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Comment of the week: A close look at street fee alternatives

Posted by on July 18th, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Today’s BikePortland comments, tomorrow’s news.

Reader MaxD’s Tuesday afternoon comment looking closely at the stated goals and options for the city’s per-household and per-business street fee plan didn’t hit on the same alternatives Commissioner Steve Novick’s office turned out to be looking at, but his detailed analysis anticipated them.

Here’s what MaxD wrote:

If the purpose of the Street Fee is to maintain roads and increase safety, then the causes of damage and threats to safety must be identified, and strategies for mitigating these must be considered. In my opinion, there are many synergistic ways to approach this problem that reduce damage and minimize threats while raising money.
Causes of road damage
1. Heavy vehicles
2. Studded tires
3. Slow-moving turns
4. Rain

Threats to safety
1. Speeding
2. Distracted drivers
3. Drunk drivers
4. Road rage
5. Unsafe intersections or lack of traffic control/lighting
6. Unsafe lane allocations/traffic control; not enough space or instruction for all users


Potential sources of funding for maintenance
1. Local Gas Tax tied to inflation; simple to administer.
2. Parking: increase meter fees, expand collection times, expand metered areas, raise fees for permits, and expand permit areas.
3. Tax surface parking lots to raise fees or encourage redevelopment.
4. Add fees to vehicle registration based on vehicle weight; more weight = higher fee.
5. Massive surcharge to use studded tires.
6. Work with legislators to get speed/red light cameras, and spread throughout City.
7. Work with judges to stop reducing fines for traffic violations, and increase fines (double or triple)

Ways to increase safety that does not cost or raise money
1. Get rid of “beg buttons” throughout the City; allow pedestrians to cross at every signal and every phase.
2. Eliminate traffic movements on red signals to encourage drivers to wait before the stop bars and protect pedestrians
3. Eliminate slip lanes and on- and off-ramps at all local bridges forcing traffic to use the street grid to navigate.
4. Remove lanes from the bridges and convert to bike lanes. Bridges are used as speedways now, and bikes and pedestrians are forced to share sidewalks. Slow traffic on bridges and create safe, comfortable ways to cross the rivers.
5. Resist highway expansion within City limits that will lead to increased air pollution in urban neighborhoods.
6. Provide crosswalks at the foot of each bridge
7. Remove on-street parking to close the many gaps in the City’s bikeways.
8. Start a City-wide, monthly street-sweeping program. Tow and fine all cars in the way to help offset any costs. This would remove disabled vehicles, create streets better suited to pedestrians and bikes, and protect our rivers from harmful pollutants.

Reasons not to employ the Street Fee
1. Regressive tax: adds a disproportionate burden on poorer citizens and low-car households.
2. Potential net loss for PBOT’s budget: With a funding stream for PBOT, the City’s general fund could allocate less to PBOT, The Street Fee becomes a larger percentage of the budget, other projects get prioritized, safety needs remain unmet, and we are back to square one.
3. The Street Fee encourages sprawl by not actually being a user fee (suburban subsidy!)
4. Unhelpfully double-taxes schools, parks, TriMET, other bureaus; this is counter-productive and a waste of administrative resources and public money.
5. Does not charge daily commuters from suburbs or freight-haulers. These are necessary for Portland, put they place a huge burden on our infrastructure and they should pay instead of getting subsidized.

Motorized vehicles cause the damage and pose the threats to safety. The City has everything it needs to improve safety today by slowing traffic and increasing enforcement. New revenue streams for transportation must target street users and reward alternative transportation, fewer trips and smaller vehicles. With population forecasts of hundreds of thousands of new Citizens in the next 20 years, it is incumbent on the City now to create policy that supports alternative transportation and discourages Single-Occupant Vehicle trips within Portland. The Street Fee is a step back in Portland’s trajectory of good Urban Planning because it supports and subsidizes personal automobile use. The consideration to decrease the spending on safety is moving this conversation even farther in the wrong direction.

It’d certainly be possible to rebut many of MaxD’s points here — asking a school to pay the costs of its operation isn’t the same as “double-taxing”; several of these would require state action rather than local — but his basic point that there are more ways that one to skin a cat, is pretty powerful.

As Novick considers a local income tax, or at least threatens business executives with one, let’s hope he’s also hearing critiques as thorough as MaxD’s.

Please support BikePortland.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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

  • Bjorn July 18, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Why not just use Charlie’s alternative, it doesn’t even require any new revenue:

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    • Panda July 19, 2014 at 7:41 am

      I remember when Charlie was campaigning on these issues. He kept referring to himself as “the adult” who was going to get elected and straighten out all those confused people at the city. HE wouldn’t need to ask for more money, Hewould just trim the fat, streamline sone things and get Portland’s ‘house in order’. I deeply regret voting for him. At the time, I was concerned that would not articulate any vision for the City beyond taking the reigns and being a good manager. It appears to me that he now is mostly concerned about getting re-elected

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      • Craig Harlow July 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm

        This was from when Hales was campaigning to conservatives, to compete with Brady. After the primary eliminated his conservative competition, he flipped to courting progressives. His story changed with his evolving election strategy.

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  • Steven Soto July 18, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Jon, Michael, I really like the comment of the week series. I think it adds tremendous value to the readers of the site, especially those like me who don’t always have time to read every comment, or even every post.

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  • Christopher Sanderson July 18, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Beats my comment form this past week. I’ll try again next week! Seriously, there is an amazing amount of thought, and dare I say, passion that went into this. Great work!

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  • Anne Hawley July 18, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    I’m not knowledgeable enough to assess all of MaxD’s ideas, he’s certainly been more thoughtful, more thorough, more creative, and more interested in fairness than anything I heard at the street fee meeting I attended. The City’s communication on the subject has had a “foregone conclusion” quality all along, and I’ve been more and more disheartened by their failure to roll up their sleeves for the hard statewide work that a broad-spectrum set of solutions like these would require.

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  • Pete July 18, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    “Beg buttons”… I like it! They’re a necessary evil, rarely timed long enough to let elderly or slower people cross (even on bike in some cases).

    One comment about speed/red light cameras though – they aren’t the cash machines that some people think. Fine collection overhead eats significantly into their revenue, and many cities are now taking them out due to the legal costs of defending individual cases against proof that the car owner was actually the driver. (There’s also the ludicrous argument that they cause a dramatic increase in rear-end collisions – there’s a ‘motoring advocacy group’ whose name escapes me that’s been fighting them for a long time now).

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    • gutterbunnybikes July 19, 2014 at 10:07 am

      And much of the cash lost on the systems is because they aren’t owned or ran by the municipalities, many are independent contractors who get payed regardless of what a judge deems a proper fine.

      Automate the system/process, keep the system as part of the commons, and take away a judges ability to manipulate the cost of traffic infringements and I’m willing to bet the R.O.I. is pretty quick.

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      • Pete July 20, 2014 at 10:36 am

        We definitely agree. The bay area cities that I recently read about getting rid of them claimed that they cost more to maintain than to get rid of because of the success rate of contested tickets; funny they didn’t mention the overhead you’re talking about. Newer generation cameras have much better optics and image resolution (and ambient light compensation), but there’s now debate about the privacy of using them, because they’re able to tap into identity databases with facial recognition to identify the driver.

        Not saying I subscribe to this, but I heard an interesting quote at a security conference (which I grokked to be a play on a Robert Heinlein quote): “a surveilled society is a polite society.”

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    • paikiala July 21, 2014 at 9:58 am

      Data collected from before and after installation of red-light enforcement cameras has found an increase in rear-end collisions along with the reduction in angle collisions. This phenomenon actually happens whenever increased control is imposed, no stop to 2-way, 2-way to all-way, yeild to stop, all-way stop to signal.

      Table 2:

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    • paikiala July 21, 2014 at 10:52 am

      Most people don’t realize that the count down or flashing don’t walk is sufficient time to cross a street (at 3 to 3.5 feet per second) and the walk symbol is just the go signal. Try it sometime. Also, PBOT will investigate locations you believe to warrant longer walk times, 823-SAFE, and has installed systems in some locations to lengthen the flashing don’t walk if a pedestrian is still present. The technology is still poor to fair for such detection.

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  • Mossby Pomegranate July 19, 2014 at 7:19 am

    Let’s hope there are some good “alternatives” to the entire current regime running this city come election time.

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  • Pat July 19, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Honest question: how are “slow-moving turns” one of the main causes of street damage? Everything else makes sense, but I can’t wrap my head around that.

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    • MaxD July 21, 2014 at 10:20 am

      This is phrased really poorly- sorry! When a heavy vehicle is rolling along in a straight line, the tires cause relatively little wear on asphalt. When you are moving your wheels and the vehicle is not moving or barely moving, the weight of the vehicle gets shifted around , and there are all kinds of additional forces put on the surface. For instance, in parking lots the asphalt tends to break up the quickest where cars front tires come to rest; once a car pulls in, the drivers might have to move the wheels around a bit and go back and forth to get in the spot correctly. An even better example is when buses pull over. When they turn the wheel to take off, they cause major havoc on the asphalt. Take a look at East Burnside, just west of Grand, if you want to see a great example of a giant rut and destroyed rut caused by slow-moving turning of buses.

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      • paikiala July 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm

        Asphalt is a super viscous liquid, unlike portland cement concrete. the turning of tires is not why AC shifts around. Transit vehicles are permitted to be overweight by Federal guidelines. If you look at those common ruts near high volume bus stops, you’ll notice the AC has been kneaded aside, often climbing up the adjacent curb.

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  • Jayson July 19, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    There are many good points being made in the comment, but some are just not realistic or necessary – getting rid of “beg” buttons, removing slip lanes, monthly street sweeping, etc. They also do nothing to alleviate maintenance needs, which is the primary focus of the street fee.

    I don’t connect the dots between a street fee and encouraging sprawl? Homeowners pay more than multi-family units and we’re talking less than $10 per month for most households. Paying for street maintenance is just as important as electricity and water bills. Also, regardless of your mode of travel or how much you drive, we all benefit from use of the streets – deliveries, visitors, home services/repair vans, new construction, garbage and recycling pick-up, buses, etc. The street fee would not be used to expand street capacity, so it’s not meant to be a user fee based on driving – it’s a fee that acknowledges we ALL benefit from the system as a whole. Again, about $10/month. I’m tired of the whining over so little.

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    • Bjorn July 19, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      The street fee subsidizes sprawl by placing 100% of the maintainance cost on people who choose to live within the city and 0% on people who commute from outside the city.

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    • 9watts July 19, 2014 at 8:00 pm

      “Also, regardless of your mode of travel or how much you drive, we all benefit from use of the streets – deliveries, visitors, home services/repair vans, new construction, garbage and recycling pick-up, buses, etc.”

      the ‘we all benefit – so we all should pay’ is by now a familiar retort from folks, but it fails to acknowledge that the Street Fee–unlike some other, better-known alternatives–does not track proportionately the direct and indirect benefit we each receive from our transport infrastructure. Neither you (nor PBOT) know anything about the degree to which I, or my neighbor, or Steve Novick, or MaxD’s consumption patterns, our mode choices, whether we even have garbage pickup, etc., may place a burden on our streets. Some of us place a lot of burden; some an immeasurably small burden.
      As I’ve noted here previously, I don’t think the but-everyone-benefits analogy to school funding is a good one either. I think a better analogy to schools would go something like this:

      All the kids go to school. But three-quarters of the kids spend much of their time in school smashing the desks, bullying the other kids on the playground, beating up the teachers, stacking the school board with candidates who affirm the right of the rowdy kids to act that way. Replacing the desks, hiring new teachers, providing counseling for the bullied students all cost a lot of money. Who should pay? The school board suggests a Desk Fee that every household pays. They point out that other districts have recently implemented Desk Fees, and that this is the best way to raise the needed funds.

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      • paikiala July 21, 2014 at 9:49 am

        That’s already the way school funding works.

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      • Oregon Mamacita July 21, 2014 at 10:52 am

        9 Watts, I question your analogy, especially when many cyclists are also drivers. You are also ignoring the fact that Tr-Met buses do way more damage than a small car, and that considerable damage is done by construction crews- including those releasing pollution into the air as they tear down yet another old house for a “green” McMansion full of Ikea products.
        I predict that PDX will fight over cars vs. bikes, poor single family homeowners vs. rich condo owners and that the streets will not get fixed.
        This is a polarized city.

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        • 9watts July 21, 2014 at 2:43 pm

          “especially when many cyclists are also drivers”

          I don’t see how that changes anything. In my scheme where a gas tax is kicked up a few notches and is indexed to 3x the asphalt index, those biker/driver people would pay in a manner that was ~proportional to the damages they cause to our transport infrastructure. If they choose to vary the ratio of biking to driving as the latter gets more expensive everyone wins.

          As for polarization, I’m still curious to hear something un-polarizing from you here in these comments.

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          • paikiala July 21, 2014 at 4:19 pm

            Does Tri-Met even pay gas taxes?

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            • 9watts July 21, 2014 at 4:22 pm

              That is an interesting question. I bet someone here knows the answer.

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          • Oregon Mamacita July 22, 2014 at 3:02 pm

            9 watts, you compared all drivers to school bullies. That is the analogy that I think misses the mark. That analogy is polarizing.

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            • 9watts July 22, 2014 at 5:16 pm

              Fair enough. I am an equal opportunity goad; I wasn’t the one lamenting a polarized city.

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  • 9watts July 20, 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Speaking of garbage pickup, does anyone know how much we’d save on road maintenance if we all stopped generation garbage (and recycling) that in our system must then be trucked all over creation? I counted when I first moved here, and seven trucks pass by my house on days when all of the garbage categories are picked up. I’d much prefer spending my time figuring out how not to generate any garbage than working to contribute to a Street Fee.

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    • paikiala July 21, 2014 at 9:47 am

      While refuse collectors are permitted to be overweight (like transit) they are only a small portion of the total traffic stream. Also, say we recycled 98% of our current waste stream, we’d still need a truck to haul it away from our home or common collection points.

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      • 9watts July 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm

        “Also, say we recycled 98% of our current waste stream, we’d still need a truck to haul it away from our home or common collection points.”

        Not necessarily.
        First off the pickup could be 2% as often, which would be once/year rather than once/week. But with quantities that low it seems entirely feasible that we could skip the whole collection infrastructure. Remember, we didn’t used to have curbside collection of anything.

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        • Mike July 21, 2014 at 1:38 pm

          That’s right. We threw it into the empty spaces around our homes.
          When we outgrew that, we would all individually drive it to dumps.

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          • 9watts July 21, 2014 at 2:45 pm

            yeah and none of it was toxic crap. It either biodegraded, rusted, or was inert if sometimes not good to step on with bare feet. I’ve exhumed plenty of garbage pits people had dug around their houses. Not fun, but also not nearly as awful as a landfill. Have you been to one lately?

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        • paikiala July 21, 2014 at 4:22 pm

          The 98% would still need to be hauled away to the recycling plant. As for landfills – they are much safer than burying garbage in your back yard – or burning it. Your neighbor doesn’t manage any airborne or groundwater pollutants when they self-dispose.

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          • 9watts July 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm

            “The 98% would still need to be hauled away to the recycling plant”

            You missed my point. I wrote “if we all stopped generating garbage (and recycling).” There’s nothing salutary about increasing recycling rates. We need to eliminate the generation of all the crap that leaves our houses and (currently) gets picked up and trucked who knows where.

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          • 9watts July 21, 2014 at 4:29 pm

            “As for landfills – they are much safer than burying garbage in your back yard”
            Neither is a reasonable solution. And I’m not sure safe really applies here. Landfills are awful, stinking hell holes that produce methane, toxic runoff, and who knows what other nasties. The point is to eliminate the need to haul or bury anything. Zero Waste, sort of like Vision Zero: Easy to say, but few municipalities are actually trying to do it.

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            • paikiala July 22, 2014 at 12:19 pm

              The ‘runoff’ before final capping is contained inside a liner, pumped out and treated. The methane is also usually collected and burned, or sometimes used to make power. You should investigate modern landfills more often.

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              • 9watts July 22, 2014 at 1:05 pm

                The ones I have ‘investigated’ may or may not be modern, but I have the feeling that theory and practice diverge quite a bit, whether or not you would consider them modern.

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  • paikiala July 21, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Everything on the ‘no cost’ list costs money. marking crosswalks costs about $500.
    If the signal is new, changing the phasing to eliminate the ped buttons might run $1500. If the signal is old, you might need a new signal- $250k. As Pete suggests, ‘cost’ defined solely as capital costs ignores the real world. The cost to buy something is only one cost of ownership. The delay imposed on other users when there are no pedestrians around is also a cost (as is the pollution generated from autos waiting for a green light). What else you could have prevented with the same funds is also a cost.
    No turn on red signs run at least $50 each – it’s unlikely you’re going to get State law changed.
    Street sweeping isn’t free to PBOT either – BES has paid for it in the past.

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