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Guest perspective on the PBOT street fee: Kiel Johnson

Posted by on May 28th, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Bike Train Meet-up-9-19

Kiel Johnson, photographed in September 2011.
(Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)

Publisher’s note: This guest opinion is part of our ongoing coverage of City of Portland’s efforts to pass a transportation utility fee, and we think it’s a good counterpoint to the guest post earlier today.

Sometimes you have to make do with the world you have, not the one you wish you had.

In October of 2008, I was crying alone in a Chicago hostel. One of my good friends had just had her face smashed in by a car and was in critical condition at a Portland hospital. She required major surgery and still has a giant scar across her face to prove it.

In the months before her crash, I remember making the case to her that no one in the Netherlands wears helmets and if we want more people riding bikes we shouldn’t either. Thankfully she hadn’t listened to me.

“This street fee is not ideal, but it is the best opportunity we have to pay for things we are all agree need to be paid for.”

That night, alone, I grew up a little.

If Portland is going to reach its potential as a city it is going to be through tough compromises, large coalitions, and groups that stop thinking that their definition of “potential” is the only one.

Two weeks ago, Michael wrote that something has gone wrong in our city. He wrote about how bike advocates failed to provide political cover for Sam Adams and his proposal to help fund the bike plan four years ago. Two weeks later, our new mayor and one of our city councilors are sticking their necks out again for transportation funding, and so far the advocates who should have their backs have been arguing among themselves on the sidelines.

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Kiel Johnson, Mr. Bike Train

The arguments against the fee are clear, and any thoughtful person could come up with a list of them (that this street fee isn’t the best funding mechanism, it should be collected through income tax, that bicycles don’t impact streets, or that the process by which this is happening isn’t right). Our city, and the roads that make up so much of our identity and community, will not be made better by waiting for a perfect solution that never comes.

We all read this blog because we want our city to be better. I would love to read stories about road redesigns that will change and reinvigorate neighborhoods, but lately there haven’t been any. The reason is not because we don’t have enough conversations about what should be done. The reason is that we refuse to accept that the world is not our ideal one, and we have been unable to compromise on our vision.

This street fee is not ideal, but it is the best opportunity we have to pay for things we are all agree need to be paid for. For the first time, Portland would have a dedicated fund for protected bike lanes, the money that was taken away from neighborhood greenways would reappear, and there would be a massive increase in Safe Routes to School funding.

It took a friend almost being killed before I realized that we don’t live in Amsterdam. I hope other Portlanders don’t need to go through the same experience before we realize that the conversations about transportation extend beyond these forums or freight committee meetings. Both of those can be powerful forces, but it is only with compromise that their power can create meaningful change. We all believe our streets can be better, and in order to do that we all need to pay for them. Michael wrote that our old story has been lost. Will the new one be that we disagreed on the details to keep the status quo, or that we all compromised and came together to pay for a better city?

At 2 pm on Thursday, our City Council will begin discussing taking leadership on this issue. I’ll be there to back up anyone who stands up for it.

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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TonyJ
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TonyJ

I am all for implementing the residential portion of this fee, and I think a flat fee for businesses is also quite appropriate. Square footage based calculations of trip generation are quite inappropriate for determining fees for local and small businesses.

$200 a month for a coffee shop everyone walks to is ridiculous, damaging, and will be passed through to consumers (like those of us who already don’t drive and will pay twice).

I strongly believe we need this fee, but I am very afraid that the backlash from the current confusing business side will be severe.

Council should implement a much simpler fee for businesses and find a way to appropriately charge for parking to account for trips generated by businesses.

babygorilla
Guest
babygorilla

A highly regressive double tax (the city is actually taxing itself and other government agencies!) burdening lower income and low car households with a vague collection mechanism is not a solution that any progressive should be in favor of or advocate for.

babygorilla
Guest
babygorilla

Yes, there is a discount for low income households. It is still a highly regressive tax disproportionately impacting lower income households, low or no car households, and single person households. It will also be owed by Portland Public Schools (estimated at $400,000 per year) and other government entities and even city agencies effectively creating a double tax.

Given the current litigation the city is involved in with regard to water / sewer funds, its highly doubtful that the fee will be added onto the water / sewer bill so the collection mechanism / cost to administer / collect the fee is highly suspect.

John
Guest
John

I’m with Kiel. Even though I’d much prefer a hike in the gas tax, 38 cents a day is a reasonable price to pay towards a dedicated funding source for bike infrastructure.

AG
Guest
AG

I support the street fee and increasing the gas tax. PBOT’s budget will not fill the gap even with the fee due to deferred maintenance so we need both and other revenue sources that incentivize active transportation.

Let’s get behind this and then push the city to lobby for a gas tax increase, more paid parking, additional fees for car registration etc.

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

“This street fee is not ideal, but it is the best opportunity we have to pay for things we are all agree need to be paid for”
Thanks for your heartfelt post, but just saying this does not make it true. This funding mechanism was selected and advocated for by the City because they believe it will ruffle the fewest feathers. However, they did not actually attempt to spend months and $$ trying to sell the public on one of the myriad of superior alternatives. At its fundamental core, the street fee encourages the status quo, and misses the opportunity to inch the bar toward sustainability by encouraging mass transit, alternative transit, dense urban development. Instead it subsidizes suburban commuting (thereby sprawl) by not charging those users AND providing an exemption to surface parking lots!! It discourages transit by charging TriMET. This fee diminishes out quality of life by charging schools and parks.

If the Mayor and City Councillors were not so worried about upsetting large-money interests, they could seek to raise money from parking lots, on-street parking, gas taxes, and raising fines for safety enforcement (speeding, red light running, distracted/drunk driving, etc).

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

I can think of a lot of reasons to not do the street fee, and I can think of a lot of reason that we should do it. When I compare those reasons, the ones in favor of it seem important while the ones against it seem small. It isn’t perfect, but it is a lot better than the alternative of doing nothing, which is what will happen instead. Let’s not allow “Perfect” to be the enemy of “Good”.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I agree with Kiel.

We (Portland) can debate the rights and wrongs and minutae of the fee and its formula forever. Down that road lies no fee, no money, no bike infrastructure, and more “how Portland lost its bikey way” posts.

I’ll pay the $160/yr or whatever it is, and then will judge the city on what we get for it.

Mossby Pomegranate
Guest
Mossby Pomegranate

Hmmm…whats going on behind the scenes to get BikePortland endorsing this.

Zaphod
Guest

This tax will have a huge impact upon my small business. If I end up in one of the more expensive categories, my business will be at great peril. This is serious. Never mind the random musings on this blog. I 100% oppose it.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

You’re entire argument presented here is that this is going to help bike riders….somehow.

Bicycle improvements are a very small slice of the pie chart. Is it a boost?…perhaps. But that is part of my problem with this, it’s about road maintenance, much of it very loosely defined. How do we know this fund wont be the main funding vehicle of CRC part two?

I don’t mind paying for infrastructure improvements, but this is just a lazy easy way out plan. Will I be able to deduct the fee from other taxes since it’s not a tax? Why do I have to pay the same on my flat street with 50′ of curb length as someone on Skyline Blvd. (or just off of it) who’s road requires bridges, shoring, greater risk of landslides and other road failures and they have perhaps three times as much curb as I do? Why are we taxing the Portland parks and Schools, but breaking deals for commercial interests and of all things parking lots?

Best bet would be adding it as a property tax, and the assessment based on property value. Assessments would be more fair, since higher home values not only indicate those that can afford the most, but also those that are most likely to require the most infrastructure to maintain. And the structure currently exists to collect it.

But you know as well as everyone else, if this was proposed as a property tax, that it would fail to pass the vote required to do so.

davemess
Guest
davemess

I’m sorry, but reading this just makes me thing of “It’s better than nothing”. And I think that’s a sad way to run our transportation dept. and a sad way to make a budget. We can do better as a city.

TonyJ
Guest
TonyJ

Please see my comment above. These formulas are used to disastrous effect around the country. The ITE itself states that they are innapropriate for this type of purpose. If Portland were a suburban city, it might be applicable.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

And on a side note, They say they can’t get approval for a gas tax? But what about a gas fee?

After all if a fee can be applied to a property without a vote, why not approve a fee on gasoline and parking?

Champs
Guest
Champs

The Politician’s Syllogism: “something must be done, and this is something, therefore we must do it.”

I’m in a lease that’s nicely insulated from the street fee, but I wonder how many supporters are paying (for) property taxes for anything near the market value of their homes.

This is another example of Oregon’s broken revenue system being papered over with more nickel-and-diming fees, head-taxes-in-disguise, revenue shifts, and convoluted conservation initiatives. There’s a fortune being spent just to run them all.

There’s a lot of good projects attached to this idea, we just need smarter ways to raise the cash.

Scott H
Guest
Scott H

The biggest reason I don’t buy it, is that Novick seems to have gone the fee route and avoided the gas tax route in order to appeal better to the masses ( I think he might have said this directly or alluded to it, Jonathan mentioned that this was his thinking ). But Hales is trying to avoid a public vote on this and go right to city council, which to me says he doesn’t give two canadian pennies what the public thinks.

So why not just to with the gas tax, the option that wouldn’t subsidize driving.

zefwagner
Guest
zefwagner

Using the ITE trip generation manual is worse than just charging a flat fee or a square-footage fee. It assumes suburban conditions and has been heavily criticized enough that it is not reasonable to use it. As others have noted, it would have a huge and highly variable impact depending on the category of business, regardless of actual conditions. If we are going to have a business fee I think it should be simple and straightforward. Charge based on size, or sales, or profits, or number of employees, or anything but flawed estimates of trip generation.

According to news reports today, the City Council is probably going to vote only on the residential fee right away, and delay the business fee for several weeks to rework it and address concerns. That would be a good move, and this is our chance for people to advocate for the fee while also working to improve it.

bjcefola
Guest
bjcefola

Kiel, you suggest large coalitions will be necessary to achieve anything and I agree with you. But that makes it important to be aware of what broader purpose a coalition serves.

I think in the big picture Portland is struggling with success, lots of people want to live here and that demand is pushing out those with the least resources. I think there’s a non-trivial constituency in Portland that welcomes that outcome. This fee in my view works directly towards that end, imposing costs on people substantially without regard to their ability to pay. The $8.09 may not seem like a lot, but for folks with low income that’s enough to matter.

I think the best road in the world is one open to everyone, even if it has potholes.

Babygorilla
Guest
Babygorilla

According to reports, the business side of this fee will be slowed for further refinement, but it’s full steam ahead for a residential tax (nice move to lessen the chance for a referral to voters). Portland, the city that fights for you, as long as you don’t have monied interests or a parking lot exemption.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Really? In this case IMO a crappy idea is a crappy idea. I live in the city and rarely drive and don’t want to subsidize the Clackamas, Clark and Washington County commuters who clog our roads on a daily basis. BS is BS and I’m calling BS on the street fee.

t
Guest
t

From the Oregonian:

>>Transportation officials and staff in Commissioner Steve Novick’s office said many of the details are still in flux

>>Willamette Week reported that churches were worried they would pay thousands a year under the proposal too, but PBOT officials said Wednesday that the trip generation model excludes traffic on the weekend. That would save churches potentially thousands of dollars a year

So damage to roads on weekends doesn’t count ?

Seems like Hales & Novick are just making up their plan via tweets as they go along. “Gee, we’ll change the rates if some group squeeks loud enough, we’ll pick and choose the exemptions that we want.”

Just charge everybody by square footage and trips generated, and put it to a public vote …Portland will pass most anything .. ie: Arts TAX

geezer
Guest
geezer

fee
fē/Submit
noun
1.
a payment made to a professional person or to a professional or public body in exchange for advice or services.

My house does not use the street. This is not a fee, it’s another tax on my house. Charging for on-street parking would be a fee.

Barbara L.
Guest
Barbara L.

I am so disappointed in the street fee since it continues to ignore the REAL issue blatant speeding & disregard on signals & stopsigns by motorists. Money has been spent on signs lower speed limits but they are a joke. Eveyone drives 10 miles over at least even on the 20 mph side streets. Until or unless there is some kind of continual giving tickets for speeding the safety improvements are useless & fixing the roads will allow even higher speeds. Regular traffic tickets more than make up for the new TAX. I’ve plently of examples of speeding I can site.

JT
Guest
JT

bjcefola
Portland is struggling with success, lots of people want to live here and that demand is pushing out those with the least resources. I think there’s a non-trivial constituency in Portland that welcomes that outcome. This fee in my view works directly towards that end, imposing costs on people substantially without regard to their ability to pay. The $8.09 may not seem like a lot, but for folks with low income that’s enough to matter..

Thank you for saying this! This is an aspect of this “fee” that is not being discussed nearly enough here on BP and other forums in general. In all honesty, I am personally starting to become very frustrated with seeing people who very much seem to be comfortably in the middle and upper middle class sanctimoniously telling everyone they need to suck it up and pay this “small” fee for the greater good. This fee may just be one less dinner a month at Pok Pok for some folks, but Portland has many residents for whom this is not an insignificant burden.

Skyrocketing rents and other pressures are already pushing many of these folks out of Portland and this sort of regressive tax will only help accelerate that trend. It seems to me that some the residents of this board need to take a minute and ponder how this fee would look from a life with a little less privilege.

Joe
Guest
Joe

Thanks for speaking up Kiel I feel the same and really have noticed a huge diffrence inside downtown last couple years, I feel car free city would only create jobs along with the fact become much greener area that thrives more towards the human aspect.

Joe
Guest
Joe

ohh and solid transit solutions that move ppl more and often. * not broken set operating times *

Deborah Schultz
Guest
Deborah Schultz

Thank you for voicing this perspective Kiel. I know it is NOT easy to go against the vocal opposition about it-especially here in the BikePortland comments section where there are so many extraordinarily bright and highly driven individuals. It’s obvious that the fee is not a perfect solution. But I would rather take this funding opportunity, it in its current form, than stagnate and take no improvements at all.
Just hoping for some political superhero to materialize that will slay all the gas tax opposition seems idealistic and even petty.

This funding will make biking facilities safer. It will help provide for more sidewalks and cross walks. And it will help maintain the roads for busses, freight and cars too.

Opposing it because it’s not funded by gas tax means that we still have unsafe crosswalks on Powell, still no sidewalks on the east side, and no bike lanes on Foster. Who do we blame when someone dies because we never had the money available to make these street improvements? The political superhero that never showed up to force a gas tax increase through? Really?

TJ
Guest
TJ

Many car commuters are victim of a transportation system that does not afford reasonable public transit or bicycle options from affordable family housing to jobs. We need to first make cycling an option where it is not. Then we can talk about incentivising cycling without punishing drivers. A gas tax only adds annoyance and rift to the cause.

Cars will continue to be apart of society in greater Portland. Aside from escaping to the woods and rivers via cars, which I’ll accept as a luxury, many do not have the privilege of living in a neighborhood where the case for cycling can made as a reasonable option to all.

Joe
Guest
Joe

Sure we have need for cars, but WHAT if we used energy that is was renewable it is a win for all. ( oil is slowly being sucked dry from earth )
so invest in better designs

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

Residential Street Fee PLUS higher gas tax PLUS city freight/commercial trucking/delivery fee. Spread the tax around.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Steve Novick has a blog!?
And he’s sort of addresses some of our questions.
http://www.portlandoregon.gov/novick/article/489266

Overall kind of a disappointing effort, though.
“Yes. A flat street fee is thoroughly regressive. That’s why I insisted we poll numerous other funding option, including income-based options. None were as popular as a flat street fee.”

Hiding behind the polling which, to my mind didn’t even include a gas tax, does not exactly satisfy.

matt picio
Guest

kiel johnson
Even people who walk are walking on city streets. sidewalks aren’t cheap!

Sidewalks aren’t cheap, but they’re typically only constructed with new development and last decades. It would be nice to see a user fee which did not impact cyclists and pedestrians, or businesses with zero parking. The biggest impactors (literally) on Portland street infrastructure are cars with studded tires, and commercial trucking. Trucking impacts more than anything. I’m guardedly behind supporting a modest tax on everyone including cyclists and pedestrians since we all benefit from the *use* of commercial trucking, but honestly that would be more fairly represented through a sales tax. (yes, I know that’s political death for the suggester)

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

9watts
But since I’ve not figured out the nifty hyperlink convention Jonathan and some of you use my attempts are clunkier. Any tips on how to do this in the comments box?

Like so…

<a href=”http://url.goes.here/”>hyperlinked phrase here</a>

…hope that works! 🙂 (if it doesn’t, it’s just normal HTML ‘a href’ tags)

Only a few other HTML tags like bold, emphasis and italics are supported. Images aren’t allowed.

Also, just mentioning, the Name and Email fields of the comment form aren’t retaining their values on my devices as they used to before BikePortland’s recent design changes.