Ops. We generally respond to a debris in bike lane call within hours. During leaf season, (Nov., Dec.), we remove approximately 1600 cubic yards of debris on average from bike lanes each week, (That is forty 40yrd drop boxes per week). Most people don’t understand that there are thousands of mile of roadway, and hundreds of miles of bike lanes in Portland, and it is a daunting task to keep it clean.
On Night Operations sweeping bike lanes is a regularly scheduled part of a shift. With the upcoming budget cuts that is about to change. We are told by management that sweeping bike lanes will be done on a complaint driven basis. The regularly scheduled sweeping will stop because of the cutting several positions in street cleaning.
One of the main reasons for the budget shortfall is the city counsel committing $8 million a year to the Sellwood Bridge, and $3.5 million a year to Clackamas light rail, (for 20yrs.) of the Gas Tax Revenue dollars which is the main source of PDOT’s funding.
These projects are needed, but I have to ask myself as a taxpayer why I am fronting the bill for projects that will primarily benefit Clackamas county residents, and their not paying a dime for them. No one asked me to vote to give away millions of dollars.
I think that a toll for the Sellwood bridge is the only fair way to pay for the bridge. We do need to raise the Gas Tax in order to raise more revenue, and encourage alternative transportation. We should create a Portland fee on the sale tires, studded tires and chains, and a per mile tax for commercial trucks and all non-self powered vehicles. (Electric, and hybrid vehicles pay little or nothing, but are destructive to the roads and environment in their creation, operation, and disposal).
Let your voice be heard. PBOT Budget Advisory Committee Meeting; Jan 10th and 17th at 3pm, Portland Bldg., Broadway Room.
Let Mayor Adams and the commissioners know bike ways matter to you. Call them, email them, go to counsel meeting. Fund Portland First!

julie
Guest
julie

Thank you “PoisonPony” for this: I think that a toll for the Sellwood bridge is the only fair way to pay for the bridge. We do need to raise the Gas Tax in order to raise more revenue, and encourage alternative transportation. We should create a Portland fee on the sale tires, studded tires and chains, and a per mile tax for commercial trucks and all non-self powered vehicles. (Electric, and hybrid vehicles pay little or nothing, but are destructive to the roads and environment in their creation, operation, and disposal).

I don’t want the gas tax raised. Gas prices are already high and people continue to drive needlessly. Those of us who drive more responsibly on rare occasions shouldn’t have to suffer for it. However, VMT’s are a huge factor in cost of maintenance. Tolls should be placed on roads between certain hours for those who insist on living in Vancouver, Camas, Hillsboro, Gresham, etc. and working in Portland. If they are going to drive for the better part of an hour each way, every day, they should pay for it. Maybe this will cause them to change where they live, or work, or how they get there, to save money, and generally live a more responsible life on the planet we’re sharing. When TriMet buses and trains are less disgusting, more people will find it pleasant to ride. They should also provide more cost-effective ways to ride. Currently their “monthly pass” is not a way to save money, and therefore not an incentive to ride. The annual pass is ridiculously expensive.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

A tax on personal car that is strictly per-mile would be an environmental disaster. It would be insane to charge the owner of a 2500 pound Toyota Corolla (or a 3000 pound Toyota Prius) the same rate per mile as the owner of a 5800 pound Suburban (or a 7500 pound F-250 that isn’t being used for work).

That is one reason why gas taxes work: they hit the drivers of overweight, thirsty vehicles harder. A per-mile tax fails to do that. A weight-mile tax (which long-haul trucks already pay in Oregon) is the way to go.

Really though, the solution is technical simple (though politically difficult): raise the gas tax! And thereafter index it for inflation and for improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency so the revenue doesn’t crash as vehicles get cleaner.

poisonpony
Guest

To answer Jim. Cleaning around bollards is done by hand, broom and shovel. We clean corners, dog legs, walkways, and storm drains that way also. Many bike lanes have to be done that way. If you ride Terwilliger between Beaverton/Hillsdale Hwy and Barbur you will see it just got cleaned. 12 cubic yds of material (big dump truck full), mainly shoveled out by hand, (just one person, no one leaning on a shovel watching), and all the large sticks, branches and dead animals pulled out, so the sweeper can pick it up. That was in just one direction. Terwilliger is always labor intensive to clean. Our day crews also cut the brush back from bike lanes. With the cuts it will be difficult to have the time to do this type of hand labor, as these are the positions that are primarily being cut. If the sweeper can’t pick it up, it will stay there.
Jonathan has written some stories on how the Gas Tax Revenue will not be able to sustain road maintenance city, county, or state wide. There has been some good discussions on options on this blog.
One I heard from a friend, but I’m not sure I am in favor of is to have a transportation tax, (Hate that word), of $10 a month paid by everyone who works in the city limits and have that money only spent on road maintenance, traffic, bike, and pedestrian projects.
The person that pitched it to me had some good points. It would shut the people up that say bike riders don’t pay anything for all the bike lanes. People from Washington work here, drive on our roads, and if they don’t buy gas here, pay nothing to do so. Electric car owners would pay their share. People who ride buses to work would pay for the roads buses tear up. All good points.
City-Data.com say that there are 200,158 people that live and work in Portland, and 121,743 that come to Portland to work. At $10 a month for each that’s $3,210,000 a month, or $38,520,000 a year.
At $5 a month, that is still $19mil a year, and the 122,000 people who use our roads and don’t live here would pay their share.
If the money was for targeted use only, (like sewer and water bill dollars), that would mean good roads, bike boulevards, good lighting, (Which is $6 mil a year), and a sustainable program to fund the City’s core transportation infrastructure growth and maintenance. Then the GTR dollars could be spent on discretionary programs if the funds are available.
Like my dad taught me, pay your bills first. Then if there is something left over you can buy a train set and build a bridge. Or you could save for a rainy day!