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‘Bike/ped does not belong’: some question state’s funding of bike projects

Posted by on July 16th, 2014 at 12:59 pm

paul langner

Paul Langner is a facility manager for a timber and freight company in Rainier, Oregon. He’s concerned that bike projects are getting too much priority in the Connect Oregon funding program.
(Image from Morrow Pacific project)

The concept of a bicycling corridor being more important to Oregon than a freight rail connection, an idea which a state committee is likely to validate on Thursday, is drawing sharp criticism from some Oregonians.

“How does a bike/ped project displace a project that benefits multiple regions and benefits numerous businesses? Bike/ped does not belong.”
— Paul Langner, Teevin Brothers

As the state prepares to award $7 million of its $42 million “Connect Oregon” program to projects like the Tualatin River Greenway, some people involved in the process are sharing their dismay in the hope of changes during the next funding cycle.

“A project that will take 5,000 trucks off the highways is not funded, however a project to give bicycles away is scored high,” wrote Paul Langner, a waterfront facility manager for Teevin Brothers in Rainier who sat on both Connect Oregon’s freight and marine modal committees.

Langner was referring, in comments about the process (PDF page 120) to the Oregon Department of Transportation, to two projects that didn’t quite make the cut: his employer’s $2.7 million request for a rail consolidation facility that would gather goods like steel, rebar, cabinets and farm equipment from across the state for rail and barge shipments to Hawaii; and Eugene’s $900,000 request to fund a citywide bike share system, which had scored slightly higher.

“I sincerely question the ODOT economists’ determination of what is statewide significance,” Langner wrote. “How does a bike/ped project displace a project that benefits multiple regions and benefits numerous businesses? Bike/ped does not belong.”

To judge from the comments, the legislature’s decision to include biking and walking projects, a big victory last year for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, was the most controversial part of this year’s program.

“Figure out how bike/ped qualifies as ‘Statewide Significance,'” one unsigned comment read. “We dwelled on this ad nauseum.”

“There is real concern about spending scarce transportations dollars on bike paths,” said another unsigned comment. “This is a conversation that needs to be take place before ConnectOregon VI occurs.”

I couldn’t call up the anonymous commenters to better understand their views. So I called up Langner. We had a great conversation, excerpted below.

In my circles, people are pretty happy about bike projects getting funded, so I wanted to get your take.

This is just my bullshit opinion, but I’ll give you my two cents.

“If there was a project that built a 10-foot wide path all the way from Portland to Eugene that paralleled I-5, I would personally get money out of my pocket.”

When we started the Connect Oregon program in 2003, the goal was to find alternative methods to fund transportation infrastructure that can’t use the gas tax. Not selected in Connect Oregon V was a project for a company that exports off to Hawaii material that comes from 80 different firms. That project didn’t get funded. Structural steel coming out of Ontario, Ore, rebar that comes out of McMinnville. Farm equipment that comes out of Pendleton, and then specialty projects that come out of Corvallis and out of Portland. According to the application from TriMet for the bike path, a poor struggling company by the name of Nike needed a bike path to get to the MAX station.

The Union Pacific Bridge project in Connect Oregon IV — there wasn’t a lot of jobs created but it took a speed restriction off the railroad bridge. All of a sudden the entire statewide rail system was moving twice as much. Those are statewide significant projects in my little pea brain.

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‘Statewide significance’ seems tough to define. But in my own pea brain, it seems like it’s different from just “traveling long distances.” The goal isn’t just to move things around, right? We want to create value.

I really struggle with the regional allocations in Connect Oregon. You get some projects that really really stink. They’re not just dogs – they’re like skunk projects. We funded buses to run around to the hotels and take people to the Indian casinos. Are you kidding me?

I’m not just a freight proponent, but freight is a big piece of it. It’s something that keeps the entire state of Oregon competitive by creating something, especially by enforcing intermodal connectivity – something that has a benefit to Farmer Brown or poor old Jeld-Wen windows. They can actually get a product up to the Port of Portland or the Port of Coos Bay without putting it on the highway.

Were you surprised that the legislature made bike/ped eligible for these grants?

I understand that they’re going to throw something on because that looks good to their constituents. I expected one or two projects to make it. I didn’t expect them to show as well as they did.

But the committees, who are supposed to function as the voice of the people, they were filled with people who say that’s what’s important for the Millennials. Well, yes it is, but what about the intermodal connectivity? “Well they can ride their bike to the bus station.”

I have the feeling that people would say bike/ped is the same as transportation, and you’re really not. Amtrak, public transportation, always gets short shrift. I’d like to see that go further. I can’t get from Rainier, Ore., to the airport by public transportation. But once I get off the plane in Amsterdam, I can grab the commuter train that runs off to Antwerp, meet my friend there and have a beer without touching a car.

But that’s just the thing, right? Antwerp has a lot more people than Longview-Rainier. I used to live in Longview, and it seemed to me that the area has had a really rough 30 years. Since then, the way I think about the U.S. economy is that we’re just not going to make stuff any more, we’ve got to make ideas. So the way to benefit the economy is to make places really nice, so people will choose to live there.

We’re not that far apart. I do see the value in livability, and bike/ped is an important piece of it. But it needs to have some sense of connectivity. The City of Rainier takes ODOT money for road projects, and when we do, we have to install a bike lane. So here’s a bike lane that’s five blocks long. The upwards end doesn’t connect anything to the downwards end.

If there was a project that built a 10-foot wide path all the way from Portland to Eugene that paralleled I-5, I would personally get money out of my pocket.

——

Susan Peithman.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

After talking to Langner, I spoke to his counterpart Susan Peithman, a former BTA staffer who also sat on several Connect Oregon committees and supports funding for bike projects.

Pethiman agreed that now that biking and walking projects are competing directly with different modes for the first time in decades, biking supporters need to get better at making the case for “statewide significance.”

“We had been operating in a marginalized space and we asked to sit at the big table,” Peithman said. “And we did. And we fared well. And there’s going to be more backlash because there’s going to be more people looking at what we’re doing. … So we have to bring our A game. No bones about it. Good projects and good arguments.”

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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dan
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dan

Good article Jonathan, thanks for presenting both sides. You can definitely see where Paul is coming from.

Paul H
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Paul H

Several years ago, our local school superintendent was detailing how decreased state funding was going to impact class sizes and staff layoffs in the coming months. A parent asked, “So should we be going to [the local legislator’s] town hall and advocate for more education budget?”

The superintendent replied, “By all means, advocate for education, but do it as a citizen. Be aware that more money for schools may mean that someone’s grandmother goes without medication or that a public hazard remains in place. Know what you’re really asking.”

As biking becomes a part of ordinary budgeting, I think similar advice is worthwhile. I don’t know the details of Connect Oregon’s budget; for all I know, the committee aced the priorities, so this is not a critique of the outcome. It’s just an acknowledgment of Mr. Langer’s point that good citizenship requires a broad view of significance.

Adam H.
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Adam H.

“I don’t personally use something, therefore I think it’s a waste of money. Fund this other thing I do use instead.”
– Everyone

Jonah
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Jonah

No mention that much of these ‘freight’ upgrades he’s talking about are targeted towards increasing the speed and frequency of oil trains up to Clatskanie.

q`Tzal
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q`Tzal

It’s funny that he mentions wanting an upgraded freight rail facility but the only freight metric the business community wants to talk about is OTR truck numbers.
It seems that truck congestion is their measurement of success.

John Lascurettes
Guest

If there was a project that built a 10-foot wide path all the way from Portland to Eugene that paralleled I-5, I would personally get money out of my pocket.

Well, okay then!

Mick O
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Mick O

I barged in here prepared to point out the imagined hypocrisy of some mid-state Republican complaining how the government wasn’t handing out enough money to buy stuff for private business. (“You didn’t build that!”) But he seems decent with a defensible point of view. And the political contributions of his employers seem reasonable too. So, nice work BP. You influenced my pre-existing opinions.

Still though: Yay bike/ped!!! Wheeee!

BIKELEPTIC
Guest

I AM furious! Furious that they aren’t prioritizing clear cutting and coal production which my business profits from.

(Over simplying, yes. Whiny? Yes. Comparing apples to oranges? Yes.) Once we start seeing commercial freight in mass capacities enjoying the scenic byways while improving their physical and emotional well being, then we can talk.

Bjorn
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Bjorn

I sat on the advisory committee in Corvallis for transit for several years and we faced the problem of people thinking that mass transit should do things that it can’t do well. Rainier is a town of less than 2000 people located over 50 miles from the Portland Airport. It does not make sense to try to create mass transit to connect these two points as there simply are no where near enough trips made to have the service make sense. If you want good mass transit you need to move to a place with the density to enable it. We should stop wasting our transit dollars on rural routes.

Art Fuldodger
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Art Fuldodger

“I can’t get from Rainier, Ore., to the airport by public transportation.”

Indeed, you can. Columbia County Rider from Rainier will take you to St Helens, and from there direct transfer to bus to downtown Portland, and from there MAX to the airport. If you catch the 8am bus in Rainier you can be at the airport by a little after 10am. There are 2 other buses (mid day and late PM) as well.

Peter W
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> According to the application from TriMet for the bike path, a poor struggling company by the name of Nike needed a bike path to get to the MAX station.

Says the gentleman starring in an ad paid for by a foreign energy firm that describes itself* as a leading exporter of US coal.

I’ll support subsidizing a bike path for well paid shoe designers (or the janitors that support them) over subsidies to wealthy private freight rail companies (or the billion dollar coal and oil industries that support them) any day.

*: source: Ambre Energy’s website.

GMan
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GMan

Don’t let the present stand in the way of a perfectly good future. Freeing up labor capacity for more productive uses through increased efficiency is good in the long run.

Buzz
well, just to play devil’s advocate here, what about all the jobs those 5,000 trucks represent? what happens to them?
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Dwaine Dibbly
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Dwaine Dibbly

As a cyclist, I have to admit that I can see value in a project that would take 5000 trucks off the road, if that’s really what it would do.

Spiffy
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Spiffy

“We had been operating in a marginalized space and we asked to sit at the big table”

look at that, biking is all grown up now and eating grown-up potions… suddenly you’re not the only one that wants that last piece of steak…

are you going to recognize that growing requires more energy and give up more of your share?

or are you going to continue eating as much as you want while stunting the grown of the up-and-comer?

wsbob
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wsbob

“…comments about the process…” ftp://ftp.odot.state.or.us/outgoing/OTC/07_July/July_17_2014_OTC-Meeting_Packet.pdf

“…“I sincerely question the ODOT economists’ determination…”…Langer quote from this bikeportland story.

I’ve not downloaded the pdf and studied the process ODOT uses to rank projects proposed for inclusion in distribution of money from Connect Oregon. Maybe someone else reading here has already studied that process.

It seems the ranking system of that process is what Langer questions. I’d like to think he’s studied it, and I wish he’d been asked his opinion about it for this interview.

Langer is pitching the rail consolidation facility, and it’s hard to blame him for that. The state, still growing it seems, definitely is need of considering ways by which to have its transport system and its transportation system become more efficient and cost effective. Bike share systems are yet a kind of new, unproven idea in the U.S. bu in different ways, they do seek to address these same objectives.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

It may well be that the rail consolidation facility is of significant statewide value, and it may even have been dropped in favor of some less-worthy projects. But going after bike/ped, which is easy politically in many corners because it doesn’t seem serious to a lot of people, seems a little like picking on the little guy.

“So here’s a bike lane that’s five blocks long. The upwards end doesn’t connect anything to the downwards end.” Well, yeah, and that’s precisely why bike/ped projects are of statewide importance: because we have a statewide problem with state highways that are hostile to bikes and pedestrians. Keep building those 5-block-long bike lanes mandated as part of road projects, and we start building a network. THAT is of critical importance to Oregon, especially with the looming bike tourism boom.

Dave
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Dave

I agree, plus once there are freight rail enhancements, what’s to stop them from becoming passenger rail when/if the mix and use of freight on them changes? I’m of the opinion that any rail improvements are a good thing regardless of the immediate use they might be put to.

Dwaine Dibbly
As a cyclist, I have to admit that I can see value in a project that would take 5000 trucks off the road, if that’s really what it would do.
Recommended 4

KristenT
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KristenT

This is the part that gets my goat:

Langer says “I have the feeling that people would say bike/ped is the same as transportation, and you’re really not.”

Bike/ped IS transportation. When I’m riding or walking, I’m transporting myself to my destination, same as if I was driving or taking public transportation.

More connections in our bike lane/sidewalk/MUP networks means I can transportate myself easier/safer/faster/more directly in a variety of ways, some of which actually help to reduce car and truck congestion.

Oregon Mamcita
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Oregon Mamcita

I looked carefully at the ConnectOregon grant application process when I asked ODOT to pull Portland’s grant application for bike share due to the outrageous and conscious lies about the existence of a bike share sponsor.
The grant was finally pulled due to reporting by the Mercury and WW, (after the story was broken by Baby Gorilla). but the Oregon State Bar refuses to sanction Novick on its own behalf and there were no sanctions from ODOT. Jeeze- we make Chicago look honest.
My concern is that the whole grant process is rubbish. There is an aura of citizen involvement, but the final decisions seem to line up with who would get money if political pull was the only issue. Of course Betsy Johnson’s project in Saint Helens will succeed, and rural areas will get short shrift.
If we were dealing with Federal funds and not lottery funds, the feds would be investigating Connect Oregon the same way they are looking at criminal charges for grant fraud in relation to Cover Oregon. But the feds have standards for applications (no lies) and we don’t.

PorterStout
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PorterStout

“Jeeze- we make Chicago look honest.”

Unjustified swipe at the state we live in. Actually, this recent article by Fortune Magazine rated Oregon as one of the ten least corrupt states.

http://fortune.com/2014/06/10/most-corrupt-states-in-america/

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Let us look at things again here… Every time I pay for gasoline, I pay taxes on it, and out of each tax dollar that gets spent for roads, I as a bicyclist get only $0.005 (yes, that’s half a penny) for my needs.

Clearly we are getting our fair shake… NOT!!!