advocate Corky Collier after the PBOT Budget BAC
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
In the face of severe cuts to active transportation in the PBOT budget that came to light last month, a coalition led by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) presented a proposal yesterday to restore nearly half of them.
With dwindling revenue forecasts, PBOT has had cut their budget for several years now. This year’s gap was estimated to be $4.4 million. Of that, PBOT proposed $1.5 million in cuts to active transportation — $1 million from projects and $500,000 to programs and staffing. The cuts would impact programs like Sunday Parkways, Safe Routes to School, neighborhood greenway projects, and more.
Not surprisingly, BTA Advocacy Director and member of the PBOT Budget Advisory Committee Gerik Kransky was not happy about the cuts so he went to work behind the scenes with other committee members to figure out a way to restore them. He recently got some good news when the City announced that, thanks to a refinancing agreement between Multnomah County and the City of Portland on Sellwood Bridge payments, the budget gap has shrunk to $3.8 million.
That refinancing deal means $700,000 in cuts can now be added back into the budget. Kranksy has put together a proposal with support from some unlikely suspects — including representatives on the committee from the Portland Business Alliance, the Columbia Corridor Association (a powerful freight interest group), labor groups, and others — to add all that money back into active transportation.
Kranksy’s proposal was well-received at the budget committee meeting. After the meeting, I asked Kransky how he got support from business and freight interests. “I think they’re amenable to the priorities in active transportation,” he said, “they recognize that $700,000 goes a lot farther in active transportation than it does in some of the street maintenance and bridge preservation programs.”
“Maintenance has typically taken the brunt of the cuts over the past many years; but this year, it seems active transportation is taking the brunt of the cuts. That’s why all of us kind of feel the pain there and would like to see some of that funding restored.”
— Corky Collier, Columbia Corridor Association
In other words, while $700,000 is a rounding error for a large repaving or bridge repair project, it’s a significant amount for PBOT’s active transportation programs. “Even they’re willing to say that there’s more value to be had in active transportation with this small amount of money than there is in other places,” is how Kransky put it.
Corky Collier of the Columbia Corridor Association, a freight advocacy group, said he and other committee members realize what a large cut active transportation is being asked to take in this year’s budget. “Maintenance has typically taken the brunt of the cuts over the past many years; but this year, it seems active transportation is taking the brunt of the cuts,” he told me after the meeting yesterday. “That’s why all of us kind of feel the pain there and would like to see some of that funding restored.”
What Kransky has done at the Budget BAC table is significant. He has built a coalition that — at least at this early stage of the negotiations — supports active transportation. PBOT Director Tom Miller, who referred to Kransky as, “the de-facto leader of the ‘add-back’ effort” yesterday also said that in his six years he has never seen a coalition this broad around the budget table.
The PBOT budget won’t be adopted until June of next year and there are a lot of negotiations and moving parts that could change this picture. For one thing, with money scarce and all other City bureaus feeling the pinch, some of them might look to raid that $700,000. But if it all comes back to PBOT (which makes the most sense, given that the savings came from the Sellwood Bridge project), there seems to be a general agreement at the budget committee that active transportation should be first in line to receive it. And that’s a pretty big deal.
Whether Kransky’s laudable work holds up under competing interests (labor and pavement maintenance being the big ones), remains to be seen. But as of right now, his coalition and his proposal are strong. Stay tuned.