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What will $30 million in transportation funding buy?

Posted by on March 6th, 2013 at 6:57 am

$30 million in transportation funds could buy you one measly mile of street widening or…
(Image: League of American Bicyclists)


Bicycling offers American towns and cities a huge return on investment; but one of its benefits that often gets overlooked in debates over spending choices is just how good a value it is from an infrastructure spending standpoint. Compared to costly highway and transit projects, creating bikeways that can efficiently move thousands of people through our towns and cities is extremely affordable.

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We learned just how affordable in a breakout session at the National Bike Summit on Tuesday titled, Bicycling Means Business: Getting the Facts Straight. League of American Bicyclists’ Policy Director Darren Flusche shared a presentation that included a series of slides under the heading of “What will $30 million buy?” I thought it was a great way to conceptualize the affordability of bicycling, as well as give important context to the trade-offs we make when we spend money on road widening projects.

The $30 million number was also interesting to me because that’s about what Oregon will have to pay each year (for 30 years) to repay the proposed loans for the I-5 freeway widening and bridge replacement mega-project (a.k.a. the CRC, but don’t get me started).

As shared by Flusche, for $30 million we can either have one mile of freeway widening or…

0.5 miles of new MAX light rail line (OK, I threw this one in just for fun),

MAX Type 4 cars crossing 185th

(Image: Steve Morgan)

or 600 miles of quality bike lanes,

or 100 miles of sidewalks,

or 300 miles of buffered bike lanes,

or 120 miles of bike boulevards,

or 30 miles of bike trails,

or 20 miles of physically separated cycle tracks,

or 2,000 rapid flash beacons,

I realize transportation investment is not always an either/or proposition. But as we face budget challenges, we need to stretch our dollars as far as they can possibly go. And it just so happens that investing in bikeways is the best transportation ROI out there.

More 2013 Bike Summit coverage here.

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Spiffy
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bike lanes and boulevards aren’t a fair comparison because the asphalt is already there… the only fair comparison is to separated trails.cycle-tracks… granted, it’s still a LOT cheaper building for bikes…

Spiffy
Guest

rapid-flash beacons, training motorists to only pay attention to lights and signs…

9watts
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9watts

I’d be curious, a la Michael Anderson’s recent fabulous graphic exploring where Trimet’s money goes, how it is spent, where the $30M for 1 mile of highway expansion goes? How much to labor, pensions, materials, interest, etc. Anyone have a good source on that?
Similarly, the $250K I’ve heard for installing a traffic light. The number seems astronomical to me so I’d like to know how it breaks down.

Thanks.

SilkySlim
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SilkySlim

Considering what just $30 million buys almost seems quaint now that projects with BILLION dollar price tags are in the offering. But I guess spending that much money on 10,000 miles of sidewalks would be crazy.

Brian
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Brian

It would also make a great point to include what the maintenence costs are for each purchase. PBOT estimates $85 million needed per year to maintain our roads.

dwainedibbly
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dwainedibbly

Nice comparison. Even Max benefits active transportation by getting cars off the road.

Indy
Guest
Indy

It would be well worth it for ODOT to study how much it saves the city when biking over bridges, like the Hawthorne, versus driving.

Like, take 100 virtual commuters. What impact and difference does that have when they are taking bikes versus driving. Not just space consumed, but the impact on the associated traffic flows all over the city as those 100 bikers/drivers commute.

It really needs to be driven home that the more bikers we have, the better traffic gets for all other users of our roads. The more bike protected lanes, the less need for parking spots, for lanes, for cars/etc. I don’t understand why there is such rage for bikers. Every biker is one less car to get in your way!

Hart Noecker
Guest

The South park blocks should be Portland’s first car-free streets downtown.

Babygorilla
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Babygorilla

That graphic for the “buffered bike lane” is not accurate when you consider Portland just spent over $200,000 on the Multnomah Street project (which is a mile long if you start at NE 21st and 0.7 miles long if you start at NE 15th – I haven’t been east past 15th since the improvements so I’m not sure if they extend beyond that street).

Harald
Guest

Jonathan, seems like forgot the attribution and license for the picture of the MAX train.

Paul Tay
Guest
Paul Tay

That one “measly” mile on Yale in Tulsa, OK goes over a very steep hill on two lanes, not easily negotiable by most bicyclists. Most of it is right of way acquisition in high dollar neighborhoods. But, yeah, I get the point. South Yale Avenue is Tulsa’s CRC.

Babygorilla
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Babygorilla

Or the numbers are cooked and distorted by this advocacy group just like the CRC advocates’ numbers.

Babygorilla
Guest
Babygorilla

It’s essentially an efficiency argument. When those numbers are wrong, the efficiency argument is undermined. Then, there’s the whole question of what exactly required $200k? I rode that improvement tonight and its just paint, pavement grinding to remove the previous bike lane marking, and some concrete planters. For 0.7 miles. Is that efficient?

Thomas
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Thomas

Hello to Canada (?),
I read only a little bit of your discussion. I think, one thing is great: you are talking about a change in traffic-politics and -planning. This is the right direction!!! And the change will come, if the people USE their head and than USE their bikes. The benifit of an invest in whatever depends on the usage! Streets for cars are buildt becaus people buy and uuuse their cars. Bicycle infrastructure is ALLWAYS efficient, if it is used. So: the question is: Does your city NEED cycle-infrastructure? Do you understand what I mean? Sorry for my English!
Carry on working for the bike! 😉 You are on the “good side”…

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

To explore a different angle – what would $30MM buy in additional education about and enforcement of laws relevant to bicycle safety? This could be anything from adding bicycle safety topics to drivers’ education/testing, to a driver awareness campaign against right-hooking and dooring, to warnings/citations for blocking bike lanes, to warnings/citations for night riding witout lights, to assertive investigation/prosecution of car-bicycle accidents. Much attention is paid to building infrastructure for cycling, which is good, but the behavior of those in and around that infrastructure is also important.

Jayson
Guest
Jayson

It’s so easy to guesstimate costs for some of these things, but the reality is that what seems easy to a lay person is usually far from it. These improvements typically have real complications due to interactions with private property, utilities, insurance requirements, other city or state codes, traffic control, etc.

Case in point. $30 million for 100 miles of sidewalk. That comes to $56/lineal foot of sidewalk. Perhaps you can purchase the concrete for that price, but who’s doing the excavation, paying the insurance, surveyor, inspecting the quality, etc? I’ve seen sidewalks done by homeowners and I’ve seen it done right by the professionals. you might get 5 years out of the homeowner sidewalk versus 50+ years out of the contractor’s sidewalk.

I suspect the rest of these numbers are oversimplistic and wildly inaccurate.

benschon
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benschon

The punishing part of the CRC math is that we could be paying $27 million a year in debt payments on the bonds, EVERY YEAR for the next 30 years. That’s state money that won’t go to fund other projects that would be more economically productive.

paul g.
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paul g.

9watts, if you are really going to compare apples to apples, you can’t compare walking to biking to other transportation modes unless you also compare what they are transporting.

The train example listed above makes this most obvious. Rail is expensive per mile, but once in place, the tonnage / mile / dollar is far less than highways (which is why you see shipping containers on rails).

Similarly, a highway mile doesn’t convey the same things as a bikeway mile. Somehow, goods and services need to be conveyed from ports to distribution centers to stores, warehouses, etc.

I think it’s pretty obvious that within an urban core, bike and pedestrian infrastructure are most efficient per dollar / person mile. Thing is, we don’t all live within urban cores, and if we do, we are even more reliant on an efficient interstate highway / train / air / shipping infrastructure to deliver goods and services.