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Businesses and bikeways: City reveals more details about street fee plans

Posted by on April 18th, 2014 at 11:30 am

PBOT Street Fee Town Hall - NoPo-6

PBOT’s Mark Lear laid out priorities for spending
revenue raised by a new street fee.
(Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)

The City of Portland is slowly leaking out more details of their plans to create a new fee to boost transportation investment. At a town hall meeting in North Portland last night, Mayor Charlie Hales, PBOT Director Leah Treat, and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick sat at a table in front of a small crowd to present, promote, and defend the idea.

We covered one of these same town halls back in February, but since then PBOT has sharpened their pitch and their plans into a much finer point. As we reported a few weeks ago, the fee on the table will be either $8 or $12 per household per month. But what about businesses? Up until this latest round of town halls, PBOT has kept details about how much business owners would pay under wraps. Also revealed last night was a clearer picture about where exactly the new revenue would be spent.

According to a presentation by PBOT’s Mark Lear, the fee businesses pay would be based on an algorithm that calculates the number of trips their business generates times the square foot of the property. Here are three examples they shared:

  • A cafe that generates 1,144 monthly trips would pay $29 per month (at the $8 level) or $45 per month (at the $12 level).
  • A “sit down restaurant” that generates 5,281 monthly trips would pay $130 per month (at the $8 level) or $201 per month (at the $12 level).
  • A movie theater that generates 20,860 monthly trips would pay $344 per month (at the $8 level) or $534 per month (at the $12 level).

With households and businesses paying the new fee, PBOT estimates they’ll be able to raise about $34 million or $53 million a year (at the $8 and $12 levels respectively).

It will be interesting to see how local businesses react to the fee idea as more of them hear about it and PBOT gets closer to a final proposal. When we had this debate about a street fee for transportation back in 2007, it was ultimately a business lobbyist (representing gas stations and convenience stores) who killed the entire thing.

Another element of the fee we learned more about last night is how exactly PBOT would spend the money. Here’s the chart showing how the money would be spent according to the three main buckets: “maintenance”, “safety”, and “other”.

PBOT Street Fee Town Hall - NoPo-1

Note that at the $8 fee, more of the new revenue — 63% — would go toward maintenance and just 34% would go to safety. If the fee is $12, the maintenance percentage would drop to 53% and 44% would go to safety.

How exactly does PBOT define “maintenance” and “safety” expenditures. They revealed some of their thinking about that last night as well…

PBOT Street Fee Town Hall - NoPo-2

As you can see from the slide, maintenance investments would be primarily pavement preservation. However, it would also include things like traffic signals, street signs and street lights (all of which would improve street safety as well). In the “safety” category, PBOT says the projects could include investment in things like sidewalks, Safe Routes to School, protected bikeways, neighborhood greenways, High Crash Corridors program (speed reduction), crossing improvements, and so on. In the “other” category, which would potentially get just 3% of the new revenue, PBOT would fund things like frequent bus service and work with ODOT to hasten a transfer of state-owned arterials to local control (we’ll have more to report on that later).

To further bolster support for the fees, PBOT is now sharing a list of specific project types they’d fund (over the next five years)…

PBOT Street Fee Town Hall - NoPo-5

30 to 60 signalized intersections rehabilitated, 60 to 115 intersections with safer crossings, 200 to 420 blocks of new sidewalks — these are all vast increases over what the agency is able to do with current revenues. One notable addition to that list is an investment that would allow PBOT to respond more quickly to their popular 823-SAFE citizen reporting system.

And while it wasn’t shown on the slide (which is interesting to me, as I watch how careful PBOT is about bringing up bicycling in these discussions), Lear made a point in his presentation to mention how many new bikeways they’d build with the new revenue (again, these would be “delivered over five years”):

  • At the $8 level: 5 miles of protected bikeways and 15 miles of neighborhood greenways
  • At the $12 level: 7 miles of protected bikeways and 18-19 miles of neighborhood greenways

Lear stressed throughout his presentation that all the current numbers and spending priority categories are still preliminary and under discussion.

“Focusing on safety and maintenance is the right direction. But we’d like to see more focus on safety and we’d be much more excited if more than half of the money went into the safety category.”
— Gerik Kransky, Bicycle Transportation Alliance

On that note, while last night’s crowd was relatively sparse, some spirited questions and criticisms emerged during the Q & A session that followed the official presentations. One man repeatedly spoke up for cars, saying that the city would have plenty of money for roads if they hadn’t spent so much on light rail and “bike paths”. Another man offered an interesting idea: Would there be a way to use a different trip generation calculation that would enable PBOT to reduce the business fee if business owners encouraged people to walk, bike, or take transit?

Making the fee change depending on how people get around — in other words, encouraging modes that have a lower impact on the system — might seem like good policy; but it doesn’t appear that PBOT is interested in going that direction. Novick said polling showed them that most Portlanders want the flat-fee system so that “everyone pays the same amount”. And Lear, a veteran at PBOT who was former Mayor Adams’ wingman on the 2007 street fee effort, said that they want to avoid any fights over who’s paying. This type of flat fee, he said, is all about “Getting us out of the unproductive modal wars of the past.”

I think Lear’s onto something. You could feel those “wars” trying to surface last night. There was that one guy claiming a PBOT “war on cars”, while another guy passionately explained how overuse of cars is the reason we’re in this mess to begin with. “This proposal does nothing to reduce driving,” he said, “I want to hear a much more ambitious proposal that will discourage driving and promote biking and walking. You’re choosing a dangerous middle course.”

The response by Commissioner Novick was that the safety investments will ultimately make biking and walking more attractive and therefore fewer people will drive.

But just how much of the money goes into the “safety” category is something that could be another future topic of debate. Gerik Kransky, advocacy director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), used last night’s Town Hall to thank the Mayor and PBOT for their work on this initiative. “Focusing on safety and maintenance is the right direction,” he said, “But we’d like to see more focus on safety and we’d be much more excited if more than half of the money went into the safety category.”

From here, PBOT will host two more town halls and they’ll work internally with the Needs and Funding Advisory Committee to continue to hammer out the final package they expect to be ready for City Council by next month. We strongly encourage folks to show up, learn more about what’s being proposed, and share your feedback.

— PBOT’s official site: OurStreetsPDX.com
Our “Street Fee Proposal” story archive.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Anne Hawley
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Anne Hawley

I understand that with the maintenance backlog of the past few years, a lion’s share of this fee needs to go to maintenance *now*, but until I see a pie where maintenance and safety have equal slices, I’m going to find “Vision Zero” pretty hard to believe in.

dan
Guest
dan

I would very much like to understand how the transportation budget is spent now. Why isn’t there enough money to stay on top of basic maintenance without an additional fee? Why can’t any shortfall be funded through current sources of revenue?

Reza
Guest
Reza

If we’re stuck with a regressive flat fee, I’ll take the improvements promised with the $12 option. But why are none of these town halls located in the Central City in order to be convenient to downtown workers and residents? That is unheard of for a citywide or regional transportation initiative.

Champs
Guest
Champs

If only we had some way to tax driving! You know, one that would generate more money for cars and give a discount to businesses that aren’t auto-dependent?

The street fee is just typical Portland: head tax for the arts, and a phone tax for police training. Spending more to collect all those nickels and dimes than Measure 47/50 has ever saved us.

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

They call this a user fee, but it does not capture the users that drive into Portland by the thousands daily from surrounding cities and suburbs.

This is regressive because you pay the same regardless of use and regardless of means or ability to pay.

This does nothing to promote actual safety.Our safety needs are so high because there are too many people driving too carelessly. They should be seeking funding that discourages SOV trips into Portland. This would promote Trimet, walking and biking and make the streets safer and last longer.Methods to do this: gas tax, expand pay for parking on streets, raise parking fees, tax surface parking lots, etc.

They said that cars are not damaging roads (only causing the majority of the danger) and that large trucks are causing the maintenance problems. If true, then why is the street fee not targeting them?

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

no thank you…

please pass the costs onto the ones actually causing the destruction of our infrastructure…

I’ll continue to invest in the infrastructure with my mode choice…

there’s no reason for me to invest more when I’d already paying into the system rather than taking away from it…

mikeybikey
Guest
mikeybikey

So PBOT wants a blank check to continue the status quo. No thanks.

Justin
Guest
Justin

If I were a cafe that had 90% of my customers show up by bike or foot (for example, the Belmont Stumptown or Public Domain downtown), and I had to pay the same street fee as the drive through Starbucks on Powell, I’d be pretty much completely infuriated.

This whole plan is ridiculous. Somebody in Portland city gov’t needs to step up and present a real plan for making existing policy promises a reality. The current administration certainly doesn’t look up to the task.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Is there a good reason the city can’t raise the tax on gas to fund these projects? Isn’t that what it has done historically or am I mistaken? If it really hasn’t been raised since 1993 or so, why is that?
Do other cities have one of these user fees, or is this just taken from the arts tax model?

Justin
Guest
Justin

The good thing about this plan is that it is a lot less complicated than just raising the gas tax.

Seth
Guest
Seth

We already have a mechanism in place that captures both behavior (driving vs other modes that don’t tend to congest the roads) and also relative damage (heavier vehicles consume more fuel and thus pay more tax). Why not just increase the gas tax?

Targeting business probably will get shot down by lobbies, but keep in mind that business also pay hefty SDC fees when the open up for business, and my understanding of SDCs is that they are to pay for the increased usage of public services etc that customers will bring.

spencer
Guest
spencer

gas tax! parking fees! This street fee plan is inane

Jedito
Guest
Jedito

Why in the world is the city focusing on a ridiculous tax that both penalizes those who do not damage the roads (low-auto folks) and completely misses out on a huge percentage of those doing the damage (out of town commuters) when there is a completely fair, not overly complicated way to raise this money.

Why the, *ahem* “heck” are they not looking at a PARKING tax. Tax Car owners/users in the city would be captured if they park in the public right-of-way (this includes me by the way) overnight, tax the owners of car lots of various flavors as they will doubtless pass that cost on to their customers (this has the added benefit of indirectly incentivizing businesses that do not actively enable auto trips) and meter the holy hell out of our commercial districts (which desperately needs to happen anyway). Taxing parking would capture the out-of-town commuters while avoiding the regressive tax on households that can’t afford it (and likely can’t afford a car either).

Rob Chapman
Guest
Rob Chapman

When I asked for the word “trips” to be defined, Mayor Hales said that all modes of transportation including cycling and walking are included in that definition for the purposes of the street fee.

Yes, residents will soon be charged for walking in Portland. The absurdity of that idea is shocking.

I told the PBOT active transportation that this whole idea smells of desperation and he didn’t disagree.

Paul Manson
Guest
Paul Manson

The business piece will be interesting. The residential component is likely a moving target too. Under the Arts Tax there has been about a 68% compliance rate. So with 250,000 households in Portland, times the lower fee option you get a potential total of $24M. But if compliance drops to Arts Tax levels, its $16M. In reality, no good political battles are won by trying to assess tax liens on such a small amount – but it is possible….

(Low participation might be what the city expects when they project the total at $34M – split between residences and businesses.)

spare_wheel
Guest

i am dissapointed that the bulk of the money would be spent on maintenance. i think the maintenance focus is a misguided attempt to pander to a vocal minority that is given disproportionate voice by our local media.

J_R
Guest
J_R

Last month Portland claimed the $8 per month household fee would generate $34 million annually. Now they claim that an $8 per month household fee plus a fee on businesses would generate $34 million annually.

I guess that is because they figure businesses will not actually pay or they plan to give a discount of 100 percent to businesses. Once again, the numbers don’t add up.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

At $96 or $144 per year, this is a LOT more money than the poorly conceived Arts Tax. Can’t imagine this will go down smoothly.

Rob Chapman
Guest
Rob Chapman

It is important to point out that more progressive funding options were rejected by people in the phone survey. That seems strange to me.

I was concerned that the survey was conducted landline only but that worry was unfounded. Apparently there was a mix of landline and cell residents surveyed.

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

Raising fees on parking is simply a better planning decision. The City needs to provide carrot and stick to maintain density, encourage alternative modes of transportation, and promote vibrant places with safe streets. Check this out:

http://www.portlandarchitecture.com/

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

Thanks Jonathan,
and thanks for continuing to cover this and foster this discussion. I agree that This will not be the City’s or PBOT’s only move, but I am deeply frustrated by this conversation. I think it is incredibly wrong-headed to pitch a household tax as a “user fee” when it comes to transportation. I fully support PBOT seeking funding, and I think a lot of what they do is great. However, the roads are unsafe because we have too many cars driving too fast, they need maintenance so badly because of the heavy use by trucks, large SUVs, studded tires etc. PBOT is missing a big opportunity with this PR campaign, instead of slinging their spin about how this is actually is equitable, they could be educating Portlanders about the equitable and effective ways of raising money while discouraging the SOV commuters from surrounding suburbs. I can see the thought that everyone pays for the roads, so everyone gets a voice, but I don’t think that will play out very well in reality. I think carheads will simply think “we paid for this, they should get out of our way”. I guess I am just so disappointed that our leaders are failing to lead us in a bold, positive direction, opting instead to chip away at the finances of local residences and businesses without addressing the root problem head-on.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

What happens to people who live with one or more roommates and they don’t feel like paying? Do they have to choose between not paying and risking their credit or paying for the other people in their household? Making this per household seems very problematic. I disagree with the whole premise of the tax, but also why should someone who chooses to live alone in a 1 bedroom apartment pay 5x as much as a person who rents 1 of 5 bedrooms in a house? The whole thing seems very poorly designed.

Chasing Backon
Guest
Chasing Backon

Imagine how hard it will be to remove on street parking for any given project when businesses and citizens pay a street fee.

Imagine how great it will be to get around by taking the lane on ANY street you want, as long as you paid your street fee, of course.

J_R
Guest
J_R

I think the claim that only 11 percent of the gas tax gets back to Portland Transportation is the percentage of the STATE gas tax received by Portland.

Portland could initiate a LOCAL OPTION gas tax. There are already several counties and cities that have this. Why not a PORTLAND gas tax?

Beth
Guest

For someone who earns less than $10,000 a year — and that includes a LOT of low- or no-car Portlanders who bike or walk everywhere — $144 a year is close to impossible. Sorry, but if this tax is approved on top of the arts tax (funding — oh, right! — arts organizations whose tickets I cannot afford to buy) I will strongly consider Not Paying. Further, I’ll urge my equally low income friends to do the same.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

At the $8 level, a large apartment building or condo (200+ units) will pay more than any business. Is that fair?

Lynne
Guest
Lynne

Gently pointing out, that even if your household is a low-driving household, please remember that there is driving done on your behalf – groceries and merchandise to where you shop, for starters. School buses. Mail and other package deliveries. And so on. Could charge those delivery trucks, but the fee would be passed on to you in the form of higher prices, and probably inflated.

Pat Franz
Guest

When the price of gas goes up $.05, $.10, $.25 even, people whinge a bit and pay it- even though NONE of that increase benefits them in any way, and is quite arguable that it will actually be used against them.

Why then is it “not allowed” to talk about raising the price a few cents for something that will benefit everyone?

A regressive tax, not related to consumption, that will be a nightmare to manage, is ridiculous. I understand why they are proposing it. I only wish the reason was to show how stupid such things are compared to a gas tax.

Poisonpony
Guest
Poisonpony

What guarantees that this money will just be used on road maintenance and safety projects. The city has a long history of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Paul has been robbed so many times there’s nothing left. Without a set in stone set of rules that will not allow them to divert money it is completely probable that they will.
A quick google search shows where the money for street repair went.

$74.4 Million, Sellwood Bridge. (We gave the most money for the project)
$55 Million PMLR, (Light Rail)
$27 Million, East Side Street Car, (At least we own this)
$25 Millon, Moody Project.

So much like an inmature adult, our city council bought shiny new toys instead of paying the bills. now they want mom and dad to come bail them out.

Max
Guest
Max

I don’t really care about paying an extra $100 in taxes (or $35). I already pay tens of thousands of fed, state, property, gas, etc. taxes. Adding $100 onto that is really just a drop in the bucket. The real issue to me is the method of collection.

I’m tired of having weird taxes (ITAX, arts tax) that I have to remember to pay, that are not deducted from payroll, etc. I support this only if the city can find a way to incorporate this into one of the existing method of collections.

If we can figure out how to donate to the Oregon Coast Aquarium on my Oregon form 40 (see line 57), then why can’t we figure out how to collect this (and arts) on the same form?

Terry D
Guest
Terry D

The talk of charging businesses based on number of trips is great…but what defines a business?

In my neighborhood with 2600 households there are TWO businesses that create a LOT of trips. One is Fred Meyer which is fro profit.

One is Providence Hospital, which is “not for profit.” I am intentionally putting it in quotes since the CEO made $4.3 million last year. We are also in a long standing legal battle to try to get them to replace a $15,000 crosswalk they tore up when they built the MULTI-MILLION Cancer center and “forgot to rebuild it.” Since they re not legally obligated to, they are using every loop hole in their “Conditional Use Mitigation Plan.”

As far as I can tell that Hospital that does so much damage to the quality of life in our neighborhood is not willing to spend one dime that they are not legally required to. They will not even let the neighborhood association use their meeting rooms.

Hence, this fee MUST include Large Employment Institutions, for profit or not, or I will fight it.

ED
Guest
ED

If the City wants to use trips as the basis for the business fee, why don’t they use trips as the basis for the household fee? I would even accept averages, and not business and household specific totals that would vary based on each and every use’s mode split (that would be a nightmare to administer!). ITE already has estimates for households, cafes, stores, etc that the City could use, but the numbers the City has used so far aren’t evenly calibrated for homes and businesses. In the above examples, $8 per household versus $29 for a small cafe doesn’t seem right to me: are they really arguing that a cafe generates only four times the number of trips as a home? I appreciate the above argument that there are many trips in the City generated on our behalf, like delivery trucks, even if not generated directly from our homes, but the current proposal seems like double dipping: either charge households extra for trips on our behalf, or charge businesses based on trips, but not both. I would prefer to pay the fee indirectly through higher delivery charges than the household fee.

Further, what counts as a household? Will there be any differentiation for single and multifamily units? If they went by the straight ITE estimates, the City should differentiate for at least these two types of households, if not a further delineation.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Here’s a little thought experiment:
Let us assume (in the absence of better numbers) that
-> planning, testing, revising (over the course of seven years), and implementing & administering this street fee cost tax payers $4M
-> by the time it is finalized, the adjustments and exceptions have reduced the estimated annual take to $24M
-> compliance is slightly better than the arts tax at 75%
-> first year net yield for eight years of work: $14M

How does this hard fought chunk of change compare to what our transport infrastructure is estimated to require each year just to keep up with deterioration? Dylan Rivera estimated to bikeportland on 12/11/13 that $153M/yr was needed for each of the next ten years to “bring our transportation infrastructure into fair or better condition.”
14M/153M = just over 9%.

And we still have free use of studded tires….

And this fee has accomplished exactly nothing to discourage driving. Actually I take that back. It has *encouraged* driving by getting those who do not drive to subsidize the infrastructure which is built overwhelmingly for and worn down by the use of cars and trucks….

And the city’s Climate Action Plan, which calls for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 “Most people rely on walking, bicycling and transit rather than driving. “ just got (another) middle finger from across town.
http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/268612

SteveG
Guest
SteveG

Anyone interested in organizing an actual pressure campaign to actually influence this? Or are we all content to just circle-jerk on BikePortland?

I don’t have the time, but someone could start a petition. Or at least a mailing list. Seems like plenty of people are interested in pushing for a different policy…