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Portlanders divided sharply by geography on the local gas tax

Posted by on June 23rd, 2016 at 9:41 am

The paving and safety projects scheduled to be built with Portland’s proposed gas tax will be spread quite evenly across the city.

But votes on the gas tax definitely weren’t.

Of the 81 Multnomah County precincts in the City of Portland, only 19 tallied “yes” votes between 45 percent and 55 percent. In more than half of precincts, the vote on the 10-cent local gas tax, one of the country’s largest local fuel taxes ever approved by popular vote, was a blowout victory or loss by 20-point margins or even more.

The southeast Portland precinct that includes the Sunnyside neighborhood gave the “Fix our Streets” proposal its strongest margin in the city.

Disregarding two tiny precincts that had fewer than 100 voters (one of those voted yes, the other no) the “Fix our Streets” campaign was most popular in Precinct 4207, the Sunnyside district along Belmont Street and Hawthorne Boulevard on either side of Cesar Chavez Way. More than 69 percent of voters there supported it.

But the tax went down hard in every precinct east of Interstate 205. The further east, the more “no” votes it saw. In Precinct 5009 along the Gresham border (which also happens to be the eastern endpoint of the 4M Neighborhood Greenway that will be funded by the tax) only 20 percent of voters voted “yes.”

In all, 43 precincts voted “no” on the tax and 38 voted “yes.” But (unlike in national presidential elections, for example) every vote cast in the city has equal power, and precincts that voted “yes” generally had more residents. The tax slid into a 4-point victory (52.1 percent to 47.9 percent) on May 17.

Did votes split along income lines? By the amount of driving people do? By the perceived viability of alternatives to driving? By environmentalist or social justice sentiment? By trust in local government? Those are all possibilities but without exit polls, it’s hard to say.

Here are three two details worth noticing in the map above, though:

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1) Southwest Portland said “yes” even though east Portland didn’t.

SW-Portland-Week-Day-3-56

Safety advocate Roger Averbeck on SW Capitol Highway, which will get a $1.7 million for repaving and $3.3 million for sidewalks thanks to the gas tax.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Two parts of Portland, outer east and outer southwest, were built mostly on Multnomah County roads, without sidewalks, in the era after 1959 when the city had banned multifamily housing from most areas, required on-site parking for commercial lots and avoided street grids. Decades later, all those decisions shape transportation habits, development patterns, housing prices and culture.

People who live in east and southwest Portland alike will tell you that their streets need a lot of work.

But last month, one of those two areas — the richer one — voted something like 55/45 “yes” on the gas tax and the other voted more like 70/30 against. What happened? One possibility is that it’s related to this map from a recent city study:

columbia corridor jobs

Southwest Portland is far from homogenously rich and east Portland is far from homogenously poor. But east Portlanders’ job market is hugely dependent on the city’s most important jobs center that’s virtually inaccessible except by car: the industrial and port land along the Columbia River. East of Interstate 205, transit lines and bikeways to central Portland and Gresham are scarce and mediocre, but they do exist. Transit and bike routes to the Columbia Corridor, though, basically don’t exist at all.

Southwest Portland, by contrast, can also be unpleasant to navigate on foot or bike, but it’s likely that more people there work in areas such as downtown that are relatively well-served by transit — or if they car-commute to Washington or Clackamas County, will be easily able to avoid the tax. Maybe that’s part of the reason the proposal did better in southwest.

2) Central Portland said “hell yes.”

Bike traffic on N Williams Ave-15.jpg

Parking at New Seasons Market on N Williams Avenue.

If we assume that in the long run the gas tax will be a smart, money-saving and justice-advancing policy (as, presumably, most people in Portland government do), then we can’t ignore the single most important thing about this ballot measure: It passed.

Why did it pass? In part because of the 20 to 30 percent of east Portland voters who backed it despite their neighbors’ disagreement. In part because it broke 50 percent support in the southwest. But more than anything, it was because the proposal, which was very explicitly organized around the narrative that walking and biking should be safe and pleasant, racked up massive support in central Portland.

This support wasn’t limited to people who don’t buy much gasoline. Far more than half of people in central Portland drive to work, and almost every precinct in and around the central city saw more than 60 percent “yes.” Whatever the reason — some of it probably in self-interest, some of it probably cultural, some of it probably ideological — a gas tax that was once assumed to be politically impossible was successfully sold to overwhelming majorities in these neighborhoods.

Political action requires coalitions. Against odds, the gas tax built one.

Correction 3 pm: Due to a transcription error, an earlier version of the map and post reported an incorrect figure for inner northwest Portland, conflating it with the results from outer northwest. Since the revised figure is less surprising — inner northwest Portland voted overwhelmingly for the tax, like other central neighborhoods — we’ve deleted a section discussing this.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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rick

Perhaps the Dunthorpe district wants a massive road / trail overhaul after approving it by 72 %. They understand the significance of the big cut-through auto traffic on the way with the upcoming massive sewer / creek projects on the way over the next few years.

Random
Guest
Random

Low-income people in outer east Portland know who is going to predominately pay this tax.

Gentry liberals in inner Portland, with easy commutes and little need to drive a lot, also know who is going to predominately pay this tax.

The vote isn’t a surprise at all.

Random
Guest
Random

“This support wasn’t limited to people who don’t buy much gasoline. Far more than half of people in central Portland drive to work”

Yeah, but if you have a four mile auto commute, the gas tax isn’t much of a burden, as opposed to a twelve mile commute from outer East Portland.

axoplasm
Subscriber

There’s also a widespread sense in SW Portland that they pay more than their fair share of property taxes, because of the weird math spooling out of Measures 5 and 47. (For example we paid about 30% MORE property taxes on our old house in SW, which was worth about 30% LESS than our current house in SE.) A common theme among my former SW neighbors was that we were paying for sidewalks & greenways in other neighborhoods.

On top of that, for historic reasons related to the development of SW, many residential streets there are not able to receive sidewalk/curb improvements that accompany stormwater runoff projects (e.g. bioswales) — which is how a lot of those improvements happen on the inner eastside. I admit I never understand these reasons but I know they were a factor in why we couldn’t apply for those improvements on our street.

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

The Central City has a good foundation of bike and transit to build on. Residents who live there understand the benefits. Someone living in East Portland and working near Kelly Point might see this as their money continuing to go down the drain. It will a heavy lift to create a bike/ped and a transit network that works well for the outer neighborhoods of the City. This gas tax is a step in the right direction.

Random
Guest
Random

Anne Hawley
Gentry liberals Voters in inner Portland, with easy commutes and little need to drive a lot, also know who is going to predominately pay this tax.
There. Fixed that for you.
Recommended 0

Compare and contrast incomes and political views between inner Portland and outer east Portland – I think that the phrase “gentry liberals” is perfectly appropriate.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest
Kyle Banerjee

In the popular imagination, gas taxes are hard on the wallet. The reality is far different. Ignoring that the cost of fuel is a relatively small part of owning a vehicle and adding a few percent to historically very low gas prices wouldn’t even be noticed if it weren’t reported as gas prices fluctuate by way more than a dime. AAA explains the general situation quite clearly at http://newsroom.aaa.com/2015/04/annual-cost-operate-vehicle-falls-8698-finds-aaa-archive/ Low fuel costs are a specific reason that American vehicles are so huge and why high mileage cars don’t sell well.

Especially in this area, there are good options for people who live some distance from work other than driving single cars. Speaking for myself, I lived 45 miles from work for 7 years and more than 20 miles from work for another 10 — and I did not find it necessary to drive despite having way fewer commute options than here and no telecommute option. In addition to alternatives frequently discussed here, there are carpools and vanpools for people who can’t ride a bike. This idea that you have to drive just isn’t true. I’ve lived in rural areas and small towns where I was far from work. There is always an option for those who seek it and it.

People who never get on a bike benefit when more people bike, walk, and take public transit because that frees the roads up for drivers. During rush hour, MAX moves about 1/3 of the commuters along the Banfield and Sunset. Do they really want to add 50% more cars on these roads that are so slow that you could easily bike from Beaverton to NoPo in less time than you could drive? Do they really want already hard to find parking spots more scarce and more expensive?

Random
Guest
Random

Summary of the vote:

If you shop at New Seasons and Whole Foods, you probably voted for the gas tax.

If you don’t shop at New Seasons and Whole Foods, you probably didn’t vote for the gas tax.

Social Engineer
Guest
Social Engineer

It’s hard to make an accurate assessment by neighborhoods because of the precinct boundaries, but I see that the precinct between Burnside and Lovejoy in NW (and includes some of the West Hills) supported the gas tax measure by over 60 percent, and the other one that includes the Pearl had 45 percent support, so you really can’t conclude that NW as a whole didn’t support the measure.

Roger Averbeck
Guest
Roger Averbeck

Thanks to Michael for an interesting article!
“Safety advocate Roger Averbeck on SW Capitol Highway, which will get a $1.7 million repave and a $3.3 million stretch of sidewalk thanks to the gas tax. (Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)”
A few clarifications: SW Capitol Highway is not a highway, but is a 2 lane arterial with no sidewalks or bike lanes. SW Capitol Highway is designated as a Major City Bikeway and City Walkway that connects a historic business district / neighborhood center with a town center and civic corridor that may someday have a new light rail line. The project funded by gas tax dollars will be leveraged by SDC funds and BES storm water improvements will include bike lanes (not mentioned in photo credit above).
I voted for the gas tax because of the need to provide safety improvements across the city, especially East Portland, and not because my community in SW Portland is “relatively transit served” – what does that mean? Also, not because I can easily avoid the tax by filling up in Washington or Clackamas County…

RushHourAlleycat
Guest

Downtown resident. No car, or plan to own one anytime soon.

Yes vote was easy.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Thanks for the great article. What is sad is that we are forced to fight over a nickel and dime tax which will create positive improvements in the future of transit and its macroeconomic effect will also be positive as it nudges us one more step towards getting off planet killing fossil fuels. But at the same time the real attacks on the wallets of the poor and working class are coming from the things we can’t seem to control or be to express our displeasure by voting. Unaffordable rents, Health Care Costs that are double the rest of the developed world as a percentage of GDP, Price gouging cell phone and cable companies and the list goes on. If we are to move forward as a civilization we must figure out how to increase the cost of burning fossil fuels while decreasing the cost of non-fossil transport and the other costs that are side effects of our current economic and political system. To paraphrase an old environmental slogan ” There are no commutes on a dead planet”.

maccoinnich
Guest

Unless I’m misreading the data on this page, Precinct 3301 (which includes the Pearl and parts of the Northwest District) voted for the gas tax (question 26-173) by 64.73%:

https://multco.us/file/53337/download

That would place it in line with the very similar precinct 3602.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Check the numbers on Capitol Highway, the total will be around $12 million with 12ft lanes and just painted bike lanes. $4-5M sounds more like just the gas tax share, and the rest from SDC funds and possibly state. Stormwater management is expensive, especially when you pave a 45ft swath. This is for only 0.8mi, sidewalk only on one side, got to leave that free on-street parking. Painted bike lanes at 45mph… nope. Expect sidewalk biking. $15M/mi congestion relief and free parking is what this is.

Doug Klotz
Subscriber

The Columbia Corridor is difficult to serve with transit because, like most manufacturing and distribution districts today, it has a low job density per acre, because of sprawling one-story buildings surrounded by acres of truck parking and manouvering areas. ( Unlike, say, the Central Eastside in the 1920s, when it served a similar function.

Random
Guest
Random

Michael did make an excellent point in the article illustrating the conflict of visions in Portland (as reflected in the gas tax vote) – if you live in inner Portland, and commute downtown, your vision of needed transportation improvements is probably very different than if you live in outer east Portland, and commute to a blue-collar job in the Columbia Corridor every day.

Kittens
Guest
Kittens

Yet another reason why the current scourge of income inequality must be stopped!
Collective action on anything becomes impossible as the two distinct groups begin to emerge. Even in this realitively homogeneitc city there is a huge divide and it makes concensus impossible. Yeah if I’m earning $10/ hr and driving between 2 jobs all over the place in the only car I can afford I am not going to be able to contribute more.

Jim Chasse
Guest
Jim Chasse

Having been an “Outer East Portland” resident since before the annexation, I clearly understand the outcome of the recent gas tax vote. For over 25 years the city and state have been promising transportation improvements for East Portland. To date, very little has been done. Many promises, little action. Hopefully that’s about to change as many proposed active transportation projects will occur in the next 3-5 years.
East Portland has been a great asset to the city for building inner city projects since annexation. We provide a great deal of revenue for improvements in the inner city, yet receive so little in return. Well, things are moving east because of the great schools, lower home prices, and a great diverse and involved community. It’s finally time to go east and doing it by bike makes a lot of sense.
Thanks to all of you for paying, and voting for the fuel tax. Please note that many of the projects that will be funded with the fuel tax will still be west of I205.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest
Kyle Banerjee

from “let them eat cake” to “let them bike 45 miles”…

Nonsense. The gas tax is simply not where the costs are, nor is it like there is no benefit. If it were, you’d think people would scream bloody murder when fuel prices go up by many times that amount through normal fluctuation. It is only when the word “tax” is invoked that angst over the amounts gets so high.

If $62/yr is really busting peoples’ budgets with fuel at current prices, they absolutely must find alternatives now since fuel price increases we should logically expect will cost them hundreds.

There are carpools, there are vanpools, there are far more affordable ways than single driver cars to get around. I say this as someone who took these options myself for cost rather than philosophical reasons. Just because I can do math doesn’t mean I’m motivated by a political/social agenda.

Jim Labbe
Guest
Jim Labbe

Perhaps East Portlanders will vote to renew the gas tax if they see some results in their neighborhood.

A case in point: In 2002 East Portland also voted against a Portland Parks Levy:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153386400439430&set=g.39917516044&type=1&theater

But after several recent years of investment in East Portland parks, East Portlanders voted yes for the Parks Bond:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153386400369430&set=g.39917516044&type=1&theater

The bond is different from a levy and the 2014 tax burden was less … but it it is reasonable to assume voters respond favorably to positive change in their neighborhoods.

Jim

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

One point that can’t be ignored in this discussion is the fact that low fuel prices built east Portland. It exists as it does today because of public policy and economic forces that required low density development, parking minimums, and failed to properly price gasoline to include the full cost of its impact on society. Now we have a huge part of the city where residents don’t have sidewalks, transit access is poor, and cycling is dangerous, and many feel like they are forced to drive.

Do we continue to repeat the mistakes of the past the created this built environment, or do we work to improve active infrastructure and transit access, while pricing gasoline to discourage excessive use? Giving citizens no viable options is bad policy: pollution, traffic violence, obesity, and unreliable budgeting for low-income families. I supported the gas tax because I believe it will help make east Portland a better place to live.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

What if we were to allow each neighborhood to opt in or out of the tax, and then we spent the money collected in the areas that had opted in. I don’t really know how that would play out, but it would be an interesting experiment.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

Dan
Stock up on fat tires!
Recommended 0

We’re ALL mt. bikers now! :-/

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

I’m a “hell yes” voter living in the “hell no” part of town. And proudly so.

John Liu
Subscriber

Here is how I look at it.

Most taxes I pay go into a black box of government budgets. For every extra dollar I pay in income tax or property tax, I really have not the slightest idea what it will be spent on. With a gas tax, I know it will be spent on roads, crosswalks, sidewalks, and bike lanes and so on. That is a heck of a lot more specific, more transparent, than most other taxes I pay. So I was happy to vote “yes”.

Yes, an extra 10 cents/gallon means an extra half-penny cost per mile driven (at 20 mpg) and that is a (very small) incremental burden on lower income people who have to drive. Since when does BP care about that? Removing traffic lanes, increasing congestion, charging for parking, slowing driving speeds are all burdens on drivers. Even more so for drivers who are low income, because those persons are more likely working hourly jobs (lost time = lost income), can’t telecommute or change their working hours, can’t pay for after-school care when they’re stuck in traffic, etc. And yet most of BP heartily supports those burdens.

Celebrates them, actually. Making life suck more for drivers is one of the most popular sentiments on this blog, among writers and commenters alike. Might as well fund some infrastructure improvements in the process.

(Close-in NE resident, commute to downtown and to Vancouver, using bike, bus, and car.)

James Sherbondy
Guest
James Sherbondy

A 24′ box truck is gonna run on diesel, not gas. Diesel is exempt from the $.10 increase. Nice try.
Also funny how you insult people for being “lazy”. What do you think would happen to your workload as a delivery driver if they weren’t “lazy”? You seem like a confused person.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

“If we raise them they get someone else to do the job.”
Yes, but that someone else is also paying the tax.

“spending on pet projects and bike lanes”
1. That’s dog-whistle politics and doesn’t resonate here.
2. Bike lanes don’t cost very much. In most cases they’re added when roads are repaved anyway. The cost per user for bike lanes is a tiny fraction of the cost per user of roads overall.

“for a group of people who are supposed to obey the same traffic laws motorists are, but choose not to.”
1. Bikeway improvements benefit non-cyclists because they reduce the volume of motor vehicles on the road. You’re welcome.
2. Motorists violate traffic laws at a higher rate than cyclists do. It’s just that the mix of violated laws is different, and offends the sensibilities of the driving majority who refuse to see the logs in their own eyes. For every cyclist who runs a stop sign when no one else is around, there’s a driver who rolls stop signs even when others are present, another driver who stops past the line, blocking pedestrians trying to use the crosswalk, and ten more drivers going above the speed limit.

“For those of you who are to lazy to get up and go get your groceries”
So you have utter contempt for the people you’re serving, precisely because they create a demand for your service. Lovely.