The Portland Bureau of Transportation (and TriMet) is set to invest $8.2 million into sidewalks, neighborhood greenways and transit-safety related projects in East Portland. The funding comes from a $34 million “Regional Economic Opportunity Fund” created by a Metro committee last year.
In case you forgot, this $34 million is the result of a debate at Metro back in October about how best to spend federal “regional flexible funds.” At the last go-round, advocates (including the Bicycle Transportation Alliance) fought hard to win a 75/25 split for active transportation projects. Advocates hoped to use that same allocation method for an additional $34 million Metro is awarding this time around. However, the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation (JPACT) voted instead to create a new “Regional Economic Opportunity Fund” (explained further here).
The $8.2 million for East Portland will go directly toward the East Portland In Motion implementation plan. See the specifics of what will be built below (courtesy of PBOT):
Powell Sidewalk and Crossing Improvements – approximately $3 million
Adds Sidewalks and improved crossings on Outer SE Powell Blvd: Focused on the highest priority areas of Powell, that will support economic development, access to transit and improve safety for all users.
Development of “practically designed” future segments: A small portion of the funding (approximately $0.25 million) will fund design of future segments along SE Powell Blvd. This will allow quick response to future opportunities for funding sidewalk and crossing construction. Also, by clearly defining the future design, private developments along Powell Blvd can include construction of their section of these improvements.
Sidewalk Improvements for Access to Transit- approximately $1.5 million
Adding short segments of sidewalk and crossings in East Portland to improve access to transit at key locations identified in the East Portland In Motion strategy and Pedestrian Network Analysis: Strategic investment in segments of missing sidewalks, crossings, and pedestrian connections can dramatically increase connectivity and access to transit.
Neighborhood Greenways Connecting Schools, Parks and Businesses- approximately $2.7 million
Development of the 100s and the 150s Neighborhood Greenways (six miles of new facilities): Adding two major north/south greenways that will provide a direct connection between 10 business districts, 11 schools, and 10 parks. The greenways include improvements on the north-south streets, as well as improved crossings of east-west arterials where they cross the greenway. These streets are now signed as 20 mph and traffic calmed to ensure slow traffic speeds. Thus they can provide high quality, lower stress bicycle and pedestrian north-south through movements in East Portland.. These greenways were intentionally selected to parallel busy streets and allow people walking and biking to minimize the amount of their trip spent in high crash environments. These projects will benefit people walking and biking by creating a low stress facility connecting high use transit stops and improved crossings of busy streets.
Transit Improvements Safety, Comfort and Efficiency – approximately $2 million
Development of new crossing improvements, stops and shelters, and other small capital improvements to enhance service, safety, and operations: One of the biggest concerns raised by Portland residents and businesses during the outreach for the East Portland Action Plan and the East Portland in Motion strategy was the lack of safe crossings to stops, the inadequacy of stops including lack of shelters, and concerns about the overall level of service. Moving forward with these improvements can directly address a significant portion of these concerns.
While $8 million is a significant active transportation investment, the remaining $25.6 million in this funding pot is going (almost entirely) toward three major highway projects that were earmarked (to the chagrin of Mayor Sam Adams at the time) by ODOT: the Sunrise Corridor (total cost $1.5 billion), the Brookwood/Helvetia Interchange project (total cost $45 million), and the Troutdale Interchange project (total cost $30 million). (Another $1 million will go toward widening of NE 238th Ave in Wood Village.)
Strangely, while all parties at the table have agreed to fund these projects, Metro is still obligated by law to continue with the public process which will run through this summer. As reported by Metro News last month, this sort of backroom deal-making to fund major projects didn’t sit well with at least one Metro Councilor:
“Rex Burkholder, a former JPACT chair at his last meeting on the committee as an elected official at the regional government, warned the committee to avoid the style of cash distribution that decided how the $33.8 million would be spent.
The money was essentially earmarked by JPACT and its members in the last four months, bypassing the usual long vetting for Regional Flexible Funds allocations.
“This kind of rushed itself through,” Burkholder said before his vote in favor of the proposal. “How we make these decisions is just as important as the decisions we make.””
This major grant award is just the latest in a recent string of PBOT investment in east Portland. The East Portland In Motion plan won $3.3 million for bikeways and walkways in the last round of Metro flexible funding and Mayor Sam Adams committed PBOT to spending $8 million for sidewalks in east Portland back in 2010.
There’s been a historical neglect of transportation investments in east Portland; but now after a strong and dedicated advocacy movement — coupled with good political dynamics and resulting support from PBOT — that trend seems to have been reversed. (Learn more about the rise of active transportation in east Portland here and here.)
Mayor Adams helped put a focus on east Portland. He held his 2011 Transportation Safety Summit at Marshall High School (on SE 91st) and protected that $8 million in sidewalk investment in the face of historic budget cuts at PBOT.
It’s unclear yet whether new Mayor Charlie Hales will fight for a similar amount of active transportation funding in east Portland (or anywhere for that matter); but he did tell The Willamette Week recently that, “No planner from the city of Portland should be going to national conferences and bragging about how smart we are about urban planning in Portland until we have an actionable plan to make [Southeast] 122nd and Division a great place. And stuff has actually happened.”