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Commissioner Saltzman questions City spending on Sunday Parkways

Posted by on January 11th, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Sunday Parkways NW 2011-32-31

Sunday Parkways is not a core
city service says Saltzman.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman has fired the first shot across the bow in what is likely just a preview of what’s to come in bruising fight over next year’s budget.

On the agenda at the City Council meeting this morning was a two-year $248,500 contract expense for local company Good Sport Promotion to manage the hundreds of volunteers it takes to put on PBOT’s Sunday Parkways events. According to Beth Slovic at The Oregonian, Saltzman spoke out in opposition to the contract — and funding for the event in general — at the council meeting.

“I’m not OK with guaranteeing support for funding Sunday Parkways next fiscal year. There are a lot of other pressing transportation priorities.”
— Dan Saltzman, City Commissioner

The Oregonian wasted no time seizing on the story with a Tweet that read, “Should Portland pay for Sunday Parkways or road maintenance?”

In a phone call after the meeting, Commissioner Saltzman told me he’s a big fan of Sunday Parkways and that he has no problem funding it this fiscal year; but next year — when the budget crunch becomes very serious — he wants to be careful how much the city commits to it.

“I’m not OK with guaranteeing support for funding Sunday Parkways next fiscal year,” he said, “There are a lot of other pressing transportation priorities.”

Saltzman simply doesn’t feel that Sunday Parkways should be considered an essential, core mission of PBOT. At Council today, Mayor Adams and other PBOT staff disagreed, saying that it is a core city priority.

Saltzman says he thinks it’s a “great event” (he even said, “I love it”); but he added,

“it’s not as essential to me as bike safety improvements or paving roads… The point is, we need more and safer routes for pedestrians and cyclists and a dollar spent there is more important to me that Sunday Parkways.”

Looking forward to 2012-2013, Saltzman said if the money isn’t there for Sunday Parkways, he’d advocate for a reduction in the number of events or even a “hiatus” of it altogether. “It’s going to have to bear a certain level of scrutiny in my mind… Everything has to be looked at by the Council and judiciously decided. We must focus on core priorities.”

Despite his statements, Saltzman ultimately voted in favor of the contract today; but made it clear that the two-year contract could be reneged if funding for the event falls through next year.

Some looking into the numbers shows that Sunday Parkways costs about $100,000 total per event (the volunteer management contract voted on today is about 25% of the total event cost). Last year, about 56% of the total Parkways budget came from the City of Portland ($170,000 of which was from the General Fund and the rest was from PBOT) — the rest of the money came from major private sponsors (like Kaiser Permanente) and grassroots donations.

Next year, which is where Commissioner Saltzman is focusing his concerns, only about one-third (around $166,000) of the total Sunday Parkways budget will come from the City of Portland. Of that funding, only $50,000 will come from transportation revenue, the rest will come from the City’s General Fund (as we reported last week, the City is proposing a $50,000 cut to the event as part of across-the-board budget reductions).

Sunday Parkways has been an unqualified success since it started in 2008. Given that it gets tens of thousands of Portlanders out into the streets on bikes and on foot and improves our communities in many ways, it offers a solid return on investment. At this point it looks like Saltzman isn’t prepared to really push opposition to funding the event. Rather, he’s likely just trying to stake his ground in the upcoming budget debate.

That being said, hold on to your hats. If today’s fireworks over a standard work contract are any indication, we’re in for quite a ride over the budget in the months to come.

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  • Alain January 11, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    I’ll probably get some rotten tomatoes thrown at me for saying this, but I don’t see Sunday Parkways as a core service either. At the same time, I wonder what bicycle “safety improvements” Saltzman has in mind? There is always need for safety improvements, and safer roads I believe is what gets more bicycle riders on the road.

    Didn’t last year have one of the highest fatality rates for bicyclists/pedestrians in the last 10 (something like 15 fatalities). This should be unacceptable.

    How about a nonprofit forming with the mission to run Sunday Parkways, similar to Cycle Oregon. If the nonprofit was successful they could even do some off-season rides, say winter time, and challenge people to ride despite poor weather, even have clinics and information table that address how to ride in inclement weather, esp since much of the year in Portland it’s wet.

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    • dwainedibbly January 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm

      The number was high, but ridership is increasing, so the “rate” probably was less than in years past when the number of fatalities was as high.

      It’s a minor point. Any fatality is too many.

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  • Eric January 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    When I think of the reasons I like living in Portland, Sunday Parkways shows up on that list. Not that I’d move if it were canceled, but I do think cutting this and cutting services to parks in general decrease the standard of living.

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  • 9watts January 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    If we were really serious about a carfree future, we could figure out a way to pull of Sunday Parkways for free. I’m not saying we should, or that Saltzman’s priorities are right, just that $100,000 per Sunday seems like a lot of cash when my interactions have mostly been with volunteers.
    I would be interested to know how the costs break down for other cities around the world that put on these kinds of events.

    And then there’s the CRC… Is anyone suggesting we cut over there? How long until a politician does?

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    • Neighbor Gregg January 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      I also see TONS of volunteers. I know that these events need A LOT of planning by an amazing staff year round. Jonathan, do you know how much of the money goes to police overtime? Maybe we could have less of a police presence. This isn’t the rose festival.

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  • Neighbor Gregg January 11, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    I can’t believe that Portland has $140,000,000.00 (ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY MILLION DOLLARS to fund THE PLANNING of the CRC Highway expansion project (A project that does not have ONE neighborhood supporting it-and has so much community opposition) but the city wants to cut funding that goes to Sunday Parkways (A Core Portland Program that PAYS FOR ITSELF)
    Benefits attached:

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    • grumpcyclist January 11, 2012 at 6:11 pm

      You understand that CRC planning is funded by the state, not the city, right? Oregon’s the one that’s wasting the money, not Portland.

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      • Rebecca January 12, 2012 at 4:33 pm

        Oregon may foot the bill, but Portland will pay the price.

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        • grumpcyclist January 12, 2012 at 6:15 pm

          That may be, but Neighbor Gregg said, “I can’t believe that Portland has $140,000,000.00 (ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY MILLION DOLLARS to fund THE PLANNING of the CRC Highway expansion project”, and what I was doing is pointing out that he was wrong. The city of Portland can’t control the money the state of Oregon is spending on the CRC project and the city of Portland has no access to those funds.

          Briefly: You can be upset about the city cutting funding for the Sunday Parkways program, but understand that it has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CRC.

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          • J_R January 12, 2012 at 6:22 pm

            It’s also worth noting that the state DOTs are actually paying Portland to participate in the CRC planning effort.

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  • Chris Daniel January 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    An group ride like Sunday Parkways got me into cycling. I had a bicycle, but had never realized that 10 miles wasn’t a long distance to ride. For new cyclists, riding the circuit of something like Sunday Parkways can be *huge*. It’s good fun, but it’s also about showing people what cycling can be.

    There are lots of other group rides in the Portland area throughout the year, but the Sunday Parkways rides are the most accessible. If the city cuts this, I sincerely hope someone will step up to fill the gap. I, for one, would be willing to contribute cash and volunteer my time to save it.

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  • 9watts January 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Until the politicians and the bureaucrats at ODOT and PBOT and PDC and a lot of other places ride bicycles as a matter of course, and their peers do too, some (all?) of this is going to remain an uphill battle. To some extent I think it still boils down to the fact that for the folks in charge the automobile is still the unquestioned bedrock of our transportation system/infrastructure. They have a hard time conceiving of it not being that way. If the mindset is ‘cars are essential and will always be with us,’ then who knows maybe even the CRC makes sense. But were they able to step out of the iron cage (and I mean Max Weber’s not the other one) of auto-dominance and appreciate just how well a society could function without cars, that we once did and can again, a lot of the realignment we talk about here could occur more quickly.

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  • beth January 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Disclaimer: I have volunteered at Sunday Parkways every year since its inception.

    That said, I agree with Alain (see first comment, top).
    Sunday Parkways is great, fantastic, and gives many people a lot of pleasure — but it is not nearly as essential as creating PERMANENT bike-friendly infrastructure.

    I also don’t think there is any hard and fast way to “prove” that Sunday Parkways helps to create a critical mass of new transportational bicyclists. All I see here and elsewhere are individual statements of an anecdotal nature.

    For me, nearly every day is Sunday Parkways. I ride all over town. I am not the fastest — or bravest — bicyclist out there, but I ride every day. And I do it without tons of police protection, motorized traffic diverters, and all the rest. Thousands of Portlanders ride along with me.

    If Sunday Parkways suffers budget cuts, that does not mean we can’t still ride our bikes or walk around the city. It just means we have to come up with other, perhaps more creative ways to get people out of their cars and walking or pedaling.

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    • Neighbor Gregg January 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      I can’t think of a more creative way to get people out of their cars and walking and pedaling, than providing 10 miles of car free streets where folks who rarely/ never ride bikes can either try it themselves in the neighborhood (Maybe even on their street) or even watch their neighbors walking/ riding down the street relatively painless and fearless.

      It is the most creative way I can think of-and cheap (It PAYS FOR ITSELF.)

      Do you have other ideas?

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      • Dan January 11, 2012 at 3:34 pm

        How does it pay for itself?

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      • Andrew Seger January 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm

        Actually I’d pick all the Pedapalooza stuff as an example of something awesome/cool community organized. Much as I love the sunday parkways I have to agree with other people that they are not a critical serice. Isn’t the waiting list for bike corrals pretty lengthy right now? At 3k a pop for bike corrals we could get quite a few of those for the same money, no?

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      • Kristen January 12, 2012 at 9:26 am

        I love Sunday Parkways, but it’s not exactly representative of real-world cycling conditions. It might be a way to ease people into the concept of riding on the street (where cars usually go!), but getting them to use bikes as practical transportation probably requires another step.

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  • q`Tzal January 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Is it too much to ask of elected officials that they have the ability to read and comprehend?

    If we to believe the link JM gave us to Do Health Benefits Outweigh the Costs of Mass Recreational Programs? An Economic Analysis of Four Ciclovía Programs back in his article Study: Health benefits outweigh costs of ciclovia events, a study published by “The Journal of Urban Health” which is from the New York Academy of Medicine, then the costs are more than recouped in public health savings.

    Then the conclusion is obvious: funding for this should come from transportation departments only in as much as is required to functionally make the roads physically safe for the event. Everything else; cops, barricades, booths, events, paramedics, pamphlets; should be payed out as a public health expenditure.

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  • Carl January 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Pick a permanent route and mark it with signs that read “Non-motorized vehicles only, Sundays June 1 through October 1”. We need to move away from Sunday Parkways being a series of events. It needs to be a permanent amenity. Once people begin to expect it every week, on the same route, there will be way less need for police or even volunteers. Parkways organizers can move away from scheduling 4 different events to scheduling one continuous event, more like Saturday Market or Farmers Markets.

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    • Carl January 11, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      Just a heads-up: There appear to be two “Carl”s. Perhaps I should’ve chosen something more distinctive than my first name when I started commenting here in ’06!

      That said, I like what this other Carl has to say. I, too, wish that Sunday Parkways happened, say, every Sunday? Or at least more regularly. More frequency would probably reduce the per-event cost and would likely increase impact and participation. I remember enjoying carfree Memorial Drive in Cambridge, MA as a kid. They’ve been closing that street on Sundays for over 30 years and it’s incredibly popular.

      As for this city council decision, it was a no-brainer to approve. This is essentially what I said in my testimony on behalf of the BTA: “Thanks to aggressive fundraising on the part of PBOT and generous private sponsors, this $250K of city money will leverage almost as much private money.” That can’t be said of many projects.

      Sam was right to chastise Dan for setting up a false choice between Sunday Parkways and safer infrastructure (See the Mercury’s article on this vote, here: The obvious answer to both is YES.

      For perspective: This budget item is 1/20th of what Washington County is spending to widthen 15 blocks of Walker Road to 5 lanes. And that’s just ONE project out of $168M worth of road widening projects on their MSTIP list. Don’t be fooled: Sunday Parkways is pocket change.

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      • She January 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm

        Good point Carl and Carl, DC has Rock Creek Parkway that is closed to auto traffic Sundays and Wednesdays (I think).

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      • Lazy Spinner January 11, 2012 at 5:59 pm

        Sunday Parkways doesn’t create jobs or put money into the pockets of big business. Road widening, re-paving, and the CRC does. Big business runs the government. Sssshhhh…its a secret.

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      • g January 11, 2012 at 11:04 pm

        Carl and Carl, this could be a sign painting and hanging DIY Sunday Parkways Pedalpalooza event. Perhaps before the opening potluck ride???

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      • davemess January 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm

        Seattle has Lake Washington Blvd.

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  • Elle January 11, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    $250K to manage volunteers? Huh? That doesn’t sound right. Should be an all volunteer event – except for the necessary permit/police costs. Sunday Parkways should not be paying for-profit event management companies.

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  • Steve B January 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Sunday Parkways is essential to Portland’s long term health and well being. If PBOT doesn’t fund it, another bureau who is tasked with ensuring our community’s health should. The alternative to having no Sunday Parkways is a lot more expensive.

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  • Steve B January 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    And as I’ve learned from Ryan’s Gobal Greenways work, most police time for ciclovias in South America is accounted for the the general budget for the police as an essential service.

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  • Bjorn January 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I have an idea, lets cut the subsidy that the city currently provides for on street parking in commercial areas. Add meters in currently unmetered areas and charge a market rate. The subsidy for downtown parking is far higher than sunday parkways, or pretty much any other program on the chopping block.

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  • Alexis January 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    This is absurd political posturing and a major black mark against Saltzman IMO. With a $50,000 contribution from transportation compared to the overall cost, with most coming from sponsors, SP is a literal drop in the bucket. There are many other efforts going on at PBOT that are greater consumers of time and money for questionable ROI. Sunday Parkways is fun and generates positive community, business, health, and active transportation effects.

    The cost and contribution model for Ciclovia/Sunday Streets events does vary quite a bit between different implementations, and it’s not unreasonable to ask whether Portland might be able to do the implementation differently, but it’s not as simple as going “all-volunteer” as some people would like to suggest.

    First of all, route choice, timing, and street use restrictions (I won’t call them ‘closures’ 🙂 pretty much require the use of city resources (transportation staff & police). Portland’s setup is currently very volunteer-intensive because of the use of “local traffic only” restricions on neighborhood streets (thus requiring a person’s presence at almost every intersection) and volunteer shortages, particularly for intersection patrol, are a major issue. Most places close streets completely and use police and full barricades to enforce the closures; crossing the route or driving on it is not allowed, period. That allows staffing (whether paid or volunteer) to be thinner, but would significantly change the event. For the better? Maybe, but at any rate it’s not as simple as just “reduce the cost because it’s currently excessive”.

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  • dwainedibbly January 11, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    I like what Carls are saying. Make it weekly.Talk about taking the lane(s)!

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    • q`Tzal January 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      Everyone change their name to Carl!

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  • jim January 12, 2012 at 12:24 am

    perhaps a virtual sunday parkway, climb on the exercise bike and pop in the video

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  • Chris I January 12, 2012 at 7:57 am

    Perhaps they could reduce the number of police for the event? I think the level of driver awareness is pretty high now, and altercations are very rare. Seems like this is a significant portion of the budget.

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  • velvetackbar January 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I vote for the sign change. makes the most sense, and makes it permanent.

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  • matthew vilhauer January 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    one of the major costs of sunday parkways is the use of police officers in traffic control. from what i understand the city requires the event to contract a specific number of officers which (from what i’ve seen) work in pairs or more at various intersections. this is a huge money drain on sunday parkways. couldn’t volunteers or private security (hired) be paired with a single officer in many intersections where they are utilized? am i wrong in feeling that the city “leverages” the event (via permit requirements) into incurring this expense that basicly benefits the portland police pocketbooks?

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  • captainkarma January 12, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    I think part of the appeal is the legal critical mass-ish aspect, the people’s party if you will. Self-directed every Sunday rides sounds good, but there’d be lot fewer folks out because of the iffiness and no cops, and motorists would ignore the signs. Sigh.

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  • davemess January 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    What about the fact that there are MANY areas of this city that don’t even have paved roads or sidewalks?
    When will that ever become a priority. It’s the first thing I think of when I hear anything about transportation funding.

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  • Paul Johnson January 17, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Seems like a lot to spend on something that doesn’t do permanent good. Still better than spending money on the Rose Festival, though.

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