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Novick asks Santa for $1.3 billion for streets and talks of new fee for infrastructure

Posted by on December 19th, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick took his message about the city’s need for
transportation funding inside the Lloyd Center Mall on Thursday.
(Photo by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Saying that “repetition, repetition, repetition” is the way to get the message to voters that Portland needs more money for street repairs and improvements, Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick held a press event Thursday to formally ask Santa for help.

“We know that people are tapped out, and it’s going to be a big lift to ask people for more money,” Novick said. “So we want to demonstrate in both serious and playful ways that we’re doing everything we can to avoid having to ask people for more money.”

So Novick stopped by Lloyd Center Mall Thursday to mail a letter to Santa Claus with a wishlist of $1.3 billion in street projects, about $1 billion of it for paving and maintenance and the rest for a combination of improvements to multimodal transportation and freight mobility.

“We made a list,” said Novick, who oversees the city’s transportation bureau. “We checked it twice. We explained that we’ve been a very good city — we’ve adopted efficient ways of using our existing transportation dollars.”

We’ve pasted the list from the letter below. It includes 14 separate projects including $30 million to build the “North Portland Greenway Trail” to $200 million to fund, “improvements to gravel streets.”

After the photo op, Novick moved quickly to serious business, acknowledging that the city is about to ask the public for money — though not nearly that much — but saying that first it’s trying every other trick in the book.

“The truth is that all of us use the roads, so I think there’s a pretty strong argument that all of us should pay for it.”
— Commissioner Steve Novick

Novick talked up the possibility that we reported last week seems to be the city’s top prospect: a fee of several dollars per month on every household and on most local businesses.

He also mentioned that a local gas tax or an income tax surcharge “get kicked around” but said a gas tax is “not necessarily the option that would be on the top of our list.”

Novick suggested the city doesn’t have time to wait for the state to reform its own transportation revenue system, and said he expects that whenever it presents the public with a plan for new revenue, it’ll arrive with a list of projects attached.

“We would come up with a list of the specific projects we know we would fund,” Novick said. “You don’t say, 10 years out, ‘Here’s how we spend every dime,’ because needs change over the course of several years. But definitely we would identify some specific projects.”

I asked Novick to respond to concerns that a per-household fee is unfair to people who get around largely with bicycles, because their damage to the streets is negligible.

Novick responded that although someone who rides a bicycle is saving everyone money by lowering local health premiums, “the truth is that all of us use the roads … so I think there’s a pretty strong argument that all of us should pay for it.”

Novick used sidewalks, public transit and street paving, roughly in that order, as his examples of how new money should be spent. He didn’t mention bicycling until asked about it, although he mentioned the East Portland in Motion plan, which includes various upgrades to bicycle infrastructure east of 80th Avenue as well as many crosswalk and sidewalk projects.

Southeast Powell Boulevard at Interstate 205.
(Photo by J.Maus/BikePortland)

“These transportation investments really matter to people,” Novick said of recent sidewalk improvements in East Portland. “We get testimonies from citizens saying things like, ‘It used to take me 45 minutes to walk to the bus because I had to walk through the mud, and now I can get there in 20 minutes.'”

Novick said the death on Tuesday of Vijay Dalton-Gibson while crossing 117th and Glisan, at an intersection where the city had identified the need for a rapid-flashing beacon, showed the depth of Portland’s problem.

“We know there’s a need, but we just don’t have the money,” Novick said. “It’s really depressing.”

He said the city government shares some responsibility for the situation.

“To tell the truth, the city has recently made some investments in things that were important, like rebuilding the Sellwood Bridge, which they were important things to do, but we didn’t really have the money to do them. so we’ve been falling farther behind on things like basic maintenance,” Novick said. “So unless the streets are going to continue to crumble and these important safety needs are going to go unaddressed, we’re going to need to find some other ways to find it.

“We realize it’ll take a lot of explaining and a lot of back and forth,” he added.

Once the city completes this back-and-forth, will it emerge with a list of ways to reduce its future street costs by making biking appeal to more people? That remains to be seen.

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  • pdx2wheeler December 19, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Santa… Lets start with some low hanging fruit(cake)… #1 – Ban studded tires in Oregon… #2… Provide an credit/incentive for cyclists since each cyclist equates to one less 2,000+lb vehicle rippin’ up the roads and clogging our arterials.

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    • Oregon Mamacita December 22, 2013 at 9:17 am

      Absolutely ban studded tires for everyone in Eastern Oregon. It’s all about cycling advocates and their needs. So what if the ranchers that grow your beef slide off the roads near Pendleton. We can haul hay via cargo bikes along Hwy 97 in Grass Valley. Sorry if you live on the Warms Springs Reservation- your life must be lived to please a particular segment of Portland. Just stay home when it snows. And let’s encourage a five-fold increase in accidents near Gov’t Camp. I know the Hoodland Fire and Rescue doesn’t have enough to do so I am sure they want to ban studded tires too.

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  • RH December 19, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    “a fee of several dollars per month on every household and on most local businesses.”
    1) Doesn’t a portion my income and property taxes already go towards infrastructure.
    2) What % of this ‘household tax” would go to administer/enforce it?

    “they were important things to do, but we didn’t really have the money to do them”
    1) [sigh], so the city spent money they didn’t have and now those that are fiscally responsible are being asked to bail out the city.

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    • 9watts December 19, 2013 at 8:19 pm

      “the truth is that all of us use the roads … so I think there’s a pretty strong argument that all of us should pay for it.”
      Steve Novick,
      you are way smarter than Bob Huckaby and the Oregonian commenters and the BTA crew that tried to set the record straight on how our roads are paid for right now but muddled it hopelessly. This is not that hard to grasp.

      We already all do pay for our roads, whether we clog up the streets with our parked cars and when we sit in them, or whether we don’t have any cars and ride the bus or bike or walk. Those who drive pay less than what their driving costs us in transport infrastructure related expenses including maintenance. Those who do not drive, do not even own a car, pay *more* than their share of those costs. This is all right now.

      Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about what we’re going to do to get the money you say we lack. Stick everyone (remember some of us are already overpaying) with the same bill regardless of how much they contribute to the problem you are trying to fix? Or raise the gas tax already?

      Be bold. Cut to the chase. Call a spade a spade.

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      • Mike December 31, 2013 at 9:05 pm

        How much more of a gas tax would make you happy? Would you trust our elected officials with the money raised? I sure wouldn’t. I don’t think raising the gas tax is the cure all that you seem to think it is.

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        • Opus the Poet December 31, 2013 at 10:14 pm

          I think another $2 Federal and $1-$1.50/gal state/local would be about right. And while I don’t trust government any further than I can throw a Greyhound bus, I trust corporations several orders of magnitude less to do what’s right over what makes profits.

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        • 9watts December 31, 2013 at 10:35 pm

          “How much more of a gas tax would make you happy?”

          What would make me happy isn’t the issue here. Our system for funding roads/discouraging driving is FUBAR and no one in gov’t is proposing to do anything sensible about it. Plenty of other countries, provinces, municipalities have tackled this, and their solutions have plenty going for them. Instead our city staff apparently just spent six years fooling around with something that barely makes a dent, and sends no useful signal at all.

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    • paikikala December 20, 2013 at 9:40 am

      Added to a water/sewer bill, the administrative costs would be quite small.

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  • Bjorn December 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    The city should build sidewalks immediately and there is a very easy way to do it. The city should build sidewalks on every street that lacks them starting immediately and assess adjacent property owners for the cost. People should be given the option to either pay for the repair immediately, pay over time with interest, or have a lien placed on their property where the city will be repaid with interest when they sell. Sidewalks increase the value of a property so owners will likely recoup most if not all of the cost and we will have sidewalks now.

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    • RH December 19, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      How is that fair to people who haven’t had to pay the direct cost for their sidewalks. Also, I haven’t seen too many real estate listings that are touting the “new and luxurious sidewalks” of a property. Walkability is nice in terms of real estate values, but that has more to do with density/variety of surrounding businesses/parks, etc…

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    • Nick Falbo December 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm

      Sidewalks are ridiculously expensive, and the parts of town that lack them are not likely to recoup anywhere near their value upon sale.

      I understand the whole “property owner is responsible for sidewalks” rules. While it may have worked 50-100 years ago with cheap labor on new construction, it does not pencil out in the run-down retrofit situations we have in East Portland, Brentwood-Darlington and Cully.

      Unless we’re willing to say screw ’em, I think we need a new approach to completing our city-wide sidewalk network.

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      • Terry D December 19, 2013 at 4:42 pm

        Absolutely. There needs to be a city wide policy prioritizing arterial/ bus / SRTS sidewalks. Every arterial and bus route should have two sided sidewalks whenever possible. School and park acess is also needed on at least one side of the street. The old systems of funding are archaic.

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      • Alex Reed December 19, 2013 at 6:10 pm

        I think we need to look the fact that funding this through a general revenue source would be a gift to property owners in the areas in question in its face. It would be the City investing in these areas at the expense of everyone in the city, and mostly for the benefit of people who live in these areas. I support that for low- and moderate-income areas/people for equity reasons. A property-by-property means-tested solution would be the ideal (wealthy people pay full freight, other people pay less/none) in my mind but would probably be politically problematic. But, if we start talking about putting in sidewalks in a wealthy area of the West Hills too, I think that the large subset of the property owners who are upper-middle-class or higher should pay for most of the cost.

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        • Terry D December 19, 2013 at 9:01 pm

          The problem is that the low income people have been forced to the areas of the city without sidewalks or crossings. Now those areas are even more dense than some areas with sidewalks. Hence why there have been so many deaths in east Portland lately. I do not think that the city should be spending millions on putting sidewalks in on all low volume residential roads, but when you see poor children walking home from middle school on gravel or bus routes on roads that carry over 20,000 vehicles per day without sidewalks you realize that this is a citywide issue. If neighborhoods with complete streets and low density would have allowed higher density infill from the beginning our network would be more equitable. Now we need to make up for it. If the more expensive neighborhoods need to fund sidewalks for those who have been displaced due to gentrification, that seems like a fair compromise. If not, then maybe these neighborhood should stop fighting higher density.

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          • Alex Reed December 19, 2013 at 9:21 pm

            I agree with more or less everything you just said, especially the density piece! I just don’t want the City to fully fund sidewalks in (wealthy) Forest Heights (if Forest Heights is even in city limits).

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        • davemess December 20, 2013 at 1:18 pm

          Alex, that’s what government does. They use everyone’s money and sometimes only a few people benefit from it. You could say the same thing about the Foster Road project, Sellwood Bridge, or the Multnomah cycle path.

          I know it goes against the silly city policy, but the city should be responsible for sidewalks (like they are (or should be) for streets). Many of these affected areas were not part of the city jurisdiction when they were built. They didn’t have the same standards then, and frankly I’ve heard some rumors that the city promised some things (sidewalks and streets) to get them to be annexed (increased tax base), which have clearly never happened. I think that gets to a lot of your point about not funding sidewalks in newer (and wealthier) neighborhoods. Perhaps they should agree to build sidewalks in the older neighborhoods that have more recently been annexed (and were built before annexation), while leaving the newer to construct to build for themselves (which they were supposed to have done anyway).

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      • Paul Cone December 19, 2013 at 9:43 pm

        Plus a huge cost of building full streets to current standards is all the stormwater facilities, which weren’t part of the requirements years ago.

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        • paikikala December 20, 2013 at 9:43 am

          It’s possible to add sidewalks without adding curb. Swales for everyone!

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      • Bjorn December 21, 2013 at 9:17 pm

        There is no one part of town that lacks sidewalks, they are missing all over. I have a sidewalk in front of my home but my neighbors to the north along with many others in the neighborhood choose not to have one meaning that when I go for a walk I have to walk either in the mud or in a busy street. I’ve paid for my sidewalk and am required by the city to maintain it at my own expense, why shouldn’t this be true for everyone.

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        • 9watts December 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm

          “I’ve paid for my sidewalk and am required by the city to maintain it at my own expense, why shouldn’t this be true for everyone.”

          Because sidewalks, like bike infrastructure, are derivative. Without the overwhelming presence of the car we’d all just walk and bike in the street. A hundred years ago we did just that.
          Take a look at this video, which I’ve posted here before. It shows traffic on Market St. in San Francisco days before the 1906 Earthquake:


          You could make the argument that it isn’t homeowners but people who buy gasoline who should be funding the construction and maintenance of sidewalks. Their mode choice, after all, is what necessitated them.

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          • Bjorn December 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm

            Well until the city is willing to take over the cost of sidewalks from the homeowners who already have them I don’t see why we should also be expected to pay to install them for other people. It would be different if the sidewalk didn’t add value to their home, but it does so asking me to pay to put one in for someone else is like asking me to pay to install an extra bathroom for them. Sure it will be nice that it is there if I ever have occasion to use it but as it is the city considers sidewalks part of the owners property so they should be building and maintaining them.

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    • Jeff Bernards December 21, 2013 at 6:47 am

      Houses without sidewalks sold for less, maybe because of no sidewalks? I bought a house with sidewalks and it cost more. Sidewalks add value, asking homeowners to contribute to the cost seems somewhat fair. Most real estate in Portland has increased in value, time for some profit taking and reinvestment.

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    • Oregon Mamacita December 22, 2013 at 9:22 am

      Did you read the article in the Big O about the poor planning in East Portland? Not every working class family has that extra 5k lying around. The city let developers shirk their responsibilities with low fees etc. Time to make the developers pay one way or the other. Your plan is just another affront to outer SE Portland, an area that was essentially “ripped off” to pay for development close in.

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  • Ventura December 19, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    A gas tax increase would be much closer to a usage-based fee, as well as being less regressive.

    Instead, he’s promoting business as usual – everyone subsidizes personal automobile use.

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    • Oregon Mamacita December 22, 2013 at 9:26 am

      I actually don’t mind the gas tax- there is fairness there. Too high and it gets regressive, but no tax is perfect. I would like to see the tax burden shifted more to the Pearl. How about a higher tax on luxury properties?
      We should also have a meal tax once the food reaches a certain price. Rich Portlanders have money to gorge on expensive food- they won’t notice the tax on endive and truffles.

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  • Terry D December 19, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    I know that in my neighborhood if even a quarter of what we generated at $5 per household was funnelled back into the neighborhood in the form of crossing improvements we would have a great system within two years. Admittedly, my neighborhood is small but the point remains that if the new money is targeted correctly we could see great gains rapidly.

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    • Mossby Pomegranate December 21, 2013 at 6:27 am

      But you won’t see the money targeted correctly. And the City of Portland is not held accountable to it’s citizens.

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      • Terry D December 23, 2013 at 8:23 am

        Then we need to get the Neighborhood organizations organized with a blanket statement of support of this measure only “If a reasonable percentage (25%?) is mandated to be returned to the neighborhood based on population with neighborhood input.” As a member of my neighborhood board I personally am going to place this on my NA agenda at some future date when it seems appropriate. If everyone on this site in Portland did the same thing, then something might actually change.

        I have ONE thing to say about PBOT. As a “citizen activist” I would send out e-mails and statements of support/ against positions frequently. I would usually get a response, but in the form of a form letter. Now I am on my local NA Board as Transportation Co-Chair. The email response now is VERY different. They are quick, professional and give real information. If more younger activist types were active in their NA’s the city council would get the message. Results would happen, but it has to be at the grass roots level. The best way is to convince your neighbors.

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  • AndyC of Linnton December 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Ugh…for some reason I find this article extraordinarily depressing.

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  • J_R December 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep saying it. The gas tax at both the state and federal level has not kept up with inflation. The federal gas tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. Oregon’s gas tax was 24 cents per gallon in 1993 and was finally raised to 30 cents per gallon in 2011. But, since 1993 the construction cost index tracked by the Corps of Engineers has increased by 70 percent. I will support a per household transportation fee once the federal gas tax is raised to 31.3 cents per gallon and the Oregon tax is raised to 40.8 cents per gallon.

    And don’t forget, driver’s license and vehicle license fees make up a major portion of the ODOT budget. So, we’re all paying regardless of whether we drive our electric cars or rider our bikes on some days.

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  • Robert L. December 19, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    “$2 million a year to clean our street signs, making them more readable and improving safety”

    I’ll do it for $1 million and I’ll do it by bike!

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    • Brian December 20, 2013 at 9:54 am

      That was my thought. Or, ask the closest resident/business to take one minute to do so as goodwill to society much like we sweep our sidewalks, rake our leaves, etc. It isn’t rocket science to clean a sign.

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  • Opus the Poet December 19, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Heck with subsidizing cars, we’re really subsidizing freight. One half-full semi (40K pounds GVW) does the same damage as 10,000,000 fat guys on bicycles or moderately loaded cargo bicycles (350 pounds GVW for either case). A fully loaded (80K pound GVW) semi does 160,000,000 fat guys on bicycles damage to a street or road. Now if you parse that as one 50 pound bike, one 180 pound rider and 120 gross pounds of cargo that still comes to a lot more cargo moved by bike for the same amount of damage to the street. Of course that also assumes the cargo can be parceled out in 120 pound segments, while this is frequently the case it isn’t always or even most of the time. But think about it, you could move the entire truck and cargo by bike and do less damage to the streets/roads.

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  • Randy December 19, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    “A fee of several thousand per household” Not an equitable solution, especially for those who use their feet or bicycle to move around town. Better to tax heavy vehicles such as buses, trucks, and large vehicles that idle for long periods of time.

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  • jim December 19, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Why should we subsidize bus service? Run it like a business that needs to break even.

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    • 9watts December 19, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      Good one, jim.
      What about the airports that tax payers build all the time, dredging ports to accommodate ever larger container ships–the taxpayer? GM getting bailed out by the feds (the tax payers) to the tune of who knows how many billions? Amtrak? And that is just the most obvious transport related category. The free market isn’t half of what you (seem to) think it is.

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      • aaronf December 19, 2013 at 11:57 pm

        There is a benefit that cyclists gain from the road even if they don’t need asphalt roads to travel to work themselves. Infrastructure (even automobile infrastructure) has a positive effect on the local and national economy.

        If you live somewhere where infrastructure is under-built and it’s time consuming and dreadful to get from point a to point b, the whole area would take a hit, not just the car drivers, when bright young people who might have moved here see that our roads are unusable and would rather sit in Seattle traffic. Or when it becomes cheaper/desirable to move a business based here out to another city, where you can go across town and buy parts, etc. Not all infrastructure projects result in economic growth, but there is a correlation between public infrastructure spending and economic development. Don’t take my word for it… google “impact of infrastructure on economic development” and poke around… this is pretty uncontroversial stuff.

        So, cyclists who want to live in a town that has nice restaurants and innovative, nationally competitive businesses, would be free riders if they opted out of a tax. That’s bikonomics.

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        • 9watts December 20, 2013 at 7:15 am

          “Infrastructure (even automobile infrastructure) has a positive effect on the local and national economy.”

          We used to think so. Everything about how our economy is set up confirms this for us. But that doesn’t mean it (your parenthetical phrase) will remain true for ever and ever. I submit that it is no longer true, will soon be decidedly untrue.

          I’m not the least bit interested in ‘nationally competitive’ anything. I’m interested in good quality local non-auto infrastructure, and the way to get there, the way other countries get there, is to tax the hell out of driving. Because of the (historic) elasticity of demand for driving we know that this raises more money than it discourages driving, but it *does* both. What could possibly be wrong with that? Why does it work so well almost everywhere else?

          I think you’ll like this chart, this way of looking at the relationship between the price of (a gallon of) gas and the total cost of buying gas for the average person.
          and an article about the chart:

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          • paikikala December 20, 2013 at 9:51 am

            It will always be true that goods will need to travel from where they are produced to where they are consumed. It will always be true that service providers will either need to travel to you or you to them. Hence, a transportation system will always be needed. The more efficient the transportation system, the lower the cost to transport or travel on it, e.g., transportation infrastructure has a positive effect.

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            • 9watts December 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm

              “The more efficient the transportation system, the lower the cost to transport or travel on it, e.g., transportation infrastructure has a positive effect.”
              There are so many ways to look at this, paikikala. Efficiency + cost are but one. Another way is to ask to what extent all this moving stuff about it necessary or desirable, whether we could perhaps instead shorten those distances between production and consumption dramatically?
              Right now everything, or just about everything, is moved around by burning fuel. Eighty percent of what we used to make locally is now imported from China. We’ve grown accustomed to that, have organized our economy and our lives around the availability of cheap fuel and cheaper labor. Your interest in efficiency and cost arise within this context; and the pursuit of these goals are a chief route by which we got ourselves into this mess. But if we take away the cheap fuel, we would soon find out that most of the crap that gets moved around we don’t need, can’t afford, or would prefer to make ourselves, locally.

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          • Aaronf December 20, 2013 at 9:57 am

            “In fact, a recent KPMG International survey found that an overwhelming majority – 90% – of business executives said that the availability and quality of infrastructure affects where they locate their business operations.”

            You may not care if there are good jobs in Portland, that attract talented people from around the globe, but I think you hold a minority opinion. Port-Land is pretty synonymous with “nationally competitive.” Smart international manufacturers like the port, and locate here to save money vs. setting up in West Virginia for lower corporate tax.

            How does your fourth paragraph support your observation in the second paragraph? It seems like the chart you linked is concerned with the amount of gas tax paid. I don’t understand what that has to do with whether we all benefit holistically from a local infrastructure that isn’t underfunded. Do you see a link between these? Maybe I’ve misinterpreted something.

            I believe that our infrastructure expense should be higher, for many reasons. We’re spending a much lower percentage than the OECD avg. I agree that a higher fuel tax is a Must if we’re going to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy before we make the planet unlivable. I see the value in making people pay as they go (fuel tax) as a means to curb excessive driving, but not really as a means to making sure the Right People pay. I’m saying that because we all benefit from good infrastructure, and a healthy economy.

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            • 9watts December 20, 2013 at 9:10 pm

              “I don’t understand what [the amount of gas tax paid] has to do with whether we all benefit holistically from a local infrastructure that isn’t underfunded.”

              The point I was trying to make—not very well obviously—is that the most expedient way we all would benefit holistically from a local infrastructure that isn’t underfunded is to aggressively raise the gas tax; to not be afraid to index it to 3x inflation, or 10x. People will—per the linked graphic—not necessarily, over time, be out any more for gas than when it was cheap, and we’ll have gobs of money to spend on infrastructure, not to mention less need for constantly fixing it/expanding it/fighting over crumbs. I thought of the chart as one way of giving permission to do this, of taking away some of the fear of what might happen if we did.

              I see automobile infrastructure (even Novick’s flavor) as an obsolete, myopic, self-defeating way to pursue the goals you outlined. Not that it doesn’t still very much appear to be linked up in all the ways you show, but the unraveling could be quite abrupt. Why risk being caught with our parameters down?

              “I see the value in making people pay as they go (fuel tax) as a means to curb excessive driving, but not really as a means to making sure the Right People pay.”

              I don’t understand that distinction. Can you explain? If we had a real fuel tax we wouldn’t need to come up with new, expensive, bureaucratic, inequitable means of paying for a symbolic, tiny portion of our infrastructure. Quality infrastructure, which I think we both appreciate, will never materialize if we don’t creatively and determinedly discourage driving by every means available to us.

              You started with “There is a benefit that cyclists gain from the road even if they don’t need asphalt roads to travel to work themselves.” Uncontroversial until we get to where I though you heading with this, which was agreeing with Novick’s endorsement of the street fee.

              Many of us will no doubt object to the sunsetting of the automobile era, to the end of asphalt; reject it out of hand as unthinkable, absurd. We will probably do everything in our power to deny or delay this. But none of those approaches will make the transition any easier, or lead to resilient, useful, post-auto infrastructure. Our society functioned before asphalt roads and will again after them. I don’t think either insisting that we can keep on paving, or that without continued reapplication of asphalt we’re doomed, will serve us very well.

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              • Aaronf December 20, 2013 at 11:38 pm

                I see your long post, and call. 🙂

                Unfortunately, there is still a lot of coal in the ground. If oil gets too expensive, we will go back to coal, unless we can develop a good solar tech. http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2013/01/solar-its-about-to-be-whole-new-world.html?m=1 Either way, roads and automobiles would be a pretty feasable part of the future. Unless society completely, suddenly, collapses worldwide.

                I don’t think proposing fuel taxes as high as you have would be politically realistic, so it isn’t really the most expedient way. Sometimes a tiny, regressive tax is the low-hanging fruit. Novick hopefully knows what is politically feasible. I say, if the fruit is ripe, pick it rather than asking for a pony you just can’t have. Modest rises to the fuel tax are proposed almost every legislative session, and run into such resistance that the proposal gets scrapped early on after a bit of polling.

                My distinction re: making sure the Right People pay, and why I don’t care much where the $ comes from… Imagine that roads were paid for entirely by a diesel tax on large trucks, which do most of the road damage anyway, and account for the reasoning behind most capacity concerns/expansions. Seems pretty fair, right? And then, the trucking companies would have to raise their rates, the price of goods would rise, and you would pay for roads at the grocery store instead of with your income tax, property tax, or license/registration fee. Everybody still benefits from infrastructure, and everybody still pays for it in that case. The tax burden would probably shift a bit, and it would be somewhat unpredictable who the winners and losers would be, in advance. I don’t see the point. Stirring the pot as hard as you want to would probably financially ruin enough people to hurt the economy overall, and could even reduce the pool of funds available for infrastructure. Nobody (almost) looks at an economy and says, “not enough volatility.” So history matters a lot. Part of why our tax code is such a patchwork effort in the first place.

                Your fuel tax would probably hurt rural communities much more than urban ones. You ok with that?

                I see two goals I think we share, but which I’m trying not to tie together for the purpose of this discussion re: Novick’s pitch. 1) Increase the pool of $ for infrastructure. 2) Discourage driving.

                Right now, Novick is working on 1). While 2) is a laudable goal, if tying it to 1) right now sinks the whole deal, I say leave it out for now. Really, I think we need a trickier way to discourage driving, something less overt. Like dumping a lobster in a pot and slowly bringing it to a boil. Any ideas? I don’t have any good ones, and I’ve thought about it a bit.

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              • 9watts December 21, 2013 at 8:24 am

                You keep opening up new boxes, Aaronf 🙂

                “Either way, roads and automobiles would be a pretty feasable part of the future. Unless society completely, suddenly, collapses worldwide.”

                This is an interesting, and all too familiar, rhetorical strategy. All or nothing. Continue on our merry way, unless – apocalypse! O.K. I’ll call you bluff. The fossil fuel part of our society *will* collapse worldwide, and over the next two decades—maybe just next ten years. That is plenty sudden in my book. And it isn’t about supply constraints so much as the need to leave the remaining fossil fuels in the ground, unburned, if we prefer the collapse to be even remotely manageable.

                “I don’t think proposing fuel taxes as high as you have would be politically realistic”

                It will never appear realistic until we do it. Then it suddenly is realistic. I linked to a speech recently in another discussion here by an Iowa politician suggesting that contrary to received opinion raising the gas tax has not political suicide, and he gave several examples. Is there some special reason why nearly every other country in the world has accomplished this ‘politically unrealistic’ feat? Repeating this is self-fulfilling and dreadfully unimaginative.

                “Everybody still benefits from infrastructure, and everybody still pays for it in that case.”

                But in your example, the crucial difference is that by levying a stiff diesel tax on large trucks the penalty *originates* with the activity we have decided to discourage. Even if—and I don’t disagree at all with this—the costs are passed along, the incentive to find ways to economize on diesel fuel is created. Better fuel efficiency, more attention to route planning, reduced dead-heading, smaller vehicles, less use of fossil fuel powered vehicles for the last mile/in cities, etc. We just need to look to Europe to see how this plays itself out.

                “Your fuel tax would probably hurt rural communities much more than urban ones. You ok with that?”

                Part of my point in linking to that graphic showing how *countries* with high fuel taxes have, on average, managed to avoid the penalties you are assuming would flow unevenly toward rural *communities.* We here in the US have invented so many rhetorical ways of shutting down debate about gas taxes: it will hurt the poor; it will hurt rural communities; it is political suicide; and on and on. My point is that none of this seems to have been the case in all these other countries, or if it has it seems to have gotten worked out enough that they are continuing to pile on even higher fuel taxes as we speak. When I hear these arguments against raising our puny gas tax I hear someone who is repeating truisms rather than trying to get to the bottom of the problem.

                “Really, I think we need a trickier way to discourage driving, something less overt.”

                Au contraire! The more overt the better. There’s really no need to be surreptitious about the need to–much less the benefits from–discouraging driving. I’m having a hard time squaring your suggestion with what I took from those comparative charts. I keep coming back to my central question – what makes us so special that we can’t seem to get it together on this issue, when dozens of other countries who are otherwise much like us have—all the while keeping fuel expenditures per household pretty constant?

                “Nobody (almost) looks at an economy and says, ‘not enough volatility.’”

                What do you think our long-standing policy of pretending that climate change and the end of cheap oil don’t concern us are going to produce? Our insistence that cheap gas forever is our ticket to the good life? I’ll give you volatility. Every time there’s a spike in world oil prices, much of the rest of the overdeveloped world takes it in stride, while we, who have chosen through our cheap gas to remain far more heavily dependent both individually and collectively on the burning of large quantities of gasoline, scream, and ask that the feds open up the SPR.
                Perhaps you would take another look at how the US stacks up in this chart:

                “I say leave it [discouraging driving] out for now.”

                What!? If not now, when?
                I guess we are further apart than I thought. We’re already a generation behind the curve. Are rapidly approaching 1degC rise in global average temperatures.

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              • Panda December 21, 2013 at 9:13 am

                In addition to raising gas taxes, significantly tax surface parking lots and on street parking, increase traffic patrol and triple all fines for speeding, DUI and distracted driving, enable the use of traffic cameras to issue fines for speeding, running stop lights, etc, and charge a $10,000 fee to use studded tires ( I have been seeing cabs with studs for god s sake)

                Driving is seen as a fun, easy, god- given right, and it is not taken seriously. This leads to unsafe and excessive driving. Driving and parking should cost something, driving unsafely should not be tolerated, and alternatives encouraged.

                We can look to Vancouver bc for a similar (more than Europe) city that has high gas taxes and actively works at making it undesirable to park or drive

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              • 9watts December 22, 2013 at 2:03 pm

                Another refinement of the idea that the details of how you tax an activity you’re trying to discourage matter.

                ‘Fee-and-dividend, in contrast, is a non-tax. The fee collected at the first sale of oil, gas and coal in the country does increase the price of fossil fuel energy. But 100 per cent of the fee is distributed monthly to the public as electronic deposits to the bank account or debit card of all legal residents, with half shares for children, up to two children per family… By the time the fee reaches $115 per ton of carbon dioxide (equivalent to $1 per gallon of gasoline) the dividend will be $2,000–$3,000 per legal resident per year – $6000–$9,000 for a family with two or more children… People who keep their carbon footprint smaller than average will make money. The fee will rise gradually so people have a chance to choose more efficient vehicles, insulate their homes, and so on. The dividend will help people afford these investments. Jobs will be created as society retools the economy from high–carbon to low.’

                This is as pedagogically opposite the proposed street fee as you can get. There are smart people all over the place coming up with better and better means of adjusting the incentives to produce the desired outcomes. Why are we fooling around with the clunkiest of fee ideas?

                “British Columbia successfully rolled out a fee and dividend scheme in 2008. Per capita consumption of petroleum fuels in the province fell by 17.4 percent… while petroleum fuel use grew by 1.5 percent nationally over the same period.”

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    • paikikala December 20, 2013 at 9:47 am

      Jim, we subsidize the roads, why not other transportation modes?

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  • Babygorilla December 19, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    I guess every little trick in the book includes lying on grant applications for state funds, likely to the detriment of other local agencies.

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  • Ted Buehler December 20, 2013 at 1:18 am

    Um, I think that what we really need is a reallocation of existing resources.

    More $ would be nice, but since no government anywhere seems to be able to raise taxes in an significant quantity, its a matter of resetting priorities.

    The “everyone should play along nice and not get into ‘bikes vs. cars'” argument falls flat on its face here. Bikes are grossly underfunded relative to the social benefits and basic cost of providing for transportation of different modes. Hands down. Gotta stand up and state some facts (which Novick probably does some of the time), the Santa deal just tries to convince us that the future we deserve and can obtain is unobtainable.

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    • 9watts December 20, 2013 at 7:34 am

      It is also just a tad weird. I mean, has the state really sunk to this level of parody? What is next – are we going to ask the Tooth Fairy for the bike lanes to go with the CRC?

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  • Ted Buehler December 20, 2013 at 1:37 am

    Here’s me list for Santa —

    * Right lanes on the Broadway Bridge converted to bike lanes
    * Change in bikeway design policy so all routes with more than 2000 bicyclist trips per day require a 14′ bike lane — 2 side by side 5′ lanes, with 2 2′ buffers on each side.
    * Right lane on SW Broadway converted to a bike lane, Ankeny to Market
    * “Jersey strip” concrete barriers across Clinton, Salmon, Tillamook and Michigan every 5 blocks in sections where cars are using the street as a cut-through.
    * Compacted gravel path between the RR tracks and I-5, from the intersection of Water and Stark north to the East Bank Esplanade just south of the Steel Bridge
    * Change in zoning code to require dedicated bike parking in each downtown ramp, 1 in 20 spaces, located as close as possible to the building entrance.
    * Change in zoning code requiring street level climate controlled indoor parking in new apartment buildings.
    * Convert the right lane on SW 12th to a double-width bike lane, PSU to Stark.
    * Zero tolerance for speeding. New policy. Publish it in the Oregonian, TV newscasts, and rent a few billboards. Start ticketing people after a 2 week grace period.
    * Ban studded tires (Novick can put this on his wish list for the Salem Santa, signed by all 5 members of City Council).
    * Can the CRC.
    * Harp on ODOT to put Barbur on a Road Diet
    * left lane converted to an HOV lane on I-5 south from Delta Park to Skidmore
    * left lane converted to an HOV lane on I-84, I-5 to Fairview
    * left lane converted to an HOV lane on I-5, downtown Portland to Tualatin
    * Lower the speed limit on I-5 to 40 mph, from Terwilliger Curves to the Columbia River. Same with I-405 and US-26 through the West Hills.

    None of this stuff would take more than a couple buckets of paint and signs, and it would dramatically improve the bicycling, walking and driving experience in Portland.

    What Portland needs isn’t wish lists for Santa featuring expansion of pavement in Portland lots of zeros on the price tags, but leaders that will stand up and take the difficult measures to reallocate existing resources to dramatically improve the alternative transportation system. $ cost very low. Political cost, not so low, but all the drivers will get used to it and things will flow better eventually. & safety improvements would save boatloads of $.

    Ted Buehler

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    • paikikala December 20, 2013 at 9:54 am

      Converting existing travel lanes on freeways to HOV lanes is against the law, except by permission of the Feds. It’s because the tax dollars to build them were for general purpose lanes, not special lanes. Not saying it’s logical, or even rational, but it’s a national lobbing effort, not a local one.

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    • Aaronf December 20, 2013 at 10:22 am

      That’s quite a list! Now we all wait to see if you were a good boy this year.

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    • Panda December 21, 2013 at 9:19 am

      I love this list!

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  • Mike Quigley December 20, 2013 at 6:18 am

    A hefty tax on vehicle usage. The more your drive, the more you pay.

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    • paikikala December 20, 2013 at 9:54 am

      Like an increase in gas taxes?

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  • Cycledad December 20, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Let’s a non-union labor and I am sure this number could be halfed. Also why keep a not just trim the city’s budget to make this work (if it is such a huge priority)?

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    • paikikala December 20, 2013 at 9:56 am

      Or, instead of dragging everyone down to the lowest pay scale, why not lift everyone up to a true living/middle class wage. Wage war on the status quo, not collective bargaining, Sir.

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  • Adam H. December 20, 2013 at 7:56 am

    I would happily pay more taxes if it meant that money would go toward installing protected cycle tracks.

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  • Evan Manvel December 20, 2013 at 11:42 am

    “we just don’t have the money” is something high-priced highway lobbyists don’t care about. They are trying to bypass new transportation revenue and use brute political force to push through the polluting, costly, risky CRC – without additional revenue to cover its cost in the thousands of millions of dollars.

    With interest, cost overruns, and revenue shortfalls, the CRC will cost Oregonians more than the $1.3 billion the City is asking for from Santa.

    It’s time to stop asking (spoiler alert!) fictional characters like Santa for money and start asking the Governor and state legislators for the money the highway lobby aims to use for their two miles of massive highway expansion.

    Right now the highway lobby’s plan is to get all Oregonians to subsidize their multi-billion-dollar pork that accelerates global warming, and then charge ourselves hundreds of millions of dollars more to meet our basic safety and maintenance needs so families can walk to the bus.

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  • Alan 1.0 December 20, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    With NoPo Greenway on the list twice, could Sullivan’s Gulch Trail be on there once?

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  • Mossby Pomegranate December 21, 2013 at 6:26 am

    Where’s Randy Leonard when we need him. His creative accounting would have found the money in our water bureau.

    Are we going to be allowed to vote on this ridiculous new tax? Aren’t my ever increasing property taxes ever enough?

    Like the “Art” tax, I see this money going right into a deep dark hole.

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  • Jules Jacobson December 21, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    In addition to raising gas taxes, significantly tax surface parking lots and on street parking, increase traffic patrol and triple all fines for speeding, DUI and distracted driving, enable the use of traffic cameras to issue fines for speeding, running stop lights, etc, and charge a $10,000 fee to use studded tires ( I have been seeing cabs with studs for god s sake)
    Driving is seen as a fun, easy, god- given right, and it is not taken seriously. This leads to unsafe and excessive driving. Driving and parking should cost something, driving unsafely should not be tolerated, and alternatives encouraged.
    We can look to Vancouver bc for a similar (more than Europe) city that has high gas taxes and actively works at making it undesirable to park or drive
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    Bravo, Panda. After 45 years of cycling I have figured out two things–1.A motor vehicle operator is, temporarily anyway, a lower species than a human being, and 2.The best way to control this animal’s behavior is by fear of the consequences of that behavior. The fine for a moving violation should be, at first offense, a significant financial hardship perhaps a percentage of the person’s net worth–the murderous waitress from LkOS who ran over the guy on Barbur, for instance, should be working off a $10,000 fine if she has to sell her body to do it. A wealthy West Hills type, he/she should be paying off $1million for a DUI.

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