The regional Metro committee that controls $130 million in federal funds continues to consider an increase in money for road widening rather than for safety improvements to streets near schools.
JPACT, the committee of 17 regional officials, was due to vote last month but decided to postpone its vote until next Thursday.
At play are $17.4 million in new money created by last year’s federal transportation bill. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance and other nonprofits in the For Every Kid Coalition have led a two-year campaign to secure much of that money for Safe Routes to School infrastructure across the region, which improves crosswalks, sidewalks and bikeways near schools. Their proposal would prioritize “Title 1” schools, those with higher rates of child poverty.
Safe Routes to School has existed for 15 years in Portland and has apparently led to big increases in walking and biking. A Metro program would extend it to the suburbs.
As of March, 3,500 people had sent postcards and emails to Metro urging this to be the priority.
However, some JPACT members feel that the best way they can improve the regional economy is to reduce freight congestion, and that the best way to reduce freight congestion is to make roads wider. The BTA has found itself playing defense to protect the budget that currently goes to active transportation infrastructure.
In an effort to lock down votes, the BTA sent its members another action alert on the subject this week, urging people to contact JPACT members with the following request:
In light of the $17.43 million dollar increase in available funding this cycle, we ask you to support the safety of our community — from our kids to our grandparents — as they travel along and across roads throughout the region with:
• A minimum of $1.5 million for SRTS programs as part of the Regional Travel Options program
• At least $5 million in dedicated funding for Safe Routes to School infrastructure projects within the one-mile radius of schools, an important start toward the estimated $43 million dollar need
• A minimum of $27.7 million for active transportation infrastructure that increases safety for people walking, bicycling, and accessing transit
• Policy that supports equity and prioritizes Title 1 Schools
We urge you to vote no against any amendments that reduce funding for active transportation or reduce the $3.5 million proposed for Safe Routes to School programming, Safe Routes to School capital projects, and trails.
The structure of JPACT gives more influence to people who live in less populated areas. Multnomah County gets one JPACT vote for its 775,000 residents; Clackamas County gets one vote for its 395,000.
Whatever JPACT decides, it would be possible for the Metro Council — a majority of which told BikePortland in March that they would almost certainly oppose reducing the share for active transportation — to overrule the vote and send the decision back for revisions. (Unlike JPACT, Metro council votes are distributed proportionally by regional population.) But Craig Dirksen, a Metro councilor from southeast Washington County who also chairs JPACT, told us that he has “never seen it happen and I would be very surprised if it happened.”
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.