After severe storms unleashed havoc on our roads and heaps of criticism on the City of Portland’s response, Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Dan Saltzman laid out a new plan at a city hall press conference a few hours ago.
PBOT Director Leah Treat told us last week the City was, “Specifically going to look at expanding our de-icing and plow routes to include neighborhood greenways.”
Unfortunately, this new plan doesn’t do that. Instead of plowing residential streets that are the backbone of our biking network, Commissioner Saltzman announced two other changes to the City’s storm response plan. After resisting the use of salt due to environmental concerns, PBOT now says they plan to use up to 100 tons of it on at least three major roads during upcoming storms. This “largest use of road salt in the modern history of Portland,” will be a test to see how effective salt is at keeping roads free of ice and snow. In addition, they’ve announced an 30 percent expansion in the number of lane miles that will be plowed.
We knew the salt decision was coming; but it’s the plow route we were most curious about going into today’s press conference. As we reported last week, not only were bike lanes and bikeways left piled with snow during the storm, they’ve been covered in gravel for weeks.
After not hearing any mention of bike routes or neighborhood greenways in today’s announcement, we followed up with PBOT Communications Director John Brady. Brady confirmed that the expanded plow route — an estimated 340 additional lane miles on top of the 1,120 miles currently on the map — will focus on school bus routes and won’t include neighborhood greenways.
The only hope of plowing neighborhood greenways in the future lies in a new budget request. Today PBOT filed a $2.8 million 2017-2018 General Fund budget request that would “expand the bureau’s ability to clear roads during winter storms.” The request includes $1.2 million to purchase and set-up equipment. Brady says PBOT wants to work with the Portland Water Bureau to retrofit some of their existing trucks with six new snow plow blades. The blades would cost about $150,000.
“With the additional funding we asked for, especially for the money that would allow us to outfit water bureau trucks with plow blades,” Brady told me via email this afternoon, “We would have additional capacity and could add [neighborhood] greenways [to the plow route map].” If approved, the money would be available for use starting next fiscal year (July 1, 2017,
With another storm on its way tomorrow night, PBOT won’t have to wait long to put their new plan into motion. We’ll have to wait and see how and if it impacts cycling. And if we want the City to plow neighborhood greenways next winter we’ll need to lobby city council to pass that budget request.